Starting down: seven deadly sins
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” ― T.S. Eliot
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”― Mahatma Gandhi
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”― John Locke
“I am not imposed upon by fine words; I can see what actions mean.”― George Eliot
For those of us who live in countries where we use many fossil fuels, we have been shielded from the consequences of living badly. But that age is ending. Now that the Mayan Baktun 13 calendar has passed, we begin the era of the Gaian calendar. We “will eventually have to reduce either our populations or our living standards (emergy use) by 80 to 90 percent” (Odum & Odum, 2001, p. 170). And as the years go by, adaptation will become harder and harder, as the surplus energy available for the tasks wanes. There are policies for a prosperous way down, but I know that when I mention the word policy to my students, their eyes glaze over. Since we are approaching the new year and a new era, I will approach the idea of personal action by framing actions in the form of Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Sins. Our capitalist culture values growth and wealth above all. It is time to reset our values as we start down in descent. This is a challenge to those of you who are still sitting on your hands when it comes to sustainable, local living. What are you waiting for? Consider Gandhi’s 7 Sins; how many of these are you guilty of, and how can your form personal resolutions that reframe these sins in descent?
- Wealth without Work
- Pleasure without Conscience
- Science without Humanity
- Knowledge without Character
- Politics without Principle
- Commerce without Morality
- Worship without Sacrifice
Take stock of your situation, and try some of these potential New Years resolutions on for size.
Wealth without work
A future with less energy will mean less opulent wealth and waste, and less disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Egregious displays of wealth and income disparity will disappear as more people fall out of the middle class. There will be less support in society for wealth without work that contributes to the community prosperity. Fascination with stock markets, ostentatious houses, cars, and other expensive status symbols will wane. If you now depend on a high income to service extensive debt, you might consider paying off the debt, avoid incurring more debt, and accustoming yourself to a lower level of income. We can assume that taxes will be higher in the future, and the pursuit of wealth may be replaced by societal goals that are more in keeping with a society in descent. If you are working in the financial or insurance industry, consider whether a career change to a local, sustainable business would help you and your community. Is what you do a useful service to the communities of the future?
Are your expectations based on the idea that business will go ahead as usual? If you are counting on a corporate (or other) pension in the long run, don’t. Don’t count on forms of insurance such as long-term care or life insurance, as most insurance companies assets are heavily invested in derivatives. Start building a buffer of savings so that you could support yourself without working for a while. This is the year to get out of debt, get your financial house in order, and get used to living more frugally on a smaller income.
How we store wealth will need to change in descent. At some point there will probably be a sharp devaluation of our currencies, if history is a guide. What would happen if you woke up one morning and your savings were suddenly worth half of what they were the night before? Consider what is real wealth in a future with less fossil fuels.
Pleasure without Conscience
Sometimes what is easy in the short-term can be bad for us over the longer term. Is your decision-making based on short-term thinking? Just because what you are doing now works does not mean that it will work in the future as descent becomes sharper. There will be less debt-based commerce in the future, as current systems of financing begin to fail. If you are a student incurring large amounts of student loan debt in an expensive university, consider whether the degree that you are getting will prepare you for the jobs of the future. In many cases, the largest, most prestigious universities are being captured by the Corporation. Much of the thinking that is going on in these schools is group-think, oriented towards promoting growth in one form or another. Consider that you may be able to get more unique views and a cheaper education with less debt through smaller, local universities.
Science without Humanity
If you’re a scientist, consider the problems that you are working on. Are you asking the questions that we need to answer to adapt? Or has your focus narrowed to the questions that are suitable to a global economy bent on resource extraction for maximum growth? Examples of scientists caught in the profit machine are nuclear engineers who pitch nuclear power plants as the future. Or nanotechnology. Or GMO foods. If we can make a buck, get a grant, or write a paper out of the advancement of technology, then by golly, we’re going to do it. Are you a cog in the wheel that keeps churning to produce growth? Are scientists allowed to profess (or even have) values? If so, what are yours? What happens when science becomes valueless? Are you a pawn of the corporation?
Knowledge without character
Our future will have less high-tech rescue health care, and health care will be very expensive. Take care of yourself. Begin by getting yourself and your close relationships in shape. If there was an oil shock, could you ride a bike to work and to a market? Would you have enough gear and food/water to camp out in your house if the power went out, shipments stopped, or there was an epidemic, and could you stay warm enough or cool enough?
Pollution from various sources will add to the weakening of both personal and overall population immunity. Personal health may become more tenuous at the same time that the healthcare system begins to fail. In a crisis, our healthcare system would be quickly overwhelmed. Drug shortages are already occurring, and pharmaceutical companies are showing signs of strain. If you are dependent on sleeping pills, pain medications, or other unnecessary medications that create drug tolerance or addiction, wean yourself from them. Don’t count on the healthcare system in a crisis; it would be overwhelmed quickly.
Do you know how to grow some basic vegetables to subsidize your pantry, if imported food becomes untrustworthy or unavailable? Those days are coming, and the learning curve on growing food and the process of enriching your soil take time. We have forsaken the natural energies of nature in favor of potatoes made of oil. In a future with less energy, we need to rediscover nature’s renewable energies at a personal level. Begin thinking about the energy that goes into everything we use. Is the emergy basis of your food, or your job, or your doctor’s office based on renewable energies or unsustainable, vulnerable non-renewables? Consider your personal emergy signature, and decide where you can move the bars in the graphs below back towards the left in your community’s processes.
S. Ulgiati, M.T. Brown / Communications in Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation 14 (2009) 317. Emergy signatures mangroves vs. corn
Are your family relationships working? If not, fix them. If you put dysfunctional relationships under more stressors, then the family system begins to rattle apart. Are you relying on future air travel to connect with extended family? Consider that air travel may become more restricted, through cost, contraction of the industry, travel restrictions, and other turmoil. Position yourself so that your extended family is accessible or otherwise provided for. And if you expect your long-term care insurance (or nursing homes, for that matter) to be there as you age, don’t count on that either. Long term care insurance is a waste of money; insurance is an artifact of 20th century growth economies.
Politics without Principle
How about your local relationships? Have you let the mainstream media (MSM) define your sense of community by telling you who to talk to in your community? Or does your community transcend politics, religion, race, and so on? If there is a crisis, your survival may depend on community cohesiveness, and cohesion depends on the ability to transcend ginned up ideological barriers that are whipped up by the MSM. Diversity is useful in community—if all of your friends are TV watching pencil-pushers without useful skills, consider that you might want to diversify a little. Fossil fuels have replaced our cohesive community bonds, since we can buy goods shipped from China instead of depending on others locally. We had a large solstice party this year, and efforts to reach across ideological lines resulted in a warm, friendly gathering, with many thoughts and some poetry shared around the fire pit.
Consider how reliant you are on the government. Increasingly, we will be routinely more reliant on government, and the government will have less ability to come to our aid in a crisis. There are just too many people for that. Are you dependent on the television for entertainment and news? Find some community-based forms of entertainment, and consider whether there are other, more active ways to gather information. If there are reference books that you consider essential to a lower-energy lifestyle, buy them in book format. Leave the digital library for literature that you don’t need to keep long-term.
Commerce without Morality
Although it seems to be a common mechanism for Americans coping with stress, now is not the time to go out and buy a new car if you can avoid it. Consuming more is not the answer in a contracting economy. If you’re going to buy new transportation that prepares you for a lower-energy world, buy a bike. Having said that, we just did buy a new car. Ironically, our 15-year-old Subaru died this week, and we had to go and get a new one (used Subarus are hard to come by up here). This particular vehicle is made in Oto Gunma, Japan. I checked fallout charts against the map, and then checked the car with a geiger counter. The car is slightly hot–5 to 10 counts per minute over background in our garage. This is our future. Will contamination be one of the factors that pushes people towards relocalization through distrust of products from afar?
What about personal skills? Are you reliant on others for basic needs and repairs? Our complex, advanced society relies on many specialized, paid relationships to provide our basic needs. Consider how dependent you are on others for essential needs, and consider whether you want to add some fix-it skills to your repertoire.
Adaptation at this point becomes a matter of good sense rather than a belief system or world view. It is clear that economic hard times are upon us. Even if we expect that things will get better, doesn’t it make sense to prepare as though things might get worse? Adaptation also becomes the right thing to do, especially since there will be 7 billion of us trying to squeeze through a narrow aperture into descent. As time goes on, making changes will become harder as resources become less available. Get your wood stove now, before you end up in a two-year queue to get one, or you can’t afford it anymore, or there are restrictions, laws, or codes that prevent you from doing what you want to do with it. The future will be more restricted, and less free.
Worship without Sacrifice
Our capitalist society no longer values frugality, efficiency, restraint, moderation, respect, or many other traditional values. The first step in retrieving these values essential to a lower-energy society is to begin translating our thoughts into actions. If you’re still here reading, and not doing anything about descent, consider why you cannot translate thoughts into action. Examine your barriers to action and how to overcome them. Using less, living simply and locally–it’s the right thing to do.
Header: Time lapse sun as seen from UAF campus on solstice, photo by Todd Paris, UAF Marketing and Communications.