Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What is UNsustainability?

Events seem to be accelerating. The situation is deteriorating. The stock market continues to crash, auto sales continue to tank, people continue to be thrown out of what they thought were their homes. Job are lost, health care costs climb, education loans are denied. The government is not helping by pouring money down the black hole of insolvent banks. People are waking up, but not to reality. They are waking up to anger, indignation, disappointment, but still not to reality.

They are waking up to the idea that they are going to be denied their supposed birthright: progress. Growth. The idea that they will have lives better than their parents, and their children will have lives better than they did. Instead, human consumption and economic growth seems to have finally peaked in the time of the Baby Boomers. THAT, apparently, was as good as it gets. And frankly, it wasn't all that good.

So we've woken from our self-induced stupor, but not to reality. We understand now that we're in trouble. We understand now that there's a problem. But we still have not yet grasped the very basics of our situation. Sure, the environmentalists have been saying our lifestyle and economy is unsustainable for years. But what does that mean to me?

The illusion we have been living is that our lifestyle can continue. A lifestyle based on consuming everything on the planet, while flushing our waste "away" to the oceans and the people in the Third Wold. An economy and financial system that is based on never- ending growth, which is inherently impossible. A population that expands and expands and expands, while some people insist that all we need is more people to innovate us out of the mess we so carelessly created. We lived with our expectations and hopes for so long we began to think they were normal, when truly they were just temporary freaks of history.

There are plenty of definitions of sustainable. "Meeting our own needs without comprimising the needs of future generations to meet their own." "A system that does not exceed it's carrying capacity." "A society that does not take more than can be renewed and does not pollute more than can be absorbed." But what is unsustainable? Do we even need a definition, when it's all around us, exemplified by everything we see and do? Do we need a definition when unsustainable is the foundation of our lives?

"Unsustainable" does not just mean that our system MUST be stopped, for the sake of the plants and animals, for the water and air, for the planet and our own health. It means that it WILL stop. It WILL stop, because a system that relies on consuming finite resources for fuel cannot be sustained. A system that fouls and erodes the very productive capacities of the planet - the water, the soil, the air - cannot be sustained. It will collapse under the burden of it's own bloated requirements, it's pollution, it's untenable assumptions.

So, can we please get on with it? Can we stop hanging on to the deadweight of ideas that are dragging us down, stop clutching the noose that threatens to hang us all? Can we move past the idea of keeping the auto industry alive - when autos can never be a long term solution? Can we move past the idea of economic growth - when we know that infinite growth is just impossible? Can we stop hallucinating a future of moonbases and flux capacitors and Starship Enterprises, the last resort imaginings of an imploding society? Can we start towards a future that doesn't depend on things that CANNOT continue?

I know it's extremely unreasonable of me, but I'd like to live in a system where we all get our basic needs met. Basic needs are not just water and bread. We can have clean water, immunizations, antibiotics, healthy and tasty food. We can have celebrations and feasts and parties. We can have intellectual development, love, community, pleasure, leisure and entertainment.

We can have these things even as the infrastructure of our old economy rusts and crumbles to the ground - if we make them a priority. We, who understand the old way is lost, have to start now. We have to create a shadow system ready to meet our needs when the old way finally stumbles and falls. If we try to keep the old system running, all is lost. If we create a new system ready to take over from the wheezing, dying one, we win.

We don't have to be the generation that finished off humanity's chance for a sustainable future on this planet. We can be the generation that turned away from the trajectory of nuclear warheads and polllution and greed and ambition and simple blind ignorance. Are you looking for a destiny? Do you search for greatness? How about the greatest destiny ever: the creation of a society that can be sustained. A destiny where our children and grandchildren will say of us, "They stopped at the brink of the abyss. They pulled back from destruction. They walked away, and gave us a future. They gave all the future generations a chance."


d.a. said...

Beautifully put.

MN_homesteader said...

Yes, very nicely written.

Wendy said...

I share your vision - the vision of us all living in small, peaceful communities with "enough" to go around.

Michelle Ellis said...


it is my wish as well

Janaki said...

God Bless you for this! Change is right here right now it starts with us saying no thank you;-)

Julie said...

Hear, hear *applause* Well said.

Gavin said...

A fantastic thought provoking post. Well put. Bring on the Transition Towns!

Katrien said...

Very powerful. I like especially the stress on the unsustainability of unsustainability: it will stop, whether we like it or not.

Anonymous said...

Ah. I see you followed the speech too.

TheCrone said...

Another one who shares your vision. Thank you for a very well written post.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments!

Katrien - I was hoping that part came across. :)

Anon - Actually, this post was published before Pres. Obama's speech.

Alison Kerr said...

Are people scared to wake up because they expect the nightmare to begin?

Does anyone know what a sustainable society looks like from both an economic and personal perspective?

Where can I read about this?

Michael said...

The forces perpetuating unsustainability are politically connected, well financed, and motivated by near term profits. The average individual is struggling to survive the next 6 months, and is therefore not particularly concerned with increasing ecological debt, and is no mood to make sacrifices. Only a small percent of the earth’s population have an appropriate level of understanding or concern for the danger posed by our unsustainable behavior. As you may have guessed, I am not optimistic about the future.

Jeff W said...

We should be happy. We're in a correction and it's a man-made disaster instead of an ecological one.

Hopefully, we haven't overshot too far...

Chervil said...

Yes! You are absolutely right, most people have not yet waken up to reality. And the reality is frightening - the coming together of peak oil and climate change is a change of such magnitude that I don't think any of us understand what the future will have in store for us and how we will possibly be able to cope.

Anonymous said...

the brief comments portray how well you covered the topic. Nothing really need be added to your excellent article!

Anonymous said...

a wonderfully written piece of horse manure. lots of pretty words, no solutions. nuke washington.

David W. said...

This was a great post. I disagree with the last post and see it as a problem with today's society. No solutions needed to be presented. Plenty of other articles present solutions. Mainly, what I'm trying to say is, don't always expect other people to tell you what to do, because there is no one solution. Although it is good to read about solutions, we should be able to get inspiration from an article like this, and then think for ourselves what can be be done to help solve the problem.

Russ said...

What is UNsustainability? has been my introduction to your blog. I ran across it at EnergyBulletin. I thought it was very cogently written, & I'll likely be using it to turn some other people on to you.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Thanks to Michael and Chervil for an excellent summary of where we are! I agree, but am not going down without a fight.

David W - couldn't have said it better myself.

Russ - thanks, look forward to hearing from you again.

sushil yadav said...

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].

"Growth Rate" - "Economy Rate" - "GDP"

These are figures of "Ecocide".
These are figures of "crimes against Nature".
These are figures of "destruction of Ecosystems".
These are figures of "Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality".

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land].

Destroy the system that has killed all ecosystems.

Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Delhi, India