Posted by: terrapraeta | June 1, 2009

Jim Kunstler, Dave Pollard and Me

We’ve got to save the world
Someone’s children they may need it
So far we’ve seen
The big business of extinction bleed it
We’ve got to save the world

We’re at the mercy of so few
With evil hearts determined to
Reduce this planet into hell
Then find a buyer and make quick sale

To end upon a happy note
Like trying to make concrete float
Is very simple knowing that
God in your heart lives

We’ve got to save the world
Someone else may want to use it
It’s time you knew
How close we’ve come
We’re gonna lose it – We gotta save, we gotta save
We gotta save the world.

George Harrison, Save the World

Dave Pollard wrote a great article today on the predicament we find ourselves in. Referencing Jim Kunstler’s The Long Emergency, he talks about new models for localizing and personalizing all of our activities, from food and energy production to entertainment, education and health services. It really is a very good synopsis of where we are at and what we are probably facing over the next 100 years.

There are, of course, a few basic assumptions which a disagree with both of them on. Toward the end of his article, Dave writes:

Most of all, it will depend on how many of us see the value in acquiring these capacities and creating these networks and rebuilding self-sufficient communities that work, for their own sake, now. And doing so together, not just as neo-survivalists trying foolishly and selfishly to create resiliency just for themselves and their family.

I suspect that Dave is referring largely to the primitivist movement when he says ‘neo-survivalist’, and I am sure there are some people out there that see it exactly this way: stockpile food and gear for themselves and their immediate family and that’s all they care about. But I don’t believe that the majority of primitivists have such a short view (at least not if they are primitivists because of these issues) and I can see that in some ways I might fit into that category as well.

I have written quite a bit about Dunbar’s Number and the Monkeysphere. I have suggested that we each need to focus in on our immediate needs: family, friends, community. I have stated, a number of times, that we can only change the world by refocusing our attention on our immediate situation, family, community because that is the only thing we really have the power to change. But therein lies the conundrum as well. By effecting real, positive change in our immediate local environment, we are creating the possibility that others will see and follow suit.

By contrast, Dave, and Kunstler, and a number of others, still fundamentally believe in the old adage: Think Global, Act Local. It’s a lovely idea, but I don’t think there is any way for that to work. The best, and most effective; most promising strategy; that I have found involves giving up this illusion that we can directly effect, or exert control over, people places and things outside of our immediate environment. Realize that when, with only the best intentions, we try to help the people of Somalia, of Pakistan, of Guatemala, that we are creating ripples in history with potentially dire and insolvable unintended consequences. We have neither the power to understand those consequences, nor the fortitude to continue fixing and re-fixing those systemic consequences.

So what to do? Dave notes the suggestion Kunstler has made:

Producing and consuming food differently: 
coping with sterile soil exhausted by overuse of chemicals no longer available
producing and distributing foods locally
recovering all the lost knowledge of natural, diverse, organic ways of farming
shifting to a vegetarian/vegan agriculture
eating healthier
Inhabiting the land differently: 
moving people out of big cities and suburbs no longer sustainable to small towns and self-sufficient cities with healthy rural hinterlands
relearning to use natural construction and repair materials
replacing land use and zoning codes with ‘vernacular wisdom’
Moving things and people differently: 
living without private automobiles
using more rail, water and public transport that does not depend on fossil fuels
finding ways to scrub CO2 out of the transportation system
giving up on fruitless grandiose ‘alternative fuels’ for automobiles that merely create scarcity elsewhere and more pollution
Keeping warm and cool differently: 
using clothes to do so rather than space heaters and air conditioners
insulating our homes and offices better
using renewable energy delivered through personal and neighbourhood mechanisms instead of massive grids
Making things locally again and transforming retail trade: 
returning to local markets to make, move and sell stuff within the community
living with fewer choices of things to buy
relearning to make products domestically
relearning to make our own unique personal stuff
Entertaining ourselves again: 
when the Internet and the electrical grid fail, we’ll need to relearn to make our own music and theatre and to play sports instead of watching them on a screen
Reorganizing our education system: 
community and home-schooling
self-learning: less rote and more practice
Reorganizing our health system: 
more local and community-based
much more emphasis on prevention, self-diagnosis, self-treatment
taking responsibility for your own health

Mostly, I could not agree more. There are a couple of items I would argue, however.

They suggest “shifting to a vegetarian/vegan agriculture”. However, as I noted in Feed Me, populations will always rise to the level of available food. So increasing the amount of food produced (which is generally the argument for switching to vegan/vegetarian lifestyles, in that animal products require more total resources) only serves to increase our population and therefor the drain we put on our environment. At the same time, I do not believe that veganism is as healthy as many of the gurus suggest.

They also suggest “finding ways to scrub CO2 out of the transportation system”. Sounds good. However, it is also another case, potentially, of creating technically complicated systems to accomplish what our planet does far more effectively with naturally complex systems. Want to remove CO2 from the atmosphere? Plant a tree. Stop destroying old growth forest and polluting the oceans (and thereby killing algae and plankton). Simple. Let the planets own feedback systems do what they are meant to do, rather than trying to create complicated and less effective technologies to do the same.

They talk about “Keeping warm and cool differently”. I agree, but I would add passive solar systems to the list.

And then they say: “when the Internet and the electrical grid fail, we’ll need to relearn to make our own music and theatre and to play sports instead of watching them on a screen”. Funny that – while I see Dave and Kunstler both as being something akin to techno-salvationists, they assume that the internet and the electrical grid necessarily must cease to be. I, on the other hand, imagine a day when these tools will be transformed. Of course, I agree that providing our own entertainment, music, theatre and sport is vital, but I see that as part of reconnecting with our humanity rather than a consequence of losing technology. My attitude has been, and will continue to be, that those tools we find useful will always continue to be with us, even if they look completely different. I see communication, including potentially something internet like, as being one of those things that we will continue to find useful enough to adapt.

The last items on the list involve Education and Health. I very much agree with the sentiments offered there, but it occurs to me those are subjects that I have not delved into, yet. So I think those will two topics have just made it to the top of the list of articles I should write. So if you are interested, you’re just gonna have to wait for it.

(Originally Posted February 23, 2007)



  1. […] a couple weeks ago, I wrote an article about, really, this very topic. In the comments, Simon asked: …You speak a lot about saving […]

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