Just hand me the remote Dad, and we’ll start over. – for Geez magazine but wasn’t printed.
“What does it matter? We’re screwed no matter what!”
“Ouch. Sounds a bit bleak.”
“Well I didn’t make this mess.”
“Ya, I could point to my parents and they to theirs. Don’t you find the earth worth fighting for?”
“Like I said, what does it matter? We’re screwed anyway.”
“So we sit on the couch and watch it sputter and die? What do you do when the power goes off?”
“Light a candle and make a sandwich.”
“Cute. Where does the bread and stuff come from?”
“Somebody’ll grow it.”
“What if they don’t? What if they think it’s more important to grow fuel than food?”
“I guess I’ll have to grow it then – or find it.”
“Do you know how?”
“Interested in helping me in the garden today?”
“The asparagus is up. First come first served!”
“I know – taste’s great.”
“Hey! Who did all the weeding and tending?”
“I guess that must’ve been you Dad.”
I get anxious. How the heck are we going to turn this world right if our youth aren’t into it? Yes, many are, but I also get the feeling that a good portion of them (as with the general population) are willing to Wii as Rome burns. I know my anxiety doesn’t help the situation a whit. It’s my overactive work ethic taking the lead – as usual. Perhaps our cynical youth are closer to the right attitude. Have hard work and driven personalities gotten us to a good (environmentally sustainable, community minded, just, equitable) place so far? Will more of the same get us out of the fix we’re in?
As society in general is turning on to the negative effects of human-generated climate change, so are those of us involved in agriculture turning on to the negative effects of corporate attempts to make crazy profits while professing to feed the world. Food, the part of our lives we’ve learned to take for granted, is not assured in a drastically changing environment. The energy we’ve used to grow our food, transport it, store it and prepare it is finally being calculated. And we’re finding the inadequacies of the dominant, global food system.
About ten thousand years ago our forbearers shifted away from hunting and gathering as the primary method of obtaining food and moved in the direction of a settled lifestyle involving the growing of crops and domesticating animals. This gradual transition is pointed to as the beginning of the end for us as a species. Once we were able to store food in quantity, the argument goes, we were able to support the rising of cities, standing armies, and a whole lot more children. With the relative ease fortified communities offered the advantaged, they dabbled more in creative expression, exploration, hunting for sport and technological inventiveness. Ruling classes with higher consumer demands were the result. The industrial revolution followed with conquests of people and lands in search of raw materials to feed fashion desires, exotic tastes and competition between companies and between nations for production levels. The discovery of underground oil reserves gave this trajectory a huge giddy-up kick in the pants. Oppression, pollution, exploitation and spiritual dullness have resulted – all because we thought it better to put food up rather than chase it down. I’m sympathetic to the argument. But forty thousand years of evolution is hard to slow down. It’s tough to stay optimistic when the burden seems so great.
I’ve come to believe that, with the loss of oil reserves and the likelihood we won’t find an alternative that’s accessible to all, we’re going to have some serious unrest in coming generations – even in quiet Canada prairie-ville. We’ll need to figure out how many and which ones of us will make it through the era of climate change alive. Bleak? Yep! I no longer believe in the goodness of a super society that’ll take care of us with new technologies and policies. That was a particularly insulated Euro-American perspective in any case. Why should we trust in our global institutions? We’re not taking care of each other now. We’ve utterly failed at ensuring that food, clean water, shelter, health care, opportunities and education are equitably distributed on this planet. Those who make major national and international decisions do not care about justice and equality – if, that is, we go by the results of their decisions. They believe in profitability – ‘do unto others in such a way as to keep our friends rich and the poor poor’. We can see plenty of evidence of this principle in action. If we’re going to maximize our human potential, to learn from our mistakes, and create living communities that can weather the mounting environmental vengeance, we’re going to have to take full responsibility and not depend on those who are profiting from the situation.
It’s been quite the party, quite the experiment – this industrial revolution and the centuries that’ve followed. So good in fact, many of us had a bit too much and we’ve fallen asleep on the couch. We’re waking up now with a bad taste in our collective mouth. How did we get here? Who was pushing the drugs? Repentance is good. So is a dose of anger. Sure we’re at fault for playing along. But guilt isn’t usually too helpful. At some point we have to each make good the relationships nearest to us and from the security of the family and community make good with the world around. This’ll involve work, but may involve just as much letting go of work. Work alone, I’m certain, isn’t the answer. At least it hasn’t been so far. Those who control the economic and political agendas now want us to keep busy working, doing, producing and, above all, consuming. What they don’t want us to do is reflect on the situation and modify our behaviour according to the evidence around us, namely that we’re definitely going in a number of wrong directions if we want the next few generations to avoid the worst a stressed out planet can throw at them.
I believe we need only one rule to learn and take responsibility for at an early age. Most religions, as I understand, teach it as an empowering principle. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the form I’ve learned. A corollary could be ‘Believe in others as you would have them believe in you.” The teachings are the easy part though. What we need more of is social contexts that support and build on these teachings. And that’s up to you and me I guess.
The Biblical story of Mary and Martha comes to mind. When visitors came to the door, Martha worked while her sister sat and visited. Martha became angry because she was left ‘doing it all’. Jesus admonished Martha and said that Mary had chosen the more worthy path. Religions, as I understand them, tend to agree. Our spiritual leaders consistently suggest it is our relating, being quiet, connecting and believing that present us with the right path. If we all stopped for a moment, reflected on what was most important to us, and then made the important stuff central to our lives, would the world be the same? No, it would change, without anyone having to ‘go to work’.
“What’re you up to?”
“Thought I’d watch a movie. Sit down if you want.”
“Ah, it’s 11 am. I was going to . . . Ya, I could try that . . . What’re you watching?”
“I was looking at ‘What The Bleep Do We Know?’ last night. Pretty good, but I’m gonna watch it again. I zoned out toward the end.”
“Never heard of it. What’s it about?”
“Enlightenment I think – or being part of a world that isn’t only about the physical stuff. Just hand me the remote Dad, and we’ll start over.”