Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Triple Crisis

This past weekend I attended a teach-in on the "Triple Crisis" currently facing the world. "Triple Crisis" refers to the combination of climate change, peak oil (the end of cheap energy), and global resource depletion (including species extinction). In upcoming posts, I'll talk in more detail about all three--especially the last two, often not addressed in our popular press.

The line-up of speakers were unbelievable (at least for nerds like me): Bill McKibben, Frances Moore Lappe, Vandana Shiva, David Korten, Richard Heinberg, Wes Jackson, Carl Pope, Betsy Taylor, Megan Quinn, and many, many others.



This is the first time specialists in all three areas have come together for a major meeting like this. During the teach-in, all three crises were understood to be one large interconnected problem, deriving from the same causes (massive use of fossil fuels and the Earth's resources) and therefore able to be addressed in similar ways. One of the central approaches is the concept of "powering down"--or learning to live with far less energy, and far lower consumption of materials, than we currently use. One way of doing this is by moving to an increasingly local society. In the future I'll write more about this concept and how we and others are trying to address this answer.

I was especially pleased to see people address one of my pet concerns. So often, people who consider themselves environmentalists decide that the way to save the world is through purchasing more stuff. I'm very much part of this group myself, so please don't think I'm sitting on high judging everyone else. "Oh, let's go out and BuyBuyBuy all those hip new green products! Don't we need a Prius, and organic bamboo sheets, and new sustainably-forested-wood kitchen cabinets?" But overconsumption is what got us into this mess. We can't find our way out just by encouraging a new-and-improved kind of shopping. Check out this disturbingly hilarious video which makes this point with tongue firmly in cheek.

There were many academic disagreements at the conference, frustrations about the fact that no clear direction has emerged, and of course much rallying of the troops. We all left with a energy and enthusiasm for the fight--but also something I think too many of us have felt had abandoned us:

HOPE.

5 comments:

Martha H said...

In foods and other areas, "organic" is the current trend, where once it was "whole grain" and before that "low fat." All are better for us than the alternatives, of course. On one hand, I worry that some just lock onto the trends, without paying real attention to the outcome. That's your over-consumption. Yet, there's the outcome that at least a handful do, in fact, reap benefits in the form of better education on the issue. As an optimist, I try to glob onto the latter, thankful that I am intelligent enough to recognize the former exists in it's not-always-so-real state.

Sheepish Annie said...

This is a fascinating topic. There seem to be so many opinions on what I should be doing in order to leave less of a footprint on the world and I often wonder if we are missing some of the simpler things. The answer is usually pretty logical. But, I suspect that we are not quite ready to give up our time-saving devices and whatnot...

Birdsong said...

I am so glad you got to attend this gathering; Richard was one of my professors in my BA/MA combo program on Culture, Ecology and Sustainable Community back in 1998-9. I believe that it is because we are living in a capitalist economy that people rely on the theory of being able to 'new and improve' our way out of problems. If we didn't keep buying, what would happen to the economy. I think there is a huge second-hand economy that goes unnoticed, and try to tap into that as much as possible, along with getting local foods, both for us at home and our Headstart program. So glad to hear your voice addressing these important issues.

beadlizard said...

My daughter can recite our energy usage and footprint and knows what it means, especially since we used to live on an 1898 homestead. For her, her footprint includes her 14 years of use on the planet, what she's given and what she's taken, and how she plans to live her life in the future.

She was very upset the other day because the kids in her class were boasting about their footprints but hadn't included the majority of their use. She thinks that teens need a more factual education -- it would be lovely if they could go to a camp for a week where sustainability is a way of life...

Our family is all for recycling, of course, but FIRST, we re-use everything we possibly can, as many times as we can. I think that the "re-use" part of the three R's got lost along the way. Her friends think they're doing well to remember to recycle, but what about re-use?!

Remind me to see if I can find my old housekeeping book to tell you the title --

Kate A. said...

I could use some hope - thanks for the post!

I also had a thought, probably an odd one: remember the anecdote in little Women about how the girls, when they were younger, would walk around with "burdens" of bundles on their backs to act out Milton...and I was thinking that, based on my own experience, having to move house by literally carrying your stuff on your back - Hubbster and I did this last year except for the books and bookcases - is an incredibly effective way to be motived to own less stuff. It even made me realize, for the first time in my life, that I don't need to own ALL these books. Don't get me wrong - a room without books IS a room without a soul, but do I need to own *everything* I love - because, you know, I love trees, too, and they give pleasure to more than just me, and they don't have to be carried....

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