Monday, June 16, 2008

An Insurance Policy

There is much to be said for modern civilization. The very best part, as far as I am concerned, is the internet. With the internet, my daughter-in-law has direct access to customers for her hand-etched glassware, while I have direct access to like minds from every corner of our blue planet. With the internet, a library's worth of information is available with the touch of a few keys. With the internet, I can order water-soluble stabilizer from Canada or discuss the weather with a friend in Germany, all the while I sit in my easy chair and watch the sun rise.

I love DVR and television and Netflix. I love that my husband can watch Tiger Woods play golf on Father's Day and that we can rewind to watch any spectacular plays that were missed. I love that we can watch, in the comfort of our living room, birds who imitate car alarms and old movies and new classics and documentaries that tell us about the mess we have made in Iraq. I love going to the store and finding avocadoes any time I want. I love my digital photo frame that continuously cycles the best of my memories. I love the coolness of my air conditioning on a hot, humid day. I love the warmth of my heating system on a cold, windy day. I love the music, the art, the literature and how very easy it is to share those with the world. I love Harry Potter books and movies and "The Sword of Truth" series. I love the comfort and convenience of automobiles, the miracle of hot, clean water at the turn of a tap, the labor-saving marvels of washing machine, dryer, stove and refrigerator. I love modern medicine and the role it has played in making lives healthier, more comfortable, and more productive. I love telephones and being able to hear our children's voices virtually any time we want. I love '"helping hand" pendants and knowing that we can leave Mother and not have to worry if she is all right.

So why am I in a panic, running around saying the sky is falling? I guess it comes down to this: I'm not saying civilization is going to collapse. I'm saying it might. And if it does, I want an insurance policy, a fall-back position, a Plan B. There are days when I think it would take improbably catastrophic changes to cause the downfall I fear, and there are days when I fear that's exactly what we're in for. We seem to seem to be at a point of convergence, of all our problems coming to maturity at once. It's global warming and peak oil and overpopulation and the over-exploitation and destruction of Earth's resources. It's huge cities where millions of people have grown too dependent on power grids, piped-in water, piped-out sewage, and trucked-in food from mega-farms. It's too many people in the world who hate us and wish us harm. It's too many people in our economic ghettos who hate us and wish us harm. It's our insular lives that revolve around electronic devices and have become detached from the real world. It's our selfish greed and our abysmal ignorance and our preoccupied indifference. And I know that I, too, am part of it all -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those are our crows and sooner or later, they are coming home to roost.

In my lifetime? Maybe. That's why I want an insurance policy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Counting My Blessings - for a change!

Bless├ęd am I, my dearest Sophia.

I have enjoyed an extraordinarily wonderful life. I have never known a day of hunger, despair, or grief. Never. Not one. I have always had what I needed and more. I have always had good health and continue to do so at 58 years of age. I have had the privilege of living in incredibly beautiful places from the palisades of Santa Monica to the mountain rimmed plains of Colorado to the green forests of Virginia to the quaint towns of Germany to the sugar white sands of the Gulf of Mexico. I have had wonderful friends and wonderful family. I like who I am. I like my husband and the relationship we have developed over the years. I like my children and their spouses. Liking is more difficult than loving. Loving comes with the territory. Liking is finding common ground and mutual respect.

As I sit in my easy chair typing on my laptop, I watch the sun rise over the intracoastal. The fronds of a palm tree flicker with the orange light of dawn, looking so much like fire that I cross the room for a closer look. My tall, strong husband and our next-door neighbor cast their fishing lines from a dock across the way. Boats glide silently by, leaving dark streamers in the glittering waters of early morning. Herons and pelicans dip lazily on invisible currents of air. The rapidly changing light plays a tune of blues across sky and water. The golden hues of morning mellow the greens of scrub and palm. There is a sliver of white on the horizon that is the sands of our island. There is a forest of pine silhouettes that is the state park. It is the beginning of a new day.

What I make of this day is up to me and me alone. I am the star of my life and loving every minute.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Crystal Ball

Today is a beautiful blue and white day fringed with green. It is much the same as it was yesterday and much the same as it will likely be tomorrow. I cannot imagine it any different. So why am I spending my time writing doomsday predictions when I could be engaging in life as we know it?

Because I know that change is guaranteed. No two days are exactly the same, no two moments in time. And I know how quickly life can be irrevocably altered. Pick up the newspaper and you see examples of it everyday. Two boys are sitting on their bed watching TV and a car comes crashing through the wall, killing one. A teenager is playing basketball with his friends and falls over dead. A senator from Massachusetts has a seizure and finds out that it is brain cancer. A famous actor goes for a horseback ride and spends the rest of his life as a paraplegic. No one sees it coming. The moment before, all is well. The moment after, all is changed. There may have been warning signs, but they were unheeded.

Despite life's uncertainty, I keep gazing into my crystal ball, trying to see where we are headed, trying to understand so that I can make sane choices in my own life. I've taken the two best case scenarios currently being bandied about and attempted to follow them a mere fifty to a hundred years in the future. A hundred years in the history of the world is a very short time after all.

First best case scenario -- we continue with business as usual but it's okay because global warming turned out to be a false alarm. We continue our oil addiction, finding new sources to meet the growing need, and we go another fifty years before we run out (I'm being generous here!) In the meantime, the world's population has continued to grow. We are even more reliant upon petro-chemical fertilizers to feed all the mouths (well, not all -- starvation is a way of life in third world countries, but that is nothing new. We in the US can still buy oranges from Brazil at our local Wal-Mart.) We've continued to scrape the deep oceans for fish while destroying their habitat, burn the Amazon for farmland, dig ever deeper to extract essential metals from the earth, and suck our aquifers dry. Cities are even more crowded, life is more tense, and we continue to rob from the poor to give to the rich. What happens then? What happens fifty years from now?

I'll be gone by then. But my children and grandchildren may not be. Their lives would become unrelenting nightmares. There just wouldn't be enough food and clean water in the world to go around. We would see mass emigrations to those countries where food was still available. Resources in the well-to-do countries would be stretched beyond the limit and violence would become the norm. We would either see anarchy with the strong preying on the weak, or we would see martial law and soldiers enforcing a strained peace. Food would become more and more scarce for any but the very rich, and the very rich would be targets of the starving masses. With people weakened by malnutrition and lack of clean water, there would be epidemics that could decimate entire populations as the Black Plague once did. There would be uprisings. There would be wars.

Second best case scenario. We start now to wean ourselves off oil. We build wind farms and solar arrays and nuclear power plants and near-zero emission coal plants. We have to find places to stash all the radioactive waste and the sequestered CO2, but we pull it off somehow. We have energy efficient homes and businesses, electric cars, and rooftop gardens. But if the world's population continues to grow, we continue to consume metals, water, forests and fish at an ever increasing rate, we still end up where we would have been had we continued our reliance upon oil. Maybe we will have gained a few more years, but we will have burdened our grandchildren with the price of our unbridled greed and blind devotion to growth.

Okay, so what if the world's population doesn't grow? What if we manage zero population growth? We would still continue to consume the world's resources at the current rate, and the current rate is unsustainable. In order to ensure that our children and grandchildren will have the same quality of life we have enjoyed, we will have to do even better, we will have to achieve a negative population growth. China has managed to do just that. It is not impossible. With diminished numbers, it might be possible to feed the world without chemical fertilizers, to fish the oceans without depleting them, to live in the world without destroying it.

So our challenges are many. We must reduce our impact on the earth by reducing our numbers and by changing our patterns of consumption. If we don't, I can see nothing but hardship ahead. But maybe my crystal ball is just a bit cracked. Maybe what I'm seeing is horribly distorted. On the other hand, maybe global warming is the wake-up call to change, not just how we procure energy, but how we live in the world.