Friday, March 13, 2009

Not the Grand Canyon Yet, But Getting There

This past week there has been a conference in Copenhagen at which some of the world's smartest people have been announcing the world's most important news. Did you know that? If you scavenge the internet as I do, it has been a hot topic. However, if you get your news from the local paper and national news shows, you probably haven't a clue.

The world's most important news? Yeah, right, says who? . . . Well consider the following:

The Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research (where much of the hard science on global climate destabilization is conducted) has warned that even with significant reductions of CO2, we have only a 50-50 chance of preventing catastrophic climate change. The degree of reductions needed to get even the 50-50 chance are not yet being considered, much less implemented.

The Amazonian rainforests are already facing the likelihood of an irreversible 20-40% die-off and much worse if temperatures increase in excess of 2C, which is where we'll be if we don't act soon. The Amazon is known as the lungs of the world because it not only sequesters CO2 but also provides some of the oxygen we breathe. Without the Amazon, this would be a very different world!

If that's not enough to twist your shorts, climate change is exacerbating the water crisis in an overpopulated world and could conceivably "render half of world's inhabited areas unliveable."

I could go on, but you get the point. And that's just the climate change slice of the pie. If you tune into Chris Martenson's The Crash Course or read James Howard Kunstler, it becomes pretty obvious that our economy shares a fate with poor, old Humpty Dumpty. We built our economic model on one giant Ponzi scheme, and now that it is broken, all the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to put it together again. And while our attention is fixed on gluing eggshells back together, Peak Oil is waiting in ambush.

It would be easy at this point to give up in despair, but despair is not what is called for, change is. And change is not only possible, it is already happening the world over. In the UK, Rob Hopkins and friends have started a transition initiative for re-creating self-sufficiency in our towns and cities. In the US, the permaculture movement is gaining momentum with individuals the likes of Sharon Astyk and the Dervaes family, and with entire towns such as Earthaven. In Austin, Texas, the Rhizome Collective is teaching people how to make windmills out of used bicycle parts and use bioshelters to grow food and house chickens. In the deserts of Jordan, new ways of farming are transforming wasteland into gardens, and in Lesotho, South Africa, Cowforce is teaching people to grow their own food in amazing little keyhole gardens.

So what's the big deal? We have problems and we have solutions. Well, our biggest problem is the huge gap between the people who understand the challenges we face and those who don't. The solutions are there, but unless we embrace them as a culture, they are destined to be too little too late. We need to change everything, from the way we grow and distribute our food to the way we manufacture and sell our goods to the way we structure our society.

You've got to be kidding! I like my life the way it is! No one is going to tell me what to grow in my yard or where to set the thermostat or what kind of toilet paper to buy! Everything is fine just the way it is. Well maybe not so fine, but it will be in a few months when the economy gets back to normal -- when my stocks go back up, when my house starts appreciating once again. This is just another cycle like every other cycle. Watch the news -- every night they talk about the recovery and how soon it will happen. And as for that global warming talk, there are smart people on both sides of the argument. I don't know who to believe, but it won't happen for a hundred years anyway. There are plenty of smart scientists in this world -- they'll find a way to fix it. Peak Oil? Give me a break. There's plenty of oil still to be found -- they're finding more every day. And even if they don't, we have hundreds of years of coal still in the ground. Don't mess with my life, Bub!

The gap between what is real and what is popular myth has gotten so huge that it is approaching the Grand Canyon in scale. And the larger the gap becomes, the harder it is to make the leap from one side to the other. The truth is not easy to grasp; it involves changing all one's perceptions of culture as we know it. Unfortunately, those of us who have made the leap just look like crazed lunatics to those who haven't. And sometimes even to ourselves.

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