Erik and I make it a general policy not to engage in politics on this blog. Homesteading is about local and personal change foremost, after all, and it’s a big enough movement to embrace many beliefs. Also, talking politics brings out the trolls, and that’s no fun for anyone.
But. I’ve got to bring this up. And I hope you’ll go along with me and not see this as sort of support or condemnation of any political party, nor an invitation to bash specific politicians. It is an observation about American culture as a whole. This observation spins off of President Obama’s recent speech on climate change, and climate change is bigger than political parties, bigger than nation states.
While I’m happy to see that we are (finally!) speaking about climate change on a national level, I noticed one striking omission from the President’s speech. He did not make any suggestion that individual Americans might want to pitch in and help mitigate this global crisis through changing their personal habits.
This despite the fact that Americans, per capita, have double the carbon footprint of our comparably well-off neighbors in Europe. Despite the fact that, according to the World Watch Institute, “The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.”
All our President asks of us, toward the end, is that we add our voices to political discourse on the subject.
Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.
Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue.
Political action is all well and good, but as we’re always saying, change starts at home. We’re all in this together, and it’s important that we, as individuals, acknowledge the cost of our lifestyle and, if it seems appropriate to us after reflection, take action to alter that lifestyle.
Leaving personal responsibility out of the equation has a two-fold effect. First, it makes the issue abstract. It becomes someone else’s problem and someone else’s fault. Then the blame game begins. Second, it makes us feel disempowered: if the problem is all about politics and industry, it’s too big for any one person to tackle. So why try at all? And this leads to a strange brew of free-floating anxiety and denial.
Dear readers, you know all of this. You are taking action. I shouldn’t harangue you. I’m just frustrated.
The last time that I can remember any president asking us to do something other than shop ’til we drop was Jimmy Carter, way back in 1977 when I was just a sprout:
We must face the fact that the energy shortage is permanent. There is no way we can solve it quickly. But if we all cooperate and make modest sacrifices, if we learn to live thriftily and remember the importance of helping our neighbors, then we can find ways to adjust and to make our society more efficient and our own lives more enjoyable and productive. Utility companies must promote conservation and not consumption. Oil and natural gas companies must be honest with all of us about their reserves and profits. We will find out the difference between real shortages and artificial ones. We will ask private companies to sacrifice, just as private citizens must do.
Oh Jimmy, if we’d only started conserving 40 years ago, think how much better off we’d be today.
Ah well. We should have adopted the metric system back then, too, for that matter. When did we become such pampered children? When did sacrifice become a dirty word?
I’ve heard it said more than once in the climate change community that the only real chance we have of pulling our collective bacon out of the fire, i.e. limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (we’re up 1 degree as of now), will be through an international mobilization effort requiring personal sacrifice the likes of which has not been seen since WWII.
Invariably the commenters go on to say that such action is obviously impossible. Politically unfeasible. Unrealistic. And that means we’re inevitably headed for a far more dangerous–really terribly unthinkable–3 or 4 degree rise.
What I want to know is why the possibility of positive change is so easily and cynically dismissed. What’s more scary?:
Global Catastrophe which will Curse All Life on the Planet Permanently
Riding the Bus
(or committing to local food or flying less or setting your thermostat low or buying used clothing or whatever equally scary measure you’d like to propose)
It really doesn’t seem like such a hard choice to make.
It may indeed be politically unfeasible. I’ve long stopped looking to the national level for meaningful action or leadership. But we can do a lot on a personal level. We can start a people’s revolution. A Revolution of Reasonableness.
It’s already happening. There’s been so much positive change on this front, even just in the last few years. Urban homesteading, slow food, organics, bikes, car share, DIY, all of it — it’s blossoming. It’s very hopeful. I’m going to put the next part in italics because it’s so important: The pleasure and satisfaction that we all receive from living this way is the positive counterspell to the dark enchantment of consumer culture.
When we live this way, we become positive examples to others–and though it may not always be obvious, we do influence them. And even if the changes we make in our lifestyle are small, the accumulation of small lifestyle changes by millions of people can have a big impact on both our culture and the environment. Everybody, no matter what their means, can do something to pitch in.
What I’ve been pondering lately is how to take it to the next level, how to up the rate of change. Is it possible to engage the famously lazy, self-centered American consumer in this revolution?
Well, I think it is, because “the American consumer” is another unhelpful abstraction, if not a convenient scapegoat. Who is this selfish creature of legend? I’m an American consumer. As are all my family and neighbors. There is no us and them in this fight. We can all do more.
So what do you think? Would you be willing to mobilize and sacrifice on a World War type scale if you knew it would do real good?
I’ve been looking at WWII propaganda posters from the U.S. and Britain, noting that a lot of what they needed to do, we need to do, too.
Any artists out there want to make a new breed of propaganda posters for this cause? I think that would be a swell thing.