The key stumbling block to long term environmental and economic solutions is the fact that we (the people of the industrialized world) are entangled in incredibly complex systems that are mostly beyond our control. I’ve had some extra thinking time lately. Last Thursday, I had a second knee surgery and in my medication-induced fog, I found myself mentally wandering through the convoluted systems that are the default settings for our society.
In our economic system, most of us need a job to provide ourselves with the basics of life. (yes, yes… I know about zero-impact freecyclers who thrive at the edges of the culture…but without the excess of the culture, how would they live?) Even if I decide to go totally off-grid, I need the basics of food, clothing and shelter. I need land on which to build my sustainable, eco-friendly straw-bale house, not to mention materials. For that, I need money. And for that, I need a source of money. Lacking a wealthy (and generous) great-aunt, I am left to my own devices, looking for a job.
For my job search, I need a phone, transportation, decent clothes to wear to my interviews, and the same old baseline needs for food and shelter while I search. Back to square one.
Already, just in my hopes to raise some money to buy my land on which I will build my wonderful eco-off-the-grid house, I find myself entangled in the system. I buy a cell phone… now I’m enmeshed in everything from rare-earth minerals mining in Africa to plastics manufacturing in Asia. I’m indirectly involved in petroleum drilling (to make that plastic) in the Gulf of Mexico, coal mining in Appalachia (powers the electrical utility so I can charge my phone), and the financial sector since I need a credit card to purchase a usage plan.
And that’s just the stupid little phone. I haven’t even considered having a meal or dressing myself or any of a million other entanglements that are part and parcel of our everyday lives. We live with a level of complexity that most of us barely glimpse, like fish unware of the ocean in which we swim. And those systems? My little cell-phone thought experiment already put me in touch with Big Oil, finance, mining, and chemicals manufacturing. These are not exactly eco-friendly industries. And yet, here I am. Here we all are.
The “Occupy” movement is on the right track, seeking economic justice by exposing the systems that perpetuate the status quo. They are absolutely correct when they assert that for a just and sustainable culture to emerge, everything must change. And I do mean everything.
The trajectory of the status quo, where ever more complex, entangled systems predicated on perpetually increasing consumption enrich the very few at the expense of the biosphere itself… well, it’s only a matter of time before the whole edifice collapses under the weight of its own complexity and ecocidal tendencies.
In my last entry, I made the point that ”the needs of the Earth are primary.” I didn’t mean “the needs of the Earth must be primary in our political agenda,” or “the needs of the Earth must be taken into consideration.” The needs of the Earth are primary. If Earth’s life support systems collapse, all our complicated economic systems are immediately rendered irrelevant, along with our species.
Because you see, we are entangled in other systems as well. Not just complicated economic supply chains. We are deeply, permanently and inextricably enmeshed in fantastic, delicate, resilient, interdependent systems like the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and the carbon cycle. We live in symbiosis with billions of microscopic life forms that colonize our very bodies, and without which we could not survive. We depend on photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and DNA transcription. We depend far more than we realize on ocean tides, fungal decomposition, and the albedo effect.
So we are faced with the tasks of dismantling our destructive economic system, re-imagining a more sustainable and life giving one while at the same time doing all we can to nurture the natural biospheric systems upon which all life depends. What a task. No wonder we have moments where we’d just rather hide under the covers rather than face it all.
In the end, this is a challenge that is beyond our leaders. It is beyond our political systems. It is beyond any corporation. It is beyond any person. But it cannot, it must not be beyond all of us together. Each of us must, in our own way and in our own sphere of influence, act immediately and decisively to challenge and dismantle destructive, life-destroying economic and social systems while supporting and nurturing life-sustaining Earth systems.
How, exactly, can we supply our basic needs while nourishing our souls and healing our planet? What is your part in this grand venture, the Great Work of our time?
Occupy the possibilities. Make them reality.
Photo Credit: “Signs of Life” by flickr user sinisterbluebox at www.creativecommons.org