by Zvi Baranoff
Throughout human history, we have perceived - incorrectly - that there are unlimited resources. Our ancestors saw unending forests, lots of animals, long and winding rivers that seemed to go on forever, and assumed that the Earth could give to them endlessly. Localized shortages were resolved by simply moving along until again they again found unlimited wealth. Slashing, burning, plowing and harvesting, civilization marched on, destroying ecosystems and depleting soil with little long term understanding or concern. This was the way of humanity prior to industrialization and such an approach continued to hold sway with the development of industrial capabilities.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the common assumption – held by both the “Left” and the “Right”, by proponents of Capitalism and the mirror image proponents of Communism as well as the various ideologies that lay in between – is that with proper management and enough growth we can increase production, creating more and more wealth, and over time improve the living conditions of the human race. This presumption is based on the industrial myth that more and more energy is available, more and more resources can be mined, more and more products can be produced …essentially, that “more” is always possible and inherently better.
The industrial model has brought us many advances, but the progress has not come without its costs. We have become dependent on fossil fuels and mass production resulting in enormous waste, having created a culture where we work endlessly to produce and consume more without satisfaction and to the detriment of our physical, mental and spiritual health. We do not have the ability to continuously produce more, and even for our current level of wasteful production to continue is contingent on the availability of relatively inexpensive sources of energy. While the industrial capitalist model has not run out of gas yet, the costs of fueling the mechanism have gotten more expensive and the price will continue to rise. We have reached a key juncture where we must decide what direction our civilization should take and how we move forward from here.
Issues concerning poverty and environmental sustainability are interwoven and need to be approached as part of the same fabric. We need a long term strategy that challenges many dominant assumptions. It is not enough to merely establish programs that feed the poor and house the homeless, although those tasks are certainly noble and needed. We need to establish the conditions that will allow us to recreate the very nature of our economic relationships and integrate our understanding of the environment, taking into account how we will choose to live in harmony with our planet. A new paradigm is required, not merely to bring a basic level of potential to each and every one of us, but to guarantee our collective survival.
A common understanding needs to be developed between activists working on social justice issues and on environmental issues that will lead to the development of sustainable ecological communities. Decentralized planning based on local conditions must be used to address fundamental issues of producing and supplying food, energy and shelter in a sustainable manner. This goes way beyond soup kitchens and emergency shelter for the needy. That kind of emergency stop gap approach has the possibility of serving as a bridge to longer term planning, but the crisis that is faced by the impoverished amongst us is a foreshadow of what we all face collectively if we do not in all seriousness begin a transition to an approach that reevaluates our expectations and reorganizes our daily lives.
It is high time that divergent organizations working on housing issues, solar energy development, gardening and farming issues, transportation, educational access and a whole range of economic and environmental issues find ways to work together, integrating their approach toward a common vision. Both in the most developed industrialized regions of the world and in the least developed villages we must now be coming to an understanding that we face many of the same issues, are threatened by many of the same dangers and our hope lies in shared solutions. We need to resolve the issues surrounding our resources, energy use and land use with a clear understanding that we need to live in a way that is sustainable to guarantee that future generations of humans can continue to inhabit this blue-green planet.
Some of the finest work is being done in the most decentralized manner. Thoughtful community planning can reduce the need for commuting and make basic resources locally available. Access to educational opportunities via computers through the Internet connects individuals even in very diverse communities. Bicycles provide virtually free transportation to any able bodied person on this planet. Self sustained housing that integrates proper land use, passive solar energy and food production offers long term answer to homelessness and hunger. Even in the most advanced nations, there is no reason that much of the food production can be through localized sources. During World War II, as a relatively recent historical perspective, 50% of the USA food was from backyard Victory Gardens. Eating from your own or your neighbor’s garden is a wiser and healthier choice for anyone and an essential way to end dependence on industrial farming practices and corporate control of the food supply. The various step by step approaches, when integrated, become an overall strategy of cultural, political and economic transformation. By developing and promoting approaches that are low impact, sustainable and self sufficient we can implement this new sort of development in any environment. Through the simple sharing of basic tools and knowledge we can bring a balanced prosperity to people worldwide.
We are at an important crossroad. One road leads to continued environmental destruction, scarce resources and warfare. The other path offers true peace and prosperity through the reevaluation of our needs and making informed choices about the way we hope to live. We need to head down the path that will lead to a greener, more satisfying future.