Back to my question

Posted April 11th, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Back to my question

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish

Yes, back to the basic question of this project, the climax of the book out of which it emerged (see sidebar):

What kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis?

The Children Are Asking - by Mary Southard, CSJ

What I wrote a week ago has stayed with me, and with some other readers who have emailed or talked to me about it. How are we going to live as the crunch time comes, as the old world that formed us – our thinking, how we live in this world, what we think about the human species, how we have used the earth and the attitude we have towards it – as that old world unravels (and it is happening so quickly now) –  what kind of people will we be? How will we respond? Out of fear, a circle-the-wagons approach defending me, my family, and my property rights (values of the Old West frontier that are utterly inappropriate for the times in which we live), out of selfishness and exclusion, or clinging to values that no longer hold? Or will we open ourselves to the turbulent changes with a compassionate heart, a sense of justice, with a spirit of inclusion and sharing as we move into times of scarcity, of ramping down our lifestyles, our standards of living, our ecological footprint?

So, let’s talk about food and fuel. It is now widely reported and confirmed that our switch to biofuels as a measure to wean ourselves from dependency on foreign oil is contributing towards world hunger, especially corn ethanol and soy biodiesel. Vast acreage in this country is being put into production for fuel for our cars and trucks – and this is being subsidized with our tax dollars.

Meanwhile, gas prices are heading towards or surpassing $4 per gallon, and we’re complaining. Elsewhere, people are getting hungry. To whom do they complain?

When we pump gas, are we thinking about the hungry? Didn’t have to before, but now we do. Pres Obama is committed to raising the portion of ethanol in our gas from 10% to 15% to please agribusiness, which is driving this trend – again, supported by us. They didn’t ask me if I wanted this.

Of course, decades ago, when we first saw this oil crunch time coming, we could have planned for this – with technologies like those developed by Honda and Toyota, and by building a state-of-the-art rail system, high-speed rail between cities, light commuter rail, urban trolley lines.  We chose our cars. And when Obama announced his cash-for-clunkers program to try to get old energy wasting cars off the rode, what also happened is that lots of us used the trade-ins to get great deals on SUVs, which turned out to be an unintended (?) result of the program – to clear lots of SUVs that were piling up in the wake of the financial crash in 2008. Have you noticed the sudden increase in the numbers of these new shiny models on our roads in the past year or two? I have.

So don’t complain too much about gas prices. We should probably be paying more (to help fund things like mass transit, so everyone can get around, including those who don’t own cars).

Why I do this work - photo by Mom

What kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis, what kind of people right here in the United States which is beginning to experience the decline? I know one thing that is happening – a widening of the chasm between rich and poor and the fastest concentration of wealth in this country in generations! One thing that is happening is that the wealthy are getting ready for the decline – by grabbing what they can from the rest of us.

Then there is this constant search for alternative energies to keep the economy pumping away as we once knew it. No one wants to say that that old economy is waning, is in its final days, the one that by massive production of consumer goods could support a large middle class in this country (usually at the expense of poor countries all around the world – it always depended on that).  It’s over, friends, so every time you hear people talking about getting the economy going again by creating more manufacturing jobs, don’t believe a word they’re saying. Those who hold the wealth aren’t going to create good paying jobs, are not intending to share the wealth that way, much less through returning to old tax rates on wealth (70-80% in our best economic days). They don’t need to to increase their wealth. They invest in financial markets, the kind that crashed in 2008 wiping out mortgages and jobs.

Have you noticed that they have restored their lost wealth and are doing quite nicely, while unemployment remains high and permanent unemployment has become the reality for millions of people?  Meanwhile, MacDonald’s will be adding 50,000 new low wage jobs so that it can keep more stores open 24 hours. Welcome to the new economy!

How are we going to live? With what values? We are at a real turning point in this question of what kind of human beings we will be. I would love to hear from you on what you think about the new values required and how we will actually live them – because the political culture is moving in the opposite direction of what is urgently needed. We have a lot to give up if we are going to make it through this time of ecological and economic crisis – mostly our expectations and our ideas of what is required to have a ‘good’ life.

The Earth is getting crowded with humans – we cross the 7 billion threshold this year – and we are taking a terrible toll on the planet. Folks living in desperate poverty have a right not to live in desperate poverty and we will have to give up a lot if we are to accommodate everyone’s right to a life of dignity and basic well-being. But it will not go well if we continue to allow a politics of wealth generation for the few, if we allow corporations to take over our governments, if we allow our society to be manipulated by the hate-mongers and ideologues who have broken down our ability to even speak civilly to one another.

Also, to keep this world beautiful - Photo: Margaret Swedish

The United States is in profound transition – from a dominant economic power to a declining economy, from a predominantly white society to a society in which the majority will soon be made up of diverse races and cultures, from a society that deluded itself into thinking everyone could have a shot at the lavish American Dream if they just put their heart and sweat into it to a society that has lost this illusion, finally, because it was never true. We can try to fight these trends, or we can welcome them as opportunity to begin creating a new society based on the kinds of values that the times require of us now.

And most of all, this culture must, must, must move, and quickly, from its deep-seated traditions based in individualism (economic, religious, cultural) to one based in reality, or in what is real about all life and all living systems on the planet – that there is no such thing as the individual, there is only a community of beings either in healthy or destructive relationships.

Healthy or destructive – which kind of human beings will we be?

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