Reposted from Peak Prosperity
“We have a national mythology that limits are always bad. In fact, we have a national phobia of limits,” wryly observes John Michael Greer: author, historian, conservationist, and proprietor of the popular weblog The Archdruid Report. “We need to get past that.”
We need to come to terms with the fact that we don’t have limitless energy, we don’t have limitless resources, we don’t have limitless time. All of these things are specific. They function within a finite world. And engaging in hand waving about well, human ingenuity is limitless.No, it isn’t. Okay, it may be immense, but it’s not limitless.
And so getting past that fetish of limitlessness strikes me as the most important thing. All of us are going to die – each individual person listening to this show and everybody else as well. That’s a limit we can’t get past. And you’ll notice that people who actually face that limit and say okay, I get this, I have a finite amount of years on this earth and them I’m going to die. What am I going to do with the time that I have? Those are the people that we call mature. Those are the people we call wise. Those are the people who go out and have a life instead of just frittering their time away.
I think we need to do that as a society. We need to say nobody guaranteed America its particular place in the sun. Nobody guaranteed that it would continue to hang together, or that this Constitution – which I think is a very smart document – will continue to function when it’s being ignored by almost everybody. We need to accept that the world’s not functioning in our favor, that we have to function within realistic sets of limitations within which everything should operate. And then we might actually be able to get off our duff and do something creative with the time we have on this earth.
If you’ve ever seen a fifty-year-old man trying to pretend that he’s seventeen, it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to everybody and it rarely ends well. That’s what America is right now. It’s two hundred something years old. It’s not an adolescent anymore. It needs to ditch the bright red car, stop trying to pick up teenage chicks, stop the binge drinking, and actually deal with the fact that there’s only so many years left. You need to do something useful with that time and not go around with everybody else – you know, China and Europe — just rolling their eyes and trying to pretend that they don’t notice how we’ve combed our hair forward over our bald spot.
So, then, what does using our time wisely look like?
Probably two-thirds of the energy we use in this country is wasted. Those of our listeners who have been over to Europe know that they don’t live in caves over there. They get by very comfortably on a third of the energy use per person than we use over here. We could easily — easily — decrease our energy use over a ten to twenty year period to European levels. And once we did so, we’d find that a lot of our international problems would go away in a hurry.
Okay, so the first thing, as we used to say back in the day, back in the 1970s and early 1980s when the whole appropriate tech movement was a growing concern, weatherize before you solarize. You first of all conserve what you have, then you can look at converting to renewables to do things with it.
What would we do that would be sensible? Get out of the empire business. If you do it voluntarily, as Britain demonstrated, you can maintain a lot. If it’s dragged from your cold dead hands, that’s not particularly helpful to you. We would be looking at rebuilding – we used to have the best rail system in the world. At this point, it would be a disgrace to a collapsing Banana Republic. We could fix that relatively easily. We’d provide inexpensive, safe, comfortable, easy rail travel all over the country at a tiny fraction of the energy we now waste on superhighways and air travel. I could go on for a week talking about things that we could do if we were actually going to be reasonable about making the best possible use of the energy we have left.
I would point out that one of the ways we can look at this is what an exciting time this is to be alive. What an astonishing opportunity we have to create – with our own lives, with our own choices – to literally shape the future ahead of us.
So what I advise is that people start by looking at their own lives and saying okay, how is my life going to change as energy constraints continue to squeeze in, and then get ahead of the change instead of being dragged along behind it. Get ahead of it, give yourself some space, work through the learning curve picking up the skills you’re going to need. Do it now, so that by the time it’s necessary, you’re comfortable with it, you know what you’re doing.
You’ve already insulated your place. You may have a solar hot water system in place if you can afford one. You’ve torn up some of the grass in back and turned it into a vegetable garden so that you can stretch out staples. You know how to cook from scratch so you’re not dependent on the vast corporate structure. You maybe started developing some tradable skills. You’ve got a little basement workshop where you’re doing something you can barter with your friends. You’re brewing beer in the basement, you know? That’s actually my number one suggestion for a lot of people – learn how to brew beer. If the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse knock on your door and you can offer each of them a cold one, they’re your friends.