Friday, June 13, 2008

Setting the Agenda

A recent e-mail from On Day One informed me they were co-sponsoring an on-line five-day debate with's Gristmill and UN Dispatch to set the agenda for the 44th president. They asked people to send in ideas on energy and climate, with the best ones to be reviewed by their panel of experts. <>

Of course, they expect you to do this in 500 characters or less, so that automatically leaves me out -- I couldn't even do it in that few words. But, here's what I wrote to send to them before discovering this limitation.

How can the next President solve our global warming crisis and reduce our dependence on foreign oil? By honestly taking on the special interests behind the growth economy and helping dispel the myth that a continuously rising GDP is necessary for progress and prosperity. By helping people understand that regarding the Earth as both an endless supply of resources and a bottomless pit for wastes is highly irrational to the point of insanity because it defies the laws of physics and the other natural sciences. That addictively increasing consumption of material goods is not an acceptable substitute for psychological and spiritual health and well-being. That despite a rising standard of living (conveniently confused with quality of life) America comes in 149th out of 150 countries on the happiness scale. That despite a doubling of gross domestic spending, people aren't twice as happy as their grandparents.

There are some other basic facts that must be injected into a very necessary national, and global, conversation.

The promise of technology is to provide more leisure time. Instead, Americans spend one billion working hours per year in order to buy more leisure wear.

About half of the electricity we currently produce is lost in long distance transmission. Decentralizing the national grid would greatly reduce the supposed need to find replacement energy sources.

One third of the global population produces everything consumed by the entire world. This means we should have full global employment while working two thirds less.

Further, 99% of all that stuff is in a landfill or gathering dust in a closet within six months. Relearning the benefits and value of sharing would go a long way in both building mutually supportive community relationships and in reducing the energy and resources required to build one each of everything for everyone.

We could start producing stuff to be more efficient, to be built to last, and to be easily repairable instead of expending so much time and energy on making people feel unworthy or that they are a failure as a human being if they don't have the latest model in the current color.

About half of the oil America consumes goes to the military so they can fight wars to secure more oil so they can fight more wars. Maybe if we were to quit stealing other people's resources and exploiting their communities for stuff we don't want and that doesn't make us happy anyway, global terrorism would shrink drastically.

It is finally becoming more widely acknowledged that cancer is an environmental disease. If we quit allowing the chemical companies to turn our water, air, and soil into global Superfund sites simply so they can increase profit margins, not only would less energy be required and expended, but quality of life would improve by an order of magnitude and the medical industry would see its energy needs shrink.

The American standard of living has brought us to the point where infant mortality rates are rising, lifespan is decreasing, and about 50% of the American population requires one prescription drug a day, with 20% requiring 3 or more prescriptions to either make it through their day or to be able to tolerate their day. And this doesn't include alcohol and other self-prescribed recreational drugs. This is not a sign of a healthy society, or a shining example of a society to be emulated by the developing world.

By honestly addressing these inconvenient truths (and dozens of others, such as the shallowness of urban sprawl, our forced addiction to automobiles, and the damage inflicted on the web of life's food chain by paving over massive swaths of it), we would discover that we can meet our actual energy needs with currently available renewable energy technologies. But, none of this protects and supports a growth economy, where profit is taken to be more important than people or planet.

The alternative to this paradigm of destruction and disease, however, does not entail stagnation, nor is it a primitivistic call to return to the cave and start chopping wood and carrying our own water. Just as a healthy ecosystem reaches a point of maturity and then stops growing physically larger, it doesn't stop developing and supporting the natural tendency of each of the organisms within it to self-organize and fully contribute toward the health of the whole.

Relocalization, the process to create a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom, social justice and economic equity, provides a systemic alternative to the status quo of domination and exploitation that enriches a very few at the expense of all others. Relocalization addresses food and energy security by embracing steady-state local economies, bioregional governance, and redesign of cities based on permaculture principles, all while adhering to the ecological reality of carrying capacity. It helps us overcome our separation from the natural world, which of course means each other as well. By using the models and metaphors amply supplied by the natural systems principles sustainable ecosystems use to remain healthy, vibrant, and resilient, it also brings out and amplifies those positive aspects of human nature that support the basic life-affirming direction of nature -- compassion, cooperation, creativity, and nurturance.

If the presidential candidates are wanting to be serious about actually doing something to mitigate catastrophic climate destabilization and the steady, and currently inexorable, depletion of polluting fossil fuels, instead of the typical sleight of hand that sounds good while really only ensuring continuing riches to their buddies in industry, then they are most welcome to use the above as a foundation for their campaign platform. Otherwise they should just be honest and admit they're only running for the paycheck and status, ask us to vote for whoever we think is sexiest, and we can all hold hands and watch the world go to hell in a handbasket together.