Why I Don’t Focus on Sustainability Much…

Miranda over at Simple Living has been taking some brickbats recently from readers from the sounds of it. For those of you who don’t read her blog (and if you don’t you should IMO), she and her family have been taking some massive steps towards reducing their energy usage (see her Riot for Austerity post for details) by 90% or more. It’s a laudable goal, and while she’s not there yet, she’s making good progress, and at any rate she’s doing a hell of a lot more than I am on that front.

The Achilles Heel in Miranda’s sustainability armor is that she’s got five kids, and it sounds like she’s taken some flak about that fact from readers, who claim that adding those five mouths to the world’s population is doing more damage to the environment than could be remedied by any austerity measures she and her family are taking.

What a load of shit.

I don’t focus too much on my efforts at sustainability here because it invariably turns into a ‘holier than thou’ kind of pissing contest. The vegans rip on the omnivores, the childless rip on those with families, and if you’re building a small, energy-efficient house off the grid, you’re going to get hammered by someone who lives in a yurt and forages for wild berries and smokes ditchweed.

For my part, my current living situation isn’t terribly sustainable. I live in a house in the burbs, have two children, and I drive to work every day. At the same time, I’m trying to learn more about raising, preparing and preserving my own wholesome food, and I’m trying to learn how to maintain my bike, and I’m going through my crap in the basement and trying to reduce my collection. It’s baby steps at best, and I realize that… but you know what? It’s all practice at this point anyway.

The way I look at things, all of the work we all are doing is just learning or re-learning skills that we’re going to need at some point, or possibly teach our children. In the fairly near future I think our society is going to take a step backwards in our standards of living. Whether it’s peak oil, climate change, economic chaos, geopolitical endgames, or something, else, we have a number of knives that we’re collectively juggling, and it appears that at least one of them is going to fall point-down pretty soon. This doesn’t mean we’ll be living in the dark ages anytime soon, but it does mean that some of the global support systems we rely on for power, food and goods are going to unravel, and there will be economic dislocation and suffering because of it.

We are learning how to live with less now while we still have the safety net in place. That’s what people like Miranda and others are doing. Oh, and her five kids? Well guess what: they’re learning these skills at a young age without having to unlearn some of the more pernicious aspects of our current living arrangements. You can look at her family as extra un-needed mouths to feed, or you can see five new teachers of a simpler way of living who will be able to do many good things for people in their lives.

If someone like Miranda is taking heat for her efforts, how would those of us who aren’t doing as much fare?


10 Responses to Why I Don’t Focus on Sustainability Much…

  1. Jim says:

    By the “more mouths to feed” logic, the only “sustainable” thing one might do is to not only not procreate but also to commit suicide. Better yet, become a mass murderer.

    A few years ago, I replaced about 16,000 miles per year of driving with bicycling and simply eliminating unnecessary trips. I was proud of that accomplishment and I’ve even been known to preach about it. Invariably, the preaching would lead to somebody pointing out that bike-production requires energy or that I was still heating my house with a non-renewable fossil fuel or that my wife was still motoring (as if she listens to me!).

    You get into all these moral equivalences that make a little sense from a qualitative standpoint, but from a quantitative standpoint, they are absurd. For example, if I recall, Miranda has gone as far as using cloth TP, she doesn’t buy anything new, and she doesn’t consume much processed or non-local food. But the critics have discovered her Achilles heel, that she has five kids. So maybe she should give up her careful lifestyle and start piloting the crew around in the Land Cruiser to hit the shopping malls and fast food chains every weekend? Then she’d be as slobbish as everybody else.

    That’s the goal. It’s the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Where I grew up in a rural, economically-depressed place, if you tried to accomplish anything (get an education, get in shape, get a better job, etc), all the lifelong losers would try to sabotage you at every turn – they can’t bear to see one poppy rising taller than the others. Oddly, the internet replicates this behavior, which I’d always considered to be a small-town phenomenon.

  2. Burdockboy says:

    I will mirror the commentors above by also adding well-put.

    I believe that most of the bloggers in our near circle are trying to focus on making life improvements. Some take more dramatic steps, others smalleer ones. Some people were brought up living simple, while others have never put their hands in freshly tilled soil. We are all on a journey to a better way. I hope we all continue-even amongst the naysyers.

  3. mike says:

    Interesting bit in this quote:

    “In the fairly near future I think our society is going to take a step backwards in our standards of living.”

    Must we assume it will be backwards? Have we really come forward? It will certainly be different – but for some, it might be an improvement. For others, not. Standard of living is sort of relative. Trade in the trips to the mall and the 2 hours of commuting and you might find that your life improves – even without the extra income your ‘job’ provided. Others they may find their lives crippled by the lack of consumption…

    This isn’t a criticism of your blog – I love dropping in here to read – but it is a criticism of our thought process – we are so ingrained with ‘how things are’ – we assume anything that is different or doesn’t march along the path of ‘progress’ is bad.

    And Jim – stop using all those chemicals in your photos! I can’t believe that you give up your car only to turn and support the insidious and well placed photo chemical conspiracy lobby. They hold all the power – when we start paying double and triple for our electricity people will think twice about shooting thousands of images on their digicams and storing them electronically. There will be a rush on photo chemicals and the ‘insiders’ that were at the Cheney photo energy summit will reap the rewards of profit for high demand for manipulated low supply. They’ll then use all that capital to buy political capital and the next election. It won’t be long before we our very world is controlled by image over substance.


  4. Bart says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Jim: The tall poppy syndrome is spot-on. By the way, for fun & games with overpopulation issues, google ‘Kissinger’ and ‘useless eaters… or ‘Prince Phillip’ and ‘virus’. Some of the political elite have some very Machiavellian ideas about how to take care of that particular problem. How serious they are, I don’t know… I’m inclined to take Kissinger’s ideas at face value, while thinking that Prince Phillip is making another bone-headed attempt at humor… or maybe not.

    Mike: Thanks for posting, and you’re absolutely right in your comment. I’m trapped in the same mode of thinking most times as most other folks. By ‘taking a step back’ in our living standards I’m talking about access to energy and goods, since we have ample access to both right now. I agree with you that our quality of life may go up even as our ability to buy stuff goes down… we’ll find out soon enough. For what it’s worth, my kids are spoiled rotten by our families, yet their favorite toys are usually the small ones, or sometimes even toy boxes that they use in make-believe play. All the while the expensive toys sit collecting dust in the corner…

  5. mike says:

    Agreed. We’re all in it and can’t get far enough away to see where we are at. When we jump out of one box we simply land in another, possibly larger box.

    How to change? Not sure, but for me it means making myself the model of the world that I want to live in. Easy – no way. Am I anywhere near getting there – not in this lifetime. I’m working towards a different life path while funding it with another that on a good day I truly can stomach and on a bad day sets me off. Its not easy to pull oneself out of the reality thats been set in motion before us… but we make the world anew nearly every day. Would we choose to make it the way we see it before us? And if we would not – what would it look like?

  6. Beo says:

    Mia and I have dubbed the “you aren’t doing enough” crowd the “Lamers”. Like Bart and Miranda, hell all of us have heard too many times the comments like :You drive a Prius? That is so lame, I take the bus” “You take the bus to work? That is so lame, I bike to work!” “You bike to work? That is so lame, my bike was made in a fair trade education facility in Uganda from recycled AK-47’s by AIDs orphans” etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    We feel that the most important change is the one of mindset. Admitting you have the problem has the biggest impact. Going from biking to work to walking doesn’t have nearly as much impact as the initial descion to drive less or buy a more fuel effecient car. Worse yet-I would wager that the Lamers are having a net Carbon Positive impact due to the amount of people they turn off. I know people refusing to buy hybrids so as to not be associated with the wacko fringe aka Lamers.

    Way to go Lamers! After all, self righteousness is what it is all about. eff that.
    We need to stop eating our own and get our eye back on the prize. I will keep pushing my envelope, but will be much more proactive in recognizing the progress of others.

    Burdockboy, Bart, Miranda, et all. You Rock. On behalf on my children, I thank you.

  7. Theresa says:

    Thanks for your plain speaking – it’s good to hear someone tell it like it is. I’ll have to stick around and read a bit more…

  8. It really is remarkable to watch how some folks will recognize a problem and choose to criticize those who in large part agree with them for creating or perpetuating that problem. I think it’s much easier to rail against those with whom one has a common interest. Think about how a common understanding of concepts and common vocabulary facilitate this. Add a little fear of confronting the unknown, and pretty soon you’re pulling out the pots and pans, ready to cook and eat your own.

    Consider the case a couple of years ago, of the chunk 666-type bicycle group in our town showed up to protest the annual Bike to Work Week gathering. They carried signs calling the event “Middle-Class Cop-Out Week.” Okay, so most of the chunkers were car-free types, dedicated to selflessly creating a better world by welding bits of salvaged tricycles and Huffys together in the basements of their low-rent apartment buildings between shifts as dishwashers; and maybe some of the Bike to Work Week participants only rode to work that one and only week of the year; but really, give me a break. Who the hell protests transportation cycling? Why couldn’t someone protest a car show or something that represented a real challenge to cycling?

    Probably because it wasn’t a safe bet.

    On another note, the very same folks who would find Miranda’s Achilles Heel in her five kids reveal in themselves a certain affection for Thomas Malthus. Unfortunately, these very same people would be revolted at the idea of being labelled Mathusian.

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