Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Nature of the Problem - and the Solution

The proximate problems we face as a society are Peak Oil production, and global climate change as a result of industrial effluent. The dominant society that influences the way most human beings live on this planet, and a great part of non-human beings as well, is built on an economy based on inexpensive, highly portable, concentrated energy in the form of fossil fuels, and the socialization of the costs of using these fuels, coupled with the privatization of the profits from their use. In other words, those who have created and profited from the mess have never been required to clean up after themselves.

Despite the drastic changes in all life that these two factors promise, they are not the ultimate cause of this potential failure in the dominant human society. The sources of energy that have become dominant and that have created such severe pollution problems are relatively rare, localized and subject to private ownership and exploitation. Use of fossil fuels has flourished in a social environment of private property ownership and centralized control of access to sources of energy. Centralized government has prospered in this environment and continues to seek increased centralization and control of those energy sources necessary to maintain the social status quo.

We who are aware of the coming changes know that they will change everything in the dominant human society. Everything. Economy. Government. Social relationships. Everything. I'm not sure that everyone realizes just what "everything" means.

As we peer forward dimly into the future, trying to find the ford across the river now that the bridge is clearly out, it becomes evident that central organization is part of the problem. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are dispersed unevenly across the planet, variable available over time, subject to the whims of season, weather and climate. As such, these natural sources of energy are inappropriate to centralization, concentration and distribution, and, subsequently not supportive of a centralized capitalist economy that socializes the costs of energy development and privatizes the profits.

In short, wind and solar energy are best produced and used at the site of production, by those who actually do the work, rather than being produced by central bureaucracies that make a profit off their distribution.

This energy reality bodes ill for central government, authority and economy. The centralized nature of industrial capitalism is largely responsible for the misuse, waste and inefficiency of our present energy systems, not to mention the centralization and maximization of profits to be obtained from extorting money from the people for access to the very resources that belong to no one, yet are given over to private enterprise for private profit. The legacy of all life has been privatized in order to continue a social system built upon elitism, human social inequity and speciesism.

This, as with everything, must and will change.

The answer, as Mohandis Karamchand Gandhi told us 60 years ago, is to turn society upside down and build the human world from the people up, rather than from the ruling elite down. He was concerned at the time with self-government and freedom from foreign oppression, using homespun khadi as a simple of local self-reliance. When the people no longer have to turn to a central authority for their needs, they can build their own freedom for themselves.

A sustainable human society can never be built by a central authority. Centralization requires haves and have-nots, those who possess power and influence and those who do not. In order for a society to be sustainable, it must provide sustenance for all, else there will always be those who demand an equal share, if not more.

In order for all to be sustained, all must be able to carry on their own lives within their own traditions, based on their relationships with their own local bioregions. No sustainable society can be imposed on the people from a central authority. The relationships among humans and the world in which they live must grow of themselves from a living relationship with the local environment.

The coming breakdown of the dominant human society is the best thing that could happen to Homo sapiens, not to mention the millions of other species on this earth. When central authority and oppression finally and ultimately whither through lack of energy, humans will be cast into their own hands at the local level, free of imposed "help" from the central government, free to form lives in harmony in their local bioregions.

The only form of human society that has ever existed sustainably is the local community, with an economic system based on local production for local consumption, organized bioregionally.

A thousand years from now, all humans will be living bioregionally or they will not be living at all.

Leona Gulch
Pacific Plate

1 comment:

  1. Excellent essay, Michael! I have a deep appreciation for how you uniquely "connect the dots" between the problem of peak oil/energy, the natural world and human freedom.

    It's encouraging to see someone so eloquently expand on the thoughts and writings of Edward Abbey.

    Keep on keepin' on!