Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We Live or Die as a High-Energy Society

I have a long-running, passionately argued debate with a dear friend whose values once were very similar to my own. No longer. Now she has changed her life to a simplified, rustic style that will (maybe someday almost) lower her “” to a “” level. She sends me little discreet messages encouraging me to follow her example.

But I won’t. I try not to live wastefully in my high-rise apartment condominium, but I cannot claim to be frugal. My main contribution to the environment is to reduce my greatly. (She still flies around the world, surely offsetting any benefits she has bestowed on it by her otherwise reduced standard of living.) If we did a complete audit of our annual ecological damage, I bet mine would not be much worse than hers, though I do drive a car and eat meat.

Still, the reality is that I have chosen to go down with the ship, if that is what will happen. She hopes to survive the upcoming . And that is what our dispute is about. I adore this modern urban capitalist civilization. It’s the greatest one that has ever existed, if only by enabling billions of people to survive with increasing comfort and cultural advancement. That’s stunning success! And, as said in a recent lecture in Toronto, we are a high-energy society and we will live or die as a .

From my point of view, the challenge is to find ways to live, rather than die, as a high-energy society. The worst failure would be to have to regress to living in local, low-energy communities of the very kind that my friend is trying to create. Marx called it “the idiocy of rural life.” Creativity comes from living in where we're exposed to others very unlike ourselves. To do so requires cities, and universities, and technology that changes all the time.

She wants to live “in .” But nature has never been in equilibrium and never will be. Still, I want to take responsibility for living on our planet and making it work. If we make a mess, we have to clean it up. That doesn’t mean restoring it to some idyllic pastoral condition, for we must keep moving forward rather than trying to establish a new . Always the forward motion is precariously tending toward collapse, but we press forward anyway, and invent new ways of adapting. Human beings have always been forced to innovate; they don't change unless situations require it. Even would not be adopted if the population didn't outgrow its means of subsistence; hunters and gatherers hate to have to shift to farming because it is hard work -- but that's how we've been forced to progress, thank God.

We live on a tight-rope — and it’s especially thrilling now. Other people say 2008 was a terrible year but I enjoyed it immensely, for it constantly called upon me to innovate. Ethically I must support our urban civilization, rather than to abandon it. If it dies, I will go down with it. But what a splendid challenge! Crises reveal the , showing us our responsibility for our world — a high-energy world that will either live or die as such.

So Happy New Year, my beloved ones. This new year will bring brilliant challenges to us all — and we have the extraordinary privilege of being alive at this unique moment of the human journey! Onward, my friends!



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