Sunday, April 26, 2009

Uncomfortable Engagement

There are still many (and perhaps most) people to whom the economic and environmental events we are experiencing are merely extreme case of what we have faced before. As before, economic growth is the answer to most problems, albeit of a different variety (“cleaner” and “greener”). To suggest otherwise is to appear extremist or, at best, out of touch with reality -- the reality of the present, and the reality of what is practical. In part, this is due to an uncomfortable choice forced by one’s recognition of the true state of affairs: the choice to accept responsibility for the far-reaching effects of our actions and limit personal gain, at least in the conventional sense, or to get as much as we can under current rules and ignore the consequences for others.

The new reality is one of limits, a concept that is greeted no less strongly than the inappropriate use of profanity by the majority of us who have lived most of our lives in a culture of growth. Cutting back on world consumption is an abstraction we can almost accept, but it is akin to stealing if applied to our personal future or that of someone we depend on.

I have struggled with these facts on every level: personal, professional, and political. My growing desire to act on my emerging world view is seen almost as an act of treason by my friends, family, coworkers, and members of my larger community. Only the people who have followed a similar path understand, and some are even willing to go much further than I have contemplated. I sometimes suspect that those closest to me think that I’ve been co-opted by a cult.

An obvious option is avoidance, which others like me have openly suggested in one form or another: If you meet with resistance, don’t waste your time trying to force it and simply move on to someone else. This feels wrong, and ultimately is wrong, since our fates are all tied together; everyone must deal with these issues to resolve them, and eventually action will be forced on all of us, and in much more uncomfortable ways. It is, however, the easiest option, given the huge amount of inertia aligned against changing core beliefs and behaviors, which manifests itself most strongly in the dependence of our daily survival on the system that is diminishing our species’ long-term prospects for survival.

Until recently, I felt I had found a good compromise: choose venues where discussion of these issues is appropriate (such as this blog), and try to increase the number of such venues. Supporting this decision were exceptions with friends and family that overall did not go well. Now I am being forced by circumstance to take a more active role: I can’t put off planning for the future because the future is almost here (see my latest population projections), and I can’t exert sufficient control over that future without deviating much more from conventional norms.

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