Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Year Ahead

By any objective standard, I should feel lucky. Having been unemployed for nearly 14 months (six of them voluntarily), I landed a contract technical writing job. As with my last assignment, a combination of my own skill and the quantity of work available has led to several extensions. I have even been able to get some overtime, enabling me to pay all of my family’s bills. There is even the possibility of working through the summer utilizing knowledge and skills as a radar test engineer that I haven’t applied in 19 years. If the dominant economic projections are accurate, the contract may end right around the time that the employment rate starts to increase again. If my wife gets a job during this time and my chances of getting another gig are anywhere near normal, we may be able to start recouping the losses we experienced last year, and we can have some hope of retiring before we’re 70.

After reaching a plateau in my research into potential futures for the world as a whole, I joined two reading groups, one about ecological economics and the other about the Transition movement. These activities and my work schedule severely curtailed the time and energy I could devote to my own writing, but as a result I have a lot more to write about and a better idea about what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Ecological economics, it turns out, is very much in synch with the ideas I have worked out on my own, and goes into much more detail than I’ve been able to flesh out. The takeaway message for me is that our current economic theory is tragically incomplete, based on an “empty world” rather than a “full world” like the one we currently inhabit. In an empty world, people can consume and waste as much as they want with hardly any consequences, because their scale of activity is miniscule compared to the “environment” they live in. Today, however, the scale of activity is large enough to noticeably affect the amount of resources, other species, and interrelationships in the biosphere that we ultimately depend on for our survival.

The Transition movement is based on the notion that we all are about to take a hit from both Peak Oil and global climate change which will force us to learn to live with less consumption of everything, especially energy. It attempts to rebuild communities so they can be “resilient” -- meeting their own basic needs as much as possible, in concert with Nature rather than by destroying it. In the process, relationships between people will become strong again, and we will ultimately lead more fulfilling lives.

My personality, interests, and temperament are more suited to academia than industry. In the not-too-distant future, I intend to pursue an academic career aimed at promoting and developing ecological economics so that it is a primary force in decision-making at all levels. To gain first-hand experience and develop myself more as a person, I will become more active in the Transition movement, but with a focus on the process of rational living rather than just preparing for the end of the age of cheap energy. As my research has taught me, even from such a high level view, there are certain fundamentals that we must account for no matter what our circumstances and immediate future.