“Everything we think we know about the world is a model” ~ Donella Meadows (Thinking in Systems – A Primer)
“There are no separate systems. The world is a continuum. Where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the purpose of the discussion” ~ Donella Meadows (Thinking in Systems – A Primer)
This is an open letter to Kim, the blogger who posted: https://storiesofcreativeecology.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/sustainability-is-destroying-the-earth/
Re-posted at Deep Green Resistant New York: https://deepgreenresistancenewyork.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/sustainability-is-destroying-the-earth/
Your post, which I discover today reposted at Deep Green Resistance, is one of the most honest I’ve read so far about the many predicaments we face and the role of the “green” economy and “sustainability” movement…
For years, I’ve been asking about the further and non-linear consequences of “renewables” and I was also deeply suspicious of the “changing bulbs” mentality…I’ve challenged the concept behind some permaculturists of “opting out”, “getting off the grid” and “back to the land” movement as one of abandonment and un-compromising with those left behind, including the many processes sustaining the unsustainable systems
Even Transition seems to be stagnant and going nowhere beyond minimal and isolated impacts: changing fro within is possible, but may take decades if not hundreds of years, and may mean nothing if there is not enough people on board.
The reality is that the task, whatever it is, seems so huge that people develop different copying (or escaping) mechanisms including those who have no much choice but continuing the rat race just because there is NO OTHER choice for them…(and I have posted many times about this: there seems to be a persistent attitude that thinks those who don’t change/don’t exchange are not committed or not aware enough, are lazy or too comfortable. This may be true for some, but it is not true for the single mother out there who cannot afford land or leaving her job, or for the middle class man whose wife and kids are not in the same page, or for the girl with schizophrenia, the young man with anxiety disorder, the trans woman struggling to find a place to belong, the immigrant who has to support his family here and his parents and family members back home, to the many migrants displaced, the family across the street battling cancer or the one a block away with a child with cerebral palsy…)
I have to confess that I feel let down and frustrated every time I read “but there is still a window of time”. It seems as this window is eternal and infinite, as we have been reading about it for decades, even before Limits to Growth and Silent Spring…and the world seems to be still out there, so for many, the need to change is just NOT THERE: biodiversity loss is difficult to see unless you are an ecologist and understand the many connections; collapses and social or economic injustices are invisible to many who have a full time job, a comfortable life and lots of entertainment, but is also invisible to those who have their own demons inside, at home or looming in their own community; resource depletion is difficult to grasp when you go outside and see thousands of cars, new house developments, new department stores and malls full of new and “exciting” cheap products…
I’m not sure what the call from your post is either. While the points you make are very real, the “strategy” is unclear…”destroy the grid”? How that would accomplish anything?
A monster with many heads who also has the ability to reproduce limbs faster than they are cut is impossible to kill…unless you learn about what feeds it and how the internal and external mechanisms work. Unless you understand its natural limiting factors, which any system (monster or angel) has…
I’ve been reading a lot about how systems work, and probably these many predicaments can also be addressed with a systemic mentality: what are the cycles, the stocks and the flows and where are the points we can successfully intervene?
In every system, no matter where you draw the lines, there are feedback loops that push for growth and those who push for balance: we can see that in nature where “pests” and “predators” create a balance that otherwise would make certain populations grow exponentially. But each system, no matter where you draw the lines, also has limiting factors: no matter the technology, our attitude, efficiency, etc., resources are limited, even those that are “renewable”.
You are right in many ways: with the hijacked concept of “sustainability” everywhere, we may be pushing the wheels that feed what we don’t want to grow (as in Permaculture: “feed what you want to grow, starve what you don’t…”). By changing bulbs, applying efficiency to our systems, changing the source and means of energy use, going organic, recycling and so forth, we are just “sustaining” a capitalistic system that requires not only continuous growth, credit, debt and consumption, but for it to survive it also requires inequality, oppression and exploitation: because if all people are fully educated, aware and have access to what they need, then they wouldn’t accept the slavery jobs, salaries and livelihoods necessary to support the system.
The thing is, if we understand how systems work, there is no single “culprit” at this point: we are all part of it, even if we decide to resist: just being here makes all of us part of the system and its many sub-systems: this means that we are also governed by its “rules” and archetypes, its limiting factors and feedback loops.
There are only two ways to change the behaviours and/or mental models that support a system: either we consciously take distance to see what’s going on, accepting the limits to growth and start intervening intelligently on the areas where we can truly change the direction of the loops/cycles, or the system will apply its rules to us: the solution will be system-imposed.
I’m not sure destroying anything will do it. Take for instance people who suddenly decide to avoid plastic in their lives and get rid of all the plastic they have: where does all that plastic go?
If we “destroy the grid”, another will appear somewhere else. The reason Jevon’s paradox works is because it is based on how system’s work: you make something efficient, now you are trapped by more of the stuff you wanted to avoid in the first place. The paradox also apply to destruction: that’s why revolutions and civil wars rarely “work”. Unless we have a magical wand, destroying grids will only create major suffering among those who cannot afford living without it, and we won’t accomplish anything.
Bringing industrial civilization to a halt, apart from technically, politically and socially impossible would not solve things: if we were able to stop mining and using fossil fuels and raw materials today, we wouldn’t solve the climate change predicament, the pollution predicament or the biodiversity loss predicament: the feedback loops that influence climate change have already been started and some that are actually “helping” (such as air pollution) will suddenly disappear, making possible for greenhouse gases to create warmth even faster; pollution is already in place for watersheds, soil and many ecosystems and “clean up” would only push the problem somewhere else; biodiversity loss is a function of feedback loops: we fed them long time ago when we started intervening in ecosystems by applying toxic pesticides, cutting forests and bringing exotic plants and animals to feed our thirst for novelty.
If one wants to stop the dependence on fossil fuels, changing to renewables does not make it not only because all you mention in your post (cradle-to-grave products and materials cycles), but because the mental models (i.e. the “stories” that say we are the chosen, special ones and the rest are no other than “resources” and the one that says we “deserve” comfort and stuff and unlimited pleasure) are so ingrained in most of us that will push for finding another way, technology, resource and even planet…
Our mental models (the stories we tell ourselves and have been told and accepted by us) influence our behaviours, and our behaviours influence the events we see: deforestation, resource depletion, displaced or crushed wildlife, social injustice, etc.
If we keep focusing on these “events” and trying to reverse or oppose them as such, we are just pushing the wheels even further…digging the hole deeper in the same direction we are criticizing.
After some years of trying to be involved in “changing events”, I’m now trying to understand the archetypes and mental models, the behaviours behind these events.
I haven’t yet found the answer…
Note: I don’t own any of the pictures posted here and have forgotten where or from who I got them. As I’m not making any personal gain with this blog and my posts are free for anyone to read, comment or share, I apologize if posting them causes any inconvenience. We don’t really “own” anything, much less “creation”. No human being is an island…