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Thursday, April 23, 2020

After Planet of the Humans: Where Do We Go Now?


Yesterday was Earth Day, which we ignored for most of the day, since we were busy with a bunch of important things, among them my partner Markus' work where he makes software for various land-based companies. Some of them are supposedly environmental companies; some are resource extraction companies, and one even has plans to log our home. But never mind. It's a good solid job and gives him employment and financial security in a time where there's not much security to go around. The bosses even took huge pay-cuts to keep from having to lay off employees like Markus. And besides. We live in a wooden house with glass windows, appliances and a car, and we need those resource extraction companies to supply the raw materials for these things.

So last night at the end of Earth Day, Markus and I snuggled up in our cozy foam bed and down quilt, with a cup of imported fair-trade hot chocolate with instant factory milk, set our nifty black laptop on our knees, and watched the movie about humanity's demise. Planet of the Humans. Well Happy Earth Day to us. We're wrecking the place. Thanks, Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore, for bursting our hot chocolate bubble.

This film has received a good chunk of criticism, mostly (that I've seen) for being biased, and for using some of the fossil fuel industry's tactics to demean green energy and economy. But some of the points they bring up are truths we actually need to face. Like that switching over to electric cars (which I covet endlessly despite this film) will still require far more resources than the earth has to spare. And more importantly, we need to face the fact that our consumption is simply not sustainable. Green tech is not going to save us; we have to make some sacrifices, and yes - we're capable.

What we already knew:
The problem isn't fossil fuels as much as it is overpopulation and over-consumption.

If we curbed the rate of human consumption, we could make a better go of long-term survival for our species. Like Markus' bumper sticker says: Save the Humans. We all know we'd be OK without tourism, commuting and global travel-for-work, imported foods, large homes, or all-the-stuff. The kind of consumption our species has become accustomed to is not necessary.


We want to do better by our planet and our future, but we're competing in a world where everybody is waiting for everybody else to change, and none of us is willing or able to make the first big jump to a new way of living.

We're competing. Did I mention that? School is a competition, financial markets are a competition, getting ahead in business and life is a competition, the rat-race is a competition. Hell, half the time even friendship turns out to be a competition. So in some deep-seeded way, our minds know that being the first person to jump off the train means losing the competition -- losing at life. It means our kids won't keep up with their friends; it means our kids will cry about being left out of Disneyland and Hawaii and Broadway musicals; our kids will badger us about why their friends have better computer systems and better cars and better, bigger houses, and why-can't-we?! It means the guy we sit beside at work has a better house or works out harder or just gets paid more. Being the first person to jump off the consumerism train means I will lose, and nobody wants to be that guy.

What we learned from this movie:
No, technology can't actually save us. There is no "green" technology. There is only green consumption... which means less consumption.

Most of the "green" or "ethical" products we buy or use are in fact not green at all. Most rely on fossil fuels - including solar power, wind power, and every. single. company. that claims to run only off of green energy. Hmph.

Electric cars, solar panels, and other green tech are just shiny destructive sink-holes for our hard-, rat-race-earned money. Second only to replacing rotten bits of our home, getting an electric vehicle has been our main goal. We realize now that driving a heap of metal and plastic around using electricity isn't going to save the world. We have to stop traveling. Period. We've been deluded, and we don't want to be that guy.
  
What coronavirus isolation is teaching us:
Isolation has taught us that we are happier with less!! Markus isn't traveling to work every day, and for the first time in about twenty years, he has energy for more than just work. He's building a chicken coop in his spare time. We have interesting and engaging conversations. Our relationship is renewing itself and we're discovering that we're still in love with each other's minds. I can't ever see us letting this go again, not matter how frightening it feels to be that family who stays in isolation when the world goes back to "normal".

Our kids are happy! Don't get me wrong - they're not at all happy about the chasm between them and their friends right now, but the lack of travel to and from town, along with the lack of pressure to do all kinds of activities means that for the first time in years they're well-rested and healthy. Their relationship with each other and with us has improved, as well. We're all finding ways to live authentically as a family and enjoy each other's company, when before we barely had time to sleep between outside engagements. We all are watching the need for all those outside engagements fall away, and discovering that most of what we needed was right here.

Hugs are more important than we realized. I really miss hugging the people I love. If we didn't live in such a globalized community, we could live in small isolated groups and hug each other more.

We don't need as much stuff/food/money as we thought we did. The first thing we did in this pandemic time is realize that our income was going to drop, and make adjustments. We quit buying more than the essentials. That hot chocolate we had last night? Yeah. The cocoa is finite, now, and suddenly we're all very very careful about consuming it. We have a hunk of cheese in the freezer that I keep offering to get out, and the kids decide they'd rather save it for very special occasions. We're doing just fine on (mostly) rice, lentils, oats, and veggies from our garden.

Growing our own food!! Like so many people out there it seems, we now have more time to commit to our food-growing, and it's very, very satisfying. Currently we're eating cauliflower, kale, and weeds from the garden, and next week we'll get a clutch of chicks to start our new flock of egg and meat birds. Around that time we should also get our first asparagus harvest.

I know we're very privileged to be able to say all this - not everybody is having a good or easy time of isolation. We have some land to use (not ours, but a very secure rental from my parents), and Markus' secure job, and the skills we've developed over the years to provide for ourselves without some of the usual conveniences. Additionally, unschooling gave us the confidence to see that change is possible. We can at least lean out the windows of the consumerism train and feel the wind on our faces, so all this change is less of a shock than it might have been.

What we can't change (yet): 
Land ownership. We can't afford to buy land, and we're going to have to make due without it. We acknowledge that moving to a much more isolated location would potentially give us the ability to own land, but that would mean leaving our family behind, and we don't want to do that. Additionally, land ownership can only happen if we borrow money from the industrial complex that we're hoping to put an end to. So that, too, is not an ethical choice. You might say that renting is still living on the same system, and it's true, but right now we have to accept it, because we don't know of an alternative.

Working for the complex. The transition to a more self-sufficient life can't happen instantly, so Markus plans to keep working, and hopefully keep earning enough to pay our rent and buy the things we need.

Fossil fuels. We can't yet source everything we need locally, although one day we hope we'll be able to. The more people are living a sustainable local life, the more we can trade within our community and provide for each other, but for now we're still going to need our vehicle to drive out to the valley and buy some farming supplies, grains that we can't grow ourselves, and other such things. Maybe once in a while a piece of local(ish) cheese or a new pair of farm boots, too.

Our kids' decisions. These are kids who have spent time at climate protests. There's no way they don't care about their future. But it's not our place to make decisions for them, and if they choose to keep going to town, the choice will be theirs. Their independence and freedom to choose will enable them to make sound decisions. As parents, we can lead by example better than by force. And besides, who knows -- with their open, creative minds and youthful courage, they might end up teaching us quite a bit! In many ways they already have.

Not being able to make all of the changes doesn't mean there's no point in starting. The more of us get on the bandwagon and live in supportive community, the easier the bigger changes will become.

What we can change now:
We can dream. I envision a day when we grow a field of oats. The oats will feed us (and to some extent, our chickens), and the hay from them will be bedding for the chickens, and then will become a fertilizer-rich additive to our vegetable garden (soil-building!) The chickens will give us eggs and meat and fertilizer for the garden. The garden will give us innumerable different foods: starches, greens, fruits and proteins. I see a cycle of life all around our beautiful home, with all household-members contributing because we're finally home often enough to do so.

We can make our dreams come true. Markus and I have made a massive commitment to carry on consuming less -- a LOT less. The pandemic isolation has shown us that we are capable of living a better, happier life while consuming a fraction of what we did before, and we plan to spend the next year working towards being mostly self-sufficient. By this time next year we'd like to have gotten through a winter on largely our own produce, and be well on our way to getting our energy-consumption (currently wood and electric) under control. Yep - we put a short timeline on our dreams, because otherwise it might be too easy to be waylayed by the rat-race.

And no more traveling. We're going to have to find our adventure locally. Entertainment-wise, that's not hard to do. I just walk out and look at the world around me, and I am endlessly entertained. Most devastatingly, though, no traveling means we might never see some of our European relatives again, and while that feels truly horrible, we are going to have to find other ways to connect. Globalism has to stop if we're going to have a livable globe.

We can share our dreams and struggles and successes, and I hope you will, too! Judging by the people who, over the years, have told me that this blog helped them make changes in their parenting or lifestyles, I think writing here may be the best thing I've done with my life. Sharing our story has apparently given confidence to others. Imagine if each of us took a bold step to make a change, and shared our story? It could spread like wildfire. It could spread like coronavirus. No, we don't all know what we're doing, but neither did I when I started this crazy unschooling journey. A while ago I asked Markus if he thought I'd changed in the time he knew me. He said that in the beginning I just tried stuff and wanted to know stuff. Now I know stuff, and I share what I know... and I keep learning. I think it was the biggest compliment of my life! If we can give each other the courage to jump, we'll be there to help each other figure out the details along the way.

We can love. I woke up this morning imagining that I was sitting back-to-back with my brother on my porch, just leaning into the love of him. Without sharing our moist speaking, we shared our breath, through the rhythm of our lungs, and the feeling of our bodies, together. I had "phone tea" with a few friends over the last while. I visited a couple of people from a long distance and I longed to hug them. I'm picking up some chicks for my heart's sister and am going to drop them off at her door, hug her from afar with my heart, and then we're going to go on the adventure of raising chickens together, as we keep each other up way too late on messenger, sharing our lives and laughing so much we wake our children. Love is not gone. We can always love.

Watch Planet of the Humans, and don't let it bring you down. Let it light a fire under you! Humanity can change! Please join me in figuring out a future that is sparing on consumption while abundant with life, love, and hope.

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