A lot of indexes indicate the recession is over. The economy is sort of growing again. At the same time, many voices from the green/sustainable realm say, excuse me but if it all keeps growing, it ain’t sustainable. Therefore what is good for growth is bad for the planet and our sustained survival, at least with our customary comforts.
As I scan the morning paper at Noble Coffee in Ashland, I snigger at a political cartoon, showing a limo pulling up beside a panhandler. The occupant, obviously from Wall Street or a bailed-out corporate boardroom says, “Hey, haven’t you heard? The recession’s over — for me!”
A few pages later, I read the classified ads, where job listings have grown lean and — the real barometer of the Great Recession — the long, sad foreclosure listings expand like a depressing fog.
On PBS, Frontline focuses a show on the Great Depression, showing how literally everyone was investing all they had in stocks, knowing they were making profit, not on anything real being done or produced, but only on faith in the increasing value of shares. This is what we did a few years ago, but with our homes — which were supposed to be the last bastion of security or “real” estate.
But hardly anyone is alive now who remembers the Depression, so we had to absorb the lesson all over again. The lesson is that “get rich quick” is one of our favorite myths; it’s fun on the way up and living hell on the way down. But you only really know something if you experience it, especially the suffering part, right?
For the first time, this Christmas, I’m pretty sure I gave more gifts that I found around the house, instead of at a store or website. And after the holiday lights dim, you read in the paper the litany of restaurants and stores closing for good.
No one can say this wretched economy is arbitrary and unfortunate because I think it’s a good dictum that “we get the economy we deserve” or at least the one we can and should live with. Our flush attitude of the last 30 years was founded on the idea that “greed is good,” if you recall the entrepreneurial optimism and the decline of government regulation after the 1982 recession.
We all assume (because it’s always happened) that things will get back on track and we will (and should) grow and prosper again and the individual may indulge his precious “liberty” to get rich by whatever means possible. And if that doesn’t happen? Well, we weren’t going to get over the Great Depression until World War II came along and made it happen. Now, the limits to growth imposed by the heated air above us and the limited earth (living space) and water under us are telling us we can’t go back to the endless expansion of the late 20th century.
I recall doing my first stories (in 1974) with dark warnings about the price of endless growth. Scientists working for then Oregon Gov. Tom McCall, spoke esoteric theories about how oil would run out in 35 years (which is right now) and we would have to adopt what they called a “steady state” economy. Geez, they were right.
Bumper stickers and t-shirts have a way of saying it. One notes “There’s Enough.” Another says “It’s Simple.” Makes you think. They’re saying, hey, you’ve got what you need already. It’s time, as another bumper sticker reads, to live more simply that others may simply live. “Others” means, not just other people, but all the other living creatures who die for our SUVs.
Gradually, a lot of people are making a lot of little changes in their lives — putting in compact fluorescent lights, using cloth market bags, trading embarrassingly huge vehicles for little ones, buying local produce, car pooling. It’s quite impressive; never seen anything like it. It kind of resembles the personal changes in consciousness of past decades, where people, seemingly of their own free will, began moving in droves away from smoking, racism, sexism, high cholesterol diets, domestic violence — and we start recycling, a huge shift.
Of course, all these sustainability shifts amount to very little against one day’s belching of carbons and toxins from the tailpipes, chimneys and jet exhausts of the rest of the nation and world. But they’re a start. They’re the trim tab on the rudder of the Titanic, turning it ever so slightly away from the iceberg — and another piece of the new ethos is how much of this change, in the past decade or two, is being envisioned and carried out by women.
I’ve always felt it would be women who’d save the world and start doing the right things that make it possible, not just for us humans to live here, but for all life to live here in an integrated, sustainable, even magical way, like in James Cameron’s amazing movie “Avatar.” Women are the ones packing the workshops and seminars and building the action networks for change of both consciousness and planet — and they should be the ones. They get it on a cellular level. They’re the ones who generate and preserve life, as well as community. It’s their time.