Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
Sometimes I tell students that it is their job to raise their parents. Since life, cultural perceptions, needs and technology perpetually evolve, our kids can be a bridge to understanding the new realities. We need to be open to their voices, and now more than ever their voices and images are broadcast loud and clear. They feel in their bones that the very future of the human race depends upon making some fundamental changes.
It was hard to accept for my parents, children of the Great Depression and World War II, that my wife and I were voluntarily living a simplified life. It was the early 1970’s. Our small kitchen did not have a refrigerator, instead we had a grinder for making flour out of bulk grains that we purchased at a buying club, and we made yogurt in our oven overnight, warmed by the pilot light. Of course there was no television.
At a time when assisting a home birth could get a midwife or doctor arrested, we had both our children at home. This was a natural choice for my wife since she was from Holland and home birth there was the norm, and supported by their national medical program. Needless to say, this choice instilled fear in my mother compounded by the fact that we were vegetarians. (“How will you get enough protein?”)
Our cookbooks consisted of Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappé, Indian Cooking by Savitri Chowdhary (a book my best friend brought back from his Peace Corps service in Uttar Pradesh, India), and both later supplemented by the hand written Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen of the Moosewood Collective. In addition, we cooked West African food that I learned to make during my Peace Corps service in the Ivory Coast.
Through these publications and our experiences, we learned that an optimum diet was one not based on meat. In fact, meat consumption as practiced in the United States contributed to the myth of food scarcity, since livestock diets used huge amounts of food resources with little return in nutrition pound for pound. In the little “iron age” bush village in which I lived during my Peace Corps service, I learned to use small amounts of meat as a condiment and flavoring for daily stews. Killing and eating an animal was only done for important celebrations or to honor someone, unless it was obtained by hunting.
The ethic and science articulated about food in Diet for a Small Planet now serves as a standard for how we use all our resources. If a power grid goes down or our fossil fuel supply is cut off, people in the developed world, or in urban areas will suffer most and have to make the biggest adjustments. We see this at times of natural disruptions to our supply chain. A villager in Africa, Asia or Latin America will hardly notice, since their way of life will change little, and they are used to being resourceful in utilizing what they have in order to live.
Not to sound nostalgic for the past, nor advocating that people live like people in rural underdeveloped nations, rather, I advocate that we meet somewhere in the middle. The developed, industrialized world needs to be more aware of what we use and how we meet our needs, and we need to help improve the lives of others that are threatened by the lack of resources, or by polluted resources. We need to live with the awarness that our resources are finite and shared.
The fact is that our habits of consumption in the “have” nations are putting the very survival of the planet at risk for everyone. When global warming due to our fossil fuel dependent culture threatens the water supply of farmers in Nepal or the Andes due to reduced glaciers, it is way past time to take note. We may think that the solution to our economic woes is more production, but we are in a crisis of global proportions that require that we reduce our production and consequent waste.
The life of people in developing countries may be better suited for the well-being of our Earth. I saw in the Peace Corps how a “first world-third world” partnership could improve people’s lives. With knowledge and innovation from "first world" countries, problems can be solved in a way appropriate for lifestyle, and fitting for resources.
Now, as I meet others involved in sustainability education and development, we concur that we need to act to meet our needs in a way similar to those in developing nations who have no doubt that their resources are limited and must be renewable. What endangers human survival is not scarcity of resources but their misuse and waste. We must change our culture so that it is fit for the new time of fewer resources and to reduce our negative impact on our climate. We need to develop the mindset that people in the third world have, and become more self-sustaining.
One only needs to look at the photos in the book, the Hungry Planet: What the world eats, by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio to see laid out on the table the sustainable versus the unsustainable lifestyle, and the nutritious versus the less nutritious diet. Our food system contributes greatly to our life choices and environmental impact, so it is important to start change where we have some control. We must develop community based food systems to reduce our dependence on an energy intensive and long distance food supply chain.
When my young family was living a simplified life, we were highly creative and had a great sense of our relationship to community and to nature. At a time when many people feel fearful and disconnected, we can look to the village model as perhaps our next step in evolving lifestyle. With our knowledge and modern technological tools we have the means to create a low impact, healthy and satisfying life, and we can help our neighbors in the "third world" meet their needs and fulfill their human potentials. In every crisis is an opportunity to change direction.
2, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: Series
on Leadership continued
Avoiding Dictatorship in a Free Society
the Good Life
Peace in Less Than a Month?
3, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: Seven Part Series on Global Consciousness Is "Liberal"
a Dirty Word? Can Idealism Solve Problems? Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All
4, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: Standing up for Humanity
Unity in Diversity
Thought and Imagination
Imagination and Healing
Lessons of Katrina
Intelligent Design or Evolution
5, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: Human Programming and Conflict
Non-Violent Political Change
Living Without an Enemy
"Fast Food" is really "Slow Food"
6, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: State of Fear
Exploring the Mind - Parts 1 and 2
How Much Pain Can We Stand?
7, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: Beyond Ideology
The Imaginary Economy
Tribalism and the 2008 Election
Guilt, Shame and U.S. Justice
Have We Been Willing Slaves?
Are We Ready for the Future?
8, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: Awakening
The Good New Days
The Time is Right
The New Anarchy
The Art of Living
Are Women Becoming More Unhappy?
From Cowboys to Cowed
Who are the Real Game Changers?
9, Numbers 1-12 Read
past articles including: The Music of Place
Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
The Sense of Place
Why do People Serve?
Organization or Organism?
Are we afraid of our Better Angels?
Choosing our Battles
Meeting the Need