by Jan Lundberg
What is freedom amidst climate change and overpopulation, to consider the worst two problems that humanity and all life may face? These conditions put everyone on Earth in a crisis even though most of us seem to choose to keep our heads buried in the sand. It's understandable that people cannot adapt to rapid change and relatively new threats, when our collective experience as an evolving species is 99.9% nature-oriented and thus free.
In today's passive consumer culture we see people giving up freedoms unnecessarily until they find they are thereby denied peace. It was a little simpler through history: Take away nature (which breaks the peace), there goes the freedom. That's still a proven strategy for history's developers of many stripes, who have believed in the market, competition, paving the farmland, selling your water to you, and worse.
Meanwhile, a huge proportion of people are striving to get more material things, as if this brings freedom. Some may be aware of the conflict in that proposition, while others reject any problem with it. But the disagreement makes little difference when freedom and materialism are almost never discussed seriously, whether separately or, less often, in relation to each other. The delusion of freedom's flowing from materialism mostly plays into the hands of capitalists. Coercion is easier when people screw themselves into trying to obtain ersatz freedom in any other way than fighting for the real thing provided they can still visualize the real thing.
Were not the native Americans free because, in part, they did not believe it possible to own the land? Now that European civilization has conquered everything, almost, and its rampaging offspring the USA forces its will toward Mars (the War Planet, appropriately enough), we malcontents who dare to insist on a clean, healthy Earth are left to debate some of the finer points of peace activism and justice. It's not a pretty picture to focus on the mass's acceptance of the equivalent of beads and trinkets (cash and petroleum) in exchange for land that they may be sitting on and are a part of.
No matter if we be peace activists or not, or Republicans, we have some cultural symptoms in common: Who has time to enjoy the moon and the stars when the materialist world occupies our minds and rules our bodies? That question would appear to be rhetorical to the members of the dominant culture, and probably dismissed after a moment of contemplation as irrelevant to making money or having sex. The value of the question is to raise the issue, but it so happens that those who sleep outside without walls can, must and do take note of that detail in modern life known as nature.
The material/materialist world is bullshit, when we think of the pointless, wasteful and stressful pursuits of most people caught up in getting ahead or just getting by. Very few can imagine an alternative or see the writing on the wall: we are about to smash into the wall as a runaway, decadent, resource-consuming society. Luckily for the short-term-gain oriented folk who define the elite, wage slaves a many are in debt up to their eyeballs and are spending their lives working for "stuff." What kind of freedom is that, and for how much longer?
Although the materialist world is bullshit, personal health should not be neglected even briefly. It is only our clear minds and, ideally, strong bodies that help us cope well with material hell and all the dysfunctional, predatory characters we run into. One feels forced to participate in the modern games and rules of society. Yet, at the same time, the more we do anything we know to be wrong, we continue the "downward spiral" of decadent civilization. Competing for material things and equating success with meeting that pursuit is the essential error or trap that is undermining Earth's life support system. When a widely received scientific report released in January 2004 estimated that around one quarter of the world's species are to go extinct by 2050 due to climate change, how many of us are now scaling back our global-warming ways?
The positive spirit buoying today's more aware and involved citizen is a function of good health, staying well informed, and balancing patience with action. These values do not include material success, yet a measure of it can help bring about desired results. The problem is when material goals are considered the purpose of activism or personal transformation.
The huge overpopulation of the world is in part simply in denial over the worldwide emphasis on polluting for material comfort, whether one's own or the rulers' that most everyone is in service to. Even those who acknowledge the problem and fret about it are happy to hop right in their personal automobiles, whether or not they publish environmentalist tracts, pose as eco-cool, recycle to the max, etc.
Those who lead today's Nazi Babylon are not "the" problem, as so many fervent activists for peace and justice would have us believe. The average citizen is all too lazy and greedy, which permits the ruling class to maintain power to subjugate the Earth. All those who assure the continued profiteering based on using up human beings and the Earth are a simple target of blame for billions of people's woes. Can one blame everything on them, including the all-important greenhouse emissions that are roasting our future? Only in part.
Two main factors in the "First World" mass's enslavement are our own doing, such that we can call our lot self-enslavement: (1) we don't really resist the oppressors and the gang of leaders, although they are always a small minority; (2), we sell out for some material wealth. Some independent-minded folk dispute that they are part of the latter factor because they are an exception to the first rule. Yet, if we seek material comfort and monetary advantage in such ways to behave individualistically and selfishly, this advances nothing in terms of a mass movement to overcome exploitation and treat the Earth with respect.
Education is in order, when activists for peace or the environment make up their own fuzzy guidelines on what consumption practices are justified for themselves and for the whole population. Without enough biological constraints, people are out of control no matter what well-intended policies are put forward. Irresponsible assumptions are still being made on what the Earth's capacity is regarding using resources and floating a large population, while scientific quantification is lacking. Yet the boosters of a technofix and those who abhor the idea of living in a tepee without electricity are almost as much of a threat to sustainability as the honest, overconsuming, proud SUV owners. Our differences and certain improvements in behavior are not significant enough for the species now going extinct to say, "Hooray, the humans are catching on."
Some of us are walking a thin line of self-deprivation of material comfort and social acceptance when we get active in a cause that runs counter to mainstream behavior. This essay is not an attack on those doing their best, nor on the numbed, ignorant majority. However, if materialism is not questioned along with the value system of the whole socioeconomic system, we are caught between a rock and a hard place: ineffectual saintly living along with preaching, and, at the other extreme the amassing of possessions, conveniences and materialist power. A happy median won't cut it when nature bats last and people have to make a run for it and make their stand in the ravaged ecosystem.
The planet's changing climate, that has gently cradled planet Earth except for rare galactic occurrences, is angrier by the day, and we have not even begun to cut back toward the 60-80% reduction in fossil-fuels combustion that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deemed necessary over ten years ago, vis-à-vis 1990 emissions, to prevent global ecological disaster.
Jan Lundberg formerly ran Lundberg Survey Incorporated which once published "the bible of the oil industry." He has run the Sustainable Energy Institute since 1988. It can use your assistance and generous help.
- Feedback is wanted for our letters page.
Back to Home Page
Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing: email@example.com