Certain words began popping up in my work as an environmental advocate with increasing frequency from about 2008. As the national economy nearly crashed and national debt continues to rise, many people are realizing how fragile our economy is. Our outlook has shifted. We opened ourselves up to the notion that America was not as great as we expect. Since then America vested hope in another President who, by his repurposed slogan (Trump like Reagan), would make the nation great again.
In working my several part-time jobs I heard about the “transition movement” whereby communities were trying to beef up their local economies and become more independent from industrial civilization and global capitalism. Environmentalists insisted on remaining positive, believing that change could only happen if we properly envisioned sustainability. To protect ecosystems on which we depend requires becoming “sustainable”; yet, I became increasingly aware of the reality that our way of life is rigidly unsustainable. I learned of one self-reinforcing feedback loop after another impacting the climate. “Global warming” became “climate change” then “climate chaos” as hurricanes became more frequent and intense and hit major U.S. cities. If Mother Nature isn’t happy, no one is.
Collapse remains increasingly immanent as we collectively began adopting recycling, reusing, repurposing, over the last decade of our “long emergency” but not fundamentally changing the system. Growth, extraction, planned obsolescence, and consumerism all appear to be deeply imbedded in idea and practice.
Rather than becoming more self-sufficient, our communities have gone the other way. The trend is for less on the shelves of local stores. With the rise of Amazon, online shopping has expanded to the point that even the big-box stores aren’t stocking the quantity or variety that they have in the past. Online companies with “brick-and-mortar” stores are more like show rooms. Your size and color may not be in the store, but the clerk can order it for you and get it quickly, either in the store or delivered to your door.
The ”slow food” movement has had limited success. Instead, online food delivery businesses like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are booming. Grocery stores have developed online ordering systems, and in cities nationwide one can get an order ready for pick-up to save the bother of hiking the aisles.
We live closer to the edge than ever before. This direction of change is wonderful for those who have adopted Internet “just in time” delivery, if the system continues to work in the finely tuned manner that we expect and need.
A few days ago, I met a man at a dinner party who said he is not a “survivalist”; instead, he is into “disaster preparedness”. What the difference is I don’t know, but whatever words one wants to use, seize the day.
This column is to appear in the Paradise Post on December 6, 2017.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.