Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why I do what I do

I'm not sure who reads this blog, most of you are probably friends or relatives. I'm sure at one time or another since I've become an adult you've wondered why I do the things I do.
Why do I bother growing food when I have a good job and can afford to buy whatever food I want? Why do I bother riding buses or bikes when I have a good car that can get me wherever I want? Why do I bother making my own diaper bag when I could go out and buy one cheaper? Why do I try to consume 90% less than the average American?

I do these things so that I hopefully leave the world a little better than I found it. It is an often repeated thought. "We do not own this earth, we borrow it from our grandchildren." Even boy scouts are taught, "leave the land better than you found it". But it seems like the message gets garbled once you leave the campfire. The TV commercials tell you the things will be better if you buy their product, "It's green!" Politicians tell you things will be better if you just drill deeper and invest more of your children's tax dollars into auto industry bail outs, "It's responsible!" One of my favorite bloggers put it best last week.

Madoff may be a criminal, but he’s a criminal in large part because he’s engaging in a particular form of ponzi scheme that we look down upon, one small
enough to be called illegal. In general, we’re pretty comfortable with ponzi models -we live, quite happily, in a ponzi economy, one in which the concept of perpetual economic growth is sold, divvied up again and resold.
We live in a Ponzi ecology where we borrow constantly against the future to pay
for our present affluence. ... ...

We’re going to try and rescue the economy with another Ponzi scheme - with borrowing against our children’s future wealth to protect financial institutions and invest in some good things and some bad ones. This, of course, is the oldest ponzi scheme of all, and you can make the argument that some human societies have been playing this game for a very long time. We’ve been doing it with natural resources and are continuing to do so, and we’re also expanding the share of our children’s wealth we’re willing to borrow against. After all, what have future generations ever done for us? They might as well serve some purpose - to pay off our debt.

And of course we’ve got the best possible reason for this - we’re in a crisis. There’s always a good reason for taking just a little more of what belongs to the future - to bring people out of poverty, to resolve this or that crisis. Of course, the crisis was caused by borrowing against our children’s inheritance of natural resources, but more of the same is now necessary. A good Ponzi scheme always needs new investors - and if none are going to volunteer, well, let’s volunteer them. We’ll use the to prop up the stock market and today’s version of the Roman chariot business.

Our ecology and our economy all fundamentally are built on a Ponzi scheme in which we can never make enough to keep up - we are always losing ground, always having to steal from further down the line of our posterity. At the same time, we justify their forcible participation in this speculation by saying that we are protecting them - we have to protect them from a Depression, so it is worth risking their future. But, of course, if you actually care about your children and grandchildren, you don’t ask them to make sacrifices you aren’t prepared to make. Fundamentally, we’re covering our own asses, and asking our kids to do it for us. .... ...

The question is whether we, and the baby boomers and older folk who had it right from the beginning, actually love our children and grandchildren enough to stop the buck here? I don’t minimize how difficult that is - and I don’t doubt that trying to live on a fair share, and get through the necessary economic crisis so we can start better next time will be difficult for children as well as adults. And yet, passing the buck again ensures them a darker, warmer, more bitter world with fewer natural resources, and a crushing economic debt. Sometimes when there are no easy answers, one has to move to “what is right.”

The burden of addressing our world-wide Ponzi scheme falls, I fear upon all of us who are adult enough to demand it stop, to refuse to participate to the extent we can, to work to end it, and most of all, to shield with our bodies the children and grandchildren we do love, and in whom we must reposit our hopes, our endurance and our courage.

Every time I make something myself or pay more to buy locally made/locally grown I'm trying to put myself between my child and the Ponzi scheme. Every time I ride the bus or carpool or bike, I'm preserving a little bit of oil for my grandchild to use to make something irreplaceable. (I guarantee you, our grandchildren will NOT be burning oil for transportation, think more along the lines of medicine and equipment for hospitals.)

I don't believe more shopping malls or highways are going to make my child's world better. I don't believe that bailouts for banks and car makers are going to make my child's world better. I don't believe that GMO's and monocropping are going to make my child's world better.

What would it mean to make a society that did in fact love all of its children?
This is, properly understood, a design problem that calibrates what we intend as
parents with how we earn our living, conduct our daily lives, build homes,
design communities, manage landscapes, and provision ourselves with food,
energy, and materials. I would go so far as to say that the well-being of
children in the fullest sense of the word, not gross national product, is the
best indicator of the health of our civilization. -David Orr

In a nutshell, that's why I do what I do.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Thanks so much for your blog! I was just referred here by a mutual friend and I am looking forward to a lot of enjoyable reading!