Welcome to Sustainable or Bust! This collection of rants and reviews explores facets of genuine, ecological sustainability. In the old-fashioned sense of the word, sustainability has to do with living in a way that doesn’t diminish the ecosystem over the passage of thousands of years. The ravens, deer, and salmon have mastered a way of life that has no need for soil mining, water mining, fish mining, forest mining. Only humans have figured out how to break the laws of nature, and nature is not amused.
Good old-fashioned fundamentalist sustainability is largely ignored these days, because it is the opposite of our ferociously wasteful consumer society. Genuine sustainability generates no corporate profits. It stimulates no economic growth. It cannot be manufactured in Bangladesh factories and sold in trendy suburban malls. It’s a far simpler way of living, and it doesn’t piss off Big Mama Nature (an important fact to remember).
Meanwhile, mainstream society has invented a marketing gimmick that might be called sustainable everything — sustainable growth, sustainable development, sustainable cities, sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, and so on. I call it ersatz sustainability, because it has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine sustainability. It’s a fascinating experiment in magical thinking — if we call something “sustainable” enough times, then it is! Repeat the words “clean coal” enough times, and coal burning becomes as wholesome as breast milk.
In the coming decades, intensifying climate change, combined with the end of cheap energy, and other assorted surprises, seem likely to pull the plug on the consumer way of life, as we know it. This will force a lot of beneficial change that we refuse to pursue voluntarily, like the yucky business of sharply reducing our population, and learning to live without cars, electronic gadgets, and millions of other unessential things.
It’s impossible to return to a sustainable way of life anytime soon, because there are way too many people living way too hard. But the cool thing about collapse is that it may give birth to a new situation in which a return to sustainability once again becomes possible — far fewer humans, and far more everything else. By definition, all unsustainable modes of living can only be temporary, so a sustainable future is guaranteed, at some point. Hopefully there will be more species at the victory party than just heat tolerant bacteria.
The odds that there will be human faces at the party can be improved if more people today develop a sound understanding of genuine sustainability, and share this knowledge with others. We are less likely to repeat practices that we have learned to be fatal mistakes. These errors are better known now than ever before, but not by the masses, yet.
If the entire global economy suddenly died today, all the lights went out, and all money became worthless, the future would be in the hands the survivors, most of whom are clueless about genuine sustainability. They would likely regroup and resume the same fatal mistakes that we excel at today, simply because they suffer from a shortage of intelligent ideas. Ignorance is stupid — but curable.
Nothing can change until ideas change. At the moment, we have access to an amazing global communication system, a powerful tool for sharing ideas. It’s actually useful for things beyond bombarding us with cat videos, tweets, and pornography. How long will this system continue to operate, as Peak Cheap Energy keeps pressing harder on the brakes? It would be wise to make good use of it, before it slips beneath the waves forever.
You will not find “the solution” in this book. Only problems have solutions (i.e., a flat tire). We’re in a predicament, a perplexing mess that can only be outgrown over time (i.e., industrial civilization). Freeing ourselves from the madness will likely take generations. The good news is that this may not be impossible. History informs us that human societies are capable of making sharp turns, for better or worse. It’s worth a try. We have nothing to lose, right?
What you will find in this book is a gallery important thinkers, and reviews of their important writings — writers that usually fly beneath the radar of mainstream journalism and education. They explore realms of knowledge far beyond the center ring circus of sex, sports, stock markets, and sex. My devious plan is that by the time you make it to the far end of the gallery, you will have picked up a fair number of new and stimulating ideas along the way.
For more than 20 years, I’ve been studying the Earth Crisis. I’ve read hundreds of books. The ones that I’ve reviewed here are among my favorites. Of course, a brief review is never a substitute for experiencing the entire work. If you have the time and the desire, I recommend that you read them all. You will see the world in a new way. Most of these authors have written more than one book, and many of their other books are also fascinating and mind expanding.
Sustainable or Bust is a companion to my first book, What Is Sustainable, which discussed the basics of genuine sustainability. Sustainable or Bust is a supplement, and it devotes more attention to exploring the core essence of human beings. The earlier book does not need to be read first, but folks who like one will like both. Genuine sustainability is an enormous subject, and it is my intent to provide useful guidebooks for those who wish to expand their understanding.
We are blessed to inhabit a fascinating era, a powerful turning point, when our famous big brains will have a splendid opportunity to demonstrate their legendary power — sink or swim. Humankind has moved beyond Peak Cheap Energy, Peak Wooly Mammoths, and Peak Neanderthals. We’re zipping along towards Peak Food, Peak Humans, Peak Cell Phones, and Peak Ersatz Sustainability. Then what?
The spirits of our wild ancestors strongly recommend a hasty return to genuine sustainability, wildness and freedom, and our sacred home in the family of life. They’re standing on the sidelines, jumping up and down, waving their arms, and shouting, “Holy <bleeping> hominids! Watch out! Turn on yer brains, dudes! Snap out of it!”
Well-fed minds and clear thinking are our only hope for survival. Clear thinking is a beautiful power that we acquire after we have liberated ourselves from the mental straightjacket of beliefs.
[Sustainable or Bust will be released, in paperback and Kindle versions, in June 2013.]