Saturday, March 2, 2019

Big, Urgent Things


The Green New Deal proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Democrats is an ambitious plan for a revolution in energy, agriculture, but it might benefit from a complementary "retrolution" that brings citizens together through more localized economies. We still need technology to keep advancing, but it should be focused more specifically on areas of critical concern.

Necessary Social Change

What we need most desperately are social changes. We need to rebuild trust in each other. Distrust, to the point where we now assume the worst about anyone we have not met personally, drives the divide in this nation, fuels the proliferation of firearms, and erodes the fabric of historically beneficial institutions like churches and children's organizations.

We also need to question the accepted meanings of words used by politicians to galvanize or provoke us. Prosperity and wealth, for example, are currently viewed strictly through economic and financial lenses. The result is that we see everything, and everyone, as potential for making money for corporations. Land, if it cannot be "developed," is deemed worthless. Species which cannot feed us or otherwise work for us, are considered disposable. This has to stop. Even as human life is labeled "priceless," our soldiers are expendable products of the military-industrial complex.

Ok, so what about the other issues we face, like climate change, the future of energy, and our growing population?

Develop Alternative Fuels For Transportation

So far, our technology and innovation is lagging here. Electric cars may be the goal in the immediate future, but if the original energy source is still a coal-fired power plants, then are we really making progress? Solar and wind need to feed our car batteries as well as our homes and businesses. Why should this be such a grave concern, beyond the obvious carbon emissions? Look at how much our economy depends on delivery today. Not only are we transporting ourselves, we are transporting others as Uber and Lyft drivers, transporting food from restaurants, and transporting durable goods, all to individual households. The proliferation of delivery services is using a great deal of fuel.

Scale Down Almost Everything

Think about it. Scaling down everything from agriculture and banking to our own living spaces and appetites would do wonders for the world. There are signs of hope beyond the "tiny house" movement. Community gardens are sprouting in many cities. Many neighborhoods have a farmer's market where one can buy direct from local farmers. Some restaurants are serving more modest portions to cut down on food waste, an epidemic problem in the U.S. Credit unions are becoming an attractive alternative to big banks. Young people are demanding walkable neighborhoods where they can live, work, shop, and recreate without a long commute. The village is the new city, or will be soon.

Create a Reciprocal Power Grid

We should have this already. Surely the technology exists, but as long as utility companies value profit above all else, any progress on a reciprocal grid is unlikely. The good news is that there are rural electrical cooperatives where this could be tried experimentally. Again, the smaller the scale, the better it is likely to work. Every business and home that wants one could purchase solar panels or a modest wind turbine (even a bird-friendly design). Any excess power would be diverted to a substation. At times when producing energy is not feasible, or personal demand is greater, the energy would flow from substation back to the business or home. Seems plausible from my armchair, anyway.

Begin a Dialogue on Human Population Growth

Start the conversation, that is all that we can ask. Ok, maybe stop insisting that it is a woman's purpose or "duty" to bear children. The social pressure on women to produce babies is overwhelming, disrespectful, stressful, and no one's business but the woman's. We are fed with political- and media-generated hype that the economy will die if we do not feed the labor force. Baloney. What the business world fears is not a lack of producers, but a dearth of consumers. More jobs are being automated, while others are outsourced overseas. That is not likely to change. Here again is another reason to return to mom-and-pop enterprise, local, small-scale businesses that can be held accountable, that will reward you for loyalty, and that are an integral part of the community. Corporations may want more and more people, but we passed the carrying capacity of the planet some time ago.

The Retrolution is Possible
Nostalgia is not what should lead us to a plan for a better future, but we can take lessons from bygone eras while our elders are still around to teach us what worked and what did not. Meanwhile, let us stop aspiring to gratuitous material wealth. The combined effect of individuals living more frugally would have great impact on every major problem associated with our currently overindulgent consumer culture. A meaningful life stems more from personal relationships, involvement in community, travel, adventures in nature, physical activity, and spiritual reflection, than from financial excess....or is that just me?