Too often we are caught in a complex of competing forces. We must generate income, so we run from place to place securing capital. This leads to several difficult choices. First and foremost among them are how to travel from place to place across the surface of the Earth. All of these, if they require fossil fuel, entail some level of harm being done along the way. Luckily for us, but sadly, for the organisms that we fly by in our transportation devices, they have to live in the toxic mix of fumes, dusts and drippings we leave in our wake. From our limited perspective, we are moving through an almost static landscape, but on the ground, many of the changes created by our passing may be small, but are long-lasting or permanent. Much of the land adjacent to roads is still contaminated by lead that was removed from most petrol for decades. The acid mists from pollution control equipment and the salts used to keep ice from forming on the roadways wreak havoc on local organisms all along our way. The costs of this damage are hard to quantify, but we all can all understand that a tiny change, multiplied by a very large number has to be, by definition, a huge change.
I have heard people proclaim that their commute is two hours or more, each way, but that because they want one thing or another they must drive long-long distances to make their lifestyle possible. Perhaps they want to live in the bucolic countryside, maybe it is for the good schools for their children, they may even be afraid of “gangs” that they have been taught to fear, who have taken over the cities. Many seemingly valid reasons exist to push us away from our homes and into our vehicles. I cannot say definitively that the choices that others make are wrong, but I can try to fill in the blind spot that many of us have when it comes to ecological sustainability. I have lived amongst people who utilize mass transit and this is a giant leap forward in the fight against pollution, congestion and environmental degradation, but for many, this option does not exist. Either the area that we wish to live is too rural, the population is too widely spread out, or the government has no interest in investing in moving people cheaply or efficiently. Whatever the case, our perspective on this transportation issue can become much more clear and informed if we see the entire system as a type of welfare for the powerful elites that define the terms of our debates, massage the political landscape and reap the profits that flow from our mobile lifestyles. The polluting of the landscape is a cost borne by organisms, people and communities that do not benefit from the far off centers built on the illusion of capital. The ecology that we all depend on for our survival cannot be continuously defiled, ransacked and abused, yet still support a quality of life worth having.
There are billions of human organisms on the planet and even a tiny degradation of air, water and soil quality caused by each of us amounts to an ecological catastrophe, nearly without measure. Of course, only about one third of our fossil fuel use is required for transit. More than one third is for residential energy use. Many of us are so busy trying to amass capital that we forget to tighten up our homes, insulate, purchase set-back thermostats and increase the efficiency of our heating systems. We forget that the difference between a cheap refrigerator that wastes energy and a more expensive model that sips juice from a far off electric generating station will actually save money over the life of the equipment. Just today, I installed two more LED light bulbs that will save hundreds of dollars over the life of the bulbs by using half the energy of the lights that they replace. Additionally, the ecological damage caused by lighting them will be half that of the old bulbs and there is the real value of them. Lights, motors, pumps and electric heating can all be done efficiently, if we put our minds to the task of thinking of better ways, but as long as we are satisfied to use old way thinking, the rampage against planet Earth will continue.
Industry, to some extent and in some places, has begun to re-think their old ways of doing business. They have good accountants and deep enough pockets to invest in efficiency improvements. The value of reigning in costs for them makes more sense because they use more energy per facility than individual homeowners can imagine. Old way thinking demands that we forget to look closely at the effects that are taking place all around us. Our primary goal, above all else is to generate more income. Only then will we be “better off”. Permaculture turns away from this single focus and broadens our perspective to include people, the planet and profits. The stability of these tenets are supported by the three legs simultaneously, allowing us time to reflect on true costs and benefits to much more than just our pocketbook.
I have only spoken thus far about energy, but there are cycles of life, water, nutrients, air, even community that need to be seen from this more stable perspective as well. I have written about it before, but the importance of doing nothing has far more value than I can give it in a single post, so here goes again. When we sit, in one place, for a length of time, just watching and listening with our full attention, we will hear, smell, see and feel things that would otherwise remain hidden from us. Many do not understand that the closest headwater area is right over our heads. Of those who do, many of them do not understand where that water flows from there, or where it ultimately ends up. Taking the time to understand the miniscule changes we can make and the macro-cosmic realm that benefits from these small changes will accrue is one of the most rewarding parts of living a more sustainable lifestyle. If we are caught in the process of always working, always running and always doing, we will miss out on many of the simple pleasures of life and the understanding that tiny changes we make today can have huge impacts on the future.