Three years ago I wrote a chapter for a book called Hope Beneath our Feet, a compilation of essays in response to the editor, Martin Keogh’s, question: If we’re looking down the barrel of environmental disaster, how then shall we live our lives?
As I had before (for Imagine by Marianne Williamson, now out of print), I wrote from the perspective of the near future (20-40 years). As I’ve said in recent posts, my sense is that we’re deeper into the cracking of the old assumptions and expectations and institutions and heading into the Age of Resourcefulness (which I’ll be teaching at Schumacher College. This piece is pure resourcefulness.
I was musing on what to write for this essay when an email came in with the subject, “Letter from Vicki, 2030.” No, it’s not a hoax. I opened it and now offer it to you as better than anything I might write in 2008. I hope you find it as heartening as I did.
Langley, WA March 2008
Hello from 2030 from your 85-year-old-self (yes, we still have our teeth and still dance). We just got the inter-time communications system up and running and every one of us alive gets to write one free letter to our younger self. There are so many restrictions on what we can say. I can’t tell you exactly what is happening. I can’t try to “change history.” You can’t write me back. Rules! As you can see, anal bureaucrats are still with us, but I understand their reasoning. We’ve made it into a very decent future but had to cross quite a desert to get here. Out of pure love we’d all like to spare you the suffering and change the past, but the GWC (Global Wisdom Council) says that if we eliminate the stripping away we might damage the peace we’ve made with living here.
Even though I can’t steer you (as if you would ever let anyone do that!) I can shine a light on the choices you are already making — sort of like, “Nudge nudge, hint hint, step there.” I can’t tell you about the stunning innovations and twists of fate that got us to quite a grand 2030. I can only talk to you about what you already know. Don’t ask around to see if anyone you know got a similar email. A lot of them just didn’t make it into the future and they’ll feel bad knowing that. Of course, by getting this you know that you, my dear, will survive another 22 years. After this, lord knows what will happen to “us.”
If you are about to hit delete, thinking this is a hoax, please at least read this quick and dirty key to your future: less, local and love. Use less, live local and love other people, because they are what sees you through.
Hint One: Save – and make – energy
You made a good choice in 2008 to do an Airplane Fast and not fly for a year. The irony of flying around the world to lecture people on sustainable living finally got to you. You learned to travel electronically while letting your body stay more still. From that you started to belong where you are and, as you’ll see later, community is what the future is all about. I think now of the David Waggoner lines “Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.” Here, though, is now everywhere as well. The web is humming on levels you can’t imagine and frankly there’s been a big sigh of relief that air transport is constrained for… well, I can’t say. Think of the innovations in the last five years – YouTube, Wikis, Blogs, Webcams. Consider Moore’s Law (computing power doubles every 18 months). Add the intuitive capacities you’ve seen in young children – and yourself. And contemplate what “here” might mean to me. Planes to use seem like jalopies.
While staying home, you’d also do well to follow those impulses to make home more energy efficient. Hint, don’t buy any more lamps for screw-in bulbs; more efficient lighting is coming soon. Hint, just drive your 50-mpg Honda Insight until it dies; you’ll be amazed what’s next in mob-tech (that’s mobility technology). Here I just have to bite my tongue. I’ll just say that if someone we know invests in some Wind Farm Venture on her island or in some Solar Installation business she might be set for life. It used to be location location location. Now It’s local local local. By staying home you will see many opportunities to retrofit home for a Post-Peak-Oil future. You’ll also find yourself getting political, because shared solutions for energy are better than just putting solar hot water on your roof – as you will anyway.
Hint Two: Grow food
We’ve now studied the behavior of our species in transition and have discovered that a spike in “lawns to lunch” (home garden acreage) is a leading indicator of impending resource constraints. The future casts a shadow for those who pay attention to the horizon, and when people hanker after land and gardening like they used to hanker after opera and travel, you know a shift is coming. Follow all your impulses to grow food, to organize local food systems, to sidle up to neighbors with lawns and suggest you could find a young farmer who’d love to turn that useless mono-crop of grass into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Save seeds. Go ahead, if you want, and buy land to grow food, but frankly you have a talent for growing kale and zucchini – and not much else. Support CSAs. Partner with other singles to do a share. You’ve been thinking about raising chickens. All I’ll say is, “Not a bad idea.” Or join that goat coop, take that cheese-making class and buy up all the used canning jars at the thrift store. Think food. Dream food. Do food. Eat food (but less).
Hint Three: Make peace with your past – and future
I’m not going to kid you. Some really hard knocks are coming. Some are just as you imagine, others are not. A way of life based on treating finite resources as infinite is ending, and we are still living with the shocks and aftershocks of it. We were slow to move on the mandate of 80% reduction of carbon by 2050 and are reaping the consequences. Yes, there have been environmental catastrophes (but there have also been “benestrophes” – unexpected accumulations of good). Yes, many have died; some at their own hands, since living within the means of the planet didn’t seem like living at all. Be prepared to live through this, knowing that in the larger scheme of thing – and nature – it’s quite natural for populations to overshoot and collapse. Death itself isn’t as tragic as living in fear of death and allowing suspicion and greed to flourish in your mind. Cultivate a calm and caring attitude, even while you rail inside against it all (I can guarantee you’ll rail, weep, get mad… you’re human). Making peace now with the future means accepting now the many losses that will come, so that you won’t be in shock and useless. Be like the musicians on the Titanic. Create beauty, because those who will die and those who survive both need that. Clearly, since I’m writing, you and others survive – actually, life is grand. Making peace with the future also means that you will roll with the good stuff ahead as well.
So here’s some things you’re doing that I’d suggest you keep doing:
Your practice of frugality – getting the maximum pleasure out of every morsel consumed – puts you in a good position to welcome limits as sanity, not deprivation, and to surf the waves of change. Keep teaching your “high joy-to-stuff” strategies. A lot of people listen to you. Give them something real to chew on.
There is nothing wrong in your past – it’s all useful. Appreciate everything you’ve done and see what good can come of it. That goes for your relationships, of course – but I also mean (and I can’t say too much about it) the whole exuberance of the oil-enabled industrial growth model. Stay open to the good in every technology and every innovation because they may be precursors of the future light-structures. Question your assumptions, abandon your Luddite tendencies and ask about everything, “What’s good about you that brought you into being?”
Joe Dominguez used to point out to us (you and me… funny to talk with you this way) that when there was 25% unemployment in the 1930’s Depression, 75% of the people were employed. In other words, use your bright mind to see the opportunities in obstacles. In fact, the future is friendly to people who evolve and evolution tends to favor the braver – those willing to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Pay attention to what is being born, even as you tenderly allow all that is passing away to go.
The future will also be friendly to those who shift from “me” to “we.” Be an opportunist – but on behalf of your community. Which brings me to…
Hint Four: Treat everyone within 50 miles like you love them.
You will need them as your friends. They are the raw materials of a sane future, if you want to be purely pragmatic. They are also your brain; alone you’ll never know enough to survive, but within 50 miles of home is all the intelligence and information you’ll need. If you’re friendly and generous these neighbors will come to trust you. Of course friendliness actually takes guts – not the guts it takes to protest (which you will still do for years), but the guts it takes to risk rejection, care first, forgive, apologize, ask before you attack. In other words, loving the ones you’re with requires tolerance, acceptance and letting go of selfishness. I might also point out that among the 3 million people within 50 miles of you now are probably every friend, lover, dance partner, big thinker or young person you’ll ever need. Go find them. Trade with them. Network with them. Play with them. Help them through hard times. Share meals and homes. Call them to see how their interview or operation went. Ask them to coach you in reaching for your dreams. Even though they aren’t “exotic”, they’re actually interesting, remarkable, smart, kind and skilled. Every one a gem.
Pay attention to “co” words. They are the future. Cooperation. Communion. Community. Collaboration. Communication. Your Conversation Cafes don’t quite fit the word pattern but they are important for people to practice and learn all the other “co” words. Console will also be needed.
Do all you can in pairs and teams. Do work parties and cleaning parties and shedding stuff parties and investing clubs and buying groups and service groups. The era of the Lone Ranger and the Great Hero is passing. Build community. “If you invite them they will come.” Alone you are brittle. Together you are supple.
Hint Five: Pack your personal ark
Just as airlines have a baggage weight limit, to cross the great ocean of time and catastrophe into the future you’ll need to pack carefully. What of your current life must you have in a future governed by “less, local and love?” I can’t tell you what’s coming but I can say this: Scenario A is that you muddle through and your daily life doesn’t change that much in 25 years. The rich get richer and the poor poorer, but life goes on. Scenario B is that catastrophes (and “benestrophes” – overwhelmingly good things) do come. Your weather does change, the seas do rise, energy shortages do occur and the dollar isn’t what it used to be. Select what you want for either case. If it’s A, well, you’ll have the things you need and have shed of a lot of excess baggage. If B, you’ll have the things you need – and need them. Here are some categories to consider:
Seeds: heirloom, open pollinated
Books: reference, how-to and inspirational
Tools: to build things, fix things, make things (good girl, you got a treadle sewing machine in 2007), study things, kill things (a rifle, butcher knife and fishing pole), roll things (wheels save your back and feet)
Clothes: warm, durable, layers, good shoes, glitter for parties
Furniture: durable, comfortable, multi-purpose
Household: durable. Really useful things with cords are okay (we’ve never been without that blender), but hand tools will be needed… like wire whisks and wooden spoons and good chopping knives.
Health care: stock up on and freeze must-have prescription drugs, buy basic medical books. You’ll be surprised at how little you pop in your mouth is still needed. Remember what Norman Cousins said, “85% of all illness is self-limiting,” – and for the rest, I’d say that painkillers and antibiotics are heaven’s gift to the creaky.
Beauty: brushes and combs. Keep all those scarves and earrings (and a coupla lipsticks) to feel pretty, which is water for the soul.
Energy: batteries, yes – but everyone should have one back-up solar panel and/or hand- crank generator for communications technology. Get a solar cooker. Insulate whatever you live in. Double-pane windows. Use the last hours of ancient sunlight (Thom Hartmann’s name for oil) to create a low-energy environment for the future.
You get the drift. Buy and keep what will last. Buy and keep what has multiple uses (like a knife and pot rather than a Cuisinart and electric rice cooker). You’re not packing a real Conestoga Wagon so you can keep everything you have now if you want. Remember your old Your Money or Your Life idea of enoughness? Not just survival. Not just adequate. Truly rich in everything from basics to luxuries, but nothing in excess. Shed the surplus early and often. Scenarios A and B both favor living lightly.
Hint Six: Make yourself useful
Head’s up. A local future belongs to the person who makes herself truly useful to real people, not to the one who can market some useless gadget to unsuspecting consumers. You’ll find it hard to trade your knack for inspiring others for bicycle repair, but don’t worry. If you can make people laugh, you’ll always be taken care of. Hone all people skills (see Hint Four above). The future needs facilitators, negotiators, re-framers, therapists, counselors – anyone with patience in the face of human suffering. The future also needs: handymen, emergency management specialists, nurses, gardeners, inventers, record keepers, geeks and techies of every ilk, musicians, athletes, mechanics, engineers, cooks, team players, canning, inventers, teachers, midwives, writers, body workers, artists, project managers, inventers, story tellers, hunters and fishermen, builders, farmers, inventers, designers of every sort imaginable, healers of every sort imaginable, pathologists, emergency medical technicians, inventers. There’s no lack of good work here in the future.
I do hope this all gets through. The censors may zap anything I say that gives you too much information. But here’s what I can tell you about now. The birds are singing. The children are healthy. They don’t blame us for our mistakes – we now know for certain that our generation did our best with what we had and what we knew. This new generation understands that blame is toxic and they simply don’t do it. It makes them seem like angels, really. They know they are making the future – and that’s what gives meaning to life. They are actually watching over you now. Yes, we in the future travel in time to care for you. We do our best to help without interfering. You are loved. All of you. Have courage. Keep going. It’s working out.