I read that an old lady met a National Guardsman on his way back to yet another tour of duty in Iraq. She told him she appreciated his protection from the terrorists and such, and asked what she could do to thank him.
"Use less oil," the young man replied.
I've spent the day hanging around the woodstove, preparing a relatively simple dinner without going with it to the electric range or any of the other "modern conveniences." It's an entertaining exercise, but I'm not about to pretend that it's meaningful in the wider scheme of things: the wood I'm using was sawed with a chainsaw, the manufacture, transportation, sale and use of which was rife with both oil and coal usage, and brought to us in a truck that is much, much more of the same, over roads that are much, much, much more of the same, and so on.
I anticipate hard times when we all figure out our actual planetary energy income and how far ahead of ourselves we've spent. I was ranting to Beloved about all this, as I tend to do over coffee ("coffee?" says Dear Reader. "Risa -- do you realize --" Yes, I do. Hush! This is my blog.) -- ranting to Beloved, or as she experiences it, at her -- and she posed a question.
"So, what does this mean to us? Not the kids, I get all that, but just thee and me?"
"Well ... " I was brought up short. "Umm, not so much. We're both over 55, now, which is a pretty decent life expectancy given the design. So, we could starve, or have our heads bashed in and our stuff shared out by people who then get their heads bashed in, or pick up the latest epidemic, etc. But these are things that have happened to a lot of people and will happen to a lot more. And we've had a whole heck of a lot of things go our way, just the two of us. So, it's like nobody can really take that away. And if either of us were to lose the other tomorrow, thirty-one years together is the history that we had, more than most."
"Right. So what's the beef?"
She has a point.
As recipients of a portion of that lion's share of the world's resources that privileged people have received in this devastatingly "successful" generation, we've come most of our way already.
Looking back over such opportunities as there have been for finding more equitable, more appropriate, more just, and more sustainable ways of comporting ourselves, we see that we -- as a couple, as a family -- could have chosen some actions more wisely, so far as our own ethical record was concerned, but the whirlwind the world may reap will not be much affected, one way or another, by us. The scale of the problems is just too great.
I could offer to share with you a glass of water, or a meal, because you are thirsty or hungry, and I should -- and sometimes I do -- but it will not change the course of the tsunami coming our way, or the distance from here to higher ground that running will not -- now -- cover.
So, given the distance to higher ground and the speed and height of the tsunami, there's little use in my worrying about the tsunami. I might be a little disturbed by the thought that a better warning system could have been installed, or that the powers that be might have decreed that the city must be built elsewhere, etc -- I know the metaphor is getting strained, but bear with me -- since this is where the jobs were, I did not move, myself, to higher ground, because there was not going to be a way for me to live there, or to offer you food or water there, unless the city came with me, so to speak.
That is, libertarian survivalist behavior is -- it's just irrational. When you fall into the ocean off the stern of the ship, sure, you swim -- it's what you do, we're programmed to keep trying to live -- or you don't. It could be a matter of choice, or of individual temperament. But the outcome is not so much in doubt when you are 500 miles from, say, Anchorage.
So I don't feel much resentment when someone up and builds a blockhouse in the middle of nowhere, stocked with food and ammunition. That's their swim. Doesn't change the size of the ocean, but maybe they know that. So, I don't bug them about it. In fact, I enjoy practicing some of the same skills.
Nor do I think some environmentalist-activist behavior is really rational either. Given the scale of the problem, as outlined by the author of Life After the Oil Crash (whose math looks pretty irrefutable to me), haranguing someone about not having yet changed out their light bulbs is an exercise in about the same amount of multilevel futility as the survivalist's.
"But, Risa," interjects Dear Reader, "you have in fact changed all your light bulbs and I've heard you recommending it, too."
Just because I think something's ultimately futile doesn't mean I can't indulge in it. Especially if I think, rightly or wrongly, that it's good for me, or my soul, or my neighbor's well-being, for me to do so.
By hanging around the woodstove, stirring, tasting, putting in another stick, and preparing to feed company, and also sitting by the window stitching a young friend's name into a Christmas stocking, and by sweeping the house, and by looking up fruit trees in the old Organic Gardening Encyclopedia and thinking of setting them out by the south wall, I'm enjoying myself.
And I'm not out frantically shopping, which means a lot to me right now ... on several levels ...
I'm experiencing the quietness of spirit that comes with relatively low-impact living. Somehow I think that will pay small dividends between now and the apocalypse. Big dividends may never come of it. But quality of life is where you find it.