01 February 2015

Never Enough

"Sustainability" is, as Timothy Morton points out, useless at this point: we can no longer sustain the way of life that has led to rising sea levels, drought and forest fires, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We need to make drastic changes to the way of life that has brought us to this point.

The problem for individuals is that life is full of lousy choices. Organic apples from Italy, or conventionally grown ones from an orchard a few miles away? Contribute to greenhouse gases or to killing the bees?

Taking the train rather than flying seems like a no-brainer, but somehow short-haul flights from the UK to Europe, this year at least, are significantly cheaper than train tickets.

Going vegan helps. Avoiding food waste helps. But on an individual or family scale, it's a drop in the bucket. Not owning a car helps, and it's feasible in the UK, but when I move back to the US in a few months, the lousy choice will be between driving or not seeing family members. Avoiding fast fashion helps, but it's hard to say "no" to cheap clothing that a kid will outgrow in a season. And I don't have to live on the minimum wage.

Fiona Houston writes engagingly in The Garden Cottage Diaries about her year living in the conditions of a person in 1790. She's partially retired, though during her year she returned to the 21st century for a few hours a day to check email, write about her experience, and work on some other projects. Still, she could take the time to tend a substantial garden and spend hours each day preparing food, heating water for cleaning, or walking several miles to town and back to buy milk and cheese.

Real change is possible only with large-scale, government-enabled projects. But we've elected a government dedicated to gutting the EPA, ignoring science, and allowing climate crisis to deepen. I don't know what the world will be like when my son is 50 years old, or any grandchildren that come along. I'm afraid to imagine it.