Tuesday, July 3, 2012

earth: full, pantry: empty

Like a lot of folks, I’ve read and watched some scary stuff about our economy and the environment in recent years. We face a warming climate, overpopulation, crippling trade deficits, a seemingly insurmountable national debt, peaking oil and water supplies, and a food production and distribution system that depends on all of these other at-risk factors to keep our rumbling bellies full. It’s too much to think about, really.

And so we don’t.

Deer in the headlights? Ostriches with our heads in the sand? Or perhaps a creative double-jeopardy-kind-of-combination never before seen in the history of denial: we have our heads in the sand and our asses to the headlights: doomed, paralysed, and willfully ignorant.

Before I crush you with negativity, grab yourself a beer, a coffee, or perhaps a tub of ice cream, and watch Paul Gilding’s fairly optimistic TED talk The Earth is Full. Or if you prefer, you can read an interview with him about his book The Great Disruption. Or, egad, read the book itself! (I haven’t yet).

Gilding is a genius. Not for his science, not for his research or business acuity, not for his synthesis of information.

For his attitude.

He somehow argues that when the poor abused fan we call earth spins into the imminent shit storm of ecologic and economic calamity he predicts, we will have our finest hour. 

Gilding contends that not only is the earth warming, it is full. He cites the Global Footprint Network to argue that it takes 1.5 Earths to maintain our global economy in its current state.  Add that we expect the population to quadruple by 2050 and things look dire indeed.

If that's not enough, there's a catch-22.  While we need to reduce our rates of water consumption, CO2 emissions, and soil degradation to sustain the earth, we need to increase these things to sustain the economy.

With our present methods, we cannot do both.

Don't worry.  That wasn't the positive part.  This is:  Gilding argues against despair.  From a position of hope he claims humans are good in a crisis.  We are innovative, possess an incredible capacity for change, and when pressed, repeatedly come together to achieve "whatever it takes" with speed and efficiency.

Reading this, I feel like a child getting a pep talk from my mom.  Yes we can!

He admits that there will be pain and suffering in our lifetime, possibly even a collapse of our civilization, but ultimately, Gilding argues, we will come through it for the better ("it won't hurt" says mom at the doctor's office, "you'll just feel a little pressure").

I appreciate the positive angle, and I see how Gilding’s attitude makes his rather devastating news more digestible.

But I can also read between the very wide lines. System collapse means empty shelves at the grocery store, no gas at the pump, water scarcity, heat, and cold.

In the worst case, we’re using dollar bills for toilet paper (now that’s going green!) and defending our meager vegetable plots with stolen guns that we don’t know how to use.

Sitting alone at my computer in the dark of night, bleary eyed in my Twitter Haze, I got a little scared. Shouldn’t we prepare for this coming-apart-at-the-seams? I mean, what will it take to be one of those upbeat innovators who comes through the “pain and suffering” part to enjoy the new sustainable world? When the Care Bears flit around on wind turbines, bounce carelessly from solar panel to solar panel, and slide giggling over the arches of renewable rainbows, I want to be there.

And who can I talk to about this desire, these fears?

Even though the naysayers repeatedly discredit themselves with faulty research and ad homonym attacks on credible scientists, their noise creates uncertainty for lay people like me who are unschooled in the details we need to fully understand what's going on.

Let’s face it. Nobody wants to be called Chicken Little, and anyone who talks about societal collapse and catastrophic climate change in the mainstream takes that risk.

I checked Gilding’s credentials and those of the sources he cites. Very solid. And to be truthful, a lot of this wasn’t new to me. I read Storms of My Grandchildren by NASA scientist James Hansen. I read The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler. And besides, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a climate scientist for that matter, to understand that we cannot create infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Period.

I decided I'd rather be safe than sorry. I would collect necessities, but secretly. No one would have to know.

Why secretly?

Because I'd rather be a big chicken in private than Chicken Little in public.

Pathetic, I know.

So surreptitiously, I set out for the grocery store with a mission: save myself, save the kids, live to see the future! Then I got overwhelmed. How do I store months’ worth of water for four in a “small house” without anyone knowing about it? Where would I put all those canned goods? Will we have to eat them before they spoil if the sky doesn’t fall? Blech! How often do I replenish? (that’s expensive!).What about other necessities like tampons, band aids, BAKING SODA?!  The list started to explode.

In the end, I came home with an extra bag of rice and three bars of soap.

It’s true. I don’t shop well in a crisis.

So bring it on: resource wars, floods, starvation, dehydration, gun fights in the potato patch:

We'll be lathered and ready.

How about you?


  1. You know...this *end of the world* preparation scenario is one of the things that Mormons do quite well. They have a couple of resources that we have looked at, particularly living in a hurricane zone.


    I just wish people realized this: " And besides, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a climate scientist for that matter, to understand that we cannot create infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Period." So very well said...and something any bio major that has taken ecology can tell you. I just wish they required business people to take an ecology class...

    1. thalassa, of course you have resources for me--you always do! i will check them out. i knew that Mormons store for an emergency, but it never occurred to me they had written it all down! and as a business major myself (yes, that's one of the skeletons in my closet!), I can tell you there are a lot of things they should teach that they don't!

  2. Eduardo and I have discussed scenarios like this. Here's a peek:

    Eduardo: You weren't made for survival.
    Me: Oh.
    Eduardo: We would needs guns.
    Me: Really. Ewww. Yes, I would have trouble with that.
    Eduardo: I would gather all the food for us to keep us safe. You would give it away to everyone who needed something.
    Me: Hmm. Haha. Yup. Pretty much.
    Eduardo: If we had to eat, would you eat Roxy (our dog)?
    Me: Definitely no. Roxy is family. Would you?
    Eduardo: Even if Amma or Chad were starving?
    Me: Hmmm. No.
    Eduardo: How about the neighbors dog?
    Me: Same thing. Someone's family. I would feed the dog.
    Eduardo: So, I should tell you the dog ran away and this is rabbit.
    Me: I guess so. But I'd rather just get a rabbit.
    Eduardo: We'd need guns because we'd either need to get food, water and shelter or protect food, water and shelter.
    Me: I suppose if it could get that bad, I guess I'd rather not survive. Should we store any supplies?
    Eduardo: My client work went well today. All successes. Pho for dinner?
    Me: Sure. Thanks.


    1. thank you for making me laugh! I guess Eduardo has given a whole new meaning to the concept of "secret meat!"

    2. hahahahhahahahahahhahahahahah

      good one!

    3. i'm still chuckling about the essential soap. love it. at least you don't need poo.

  3. Lol! I did exactly the same thing! I ended up with four gallons of water and a case of Chef Boyardee. If the world ends we may get so sick of canned ravioli that we'll just go face the rioting masses!

    1. Here's a deal, if i see you on the streets, i'll trade ya' a bar of soap for a can of chef boyardee! we'll be set!

  4. Yikes. Way to ruin my evening. Really, I do feel that the shit will hit the fan one of these decades. I guess I try to do what I can with that, by living somewhat green. I use shampoo only about once a week now! (The baking soda and apple cider vinegar work well!) Buying stuff to survive longer than the next guy - that is so not happening in this house. Groceries by the seat of my pants is how I work. Always pushing deadlines and shopping trips. Makes me use what I have more, I think. Sometimes I do wonder what it would be like to survive on only the fruits of my garden. Miserable and quickly dead would be me and my family. Eating our dog to save the kids? Gah! How awful to consider. As he lays by me right now, my fuzzy sweetie.
    Also, I graduated from business school. All I can say about that was that I would NOT live at home again, so I HAD to get a job. Mission accomplished, short term. But it didn't last. I enjoyed my English major so much more.

    1. hey franny, are you kidding? you have degrees in english and business? me too (did i already say that somewhere here?) I switched from english to business so i could get a job, but the job made me so miserable i went to graduate school for english. way better, but way less lucrative. but if the world's going to hell in a handbasket anyway, i may as well sit around reading poetry while i can, right?

    2. Absolutely! Read poetry and buy fair trade. What good will the money do us in a handbasket? What is a handbasket, anyway? I went back to school to get the equivalent of an English major so I could get a masters in teaching. My plan was to teach high school English. Then Husband proposed and I decided that we would have kids right away and I did not want to send my kids to daycare. Luckily, that all worked out biologically and economically. Now I wonder what my next career step will be. It varies greatly, depending on the day. Also, the timeline does, too. Sometimes I will get a job RIGHT NOW and sometimes I figure I can go back to school and leisurely figure out how to achieve inner bliss with the perfect career.