Will the ongoing economic collapse reach completion in time to save the living planet, and our species, in the absence of action on our part? Perhaps. Does that give us the right to ignore the moral imperative, hoping — or rather, wishing — peak oil causes the system to collapse under its own weight in time to save us? I hardly think so. If we are to save the planet that supports us, which currently hangs by the barest of threads, and we are therefore to save ourselves, we need to act early and often to hasten the collapse.
My latest two entries established the moral case for terminating the industrial economy. The initial entry drew no arguments in favor of sustaining the industrial economy, but it did raise a few questions. The subsequent entry reiterated and clarified my arguments, and again brought no resistance to the notion of accelerating the ongoing collapse of the world’s industrial economy. I conclude that terminating the industrial economy is a moral act.
In fact, I believe that any attempt to terminate the industrial economy places one on the moral high ground. But agreeing to the morality of economic collapse is the easy part. The hard part is, as usual, taking action. Actually taking effective steps to bring down the massive, murderous machine of death is a daunting task. How to begin, with this seemingly overwhelming task? And where? Is there any chance we could actually be successful if we tried?
I’m certain only that we will fail if we do not try. Terminating the industrial economy is the most important job in the history of humanity. Our lives depend on it, in the same way our lives depend on the living planet. Allowing the industrial age to continue another day is utterly unconscionable (to say nothing of another week, another month, another year, or — and I am truly shuddering at this thought — another decade). But I take heart in knowing that a dedicated 15% of Americans brought the Vietnam War to a close, and stimulated environmental legislation that briefly made this country the safest, cleanest industrialized nation in the world. If we can 15% of Americans on board this time, we might accomplish something far more important than ending a war and passing legislation. We might ensure habitat for ourselves in the world we save.
First, the usual caveats apply. I don’t provide financial advice and you shouldn’t be taking my advice if I did. And I don’t tell people how to live. Following this 10-step plan is almost certain to cost you money. It also might cost you time behind bars, or worse. If you’re up for an all-expenses paid trip to Guantanamo Bay, keep reading. When you’re done reading, start acting.
1. Opt out of the industrial economy. Your continued immersion in the world of make believe depends to a great extent on how willing you are to live in that world, as opposed to the real world. After spending my entire adult life in the so-called ivory tower of academia, I’ve developed new skills to mitigate for a totally new set of circumstances in the years ahead. When I started, I could hardly distinguish a screwdriver from a hammer, and I certainly did not have sufficient money to simply opt out and go it alone, which I think is a bad idea, regardless. My specific, personal example notwithstanding, just about anybody can break the bonds of empire.
2. Get active. Start taking steps, large and small, to bring down the omnicidal system. The steps are many, varied, large, and small. An excellent list of actions, in two essays, can be found here and here. Some are even legal. Some aren’t. If you’re taking heroic actions to save the living planet from the culture of death, prepare to pay dearly. I don’t know if it’s possible to buy insurance on earnings to mitigate against time in prison. But it seems like a good idea, at least for revolutionaries with children.
3. Convince others to join you in getting active. Show them the data. Buy them books. We need a revolution. Therefore, we need revolutionaries. Think about the 15% solution: one in seven. Then 15% more. Rinse and repeat, until we’re an insurmountable force. And hurry: Time is not on our side.
4. Stop paying your debts. The banks cannot afford to come after you, even if you stop making gihugic mortgage payments. They’d have to admit to their shareholders exactly how much toxic debt they have on their books. And if they did that, their shares would drop in value to approximately zero. Furthermore, the current system is designed to indenture you. Whereas American culture formerly demanded you buy a house that required you to work for a few decades, college is the new house. By the time most people complete an undergraduate degree, they are indentured for life, even without shelter. It’s time to stop throwing our money at the people who created this mess, and continue to profit from it. If it makes you feel better, request a hardship deferment on your student loan. If, on the other hand, this entire system makes sense to you, and if you’re in favor of it and the associated destruction of the living planet (including planetary loss of habitat for Homo sapiens by mid-century), please take a deep breath, tune out the rational voices in your head, and go back to your television.
5. Practice the first of the three Rs: Reduce your consumption. Stop going to the stores. Personal consumption accounts for nearly 70% of the industrial economy in the U.S. Just say no, recognizing that the federal government will continue to claim economic growth is occurring, even if they have to account for all that growth by fudging numbers and taxing your future. (When the feds announced third-quarter economic growth, I wrote they were making it up. We now have the data to support my accusation.) At some point, reducing personal spending brings it all down because the government cannot fool all the sheeple, all the time. If you live in a city, you can obtain most of the stuff you need from the dumpsters in the alleys of your neighborhood. For years I’ve been living, at least in part, off the detritus of empire.
6. Practice the second of the three Rs: Reuse everything you can. Investing in durability and simply refusing to play along with our throw-away culture will go a long way toward bringing down the system. Combined with the preceding step, you’ll be able to save money while saving the living planet.
7. Practice the third of the 3 Rs, with a caveat: Recycle renewables such as paper and cardboard, because doing so requires a lot of energy. There’s an added benefit: All your friends will think you’re “green.” But don’t recycle disposable containers made from non-renewable resources such as plastics and metals. In particular, every plastic bottle in the trash generates demand for a few more drops of oil.
8. Increase your consumption of oil or electricity, both of which are nearly too cheap to meter in the United States. Use as much of both as you can afford, then use some more. The future of the world is at stake, along with the future of humankind. Leave the lights on in every room. Turn on the lights in every public building. Use the doors that rely on motion sensors every time to enter and leave a building. Exceed the posted speed limit. And so on. Waste energy until it becomes a habit. According to Jevons’ paradox, somebody else will use it, if you don’t. Burn those fossil fuels while you can.
9. The strong link between water delivery and energy consumption indicates every gallon through the taps requires a few drops of crude oil. As with oil and electricity, water is so heavily subsidized it is essentially free, so let’s keep the water running. So keep the water flowing when you leave a public restroom and, if you live in a rental where water is paid by the owner, don’t fix that leaky faucet. And, as we say in the desert, flush twice for Tucson.
10. Read and apply Dave Foreman’s (1993) Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. This is a compelling, how-to guide for terminating the industrial economy.
Finally, a personal appeal from the billboard-toppling desert anarchist Edward Abbey: “Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast — a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.”
To which I would add only this thought: Especially — and probably only — if you abandon your addiction to empire, and then change your life accordingly.