Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The End of Suburbia

I’m still mulling over this powerful documentary about “oil depletion and the collapse of the American Dream.” It follows my skimming of Jared Diamond’s 12 most critical ecological problems (in Collapse) of our time and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (per Jean’s recommendation). The three texts came to my attention without much willful bidding on my part and now am trying to hold them coherently within a line of vision that is still blurry. While waiting to focus, I am jotting down these reflections:

1. In hindsight, the development of suburbia (and the concept of the “American dream”) is the most wasteful use of oil and natural energy sources in the last 150 years. Oil production in the US peaked in the 1970s and natural energy sources are also depleting. The global oil reserves will reach their peak levels and then decline in about two decades and yet no new energy policy is in place. In order to perpetuate the lifestyle of suburbia, we elect officials who promise us a never-ending supply of oil. The Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative thinktank, is unabashed in its declaration that the US will use its military might in making sure that the American lifestyle remains non-negotiable. (The End of Suburbia)
2. Jared Diamond’s thesis is that the collapse of western civilization is imminent since ten of the twelve worst ecological crises facing us are almost irreversible. The short-sightedness of the culture leads to the failure to foresee and foretell, thus the inability to make wise decisions in the present.
3. Octavia Butler’s novel depicts a dystopia set in 2024 when California has suffered a major earthquake, the infrastructure is in near-collapse, water has become gold (since “it hardly ever rains anymore"), gated communities are under siege, dogs have become feral again, and church-going folks arm themselves to protect themselves. Butler creates a main character who is a hyperempath (feels the pain of others),a young black woman, Lauren, who begins to conceptualize a new religion (God is Change) and leads a small band of survivalists from Los Angeles towards the north. Her religion states: our destiny is to take root among the stars. Butler makes an attempt to rescue the transcendent impulse of modernity in a time of postmodernity where all master narratives have supposedly died. Neither the concept of an anthropomorphic God or an unknowable God is acceptable. God is Change. We shape it as it shapes us.

So imagine that I am carrying these thoughts in my head as I walk around the glitter of christmas and the glut of products to consume. I am suppose to be nostalgic for the childhood memories of christmases past which, in turn, should make me buy gifts for all the people that I love. The grandchild is old enough for his first photo with Santa or a train ride with Thomas. I can’t wait to bring him to a christmas tree farm where we can cut our own tree, buy local crafts, go for a hayride, and pet the sheep and llamas in the petting zoo. We are building memories just as my parents did for me. Nothing wrong with this at all.

And yet as I peruse the aisles and racks at the mall, I couldn’t help thinking: where do all these things come from? What natural resources did they use? How much longer can the earth provide us with these?

I ask Cal how he balances it all out. He says we just need to be mindful of what we buy within our means and not be carried away by the ads about “what’s hot” and “must haves.”

So I bought yarn. I have a knitting gadget and a crochet needle and I am making scarves for everyone on my list.

Let me know if you want one.

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