They live a simple life — eating a vegetarian diet, growing most of their food, tapping maple trees, baking breads and pies, making beer and apple cider, heating by wood stove, buying organic eggs and raw milk from their Amish neighbors, using a composting toilet. By choice they have adopted a “resilent” lifestyle — organic gardening, drying laundry in the sun, cutting firewood, making infrequent trips into town, minimizing reliance on fossil fuels, living close to the land.
These almost-forgotten skills will become essential for all of us in the not-so-distant future, when the commuter-consumer way of life we assume to be normal comes to an abrupt and painful end as the devastating and costly impact of the three-fold crises now facing us really take hold. These are: global warming, with its accompanying natural disasters and collapse of the insurance industry; peak oil (end of easily-extracted crude), bringing skyrocketing costs of fuel and food; and a drastic economic crash, brought on by increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the financial elite, disappearance of the middle class, and escalating poverty.
Ample evidence of these trends is already apparent to any who don’t have their heads in the sand, and they will continue to escalate in the days to come. As far back as 1972, an international group of scholars and industrialists commissioned by the Club of Rome, in a report titled “Limits to Growth,” sounded the alarm that an economy based on unlimited growth and consumption in a world of limited natural resources was headed for collapse. A generation ago, renowned economist E. F. Schumacher, author of Small Is Beautiful, advised us to conserve resources and avoid waste, and suggested ways of gaining maximum of well-being with minimum consumption. But these warnings went unheeded — until now.
Now — with signs of collapse all around us — we are starting to listen. Environmentalist Bill McKibben says that because we’ve waited too long to stop the advance of global warming, our old familiar globe is now melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways the human race has never seen before. We have created a new planet, recognizable but fundamentally different. He calls it “Eaarth,” and warns that we can no longer rely on old habits (read: “shopping”) and the false promise of endless economic growth, but must instead build a society, economy, and way of life that can hunker down, focus on essentials, and become an interdependent community.
Climatologist Paul Gilding, consultant to both Fortune 500 companies and community-based NGOs, calls what’s coming “The Great Disruption,” and describes ways we can move beyond an economy based on consumption and waste where we have lived beyond the means of our planet’s resources, and replace our addiction to growth with an ethic of sustainability.
And the Transitiontown network, which began in England and has rapidly spread to hundreds of communities in Europe, Asia, and America — including nearby Asheville and Saluda — addresses the three crises mentioned above by fostering “resilience” in households and communities through developing survival skills, bike paths, light rail, permaculture, bartering, sharing of everything from tools to cars, community gardens, local currencies, solar and wind energy, food preservation, recycling, inner spiritual strength, and a host of other innovative measures designed to reduce consumption, conserve resources, and enable our transition into a new (yet recognizably old) and sustainable way of life.
Deniers of climate change and peak oil have been seduced by the energy industry and their media mouthpieces (the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News) and their paid operatives in government at all levels. Some evangelical churches have led us astray by teaching that “have dominion” gives us license to use up nature for unimpeded growth to feed our voracious appetites for “stuff.” Too many people have been conditioned by test-driven, underfunded public education to believe whoever shouts the loudest and offers the slickest propaganda. Our planet is indeed made up of limited resources, as evidenced by our polluted air and water, chemical-saturated soils, and extreme and costly efforts to extract oil from the five-mile depths of the Gulf of Mexico and the Alberta tar sands — proposing to send it by pipeline through rich farmlands to ports for export, and to collect natural gas by contaminating soil and water through fracking, with predictably disastrous results.
We need to follow the lead of couples like our Ruth and John — and a growing number of like-minded folk in the Transitiontown movement — who are developing “resilence” for living sustainably and joyfully on the new planet “Eaarth” that we humans have created in place of the rich and fruitful one bequeathed to us by the Creator, and faithfully sustained for centuries by our pre-industrial ancestors.