Monday, May 17, 2010

Urban Powerlessness

The frustration of knowing that your own way of life is destructively wrong but seeing no way to correct the defects seems to be a spreading condition. Many know they 'should' be reducing their consumption, producing their own food and energy -- but have no significant means of doing these things. We are urban... much of humanity lives in circumstances about which the typical person has little, if any, control. We cannot decide, for example, to retrofit the insulation in our rented walls or collect rain water from rented roofs -- or put windmills on them. Few of us have any say about the methods millions, including themselves, must use if they wish to transport themselves. Or how the residents of their city obtain food and water. It's rude to discuss the energy/pollution rates of your neighbors, worse to suggest limiting it. We are all victimized by actions beyond our control. Our lifestyle options are limited by our circumstances. Going green is difficult, sometimes illegal, often impossible, for many in urban settings.

An oft heard phrase is "you can't change other people"... quite often spoken as sage advice when the discussion turns to big problems such as peak fossil fuels, climate change, extinction. This phrase chides for impertinence, for you have touched a sensitive taboo: our helplessness, our powerlessness, the root of our anxious frustration. You are expected to do penance for being such a downer, and put on a happy face.

We're told that the only one we can ever hope to change is ourselves. But... can we even hope to change our own acknowledged destructive unsustainable lifestyle when we're locked in by circumstances beyond our control?

Many would move to a country farm, if they could. Many would have enough land for a self-sufficient homestead and grow their own food, make electricity with solar panels, collect the rain... if they could. It happens to cost money to do these things... money that many simply do not have. Even if they have cash for a down payment, how many also have a portable income stream or can find a good paying job in a rural area? Leaving their job would leave them broke.

This also begs the obvious question: Are there enough farms just waiting out there for all the new urban transplants who would buy and live on them? The answer is also obvious: a resounding no.

We are stuck in our cities, and will face whatever consequences that entails. Perhaps simply suffering the pain of collapse, powerless and frustrated. Anger can amplify our problems. Perhaps this unbearable dilemma will be broken by more fundamental changes in how we rule ourselves, in how ownership of our circumstances is distributed. We must be empowered to change.

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