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Deep Economy

March 22, 2007


Bill McKibben’s newest is perhaps his best. In his sociologic and economic musings on the declining environment and the shrinking planet, McKibben possesses all of his usual insight and provocation about our current dilemma, while offering even more hope and optimism about the path ahead (even if it promises to be a very difficult future).

What’s the dilemma? Simply put, the U.S. leads the way in a worldwide promotion of a way of life that is not sustainable– not for us or for anyone else. Each of us uses 6 times as much energy as the average Mexican, 38 times as much as the average Indian, and 531 times as much as the average Ethiopian. Most of who would love to live as we do, and all of whom have been told that such a way of life is key to their happiness, if not their economic future. The problem is, there aren’t enough resources for us, much less everyone else. The further problem is, we’re not happy, not really.

Our real enemy, as McKibben sees it, is not SUVs or CFCs, or shrinking ice caps or thinning ozone. The real enemy is individualism: my car, my radio, my home, my space, my entertainment, my dinner (no matter what the season, effect on the farmer, or environmental impact). So he suggests that we focus not on More, but rather on Better. The planet can’t produce much more, and we’re not getting any happier consuming more, so why not get off the merry-go-round? Utilize smaller economies, buying (or sharing!) foods and goods and services locally, rather than continuing to depend upon larger economies (which are at once efficient and wasteful: the average food item travels 1,500 miles, changing hands 6 times before it reaches your mouth). In the process, we’ll enjoy something that most of us have forgotten: community.

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5 Responses to “Deep Economy”

  1. Ken Tennyson says:

    Great post! I have been mulling homesteading in some sort of cooperative environment for exactly these reasons. There is a terrible amount of redundancy in each of our possessions, and there is so much joy in sharing and working together.

  2. John E. says:

    Whew — 6… 38 … 531… Challenging thoughts.

    Nice to have you back!

  3. s.o says:

    good overview!
    I’m mid-way through chap. 1 and sense what you’ve described.
    I admit, I’m hoping for just a bit of radicalism in this book … but, maybe the “just barely reachable” kind. We’ll see!

    -s.o

  4. Liz says:

    I’m not sure simple, more communal communities are really the answer… Too many of the good things we depend on require larger infrastructures to support them. For example, finding a vaccine (or even better a cure) for AIDS takes lots of time and money and equipment. But those aren’t things you can just trade for. A local smaller community couldn’t sustain the personal and professional needs of that kind of research facility. So should we go back to rampant polio and small pox and letting people die from an infected tooth ache because we can’t support the production of antibiotics? Let’s not forget about the entire computer industry. We could never sustain the software and hardware industries with just local communal economies. There are certainly good things that could come form smaller, more personal economies but there are also some mighty hefty prices we’d have to pay – over and above imported beer and gas grilled dinners.

  5. timthewelsh says:

    It’s GOT to happen, Mike. Whether within our generation, or that of our little girls, or their kids.

    Don’t know about you, but I only see forced (govt) intervention paving the way to sense via extremely unpopular laws. I don’t think I’ve got the faith to believe that the raging fire of individualistic upwardly-mobile capitalism will be dampened by a general consensus of ‘I’ll stop if you’ll do the same’. I confess I’ve lost track of what’s going on over there – is your Pres still in the camp of ‘well, thing is, there’s no real proof that we’re mutilating the crap out of our planet?’.

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