Friday, November 14, 2014

What Am I Doing Part 3: Why A Lifestyle Change?

Consider the scale of our challenges
Most people I meet care about the problems we face and want to help somehow. Let's take water as a simple example: I've met many people suffering in this California drought who won't order a glass of water at a restaurant unless they're sure they can finish it, or who pave over their lawns so they don't need to water the lawn anymore.

I respect these people for caring, but what impact will they have? Fracking uses between 70-140 billion gallons each year[1] and makes more water undrinkable by injecting poisonous wastewater into aquifers, and you want to save half a glass when you're out for dinner? The USDA reports that farming in America alone uses 128 billion (Billion!) gallons per day.[2] The first step to responding to our challenges reasonably is to understand them, and especially understand their scale: if we're overconsuming water by billions of gallons, we must learn to save billions of gallons. One woman told me recently, "well, we have to start somewhere." That's technically correct, but if you stop there, the most you 'save' is 1/2 a cup of water during dinner, all you'll have practically accomplished is making yourself feel good while being utterly ineffective in responding to our water shortage.

Then consider the whole system
When you start to investigate any given challenge like water overconsumption or climate change, you quickly learn that our biggest challenges are tightly coupled. Obama and various American military officials have said fracking gives America a strategic advantage when dealing with other countries. So if you want to save our water supply by limiting fracking or making it unviable by forcing frackers to clean their water waste, you must weight that against the loss of influence internationally, increased dependence on other countries for our energy, etc. Want to fight climate change? Good luck - one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases is methane emissions from industrial livestock farms (cow farts!)[3], so you'll have to convince people to go vegetarian all over the world, countering the agriculture industry lobbying and propaganda. 

Total agriculture-related emissions are 1/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions. At first glance, uses less water to water your lawn than eat a chicken sandwich: the US Geological Survey says a pound of chicken requires 500 gallons of water, including the water to make its feed, to grow the chicken, make the structures to hold it and transport it, etc.[4]

Ultimately, all these issues are interconnected - water overuse, agriculture, energy, population growth, climate change, war, you name it. We cannot address these issues individually; we must address them together.

Thus the need for a lifestyle change
Many are willing to make trivial changes in their lives, but few are willing to acknowledge the systemic issues and respond at the appropriate scale. If the current economic and political system are to survive much longer, we must address these issues at the right scale - otherwise the economy will collapse as it encounters crucial resource shortages and associated financial and social problems.

I'm choosing to 'collapse early and avoid the rush'[5], as one writer puts it: acknowledge that trivial personal changes are insufficient, and those in power are choosing to respond ineffectively. I want to be part of a movement to create an alternative, more responsible network of communities that safeguard those things which people need for a happy, healthy life: clean water, clean air, good food, shelter, and a healthy community. There are many plausible paths to manifesting this goal, and I'm excited to begin an adventure this year which I hope will get me there. I'll share the plan, such as it is, in the next essay.
[1] EPA estimate of fracking water usage from 2012:$File/Draft+Plan+to+Study+the+Potential+Impacts+of+Hydraulic+Fracturing+on+Drinking+Water+Resources-February+2011.pdf
[2] Agriculture water usage is massive:
[3] Industrial livestock farming as a major source of greenhouse gases: 1/3 of total emissions according to Nature:
[4] USGS on the how much water it takes to produce various foods:
[5] John Michael Greer: