In the End, Sometimes Giving Things Up *IS* the Answer

About five years ago a colleague of mine, Dale Allen Pfeiffer wrote an essay I can no longer locate.  At the time, Colony Collapse Disorder was just being diagnosed in bees, and one of the discussed potential causes of the problem was cell phones and cell phone towers.  Pfeiffer didn't, as I remember, take a stand on this question as a cause, but what he did do was interview people and ask "If it was true that cell phones caused CCD, and knowing that we depend on bees for a large portion of our food, would you give up your cell phone to save the bees?"

The answer, overwhelmingly, was no.

Now CCD is not caused by cell phones, but what interested me was the thought experiment.  While Einstein's claim that if bees died out the human race would die out in probably overstated, the list of crops that depend wholly or partially on honeybees is pretty long, and pretty much includes all foods that make life worth living - you'd be eating a lot of porridge with not much on it, sans bees.  And since this makes substantive contribution to a food security that is already pretty globally stretched, a whole lot of people would die of hunger, not to mention the economic and social costs.

So those are pretty big issues.  Now it is also possible that some of the people Pfeiffer interviewed didn't fully grasp what was at stake, and a clear laying out of the issues would have changed their claims.  I'm not so sure, though.

Some years ago when George Monbiot's _Heat_ came out, with its analysis of what nations would have to do in order to reduce their impact enough to control the worst outcomes of climate change (and for the record, _Heat_ came out BEFORE the Climate Equity analysis and the idea of 350ppm as a "safe" number), I proposed that a group of people model those changes at the personal level, in a project that later became The Riot for Austerity.  While a surprising number of people volunteered to participate, the vast majority of people presented with the reality that you'd have to cut emissions by 90% just responded with "Well, that's not going to happen...."

And they were right.  It isn't - even though the potential outcomes of unchecked climate change (still the only kind we've got) are the death of millions, hunger, poverty (the Stern Report makes very clear that eventually the costs of climate change will send the world into an inalterable global depressive spiral we can NEVER get out of, because we're spending so much money trying to ameliorate the disasters we've caused).  But most people, presented with the idea that this requires a total transformation in lifestyle - even to save their children and grandchildren terrible suffering say "Nope."

So I guess it didn't surprised me when, in the middle of a rather good interview by Sara Ayech of Transition  with Toby Miller about the environmental costs of technology, we  suddenly find ourselves confronting the interviewer's rather rapid insistence that no one should give up their laptop or cell phone despite these costs, and a shift of the discussion away from how to do without:

Sara: How do we respond to this in a Transition context? Clearly, an individual giving up their computer or mobile phone has little impact on such great problems – the server factories run on fossil fuels, working conditions in China, mining of minerals etc. Transition is a community level response so what can we do locally?

Toby: There are several things you can do without giving up mobile phones, you can connect to social movements around the world where people are trying to protect the workers.

Sara: In terms of big picture, do you think the Cuban model of repairing everything and making products last as long as possible, or the Peruvian model of self-assembly computers is the way to go?

Toby: Yes, but the limitation is two things: firstly, software upgrades are created by corporations with the idea of eventually requiring hardware upgrades for the software to work. Secondly, you still have to find ways of recycling the material, and in Peru for example there is no satisfactory system of recycling the components.

Sara: In the context of practical community action, is it useful to push councils for a disposal and mobile phone recycling policy?

Toby: Well yes, that’s useful for the end of life of these products, but the raw materials and production are so globalised, and by such giant companies, that all you can do is urge manufacturers to be transparent and vigorous about monitoring life on the production line.

You can also talk to local government about where and how recycling is done. The problem is that they often don’t have the resources to check whether companies recycle in a responsible way. A lot of the time, products which are supposedly going to less affluent consumers in, say, Africa, are not arriving in a usable condition and are just dumped.

Sara: For most people there will also be the balance against the benefits of technology – social movements like Transition have grown globally, in part because of the democratisation of communication. We don’t need to rely on traditional media, we can create our own media with our own websites, blogs like this one, and through social networking like Facebook and Twitter.

Toby: These technologies and genres offer a fascinating blend of privacy and publicness. The problem is that in the rush to embrace the new cybertarian world, a cornucopia of meaning, we forget harsh material realities. E-waste is the largest growing category of municipal waste in the world, but our awareness has not kept up with this trend.

What's interesting about this interview is how the parts of it that focus on the costs of technology seem to be leading in the direction of an honest discussion of whether we can support these technologies and their environmental and social costs, but the interviewer immediate sheers off that much harder question, and shifts to the conventional answer that these technologies are so useful that the best we can hope for is mitigation - improve worker treatment, recycle, but don't consider giving them up, because that choice doesn't matter.

And in a literal sense that's true - if you silently refuse to buy an IPhone and make no comment about it, and are the only one, it doesn't matter.  Of course, that's not how social trends operate - and opposition to social trends begins precisely from people refusing to participate, explaining why they don't participate and offering pleasant alternatives - which anyone who engages in Transition or who mentions permaculture in her opening statement should grasp.

The issue, of course, is that once we are accustomed to it, ALL technologies are too useful to give up, except the salad shooter.  If you want to piss people off, suggest they can live without a technological device, even thrive that way.  Nothing enrages people more, because the benefits of technology are ALWAYS presumed to be self-evident - it is self-evident that anything that saves human labor (even though with 7 billion humans and a chronic global unemployment problem human labor is one of the most abundant things on the planet, we feel we must husband it as though it were platinum) or makes life work even a little better must be something we can't do without.

Note that I am NOT claiming here that everyone should give up cell phones or laptops, or any particular technology - what strikes me as interesting and important, however, is the fact that we shy so strongly away from any claim that we ought give up the technologies to which we have become accustomed, no matter how enormous the potential cost to all of us.  The article in question begins by asking whether the internet and related communications technologies are really as harmful to the environment as flying - one of the big luxury drivers of climate change.  It ends, however, by shutting down any real discussion of what we ought to do about harmful things.  It ends by suggesting that we don't have to ever give anything up, we can just mitigate the damage.

The difficulty is that all our mitigation strategies, all of our hedging against things that have environmental consequences has been totally inadequate to significantly slow the rate of degradation, which is only growing.  That is, we have amply demonstrated that it is NOT sufficient to simply recycle and try and improve worker conditions - that at some point we will have to bear some real cost if we are intent in cutting our longer term losses - but even those who best understand this issue refuse to enter into a real discussion of which losses we might want to bear and how to begin taking them.  This is a kind of cowardice, and one with real and serious consequences, because it extends even deeper cuts and deeper suffering to the next generation and the one after that.

I have often pointed out that in some measure, our present predicament is a grammatical problem - we have the problem if having constructed our sentences in such a way as to leave unspoken the logical end-statements of our thinking.  Implicit in "Our technologies do so much good we couldn't possibly consider living without them, so..." is "So if they have heavy costs, we need to be credited with having done the best we can and future generations just need to suck it up."  But, of course, it would be a lot harder to actually SAY that.

Note that this post is being written on the internet.  This is not an accusation of hypocrisy for anyone, and for all I know cell phones or the internet will turn out to be, in a world where we have to use dramatically less, the one thing that we should save.  But the problem is that we never begin ANY conversation with the assumption that we should give a lot of things up in order to make things better for the future - we always assume that the cost of sacrifice is unbearable - which means we never think much about whether it is or not.  From such a beginning, no functional endings can come.

Which is just another reason why I focus on the way-of-life problem, rather than on what I think of as "the extraction problem" - that is, why I don't spend a lot of time here on any one particular bad method of getting fossil fuels.  Ultimately, transforming our way of life, and creating a space in which it is actually possible to speak of what we could do without begins from the idea that our way of life is not fully a product of our technologies, of articulating what is the hidden influences of cheap energy and environmental externalization, and what is really ours - that is, what we truly need and what we do not.  It isn't a solo project - I can never and would never choose for others, but I can at least begin talking about the question of choosing, making the space in which it is possible to imagine choice.  In a recent post I wrote:

Second, I’m a realist – as I’ve always said, we would shovel live baby harp seals into our furnaces by hand, while convincing ourselves that live baby harp seals enjoy it, as long as we feel ourselves without alternatives – the moment we say BUT I NEED IT we are addicts, jonesing for a fix and we’ll do anything to keep warm, keep the lights on, keep the plate full, whatever.  In the great scheme of things, I think digging in ANWR and deepwater drilling, or local fracking suck, but the truth is that what is most urgently required is not to NEED them.  Rapier gets right to the point.

Addicts lack clarity about their choices.  They make bad choices over and over again because they can't do anything else.  I'm not picking on Sara Avech here, because this is a cultural, not a personal problem - I'm just fascinated by the ways that even people that SHOULD be able to begin to have this conversation shut it down for fear of opening up the can of worms where we must do without.





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You make a good point. As a vegan, I've often told people that the single most important thing they can do to end global warming is to stop eating meat and milk. The film "Vegucated" (on Netflix) says that being vegan is more impactful than buying a hybrid car, even.

And then there are the health effects. See for testimonials of the cures for arthritis, diabetes, heart and artery disease, even auto-immune diseases like Lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

But somehow "I can't do that; I really like bacon" trumps all such good sense.

The fallback I have (and it's true) is that "giving up" meat and milk was no real sacrifice. There was a period of adjustment when my tastes changed, but now I feel I've never eaten better, tastier food. There's no sacrifice, for reals. of luck provoking change for gadgets and things. I've had a pretty hard time convincing others to be vegan though...

By Adam Eran (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

Synchrony that today both you and Tim Bennett ( ) mused in your blog postings about "In the End..."

Here's his opening sentence: "In the end, wherever this crazy world is taking me, I intend to meet it as a mature, sane, and empowered adult human soul, rather than a reactive, wounded adolescent hiding out in a grown-up body. This has been my work since I first awakened to “our present predicament.”"

Talking about and acting upon the harmful effects of entitlement and opening up to clear choices of consequences go hand in hand for an authentic life...however hard and painful that might be.

Thanks for the post.

By P & L (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink


For some land, grazing animals are an effective and efficient way to turn land growth into human food.

In Africa, goats turn unfarmable scrub land that can support a human if you farm 10 acres of it into goat that can feed that same person without all that grubbing in the dirt.

A sheep can turn too-steep welsh hillsides into mutton.

And animals can turn silage into meat in the wintertime, giving you a long-life foodstock for the winter.

Just like fish turn unfarmable seawater into food.

"But somehow “I can’t do that; I really like bacon” trumps all such good sense."

Pigs turn substandard food and waste into something that humans can eat: pork.

In a non-industrial future, as in almost all of our past, there will be no manufactured vitamin pills and true vegans (who refuse to eat eggs, dairy, or insects) will have a hard time getting enough vitamin B12 to thrive. We need to move towards a world with few enough people that everyone can eat healthfully and sustainably from their own region, not a world packed full of stunted and anemic invalids.

I think I first began seriously reading into the peak oil writers because I hoped that it might save us from the worst of climate change. That is, since we can't seem to give up our way of life (despite the fact that we could live just as happily on so much less) - I hoped that oil depletion might take it away from us before we destroyed entirely the generative foundations of life and civilization. But no such luck, peak cheap oil probably is not up to being our Deus ex Machina. So, barring a convenient pandemic, we either change our ways or fail to.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

Birth in 1954 gives me an advantage of memory that those born during the age of technology do not have. Yes, we had antenna T.V. (Still do.) Guess what: when a television had a malfunction, one did not throw it in the dumpster or recycling bin & purchase another newer, better, latest, greatest model. One called the t.v. repairman who solved the problem by opening the back of the t.v. and replacing a tube, wire, or other accoutrement; the t.v. was back in operation. There was one television per household. There was one phone, one bathroom. (Every family member continued to live). Our family television was destined to a lifetime of at least 20 years. The same held true for toasters, coffee pots, washers, dryers, stove tops & ovens, automobiles, radios, etc. The result of this process was less trash, more employment opportunities for repair persons, part makers, and well you get the idea. Today’s throw-away society packs the landfills and completely excavates every natural resource the planet has to share to keep pumping out new products. Example: A friend received an e-reader one year ago as a gift. The owner loved it. It still works. The problem: there is a newer, better, more up-to-date e-reader that will be ever so much more wonderful than the item she loved one year ago. Whom do we blame for this phenomenon? A) The buyer who must have the ever improving product; and B) the producer who continuously ‘improves’ its product with the sole purpose of perpetuating consumption (and profit) into infinity (or at least until there are no resources left with which to produce the product.) Sadly, the population of the U.S. has become greedy, self-centered consumers who think not of the final results of the madness. Yes, there are those who forgo over-consumption, but the majority does not.

I used to teach a college course on utopianism in which I had the students work on their imaginings of what their best possible society would be. One of the many things that I learned in that class is that even 20 year olds have a profound lack of faith in human's ability to voluntarily and intentionally change -- and a lack of imagination about ways humans might live that would be different from ours. I suppose that comes out of both the ideologies and the experience of late consumer capitalism.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

Funny, I was just discussing this issue with my husband, last night, as we had just received an estimate for a heat barrier (for the attic, goes on top of the insulation). The idea that we don't need air conditioning and we could live with colder winter temperatures (in the house) didn't go over very well.

I agree with you.
On the weekend, I was in a Community Natural Foods Co-op to purchase a 25lb bag of oats. The young man ahead of me caught my attention when his bill for 2 bags of groceries came to $650.00! I looked at what was still being bagged.... it was all bottles and plastic contains of vegan this and that... supplements, bars and what would call treats. I said to him "is that about a months worth?" and he said "Yes".!

Adam, I'm glad veganism works for you. I have been having better results personally going in the Paleo direction. I think the "one-size-fits-all" mentality is very unhelpful.

Andy, if Peak Oil doesn't do it, there still is Peak Water, and Peak Food, and Peak Credit, etc., so hope is one thing you shouldn't give up.

By John Wheeler (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

Some people are fine with vegetarian diets, even strict.

Some people (by genetic variation) are entirely unable to subsist on a vegetarian (even fish eating) diet. A woman at University was ALWAYS snacking on crisps, sweets, etc. She was a vegetarian but could not metabolise everything she needed from it. And the body doesn't have any easy way of telling you your potassium levels are low, it only has "MORE! FEED ME!!!".

And some people can subsist on vegan diets.

Most people have to be more careful what they eat and ensure their diet is balanced when choosing vegetarianism.

But vegetarianism is not absolutely necessary.

And foodstock animals are on occasion the only way to make use of some farmland.

Strict vegetarianism will never be a REQUIREMENT for continued human existence. But eating meat at the rate we do in the western world (quadruply so for the USA market) is a requirement for returning to sustainable existence.

And any vegetarian forgoing bacon means more bacon for me!!! Everyone wins.

Well, apart from the pigs, carrots, swedes, potatoes, grains, ....

LMAO at Salad Shooter. I actually have one of those, never used it. I did not pay for it, but found it while going through some stuff that was left to me (I donated most of it, but for some reason, the salad shooter looked like it might be useful come harvest/canning time).
I bought a clothesline for the third time yesterday-my husband kept stealing it every time he needed some rope. I'd better hang it quick before he steals it again!


As a vegan, I’ve often told people that the single most important thing they can do to end global warming is to stop eating meat and milk.

No, that's wrong. The single most important thing you can do to end global warming is to die, childless.

Let's not kid ourselves that there is any way to live without some impact on the biosphere.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

I'd like to see the internet saved but not at the cost of my children's lives. I don't own a cellphone or any other modern tech stuff - I find it just not necessary. I do eat meat but not a lot and only local stuff.
There is so much that can be done to mitigate fuel use that I tend to get mad with those who just don't think about what they are doing. I'd also like to ban anything that doesn't come with a long term guarantee and which can't be fixed/upgraded. My first washing machine lasted 20 years for example. The one I have now - only 5 and it's already showing signs of disaster. I would still have my original one but there were no more parts to be had. These sorts of things should last a lifetime and then be recyclable in total.

There is so much that can be achieved but the mindset of this culture has to change first.

viv in nz

By knutty knitter (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

Sharon, you are the wisest person on the internet, I love reading your blog. (As bad as it is for the environment for me to own a computer)

By Susan Ferguson (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

Last year I read an article about the shortage of organic milk with was causing producers of organic milk products, mostly yogurt, to ship organic milk from the West Coast (of USA) to the East Coast. I thought, "Wow any benefit of producing organic milk went out the tailpipes of trucks doing the shipping."

Just an anecdote, but the question, what can we do without? seems to apply somehow.

By LongRider (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

One thing I try to do without is health care, except for the preventative kind. It's just so expensive in these United States. I also think advertising has made us a nation of sissies. G-d forbid we should ever have any kind of minor pain...

By G B Heron (not verified) on 06 Mar 2013 #permalink

No, it's mostly because of the commercial way you've implemented health care in the usa, GB.

You pay (and MUST pay) hundreds of dollars a month.

For which you expect some return, otherwise you're paying for nothing.

So if the doctor DOESN'T do something that obviously cost money for you, you complain and demand treatment.

The doctor just raises the rates on everyone to cover it, which causes more of the above behaviour, and a cycle is started.

The pharma companies get paid for it, so they're happy.

The insurers get a bigger pay out of the same percentage cut, so they're happy.

The exceedingly wealthy don't feel it, so they're not unhappy.

You, having to pay through the nose and feeling like you're a dispensary and rattle when you fall over, are less happy.

Large scale human change inhuman behavior is probably only possible in the presence of an existential crisis. And not just an abstract crisis (however real it might be), but one that is obviously, and unarguably, affecting huge number of people right now. Absent that, I don't think human beings, especially Americans, will be willing to offer the required sacrifice.

The two examples people like to use for how we can work together are World War II and the ozone layer. Unfortunately, compared to our current predicaments, these fall far short. The former, while global in nature, had a hands-on enemy that had attacked. Moreover, there was no expectation that the sacrifices asked would be permanent. The war would be won, things would get better. In the ozone situation the world worked together to ban CFC's. Great work. But where's the sacrifice? There were available alternatives. Few industries, let alone individuals, were forced to suffer in any meaningful way for any meaningful time.

This simply isn't true for our current situation. The changes that are required represent enormous sacrifices, that are likely permanent in nature. Developed countries will have to accept severe reductions (over time) in their standards of living. Developing nations will have to accept that they will never be able to achieve the standards of living once enjoyed by those developed countries.

I think this is a very different situation than anything humans have ever faced at this scale. I cannot think of anything similar. I think the chances that human beings voluntarily, absent an existential, on-the-ground, in-your-face crisis, accept these changes are probably vanishingly small. I'm afraid large-scale preparatory (or preventative) change is not part of human nature. We are a reactive, adaptive species. On a mostly empty planet with yet-undiscovered fossil fuels, it served us well. On an increasingly crowded and resource constrained planet.... not so much.

So, if we cannot change before the crisis, then the crisis will come and change will happen as a result. It will be harder than it might theoretically have needed to be, but... we are what we are.

This doesn't seem to be the case when worrying about problems like "pension shortfall" or "economy collapse".

No need to *prove* that there will be a shortfall in the pension pot if benefits aren't cut now in that case, is there. No waiting for the crisis to bite before acting to mitigate or avoid the predicted catastrophe, is there.

Probably just worth mentioning that Einstein almost certainly never said that thing about the bees, according to many people's investigations.

But an excellent article, nevertheless.

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You make some very good points. I think the reason we can't face give up on even one technology is because this means *giving up on progress itself* - and as you know, that is BIGGEST taboo.

Very true. Suggesting someone can live without something really does piss them off. Its got really heated when I've suggested that we don't need a new car or a new computer or her iPhone. I'm continually mocked for my 10 year old brick mobile phone and told I must embrace new technology. Don't be surprised to be called a Luddite.

Try suggesting the social damage that's done by mining exotic metals and you get nah nah nah - I can't hear you.

Hi Sharon,

First of all, thank you for writing such a considered response to my interview with Toby Miller. I hoped the article would provoke discussion. I wrote it because I learnt a lot I hadn't known before about communications technology from reading the book, and I haven't come across a great deal of discussion of this within Transition. Indeed many of those I know who have given up flying use technology as a substitute.

In response to some of your points, my intention was not to shut down discussion of whether individuals should give up mobile phones or stop using the internet. There is actually no such discussion in Toby's book. Rather the solutions sections focus on what 'Green citizenship' would look like, and presents examples of how social movements can pressure governments, corporations and support workers movements who are resiting the exploitative conditions of hardware production.

He highlights, among other things, the successful Greenpeace campaigns which have pushed companies including Facebook to agree to run their servers on renewable energy. This is significant: server farms use so much power that a committment of this kind has the potential to change energy production in an entire state or region, away from coal, and towards renewables. Personally, it seems to me that the nature of the problem is so huge and so global, that large scale campaigns of this kind may offer the greatest potential for change. However, I wrote this piece for Transition, and as a Transitioner I am interested in what we can do as a community, so that was the question I asked.

Transition is primarily about positive community solutions, not about cutting off, preaching, condeming, or making people feel that what they do can never be enough. It is also a global and social movement that communicates. As the interview makes clear, print communications i.e. paper, are not particularly good for the planet either, and have an equally poor history of worker exploitation and dumping toxins into the environment. So although you rightly point out that an individual silently giving up their iPhone wouldn't make much of a splash, even if many of us did, it would go unnoticed if we had no means of communication beyond very limited word of mouth. Social trends happen through communication, and from the printed word onwards communication has been pretty destructive.

You (deliberately?) miss the ambiguity in my final paragraph: "There’s a danger that constant connectedness takes us in the wrong direction. In the end we cannot localise the mining of minerals and production on computers and mobile phones, and nor would we really want to. We either need to live with the compromise, or embrace slowing down again."

And many of the responses I've had from people over the last week have been along those lines - that embracing communications technology is a diversion from our real journey back towards connecting with the earth.

However, I am also a pragmatist, and I know that in the reality of my community (and my own life), solutions that involve pushing the handful of corporations that own and produce most of the hardware and communications channels to clean up, will get the best hearing, as well as arguably having the greatest effect in the shortest time. Community level forms of 'mitigation' that are useful and empowering, such as the excellent Restart Project (community repair), also work because they offer people a way of doing something collectively, in your view something inadequate, but an important first step.

Transition, as you rightly point out, has got where it is by offering pleasant solutions. In the case of changing food systems, an urban community garden, in most cases won't feed enough people to shut down supermarkets, but are a way of making people think about and understand alternative ways of being. My article was an attempt to look for what the parallels would be when it comes to technology. Fixing things, self-assembly, persuading local governments to effectively recycle all offer possibilities in this direction, if only those who would participate aren't made to feel 'cowards' for not going far enough.

By Sara Ayech (not verified) on 12 Mar 2013 #permalink

Very true. Suggesting someone can live without something really does piss them off. Its got really heated when I’ve suggested that we don’t need a new car or a new computer or her iPhone


Try saying you've given up TV.

People just don't believe it.

And if you suggest they can do it, they then decry you for "thinking you're better than us", the reason for which escapes me.

not about cutting off, preaching, condeming, or making people feel that what they do can never be enough.
if only those who would participate aren’t made to feel ‘cowards’ for not going far enough.

All strawmanning.

Their problem is you're asking them to do ANYTHING. They say "Oh, whatever I do, it won't be enough for you" SOLELY to then justify doing nothing.

If you tell someone that their smoke is harming their child in the same room, you're "condemning them" in their eyes since this makes it YOUR fault they aren't doing anything. Whereas what you're actually doing is INFORMING them.

If you say "you can do without a car", you're preaching. If you say "you don't need a gun at home to be safe", you're preaching. Indeed if you tell them anything they don't want, they can call it "preaching", because apparently there's no need to prove that assertion.


I have one candidate for technology we should consider "giving up" or banning -- commercial advertising. Maybe the entire practice of "merchandising" -- creating a market, for a product someone wants to sell. Remove the artificial, corporate-benefiting ads, and the purchase decisions about personal electronics and other conspicuous displays of affluence devolve to keeping up with the Joneses (remember that phrase?), and "Is my need for that purchase worth that many dollars/hours of my life, right now?" That is, consider first our need for a product/service, and *not* whether "the market" value vs. price is attractive.

Your statement about "deaths of millions" caught my attention. If the best outcome is to use 10% of current energy levels, it seems that the choice is for all to use 10% energy, or only 10% of us will be using that energy. (I know it doesn't work like that, but my math cannot be that much worse than the oil shale and fraccing numbers.) But I suppose mentioning "deaths of hundreds of millions", while likely accurate, wouldn't read well.

The interview question about "repair everything" caught my attention. Because to my mind there is a quantitative difference between what we call "recycling" -- haul stuff to collection centers, haul stuff from collection centers to processing centers, haul stuff from processing centers to manufacturing plants, haul stuff from manufacturing plants to distribution centers, haul stuff from distribution centers to stores, then haul stuff from stores back home, with federal money spent at the collection steps and all the way to the manufacturing plant (with the overburden of energy and money that government spending entails, completely aside from contributing to the national debt, plus overhead of additional marketing and merchandising because part of the resources are "recycles") -- and reuse, repair, etc.

If anyone really intended to reduce fossil fuel use in private automobiles, why is the focus on building new vehicles (that fewer and fewer people can afford), instead of renovating existing cars and trucks, improving the efficiency of existing engines and transmissions, of adapting alternate fuel and energy strategies to existing vehicles? As energy costs, and the costs of producing that energy, rise, the concept of build a "better" replacement makes less sense all the time -- especially for a strategy that *requires* expansion of debt in an economy at the end of the recent periods of growth.

No one seems interested in my own idea to reduce private vehicle energy usage -- change zoning laws to co-locating work, shopping, and residence (live within 1.5 miles -- walking distance -- of work and shopping)., and to denigrate residence, excuse me, "housing", developments and significant commutes. But then I also favor long term employment, abandoning the never-ending "ambition" that seems so endemic to corporate/industrial thinking. Large family homes -- occupied for generations, by intent. You know, silly things that worked for a few years before the industrial revolution.

Blessed be.

"instead of renovating existing cars and trucks, improving the efficiency of existing engines"

Which means replacing the engine entirely. Retrofits only go so far.

I LOVED this post, cannot tell you how often I hit this very wall in (all!) conversations. A recent funny was with a community member picking up his CSA share at a snowed-in farm. I mentioned that I had had to shovel snow to allow for the CSA pick up, but that I didn't really mind because I prefer hand-shoveling to loud machinery. In fact, almost all the farm work (and market gardening) I do is with hand tools. He laughed and said sure, but he really wanted a Bobcat of his own. How do you respond, except YIKES.

By Angel Dobrow (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

Hopefully 1) the transition to renewable energy sources will multiply the energy under humanity's control, allowing us to improve on the biome the Earth came with when we arrived, and 2) in the nearer term the maker movement should give end-users control over the environmental aspects of production. When you're printing a new fender for your car, you can choose to spend an extra 10% to go for low VOC materials.

By Adam Grant (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

Hi Sharon,
I highly recommend Keith Farnish's book, "Time's Up" for a discussion on the many aspects of giving things up, especially this "Culture of Maximum Harm". There aren't really any small measures that are going to be effective, but there are ways to understand how to get people to say "Well, I guess so." instead of just "Nope". There are a lot of lies to wade through in civilization itself, let alone all of the various memes of technology and economics that obfuscate reality and disconnect us from even ourselves.
Keep up the good work.
If you just remember to lose all Hope, you can't get discouraged doing things that you just need to get done.
"Do be do be do" -Frank Sinatra

By Auntiegrav (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

"Now CCD is not caused by cell phones"

Why do you say this? There have been a number of what should be alarming preliminary studies on this class of radiation exposure & bees, but the most important to date, what should have you reverse that quote (although mob/kill phone infrastructure & associated unremitting infrastructural exposure are more to the point), is a look at Favre's study at induction of worker piping as prelude to hive departure, study available eg at .

"you’d have to cut emissions by 90%"

I recall reading your blog a few times some years ago, and regarding a certain religious orientation, you should find it interesting to consider the Chanukah story for its amazing correspondence, 1 day's worth for 8 of fuel use, makes for not quite 90% drop...

"opposition to social trends begins precisely from people refusing to participate"

We never fell for wireless mania, at first mostly intuitively, but afterwards, lots of research corroborating the intuition beyond darkest imaginings.

But who can

"thrive that way"

when we are subject to involuntary non-stop irradiation just about wherever one goes?

"the rate of degradation, which is only growing"

to the hilt with all manner of human abuse of the electromagnetic spectrum, the largely overlooked elephant, as almost all enviro-focus is substance-oriented.

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