Charles Dickens began his “Tale of Two Cities” by reflecting that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. He writes of that past and offers only comparisons to his own time.
Today, I reflect on the current state of America and would paraphrase Dickens. “These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.” I might think that today is the best of times. At no other time in our history have we been able to possess the things that we do now: television, cell phones, ample food for most. Or to know what we can know about the world we live in as cable news keeps us more fully informed than any of our ancestors.
I recently came across the wedding photo of my grandparents. They were married in 1891. It is hard to imagine what they would think of the world we now live in and all that we can do. Even the idea that I could sit at a desk in Morgan Hill and search the 1900 census records for the first mention of my father would have seemed crazy.
For all that we have accomplished, the world that we know is going to change and how we deal with those changes will determine whether or not these are the worst of times. It should be clear to all that our climate is changing, and it won’t be for the better. For those who believe it is just a matter of natural cycles, the fact is that we are just now coming out of an 11-year cooling cycle so that such “normal” cyclic variation will only continue to warm the planet. Every study that comes out provides increasing credence for the warming of our planet and its root cause in our continued use of fossil fuels.
The question we all have to answer is no longer what is happening, but rather what are we going to do about it. Doing nothing is no longer an option. The ecological changes that are happening will force changes in the way we are able to live.Those who see an unlimited technological future as the way forward need only consider that our current path will have a world of 9 billion people by 2050.
This surge in population will put increasing pressure on the limited resources that we have. Feeding an extra 2 billion people will be a major challenge. It might be that our fossil fuels would be put to better use as fuel for crops rather than fuel for transportation. Most of the nitrogen used in commercial fertilizers comes from natural gas.
Even the materials we are told that are required for the trappings of daily life ... televisions, tablets, cell phones … are called rare earths for a reason. If the future is to be held in lithium batteries, you can count the mining sources of lithium without taking off your shoes.
The late Steve Jobs challenged a graduating class at Stanford to “create the future you imagine.” I don’t think that most of us would want the future that we are now creating. It is time to imagine something different. Some are already doing that. They understand that unlimited growth is a Ponzi scheme where a few get rich at the expense of the many. They understand also that our politicians are not going to deliver a sustainable future as long as the premise of government is that growth is necessary to finance they way we live today.
Listen to what they promise and ask yourselves how that can be. Those ever-present television ads promise us a great future of energy use, at least for another century. But what does that leave our children and grandchildren? Only the problems that we were not strong enough to solve today. I think that we are better than that – at least I hope so. But if we are to avoid the worst future, we need a new manner of organizing our society including a new politics.
Transition California offers a new premise for society, locally organized to transition California to sustainable models, systems and structures. The Green Party offers the companion political solution, organized by grassroots action and with politicians who will not be bought by corporate donations. You might consider both as being unrealistic. But I ask you: What is realistic about selling our future in pursuit of an American Dream that can never be.
Wes Rolley is a Morgan Hill artist and concerned citizen. He is Co-Chairman of the EcoAction Committee, Green Party. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.