The Coming New Year

Shana tova.jpg

Hurricane Earl spared us, but left a strong wind behind--too strong for fishing. Not a great loss considering that the fishing has been the poorest in many, many years. We're heading back to Lexington in a couple of days to celebrate the New Year. Among the many things I think about at this annual turning is this blog. I have been at it since my book was published about two years ago. I recall complaining lately how much more difficult finding stuff to write about either coming from inside my head and from the blogosphere and other outside sources.

It's not that there is a lack of stuff; the quantity of material labeled as "green" or "sustainable" has steadily increased. It's that I find it the same as it was a couple of years ago. Companies continue to boast about their CSR initiatives or their new sustainable widgets, but the state of the world keeps degenerating. The lack of serious action on the global climate change front, other than pouring money into technological research, is depressing at best. I don't know if we Americans are exceptional in this respect, but Mark Twain, an acute observer of America, said long ago that "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."

The strong signal sent by the Great Recession that our consumerist economy was both unstable and unsustainable has been either ignored or downplayed by the Great Establishment that designs and manages our economy (if an economy can, in fact, ever be managed.) The looming election promises to further destroy the functioning and appreciation of our political and governance system, no matter which party (if that is what one should call a bunch of angry, demagogic folks) wins. The measured debates of our founding fathers have been long forgotten, most unfortunately. Historians write that we have always engaged in political mudslinging--it's as American as apple pie--but the modern media have raised the level of negativity to historic highs.

Sustainability can and does mean different things to different people. I always talk about it as the possibility that human and other life will flourish on the planet forever. I don't believe that, as a whole, we in the US and most other places on Earth are flourishing at present. Certainly not, if inequality is used to measure the absence of flourishing for so many at the bottom of the economic heap. I doubt if even those at the top are truly happy. If they were, they would stop worrying about how to extract even more money from a hapless society.

The political tone seems to me to be all about materialistic and self-centered themes. The sense of community and the need for glue to hold it together has mostly vanished. An angry, unruly, shouting crowd may be momentarily held together by some common slogan, but I would not call the participants a community. They share their anger, but not themselves. Ignorance about the critical importance of rules is palpable. But rules are what, to a large extent, has made the human animal civilized. Rules are a measure of our acceptance of being a part of a community. John Donne, contemplating his own illness, wrote these time-honored words expressing this sentiment.

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

I have grow tired of scanning hundreds of blogs and blurbs every day without seeing much, if anything, of real interest. Walmart is not going to turn the tide with their Sustainability Index. GE is not going to change much at all with Ecoimagination. $90 billion to be spent on clean energy research is not going to wake us up to the need to control our energy appetite. And so on and on and on. . .

The Jewish New Year is a time for repentance and rebirth. I am not a very religious person, but find more meaning in the liturgy and ceremony of this season as I have become much older. I am going to take a vacation from this blog during the Holidays, hoping to come back refreshed and able to find new signs that we are waking up to the real meaning of sustainability and are becoming willing to admit our denial and addictive ways. As it is said every year after the opening services, L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu--May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for a good year! I hear this as a call to flourish.

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3 Comments

David M Carter said:

John,

I, for one, will miss your posts while you are away. I hope you return after the holidays with renewed purpose.

I tend to agree with you that things do not look good for life on Earth, given the dominance of economism. Even so, there is a lot going on that should give us hope. Surveys of the young (i.e. millenial generation) are very hopeful. They apparently see the world in ways that are more consistent with the real meaning of sustainability.

Plus, it is hard to see beyond the corporate-dominated media. I think the picture we see is distorted. There is much going on that is good that is not getting coverage. We can hope that, through its lack of fame, it will eventually shine through and become a dominating cultural force. I suspect the rascals will be out of power before they know what hit them.

Ali said:

John,
Couldn't agree more with your comments. I think the whole "greening" wave has done more to de-sentisize than to raise awareness as to what is happening to us and the planet.

Have a great holiday. I will miss reading your posts while you are away.

Tiago said:

I think there is always a way and always a fight, in the meanwhile we find the path.

In the meanwhile, the word spreads around:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VDY-505CB18-1&_user=10&_coverDate=07%2F15%2F2010&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=aa53e0f180dd78baa06a8e3ad48263fa&searchtype=a