cute-things-my-kids-have-said (or not)

May 20, 2011

John Michael Greer has written an excellent post, The Tyranny of the Temporary, over at his blog, the Archdruid Report, on a topic i’ve struggled with a lot myself, in terms of decisions i make around parenting and decisions about where to live, especially, as well as everything from how the kids and i travel to where we get out food.

my initial response to reading his post was to question why i even bother blogging about things other than cute-things-my-children-have-said, since there are so many very talented, intelligent bloggers writing smart posts about a lot of the “serious” topics about which i spend my time thinking, but then i remembered how easy it is to write a post about cute-things-my-children-have-said-which-relate-to-the-topic-of-the-collapse-of-civilization and decided to write something anyway. ūüėČ

as i’ve hashed out repeatedly on this blog, i have, through a complicated calculus involving balancing of long term risks¬† and short term economic strengths (i.e.-not needing to use a car) and a little bit of hopefulness (i have decided to believe our civilization has some chance to collapse slowly enough that some sort of life may be possible for us in the city for the next 10 years or more, and that the odds of that chance coming to fruition are greatly increased by people like me staying put in the city and trying to live as “sustainably” as we can here rather than spreading out into the countryside (i make an exception for those with both a calling to and skills for farming)), decided that the kids and i belong in the city. but i do sometimes think about what of our city life is temporary and on what time scale it is liable to fritz out on us.

i have made a bet, in effect, that the ability of people like me to afford to live a car-focused life will be among the earliest parts of our civilization to go, both due to costs associated with car maintenance and fuel in a severely downturned economy that, as events along the Mississippi River (flooding) and in Japan (tsunami, nuclear catastrophe, and limited electrical capacity) and in the midwest (tornadoes) hint, seems unlikely to arrest its decline and due to what i hope will be political pressure to limit all sorts of fossil fuel use due to the fact that intense climate change is already rearing its head in the form of melting sea ice, collapsing ice sheets, and generally chaotic weather, decades earlier than previously anticipated by most, and we need to actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere now, not participate in or tolerate increasing it. i would be happiest to see this happen in the form of rationing (i believe it is the fairest way to limit overall usage), but a gas tax seems more likely (of course, neither seems at all likely at the moment).

in a situation where i can’t afford, either economically or morally, to drive a car, living in the city makes sense. and in a situation where most people can’t afford, either economically or morally, to drive cars, living in a city sounds great. i’d be seeing you all on the streets, walking/rolling/jumping in the rain and having fun. except that it really depends what else has such a brief half-life, and if everyone suddenly¬†couldn’t afford to use their cars, a lot more might be temporary than would be safe/healthy… the city doesn’t sound as great if large-scale sanitation services are short-term temporary and not everyone figures out about composting toilets or can manage to install them (streets as open sewers are as dangerous as they are yucky, yes?). it doesn’t sound so wonderful if the grid is short- or medium-term temporary (i.e.-institutional uses like treating/pumping water, hospitals, refrigerating perishable food in stores); although it still sounds preferable to me if personal, household level¬†electricity for the non-rich is short-term temporary.

also, historically, during recessions, depressions, and even famines, being in cities and towns in times of moderately strong government has been, excuse me as an anarchist for saying so, a positive thing in terms of accessing what services are available from said government… bread lines happen in cities and towns, not on your own personal slice of isolated rural heaven. if you, like me, do a lot of prepping (i.e.-storing food, having medical supplies and some level of knowhow, having a way to purify water, having a way to cook), you may feel you won’t need access to the bread lines or medical services a city or town will offer in these kinds of situations, but subsistence rural living leaves you very ¬†vulnerable to the ever-more-frequent crop failures due to bizarre weather (or just normal inclement weather), not to mention sickness or injury. although, not, of course, very vulnerable (if you are truly isolated) to the classic survivalist scenario of urban looting, although this is not something that has shown up historically in times of disaster (of course, you may make the argument that we are living in unique times and i will feel somewhat obliged to agree, as i think our current civilization is especially vulnerable around issues of long-term food and water disruptions… most people aren’t even prepared for three days without someone else providing these things to them, although, again, looting hasn’t shown up as a big issue even in areas where people have been without supplies for several days (after Katrina, for example)).

beyond these community size issues, i wonder about the proper way to raise my children during these times. there are some things that i feel a moral imperative about, like limiting our car usage and buying local food, that i also think are good for children and their communities anyway, and i would do them even if i didn’t think climate change and resource depletion were pushing our culture(s) towards the edge of a cliff. i do not discuss them with my kids in those terms, because i believe kids need to feel a greater measure of safety than a blunt description of our dilemma allows. i choose to focus on the positive aspects, like that all the walking we do leads us into adventures and interactions with people and helps maintain the health and develop the strength of our bodies. when we do discuss climate change or urban sprawl or other problems, i try to focus on the people who are battling these problems, either strictly in their personal lives or in a more overtly political sense. the kids make comparisons between these people and Harry Potter, among other heroic epic fantasy heroes. they want very much to grow into people doing right by the rest of their world. i worry a bit about the moment when the wool is pulled from their eyes, either by age (and independent inquiry into these issues or, as age appropriate, family discussions that delve deeper) or by circumstance. i can’t know for sure that the knocking of disaster on the doors of our communities won’t get too loud to keep from them. i worry that they will misunderstand my motivations for sheltering them in this way (or perhaps see them all too clearly?) if they come to believe, as i do, that industrial civilization is killing the planet as i focus inward on my family and our personal impacts and our future security… i worry about them asking me what i was doing when all of this was going on… just having us walk places and buy local food? visualizing world peace?

which character was i in this version of star wars? :

i don’t have a good answer for this one if they should ever ask it, and i’m not likely to have one.

i am fairly happy where we are, and feel confident that, for most short and medium term emergencies (so… not Yellowstone going kaboom) that could arise here in Portland, my kids and i are relatively safe. it is when i think about the ways the routine can change over time that i get more concerned. i don’t know what Portland will be like five years from now, what things will have already proven themselves temporary and how many people will have clung to them until the last possible second and then been left scrambling for stop gap solutions. i hope it’s a peaceful, walkable place filled with gardens and the laughter, playfulness, and hard work of all ages of folks who have the time and inclination to enjoy and benefit from each other’s company. i hope my kids and i are here, too, sharing all that with our friends and neighbors.

the one thing i don’t want to be temporary is a living planet for my kids to grow into adults on and on which they can raise children of their own, who know and feel that our planet is alive, alive with them and all sorts of other creatures.

(are you looking for the cute things my kids said? umm… i tricked you. i mean… it was a joke? not laughing? okay… just a few days ago my little one looked out at the grey, cloudy western Oregon sky and said, “mama, why do people paint the sky blue when it’s never really blue?” now if that isn’t cute, i don’t know what is! what? you want it to relate to the collapse of civilization?! and be cute? sorry!)

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