I recently posted about some risky big life decisions that I made — leaving a 20-year career and home to move and rebuild my life from scratch. I outlined some abstract ideas and grand motivations, but nothing matters until you move from idea to action. This post is about how to take action and specific steps to follow.
Taking action is riskier than voicing concern or writing about all the problems we face. And when that action is firmly counter-cultural, the odds of success are stacked against us. The odds always favor the house. The odds favor the status-quo. The odds favor the powers-that-be. The odds favor the big money, institutional momentum.
So, taking action is a risky bet. And when you’re betting on the fate of your species, the only way to win this bet is to get others on board. I only get the big payoff if everyone gets the big payoff.
This is not a zero-sum-game. Winner-take-all is the game we’re playing now, but it’s a trap — either we all win or we all loose. Because even the winners of the game currently being played (global extractive industrial capitalism under a debt based monetary system) ultimately loose. We all have skin-in-the-game, and every day we make choices that improve the odds of one side or the other.
How bad are the odds, you ask? Consider that a staggering majority of us know about these problems, but choose (unconsciously, I think) to live in denial. By a staggering majority, our choice is to do nothing. In fact, doing nothing, according to Rob Mielcarski is the one thing we all overwhelmingly agree on. These odds are not favorable.
What can I do, you might ask. What actions can I take?
Start by understanding that every action you already take is making a difference. Unfortunately, most actions are making a difference in the wrong direction. Every dollar you spend is a vote for one system or another.
It took me 10 years between the time I realized how destructive my own actions were and the time I decided to stop taking even some of those actions. We hope to inspire or at least plant a seed in the minds of a few people that will undermine the overwhelming pressure to conform to a system of destruction.
Very few people can walk away from their jobs, their consumer lifestyles. And the best anyone can do, myself included, if we’re going to continue participating in our own society, is to accept that the best we can do is “less bad”. We’re a long way off from being able to both participate in society and be a source of planetary regeneration at the same time.
So, we’re stuck fighting the system from within. And that’s dangerous territory to be in. It’s full of traps and we all need to be on the lookout and call each other on our own bullshit when we fall victim to one of these traps. This is an open invitation to call me on my own bullshit. If you disagree with my assessment of the problems of modernity or my response to them, speak up.
Let me start. I’ll call out a trap I got stuck in for 10 years before I could claw my way out of it. The trap is that of magical thinking, otherwise known as techno-utopianism or ecomodernism. It’s a belief that we can innovate our way out of all the predicaments of modernity. A belief that we can decouple ecological impact from economic growth. It’s a beautiful and seductive idea because it promises to resolve our cognitive dissonance. It gives us permission to come out of denial about the magnitude of climate change, ecosystemic collapse, biodiversity loss, because it can be fixed by more innovation, more technology, more urbanization, more energy, more consumption.
You all know this story — recycle, change light bulbs, buy the green products, get new energy efficient appliances, switch to solar panels. If you’re a real hero, buy a Tesla. Done. Problem solved. It promises to absolve the “enlightened consumer” of any guilt. It doesn’t threaten any of the powerful vested interests of consumer capitalism. It promises all the gain, none of the pain. It lulls us into a sense of complacency that prevents collective action on the scales that are necessary.
It’s easy to say what not-to-do, but the hard part is in figuring out what actions we can take. How can we move from knowing to doing. Today. Right now.
Here are a few of the things we’ve committed to, and this is a great place to start.
- Get out of debt. Zero consumer debt.
- Live frugally, below your means
- Buy local, buy used, barter, trade, swap
Getting out of all personal debt is probably the number 1 “green” thing you can do. There are systemic reasons why getting out of debt is an act of civil disobedience: our debt-based monetary system is at the bottom of a cascade of embedded and destructive systems. But that’s really a side benefit. Truth is, your life will be better if you can make the difficult decision to live below your means. Odds are there’s something today that you can choose to forego, simplify, do-without. If you have an old car but it still runs, keep it. Don’t be seduced into buying a Prius or a Tesla. Yes, I know, virtue signaling feels good. But it’s bullshit. The guy driving the 1979 beat up pickup truck and living in a walk-up leaky apartment may be doing more for the environment than the guy driving the Tesla to his brand new eco-mansion. Sure, if you’re buying a new car anyway, the Prius is a better choice than the SUV. But don’t get too sanctimonious about it, and for god’s sake, don’t go into debt to buy it!
Honesty, that’s the first step. It simple, but not easy. Easy would be going out and buying a bunch of new eco-friendly products and continuing on with life-as-usual. But, anything that matters will not be easy. Live below your means and stop buying anything that’s not entirely necessary.
Living debt free and below our means — way below for several years – is the only way we’ve positioned ourselves for the more dramatic lifestyle and career changes that we’re currently embarking on.