This recent TED Talk by Bono (U2 superstar, ever heard of him?) entertained and inspired me – for a few moments, anyway. I can’t say it ultimately encouraged or enlightened me, though. I want to believe the point he is making, that poverty is on the decline and if we just continue this momentum and fight corruption, we can actually eliminate global poverty altogether.
Bono credits much of the progress against poverty to the spread of high-powered technology, yet never addresses what happens when substantially more of our world population are building their lives around cell phones and refrigerators. His projection of when we can reach zero global poverty (2028) eerily coincides with other predictions of the global decline of oil production (2020).
Oil doesn’t just power our cars. It has powered agriculture for a good 70 years, starting with the 20th century’s Green Revolution that contributed so much to feeding so many more people worldwide. When the oil declines just as more people are rising out of poverty, how will we continue to produce so much food?
One only need try to imagine 1.2 billion Chinese with automobiles, refrigerators, washing machines, and so on, to get a picture of the ecological consequences of generalizing advanced Northern resource consumption levels across the globe. Add to that the ecological consequences from agriculture when the Chinese begin to eat higher on the food chain – more meat, less grain. Each pound of meat requires diversion of roughly ten pounds of grain from humans to livestock, with similarly increased pressure on grasslands and the conversion of forests to pasture.
And then there was this dark and weighty article I read recently. I urge you to read it, though I know it is long. Skim through the romantic paragraphs about the scythe if you must, but don’t miss his discussion of “progress traps.” And if you don’t follow the link at all (but really, take the time and read it!), you must at least read this:
The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on. The ongoing collapse of social and economic infrastructures, and of the web of life itself, will kill off much of what we value. In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm? Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?
It will be apparent by now that in these last five paragraphs I have been talking to myself. These are the things that make sense to me right now when I think about what is coming and what I can do, still, with some joy and determination. If you don’t feel despair, in times like these, you are not fully alive. But there has to be something beyond despair too; or rather, something that accompanies it, like a companion on the road. This is my approach, right now. It is, I suppose, the development of a personal philosophy for a dark time: a dark ecology. None of it is going to save the world—but then there is no saving the world, and the ones who say there is are the ones you need to save it from.
Unlike the Bono video, Paul Kingsnorth’s “Dark Ecology” article leaves me with no nagging sense that he’s forgetting something integrally related to his point.
What seems to be missing from Bono’s talk is an acknowledgement that global poverty cannot be eradicated long-term without a significant re-imagining of what constitutes wealth. Is it clean water or Starbucks lattes (I write, from my favorite table in my local Starbucks)? iPads filled with great music and podcasts and TED Talks or front porches filled with neighbors and guitars and conversation? An iPhone in every pocket, a chicken in every pot, or one good meal per day in every human’s stomach?
I don’t think we need either-or answers to the questions I just posed. But I do believe we need to ask questions like these, seriously and with a willingness to give things up and make real changes in our lifestyles. I’m not saying that Bono wouldn’t agree, or even that all this needed to be in his talk. No lecture, blog post, book, or other dissemination of ideas can or should stand alone or attempt to connect all the dots.
Just continuing the conversation through the “front porch” of my blog. Or something.