Adventures in sustainability and self-deception


It “only” took $72 to top off the tank as we left to check out a sustainability site this weekend. The little 12-hour jaunt gobbled over $250 in gas, junk food and highway tolls. And if you sensing that I’m complaining, you’re right. The trip was a waste of time.

Let’s just say the site was somewhat less than its website led one to believe. It’s a legacy left by some almost famous dude from the late 1800s, a hundred-plus-acre homestead that looked pretty attractive in the photos. In reality, it was at the end of a rutted dirt laneway with one of its sandstone gateway pillars knocked over. The “farm” was a plot less than two acres in size with the rest of the acreage returned to standing timber. Yes, there was a small barn and a charming farmhouse. But the site was shabby and hardly a model for sustainability.

Like many of these historic sites, it was donated to the government, which restored the house and grounds a couple of decades ago but failed to provide sufficient operational cash to keep the thing going. Instead, it handed the operation over to a local volunteer board, which has obviously done precious little to raise new funds to keep the place up, let alone create a viable new vision for it.

When we talked to the one board member who was looking after the place, every suggestion about development and fundraising was met with “no, no, we couldn’t do that” for one reason or another. The real problem, we learned, was that the board members saw the site as their personal hobby, micromanaging the real work being done by the summer staffers. As for them doing some organic gardening or fundraising, forget about it.

As we left for home, I pumped another tankful of gas and looked around at the farming landscape and thought about sustainability. Everything we grow is based on fossil fuel. It’s all diesel tractors and petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We’re living on fossil fuel—not food—with a staggering global burn rate of 80 million barrels of oil a day.

Coincidentally, I caught some news on the Internet the other day about an oil find in Norway’s Arctic. The Scandinavian writer was discussing the merits of selling the 240 million barrels of oil now or saving it for later, when it would be most needed. And so I quickly did the math. That big new find in the Arctic is only a three-day world supply! What would it matter if we burned it now or later?

The plain fact is we’re now on the other side of Peak Oil. We’ve now used more oil than what’s left in the ground. And every aspect of our industrial lifestyle is based on fossil fuel. So what are we doing to plan for the end of oil? Clearly, not very much so far.

We have an election going on and our politicians are pretending as if this impending catastrophic crisis doesn’t exist. They’re all harping about the economy. But without cheap and abundant fossil fuel, we won’t have an economy as we know it. So what are they thinking? What are we thinking?

I just watched a documentary “Think Global Act Rural”. It’s an inside look at the real sustainability of agriculture. The main premise of the film is that since the end of the Second World War, industry has waged a fossil fuel-powered military assault on the land. Tanks became tractors, chemical weapons became herbicides and pesticides, and genetic engineering has stolen the ownership and viability of natural seeds from the farmers and handed over the reproduction rights to five global corporations. The truth of the movie is compelling. And disheartening.

Whenever I discuss these trends with my more thoughtful friends, many of them dismiss these views as being too “counter-productive” or “apocalyptic.” The real bet to save us is technology they tell me. But the actual evidence illustrates the fallacy of that thinking.

Corporately-owned technology does not exist to create a better way of life or a healthier planet. It exists to create profits for the wealthy. Technology favours controlled complexity over natural diversity. Witness the mass extinction of species, and the environmental impact of industry, including desertification, nuclear pollution and climate change. Things on the planet are simply not getting better.

What the documentary also tells us is that the world’s industrial-agricultural soil has died. Literally died. The mycelia are gone.
The soil structure is caked and compressed. The only thing keeping the engineered plants alive is water and chemistry.

It doesn’t take genius to realize the sustainability of any species depends on healthy food. Growing food depends on the earth. If the soil isn’t healthy, we’re not healthy. If the air and water isn’t healthy, we’re not healthy. And like our food, our health has been corporatized. When we get sick we also treat the symptoms with surgery or chemistry or gene therapy. It’s a vicious cycle. We’ve become what we have created.

It’s becoming evident (to me at least) that technology won’t save us. Spiritual renewal and self-restraint are the only answers for addicts.


  1. You got it right. It will take lots and lots of horse manure to get us back where we were. When pushed we will indeed adjust after we have solidified our tribes and killed each other for awhile. Hmmm. Come to think of it, perhaps that's what we are doing right now?

  2. Tribes and killing? Probably just the warmup act, a tepid version of class warfare. But yes, lots of horse manure in our future. And to think, some of today's folks think that we were awash in manure a hundred years ago and that it was pollution. Let's see: massive fossil fuel chemical dumping on the land vs. horse manure...


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