By Will Falk
I hope the economy doesn’t recover.
There. I said it. And it feels really good.
We are in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction and it is not being caused by volcanic eruptions or asteroids– it is being caused by human activity. And yet, it seems every time we flip-up our computer screens, read a newspaper, or turn on the television, people everywhere are bemoaning the state of the economy.
Not me. I am celebrating. So are salmon, redwoods, polar bears, Torrey pines, and tigers.
I’m sure many people will stop reading this article right now dismissing me for a contrarian tree-hugger. So, I’ll employ common sense to show why this is a good thing. Then, I will argue how young people can turn the economic crisis into an opportunity to create real change.
I. The economy must physically stop
The “economy” must live and die by the same physical forces governing life in the universe. You and I will die after too many days without water no matter what philosophy we subscribe to. The economy will die when it cannot turn “resources” into produced “goods.” This is true whether we are talking about the forest industry which turns living trees into square feet of lumber, the fishing industry which turns swimming tuna into that stuff in pouches, the agricultural industry which turns natural communities into mono-crops, or the service industry which turns an individual’s time into underpaid working hours.
Right now, the American economy is built on perpetual growth. (Remember when Walter Heller said, “I cannot conceive a successful economy without growth”?) The problem with perpetual growth is the world is finite. It’s embarrassing to have to say this, but with so many otherwise intelligent people continuing to complain about the economy, I think I have to: Think about a really big apple pie. If you keep taking bigger and bigger bites, you’ll run out of apple pie. Or, if you invite (or birth) more and more people over to take bites, even if they’re very small ones, you’ll run out of apple pie. Or, again, if – through science and technology – you learn how to take a bite, regurgitate your bite, and then re-use a smaller portion of your regurgitated bites, you’ll still run out of apple pie.
What if we substituted “apple pie” for other finite “resources” like topsoil, coal, natural gas, or rare minerals? My argument would read something like this:
Think about the available topsoil in the world. If you keep farming greater and greater areas of topsoil, you’ll run out of topsoil. Of, if you allow more and more corporations to farm greater and greater areas of topsoil, you’ll run out of topsoil. Or, if you let population double and double again requiring more and more food from farms on greater and greater areas of topsoil, you’ll run out of topsoil. And finally, if you run out of topsoil, have a green revolution, and use more and more fertilizers based on fossil fuels, and the fossil fuels run out, no one will be eating any apple pie. Ever again.
Maybe I don’t need to write about this? Maybe many of us recognize this in an abstract way and I am simply preaching to the choir?
If we all understand this, why are so many otherwise intelligent, compassionate young people so depressed about their job prospects, student loan debt, and seeming waste of an education?
II. Apple Pie Isn’t Even That Good
Whenever I talk to my friends about the ecological crisis we are in, no one ever denies that infinite growth on a finite planet inevitably leads to disaster. No one ever denies that we need to radically change the system. No one ever denies that we need to stop consuming so much. No one ever denies that we all need to simplify.
But, when I ask my friends with bad jobs what the biggest problem facing us today is they almost always say, “The economy.” And again, when I ask my friends who have really good jobs and are being paid nicely what’s keeping them from acting to save the planet, they always give answers like, “My loans are due. I’m putting money in my 401(k). John wants kids. The apartment is too small.” Then, they stop reacting to my frown and say, “I don’t know how things got so complicated.”
So, I ask, what if something came along that started the simplification process for us?
The slowing of the American economy has been one of the best things to happen to me, personally. My parents and my partner may disagree, but it is true, never-the-less. I went to college, then law school, and racked up an insane amount of debt. I’m working a job I am severely over-qualified for. I do not own a car, so I walk everywhere. I do not own a TV, so I read like a maniac. I cannot afford to eat out very often, so I am losing weight. Long drives and air-travel are becoming increasingly difficult due to the expenses, so I am getting to know other young people in my neighborhood.
I find myself free. My time is free to spend thinking about how to make my world a better place. My body is free to lay down in service of my community. My desires are free to spend on my community instead of on a trip to Europe, that cute house on the corner, or the next iPad.
Most importantly, though, I am learning that not attaining the lifestyle I envisioned when I was younger, or that my parents have lived, isn’t going to kill me, isn’t even bad. In fact, I am finding how much power I really do have when I commit myself to a lower standard of living. When I give up on the desires of my past, I find myself in a position of strength, and it feels really, really good.
I am finding that better than not needing apple pie; I don’t even really like it.
I recently moved to San Diego from Milwaukee, WI where I was a public defender. I am looking for life outside of law. My first passion is poetry and I am interested in the way the land speaks through the poet. If you can’t find me drinking too much coffee in Cafe Calabria, I’ll be on a rock somewhere in Joshua Tree.