Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What is Really Important?

Earlier this month on the even of Rosh Hashana the Jewish New Year, my family and the other 11 households who make up our small cohousing community, were faced with a difficult decision. At that time, a raging forest fire was gobbling up thousands of acres of Colorado forest just a few miles west of our community.

Earlier that morning the neighborhood near our location were told to prepare for a possible evacuation if the winds picked up and the fire jumped the fire line. To our relief that turned out to be unnecessary.

Just in case, members of our community met briefly to talk about our situation and to set up an overnight web and visual watch for an evacuation order for our part of town.

During that informal gathering, the topic of what should we pack became a central topic of conversation. The diversity of strongly felt opinions showcased how different people value their possessions. It was a common theme that packing required medicines, old family photos, and paper documents — which would be extremely difficult to track down or recreate — were mentioned by everyone. But beyond those items the conversations became very interesting and personal.

For one community member who is very athletic, he said he would be taking several of his bikes if an evacuation was required. Another resident said her clothing would be almost impossible to replace and would plan to fill her car with as many clothes as possible. A third resident commented that his life is mostly digital and it was all securely backed up at a remote location. "Look at my house," he commented. "I am not one to collect things and would probably not take much of anything with me if I had to leave."

Even in my own family there was a wide range of priorities as we were forced to decide what should be taken if it was all you had left when the fire was over. It was these conversations for me that placed all the material aspects of our world into stark perspective. It offered me the opportunity to be grateful for the people in my life and skills I have acquired that can be taken with me where ever I go.

I would never wish a fire on anyone but the chance to decide "What is Really Important?" was a very valuable exercise I would suggest we all do every once in a while.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Emperor's New Clothes

Like the famous short tale by Hans Christian Andersen, our current leaders stand before us saying one thing when a totally different reality is evident to even the youngest members of our society.

According to Wikapedia:
In his tale, an Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe, hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.
Here in the waning days of Summer 2010, I find myself referring often to the current similarities to this strange tale written in 1837. I wish that President Obama could stand before the American public, and state that the growth paradigm we have been operating under for the past 150 years, is now history, and that we must for the sake of our children, and their children, create a sustainable economy.

If the President of the United States or the Secretary of the Treasury, or the Chairman of the Fed were to make this proclamation, he would either be assassinated before the end of his speech, or simply carted away and heavily medicated under the guise of "national security." If this reality was openly acknowledged, our current economy and army of investors working away at developing and selling fantasy financial products on Wall Street, would crash and burn in a matter of hours.

I am here to proudly say, and ask all of you reading these words, to yell at the top of your lungs, "The Emperor Has No Clothes!" We are rapidly approaching the edge of an abyss that could make the Great Depression, look more like a slight economic correction if we do not change our direction.

Along with the creation of renewable energy technologies, re-localized food production, made in America campaigns, and rebuilding America's passenger railroads, we need to acknowledge that "sustainable growth" is an absolute impossibility and it is time to seriously engage in how we can transition this great nation to a sustainable economy we can believe in.