Still think globally, still act locally

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Victor Vasnetsov.

The world is ending!

Or at least according to a lot of people it is, and it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. The predominant view is that the world’s economy and infrastructure is going to collapse, and society as a whole is going to drop back to a pre-industrial age. For a lot of us, that would spell “game over.”

Perhaps it will happen, perhaps it won’t. I’m rather jaded when it comes to bleak future talk, because I heard all of this once before. The late 1970s and early 1980s were the final throws of the Cold War, and I was an early teen at the time. There was a strong belief that the world was going to be destroyed. Many believed this with 100% certainty, and just about everyone in my primary school doubted they would get a chance to grow up. The United States and the Soviet Union were going to blow up the planet before we got the chance. Instead, the USSR imploded and the world is still here. Fool me once…

Today, doomsday talkers speak of climate change, economic collapse, disease outbreaks, and other equally delightful things. For me, it’s the same talk with a different slant. I can’t – or won’t – go through life assuming that everything is going to end soon. That’s no way to live. I’ve been down that road once, it was difficult, and ultimately nothing happened. I’ll be damned if I let myself go down that way again.

Granted, it is statistically possible that the climate may go crazy, or there will be a superbug plague, or the modern world’s infrastructure will come crashing down. But even if that happens, I think humanity will find a way. History is littered with events that threatened civilization, and some of them have even come to pass. The black plague is a good example. Dealing with such a crisis won’t be easy, but we’ve proven to be a tough species. We’ll find a way.

And if we don’t, well, then we really won’t have to worry about things any more.

On a related note, there are people out there who say that people like me (and my wife) are heartless and irresponsible. Why? Because we brought two children into this world, and those people consider the world a lost cause. They say we were foolhardy and cruel to bring two lives into this hopeless world. One person even accused me of caving into “religious pro-natal arguments.” (That one really got my goat, and I really gave her a piece of my mind. Yes sir, bob! She ultimately maintained that I was full of dung, but the diatribe was fun.)

To these doomsday nay-Sayers, I would say that we were acting in defiance of them, and were stating that we ultimately see the world as still being a good place. Or at the very least, it’s worth saving. I seriously doubt that I will find solutions to many of the world’s problems, but one of my children might.


In all fairness, some of the concerns the doomsday clockers have are valid. Natural resources, for example. Certain resources are being consumed much faster than they can be replaced or reclaimed, and in the long run this is a real problem. Technology has found ways to slow down this trend, so I don’t think it’s as bad as many maintain. But the problem is very real, and most of the “solutions” we have in place right now are only slowing down the inevitable. Some major changes need to be made, and they are likely to be… uncomfortable. Fossil fuels, for example, ultimately need to be phased out. They are not a sustainable source of energy, and if we run out, or even run low, we’re going to be a big trouble. And agriculture needs to be reformed. This is a no-brainier. We need to produce enough food for everyone to have at least one decent meal a day. We have the technology to better use our farmland, so we should get organized and just do it! A strong helping of common sense should be included in any planning for this. It’s sad that I have to point that out.

In the meantime, what can the average person do? I think the average person should think small. For a long time there was a mantra for social change that went “think globally, but act locally.” That still applies.

Look at energy production, for example. A lot of people talk about the production and distribution of energy, or the materials needed to produce it (petroleum being the biggest example). Is there a way the average person can gather or produce their own energy? Perhaps there is. If you live in an area where a solar panel on the roof can help defray your electric bill, consider doing it. Or, if you have a windmill on your land, or you live in an area where wind power can be captured, consider setting one up. (If your zoning laws permit this, naturally. If they don’t, find out why they don’t. You might be able to change the laws, have them amended, or even get an exemption.) If a lot of people started collecting solar or wind power, would it solve the energy crisis? It’s very unlikely. But, it would reduce a lot of consumer level electric bills. I calculated that a trio of square-meter solar panels on my house would reduce my electric bill by around 20%. Additional panels could reduce the bill further, up to 35%, but there is a real diminishing returns curve in there. In the big picture, that’s not a whole lot. But even so it would reduce the amount of electricity my family would be pulling from the central grid, and that saved electricity would be available for other uses. Now imagine if many families did something similar? Those multiple counts of 20% savings would quickly start adding up.

Another possibility is food. We all have to eat, correct? There is a very simple solution for this one: Plant a garden! Look up “square foot garden” in your favorite search engine, for information on a style of garden that is very low maintenance, and can be scaled to whatever size you have available. Would a single square foot garden solve the world food crisis? By itself, no. The best it can do is scrape some dollars off your grocery bill, and you get to eat some fresh vegetables that are not tainted by Monsanto or DuPont. But here again if a lot of people did this, the resulting yield would really mount up. Some very active gardeners can their surplus produce and give it to food banks. Every little bit helps.

I could continue, but you probably get my point. If you can find ways to see to your own needs that are economically feasible and environmentally friendly, just start doing it. Changing the system is a long and difficult process. Social change takes even longer. So it you can’t beat or change the system, take matters into your own hands and try to bypass it!

Will these little actions solve the problems of the world? By themselves, no. But it may inspire others to do the same, and if with time enough people take charge of themselves this way, then we may begin to see changes on the macro level. But perhaps the best way to start is at the micro level, and initiate change by setting an example.

Even the biggest projects started small.

Image credit: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Victor Vasnetsov, linked from Wikipedia.