The question that I’d like to ask tonight is whether or not the “end of the world” can really be “a happily ever after.” After waiting for the end of the world to happen, how will we know when the “end” really over and we can get on with our lives?
It all starts with gloom and doom, because that’s what we hear about on the news.Gloom is about economic stagnation and inequality. The stock market has been a mess for a decade now. Real wages are declining. Harrisburg is in default. Banks are going belly up. People are upset and with good reason -- the list goes on and on…We can survive Gloom. It seems like Argentina has a financial crisis every decade. Greece has defaulted on its debt five times in the past 200 years. We can survive this; life goes on.
On the other hand, there is DoomDoom is about the really scary stuff. It’s about peak oil, resource scarcity, and dying oceans.As Jared Diamond points out, cultures seldom, if ever, survive an ecological collapse. While the Gloom is catching the headlines now, in a few decades from now, Doom could be a much bigger issue.
The “Better, Faster, More” syndrome is the common cause of both economic and environmental instability. This addiction to growth has perpetuated unsustainable levels of debt and resource consumption.It keeps our pensions going and our shareholders happy. The problem is that world’s population needs one and a half Earths to sustain its current level of consumption. We’ve only got ONE.
At some point, we’re going to realize that our economic system does not have a stable foundation. “Shift happens.” We don’t know how or when this tipping point will occur. But, there is a huge opportunity to do things better than before.Essentially, there are 3 solutions – Time, Technology, and Transformation
Time is just waiting things out, like Japan has for the past two decades. Demographer Harry Dent says that we’ll see an uptick in consumer spending around 2018 when the children of the baby boomers starts to have kids of their own.Technology is about scientific improvements. Some exciting stuff happening here in terms of vertical farming, algae-based biofuels, superconductors, and bio-printing . But none of this is really ready for prime time yet.The third is transformation – or social change. This is a ground-up transformation of how we live and work, and the focus for tonight. It all starts with a really radical and controversial concept called…
Sharing. Kinda crazy, huh?How many of you have used Freecycle, or Craigslist? In the future we’ll get better at sharing everything, from spare bedrooms, to cars, to office spaces. And the internet is helping us to share things much more efficiently.SharedEarth matches gardeners with people that have ground. SharedEarth is now the world’s largest community garden, with over 5,000 acres of land shared among 52,000 participants. Readitswapit is a matchmaking service for people who want to swap books.Neighborgoods is a place for neighbors to lend each other tools, sports equipment, appliances. All of this provides for a much more efficient use of assets and resources. This is all part of a changing economic paradigm shift from ownership to access.
We are also seeing a resizing of the American Dream. Buckminster Fuller refers to the ephemerailization of our economy. This is the ability to do more and more with less and less until we can do absolutely anything with positively nothing. Of interest is the tiny homes movement, in which people are building downsized houses for an amount equal to a downpayment on a conventional home. Having no mortgage means flexibility, freedom, and fun. This guy has a kayak bigger than his house. If wants to move, he can just tow his house to a place where the kayaking is better. The millenials may be our first post-consumer generation, as all they really need now is a laptop. The result is may be a re-emergence of nomadic living.
The GenXers are learning how to build their own stuff. Social status is now shifting away from what you can buy to what you can do or make. We’re seeing a resurgence of handmade crafts, and in craft markets, both online and physical. People are looking for things that are locally made and have a story. This could mean trouble for big brands.
As part of this, we are seeing some real creativity in how things are made.The new mantra is Reuse, Recycle, and Repurpose. Repurposing happens when found objects are used in unexpected ways. These slippers were made of old jeans. I’ve seen on women switch together bicycle inner tubes to make custom-designed “combat purses”. My favorite pair of cufflinks are built out of mechanical watch parts. It’s actually a bit of a game. Anthropology is a store that does a lot of really interesting things with repurposed objects. The local store has a lawn chair made out of old heating radiators, and lamps made out of glass jars. In the new culture, there is no such thing as waste.
There has been a rapid increase in people growing their own gardens over the past few years. During the 2008 financial crisis, seed sales at Burpee grew by 60%.There is a certain satisfaction from growing your own. The food is fresher, tastes better, and you can grow varieties that you just can’t buy at the store.I spoke with couple who worked in the construction business. After their hours were cut, they started to micro-farm their quarter acre lot in a suburb, just to save money. Last year, they grew 1,800 pounds of food. With enough experience and the right weather, it is possible to feed an entire family on half an acre. Some other trends to watch is a renewed interest in fruit trees and edible landscaping.
Old skills are coming back in fashion, such as canning, preserving, and brewing beer. This is what happens to people with successful gardens. There may also be a rebound in homeschooling, particularly if education budgets are cut to help balance state budgets. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, are now starting electronic charter schools and saving huge amounts of money.
Meanwhile, we are seeing a gradual disappearance of “jobs”, the “workweek”, and even the “workplace.” In the digital economy, productive work can happen anywhere, anytime.The career ladder is history, and the new career path looks more like a crazy quilt, as people attempt to stitch together multiple jobs into something that is flexible and rewarding. Some of these jobs may be complementary to existing skills, while others may be completely unrelated.
Extended families are back, along with boomerang kids and parents. Further variations of the traditional family include “found families” of non-related people living under the same roof and families with two moms or two dads.People getting better at pooling together resources during difficult times, and family is the new “social security”
The last major shift is away from our existing culture to what I’d refer to as a wisdom culture which values life, but accepts the inevitability of change. We’ll see a boom in elders over the next few decades, and as this happens, the world may become a slightly quieter, less hurried place. There is also a possibility of a coming “geriatric peace”, as no-one will want to send their grand-children to war. So, in summary, these are a few of the themes that we may see in the coming years…
It’s the end of the world as we know it, but we’ll feel fine.
There are few things that we haven’t covered tonight:In particular, I’d like to have your thoughts on how communities can help people become more resilient. Also, what makes for a resilient community?
Resilience presentation for WIT
RESILIENCE An Upbeat Guide to the End of the World Presented by Jim Lee Wilmington in Transition October 27, 2011 photo by Kate Ter Haar