The honorable choice I see is to power-down: stop taking airplane jaunts, repair old things, get out the clothespins, grow food, walk. And face the truth, that I am a party to something so enormously destructive I can hardly know its edges. The conquering of any addiction begins with these words: I am the guilty party.
My country has broken all records for demonstrating the widest gap between what a human can get by on and what a human can waste. One in ten families needs food stamps. Many must choose between heating the house or renting it. And collectively, we spend more money on Halloween candy than on sustainable energy research. We have equated wastefulness with success for so long now, it’s difficult to opt out, at any level. Reining in one’s extravagance on behalf of the environment is often declared futile or (heaven forbid) pious. “Forget about biking to work and recycling,” this argument goes, “there’s no use in changing our lives when it’s too late for it to matter. Only legislation and scientific innovation can save us now.”
History is full of that kind of reasoning, and of people who went down with the ship, clinging hard to the material securities of the known world, waiting for salvation. Only at rare intervals are we moved to civic courage. But when lifestyle has acquired a higher value than life on Earth, this is surely a cue that such a time has arrived.
A new power option, available here and now, is a muscular frugality: the power to find contentment in a hometown, plant a garden, and remember pyramids for what they were worth. To reconstruct our desires to fit a place, and not the other way around. Many modern amenities may turn out to be history. We may all find ourselves biking to work, or managing equivalent inconveniences, whether that makes us feel “pious” or just “grumpy.” In many situations, the only choice you get is how to feel about it.
This is but an excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's essay in The Progressive's special issue, "Saving the Earth." To read the essay in its entirety, and to read the whole issue (which includes interviews with Margaret Atwood, Wendell Berry, and Bill McKibben, simply subscribe to The Progressive for just $14.97 by clicking here.