By Anonymous (not verified) on December 02, 2010

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.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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