The Era of Small and Many

Painting: Suzanne Stryk
Painting: Suzanne Stryk

Earlier this year, my state’s governor asked if I’d give an after-lunch speech to some of his cabinet and other top officials who were in the middle of a retreat. It’s a useful discipline for writers and theorists to have to summarize books in half an hour, and to compete with excellent local ice cream. No use telling these guys how the world should be at some distant future moment when they’ll no longer be in office—instead, can you isolate themes broad enough to be of use to people working on subjects from food to energy to health care to banking to culture, and yet specific enough to help them choose among the options that politics daily throws up? Can you figure out a principle that might undergird a hundred different policies?

Or another way to say it: can you figure out which way history wants to head (since no politician can really fight the current) and suggest how we might surf that wave?

Here’s my answer: we’re moving, if we’re lucky, from the world of few and big to the world of small and many. We’ll either head there purposefully or we’ll be dragged kicking, but we’ve reached one of those moments when tides reverse.

Take agriculture. For 150 years the number of farms in America has inexorably declined. In my state—the most rural in the nation—the number of dairies fell from 11,000 at the end of World War II to 998 this summer. And of course the farms that remained grew ever larger—factory farms, we called them, growing commodity food. Here in Vermont most of the remaining dairies are big, but not big enough to compete with the behemoths in California or Arizona; they operate so close to the margin that they can’t afford to hire local workers and instead import illegal migrants from Mexico.

But last year the USDA reported that the number of farms in America had actually increased for the first time in a century and a half. The most defining American demographic trend—the shift that had taken us from a nation of 50 percent farmers to less than 1 percent—had bottomed out and reversed. Farms are on the increase—small farms, mostly growing food for their neighbors. They’re not yet a threat to the profits of the Cargills and the ADMs, but you can see the emerging structure of a new agriculture composed of CSAs and farmers’ markets, with fewer middlemen. Which is all for the good. Such farming uses less energy and produces better food; it’s easier on the land; it offers rural communities a way out of terminal decline. You could even imagine a farmscape that stands some chance of dealing with the flood, drought, and heat that will be our destiny in the globally warmed century to come. Instead of the too-big-to-fail agribusiness model, this will be a nimbler, more diversified, sturdier agriculture.

And what works on the farm works elsewhere too. Think about our energy future—the phrase that engineers like to use now is “distributed generation.” Since our old fuels were dense in BTUs and concentrated in a few locations, it made sense to site a few giant generating stations where coal or uranium could easily be brought and burned. But the logic of sun and wind is exactly the opposite: millions of rooftops and ridgelines producing power. You can do it in cities as easily as in the country—new satellite and airplane mapping of New York City’s five boroughs showed that the city’s rooftops could provide half its electricity. If you can do that in New York, imagine Shaker Heights, not to mention Phoenix. And once you’ve done it, you’ve got something practical and local: an interconnected grid where everyone brings something and takes something away. A farmers’ market in electrons.

Many of us get a preview of life in the age of small and many when we sit down at our computers each day. Fifteen years ago we still depended on a handful of TV networks and newspaper conglomerates to define our world for us; now we have a farmers’ market in ideas. We all add to the flow with each Facebook post, and we can find almost infinite sources of information. It’s reshaping the way we see the world—not, of course, without some trauma (from the hours wasted answering e-mail to the death of too much good, old-school journalism). All these transitions will be traumatic to one extent or another, since they are so very big. We’re reversing the trend of generations.

But the general direction seems to me increasingly clear. Health care? In place of a few huge, high-tech hospitals dispensing the most expensive care possible, all the data suggest we’d be healthier with lots of primary and preventive care from physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners in our neighborhoods. Banking? Instead of putting more than half our assets in half a dozen money-center banks that devote themselves to baroque financial instruments, we need capital closer to home, where loan officers have some sense for gauging risk and need.

Your average state or city leader could help push change in those directions: small investments in, say, slaughterhouses and canneries will help local farmers diversify. New zoning regulations can make rooftop solar quicker and easier to install. Higher reserve requirements will move money from Wall Street’s casinos back to Main Street’s banks. None of them will produce utopia—we will still have endless problems, but they’ll be more limited. A careless local farmer can still sicken his customers, but he can’t sicken millions of them at once. A corrupt banker can wreak havoc in his community, but not so much havoc that it topples the financial system. Problems will stay problems, instead of ramifying into disasters. If a hailstorm wrecks my solar panels, I’ve got an issue, but it’s not blacking out the East Coast.

All economic life is a bet—many small wagers at decent odds won’t make anyone a billionaire, but they should keep most of us out of the poorhouse. And that’s both the virtue and the trouble with this transition. The virtue is obvious; the problem is that there are always a few people determined to hit the jackpot. In our world, most of those people are not actually persons—we call them corporations. But their power over our democracy is very real, and on the farm and on the trading floor and in the hospital ward they’re doing their very best to block the transitions we need. Their money, earned under the old bigger-is-better paradigm, gives them great power to block change: just look at how skillfully the fossil fuel industry has used the Tea Party to stifle legislation that would speed the transition to renewable energy. Watch Big Ag write the next Farm Bill—it won’t be pretty. Big Pharma would happily keep our current medical system, never mind that it’s bankrupting us all even as we fall further behind other nations on everything from life expectancy to infant mortality.

It’s possible they can delay the transition too long—the physics and chemistry of climate change, for instance, demand quicker change than many of our systems can easily manage. But all the money in the world can’t, in the end, hold back history. It’s heading toward something different and new and interesting. Or many many somethings, each of them small and beautiful.

Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist who in 2014 was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’ His 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has appeared in 24 languages; he’s gone on to write a dozen more books. He is a founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized twenty  thousand rallies around the world in every country save North Korea, spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline, and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement.

Comments

  1. Yes, finally some good news! And someone said that individual actions wouldn’t add up in the end. It’s good to read something that puts a positive light on the future, that let’s me know that my trips to the farmer’s markets do make a difference.

  2. Bill McKibben has identified an important pattern that connects and characterizes some hopeful developments across our economic, energy, and cultural landscapes.

    Of course, it feels good to read that, despite the retrograde trajectory of corporate and governmental BAU (business as usual), there are nascent rumblings and trends that threaten to head us in a saner direction. But I believe Bill would agree that it’s going to take millions of us working and pulling in the same general direction to make our communities as resilient as they’re going to need to be in coming decades. Climate change alone, never mind other realities, will ensure abundant challenge.

    I encourage everyone to recognize where and how the decentralizing shifts to “small and many” are happening in their surrounds, and get on board. Join the group in your town working on creating a municipal power company; investigate time banking or local currencies; make the local farm stand, CSA, farmers market, or co-op your primary food sources; start (or join) initiatives such as Transition Town, Democracy School, or others that create visions of, and provide tools and deploy actions for, communities transformed — to connected, resilient, more-sustainable points in our shared constellation.

  3. Good article but I beg to differ about the need for local communities to build neighborhood slaughterhouses. It will never make economic sense to run our vitamins and minerals through animals first. The waste of water, soil depletion, methane emissions etc… make this choice a farce. And the above argument pales in comparison to the ethical problems with killing sentient beings for no good reason.

  4. Exactly, Melisa. Using animals for food makes no sense as far as ethics, the environment, or human health. Yes, we need to shift to “small and many” but we also need to shift to eating plants instead of animals.

  5. A couple of additions to Mr. McKibben’s article:
    1. Please include herbalists, acupuncturists and other traditional, non-conventional healers along with PAs and NPs
    2. One place worthy of centralization would be community commercial kitchens — open to small farms or others who want to create value-added products, but don’t have the money to build certified kitchens that would pass muster with health inspectors.
    3. Microfinancing. This is so needed here in the States in increments of less than $500 up to a couple thousand dollars.

    And to Melissa and Claire, we need local abbatoirs. People are going to eat meat, which should be pastured and grassfed…energy from animals that lived happy lives, not those in concentration-camp-style factories, where runoff harms everything around. All the animals that have been domesticated are domesticated because humans made use of them. When they are not used, they go extinct. Also, we humans cannot eat grass and make protein the way domesticated livestock do and there are certain vitamins we get only through meat protein, not plant protein. And that’s quite an efficient process (grass captures the solar energy, animals eat the grass, we benefit). I would say that we eat far too much meat that is maybe, after all, not meat or meat from animals drowning in antibiotics or which are mistreated. Also, keep in mind that plants are sentient, too, and they willingly and lovingly give up their food, medicine and fiber…and appreciate it when we return the same to Earth.

  6. Leigh –
    Yes, factory farms are concentration camps for animals and must be abolished. But no, there is nothing essential in meat or dairy products that we can’t get from plant sources, as thousands of healthy vegans prove. Here’s a list of good protein sources: http://www.chooseveg.com/vegan-protein.asp
    Producing a meal with animal products takes many times more resources (water, fossil fuel, etc) than producing a vegan meal.
    Also, if plants are sentient (highly doubtful), wouldn’t you prefer to kill fewer plants by eating them directly rather than feeding huge quantities of plants to (definitely sentient) animals and then eating the animals? No animal willingly gives his or her life to humans, and no human needs to eat animals.

  7. @the Vegetarians: Where I live in the Rocky Mountains, with the Great Plains nearby, there’s no doubt that raising pastured animals is the most efficient use of land–especially if those animals are wild ungulates, like deer, elk, and bison. Agriculture is, as Lierre Keith has pointed out, carnivorous–it eats landscapes whole. In order to produce enough vegetable protein here (soy and other beans) we would have to plow up every arable acre, and exclude every wild animal that would otherwise graze those lands if they were left to grass, effectively limiting (or rather, exterminating) the native biological diversity of the place where I live.

    In order to feed everyone on a Veg. diet locally, we would have to devote habitat for other species (birds, field mice, grazers, and top-end carnivores) to limited human ends, a process which has the unintended consequence of threatening wildlife–hardly a moral out, as far as I’m concerned.

    Vegetarianism has the psychological plus of letting us externalize our impact on animals by ignoring the species that are displaced when we transform wild places into biological deserts.

  8. Hi, Claire.

    Thank you for your comments. For plant sentience information, check out Stephen Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants or Pam Montgomery’s Plant Spirit Healing. Both animals and plants are, I believe — for who can “prove” such things? – sentient, and I believe that both willingly give of their lives for us. We are just one of many species here, and, under the right conditions—not the way the current death and burial industry is structured—we would all go back and become food for others. That said, I do not support CAFOs; they are energetic holocausts in all ways, for the people who work there, the animals impounded, and everything downstream (and upstream, as you cited, for all the fossil-fuel inputs).

    And as for plant protein, I would caution anyone against fake meats and the like. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein and similar concoctions are not good for us—they do make industry wealthy, though. Same with soy (see http://www.wholesoystory.com). Most of it is genetically engineered now, and according to research by Dr. Don Huber, the glyphosate used (Roundup Ready soy with Roundup herbicide) does not benignly go away — it depletes the soil of vital nutrients, so someone relying on that (or other plants grown in such depleted soils) as their sole means of nutrition may be experiencing malnutrition in multiple ways. (Not only that, but there are serious fossil-fuel and water inputs that go into monocrops…pesticides from petroleum, fertilizers from nat gas.)

    Also, I do kill plants. I garden and I raise them for food and for medicine (sometimes even medicine for themselves, like fermented nettles) and I compost every scrap of vegetable matter I can. And if I had the yard space and lived in a place where folks were more receptive, I’d also have chickens, mostly for eggs and entertainment, but for stewing hens when they stopped producing, as well as rabbits and bees.

    Let me ask you something, Claire: If everyone stopped eating domestic livestock and their products tomorrow, what would keep them alive? How would they fend for themselves?

  9. Claire,
    The web site provided the link for lists several types of soy; the safest one there to eat would be tempeh (they don’t include miso or natto, which are also fermented). Tofu is OK, though not in excess. In a world with lots of xenoestrogens, it’s not exactly healthful to add more estrogen-rich foods to the body burden through direct consumption. And B12 is best assimilated from animal sources.

    Hudson is correct about agriculture. Monocultures are inherently destructive, creating soil erosion and runoff that creates things like the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. And for those of us in temperate North America, a great way to go would be permaculture — or edible forest gardens. By kilocalorie, they can produce about double per sq meter per year than what monocrop-type agriculture produces. Forest gardens also cut way down on outside inputs and help retain water in the soil; the whole point is to capture and store as much sun and water as possible.
    Although there may be healthy vegans, I can only speak for myself: I do not do well on diets that lack animal protein. I tried this years ago, before grass-fed beef and pastured chicken were as available as they are today. I know the farms and farmers I buy from, and they pasture animals, so they get sunlight and access to grass and any critters in the grass — which is as it should be.
    Ruminants are not meant to eat grain. Grains acidify the rumen and, which leads to health problems for the animals.

  10. it is rich to think that humans consuming dead animals for protein (all of which comes from plants) is somehow superior to humans consuming plants. Time for you to brush up on your nutrition knowledge.
    Also, beware the ‘demon soy’ studies conducted by the dairy industry. No one would ever convince me that sucking the mammory glands of a bovine is necessary for my health. Especially the milk of factory farmed cows (about 95% of all dairy).

  11. Melisa wrote: “No one would ever convince me that sucking the mammory glands of a bovine is necessary for my health.”

    As you point out yourself, Melisa, it depends on the bovine. If one can get raw, grassfed milk, then great. If not, then best to steer clear, because high-density dairies, though they’re required to meet certain regs, represent a floor, not a ceiling, when it comes to the health of the animal. They can have higher than “normal” somatic cell counts and it’s still all right for the milk to go into a bulk tank. As mentioned, many of the problems come from cows eating grain, not grass, grain — they are not meant to eat grain.

    I eat plants and eggs and some meat, poultry not so much, little, if any, grain…no gluten, and seldom drink milk because the state where I live outlaws raw milk. And I avoid soy as much as possible, though this is difficult because it provides “protein” for so many kinds of livestock, even those that are pastured.

    If you want to get upset about something, why not get upset about GMOs, GM soy specifically, if that makes up the bulk of your diet?

    The people who advocate raw milk don’t, to my knowledge, shill for the dairy industry, because that industry represents animals in confinement, eating grains, not grass.

    Please provide links to the “demon soy” studies by the dairy industry that you mentioned. Thanks!

  12. I agree, GMO’s are a problem. This concern would largely go away if we didn’t feel the need to feed 70% of grain to fatten up animals. Just think how much healthier our soils would be?
    The ‘happy cows’ at ‘humane’ dairies do not allow the newborn calf to nurse from their mother – not even once. femail cows are artifically kept pregnant until their bodies give out. The male calves are whisked off to death since they do not have mammory glands.
    Male chicks are also killed upon birth. And so many ‘free range’ facilities such as the Huterite farms are really just factory farms – concentration camps for innocents.
    Thankfully humans are not built to require bovine milk or eggs as the above practices are unethical.
    If you are unaware of the studies and people who try to steer folks away from soy – then that is a good thing – no need to point you to those studies.

  13. Melisa,

    An ideal diet would be one that follows the seasons and allows animals to do their thing. Everything in life is an exchange of energy. This is why I do not have any moral issues with consuming animal protein, so long as the animals get to express their cow-ness, chicken-ness, pig-ness, etc. I do not want the energy associated with CAFO-type places in my body, so I avoid that as much as my own knowledge of a farm’s practices allow. That is more possible with what McKibben’s talking about as relocalization would allow us to know our farms and farms (and abbatoirs or commercial kitchens) and observe their practices.

    Not all farms kick off the babies, either, and some actually do seasonal milk (e.g., Essex Farm in New York), so that they allow for the normal cycle of milk production for a cow.

    The core soil devil is monocrops. I agree we should not feed grain to ruminants…that is the bulk of what drives monocrops as we two-leggeds in no way could consume as much corn/soy as what’s produced (and I wouldn’t want to, anyway).

    Lastly, I find it odd and sad that my lack of awareness about the “demon soy” studies is somehow OK to you. (“If you are unaware of the studies and people who try to steer folks away from soy – then that is a good thing – no need to point you to those studies.”) Doesn’t allow for openness or open conversation or expansion of knowledge for self-edification. Feel as tho’ I’m being “nannied.” And that is not a good thing. Doesn’t inspire trust.

  14. You may be confused by what I admit wasn’t very clealy articulated. I am saying the bogus soy studies are not reliable because they were funded by a competing industry. That is why I wouldn’t recommend wasting time on studying their results.
    Better that we all spend valuable time reviewing truly scientific studies. Check out the PCRM website for lots of info on a healthful plant based diet.

  15. Hi, Melisa.

    I still think it’s good to check out such things, even if biased, because it’s just helpful to know what others are presenting as facts. That said, I will check into PCRM. My own feeling about diets — if soil health and animal health were NOT an issue (which we agree they are) — is that each person needs to figure out what suits her/him best. If you’re eating something consistently and it’s making you sick, stop eating it. And, frankly, diet varies over time. People cannot do macrobiotics, or paleo, or whatever for long periods of time. That’s why I feel the sanest way to eat is to follow the seasons. And that’s not always easy; traditionally, that would have led to a waxing and waning in terms of quantity and probably quality of foods, but would have been a truly varied diet. Part of the reason we have chronic illness is because we eat excessively; we’ve historically never had so much food (including empty calories) that we have today. But what I’ve seen is that anytime someone changes things up, they see a difference. This has been my experience personally and also what I’ve seen in others.

    Thank you for the info…I will check it out!

  16. Why is it that whenever a feasible plan is submitted that merely suggests something like a local abattoir it provokes argument from vegetarians. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than thirty years, but I’m a minority. Other people will continue to eat meat, hence the need for abattoirs. The real issue is not about chosen personal diets, but the quality of life and death of the animals, as well as promoting a sustainable culture.

  17. What does the historical trend McKibben discerns bode for political parties? Underneath all the hate-filled slogans, could it be that we’re climbing down from the heights of abstract slogan and political cliche toward meeting each other again as individuals and family members? Of course, the mass of the Republican campaign output so far promises no such thing. In the big national ether, they (we all) have to project virulent opinions based on strong and unblinking generalizations. But note Gingrich’s comments about immigrant families last night. Maybe the ether is an anesthetic for the operation we’re performing on ourselves — weaning ourselves off of Abstraction, Generalization, and Negation?

  18. I agree with you, Karen, though I’m an omnivore who tries to eat grassfed/pastured. That’s harder to do when dining out, but I’m glad to see at least in the Mid-Atlantic a growing number of farm-to-table places, which cost more, but we pay so little for food and the people who provide it that paying more for food is all right by me, especially when there is accountability for how something was raised.

    Been giving much thought to the choice of personal diets over the last many days and feel, too, that it comes down to not only how well the food helps/nourishes the person (no matter the diet), but what’s going on energetically, whether it’s with a plant (grown biodynamically or without sprays) or with livestock. Bottom line: Is it raised with love and loving intent? Obviously, this may be discernible to the tastebuds, but harder discern by the eyes unless we visit the farm(s) from which we buy our food.

  19. When something is unethical such as murder, it doesn’t matter whether it happens in your backyard slaughterhouse or a factory-style slaughterhouse.
    If it wasn’t unethical then the slaughterhouse owners would be happy to have lots of videos and photos made of the processes. As it is now, there can be federal charges brought to those who point our the torture that happens when people eat non-human beings. See the book Green is the New Red. Slaughterhouse owners would be able to find plenty of workers and not have to hire vulnerable undocumented workers – if murder of non-human animals was such a pleasant activity.
    meat, egg and dairy is also an extremely wasteful way to produce human vitamins and minerals – to run them through animals first.
    taking animals out of the food chain makes real good sense for so many reasons. Thankfully plant-based diets are fabulously tasty, less expensive, better for the environment and healthier.

  20. Good point about we are what we eat ‘energetically’. Imagine how our body reacts to eating a being that fought for it’s life to the end and lived in misery and/or died in a torturous way.
    Eating misery is not healthy for our body, mind or spirit.

  21. I’ve read Bill McKibben for years. But I have intensely followed his writings the past 6 months on the Keystone XL tarsand pipeline protests. In view of this outstanding article, and the immense role he played in energizing thousands to engage in the tarsands conversation, I ordinarily would have encouraged him to run nationally for elected office. But I sense he’s far too smart and gifted for that. Imho, he should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize award.

  22. It’s grains and beans, folks, grains and beans…along with the vegetables, that make people healthy, strong and vigorous. Lots of published literature out there on the amount of LAND required to grow grain to feed CAFO’d animals, vs. feeding human beings. And if the CAFO’d animals go extinct without humans eating them, all the better for us, the earth and the animals.

  23. Loved this article. I’m not sure how a conversation on mega corporate conglomerates trends back to mom and pop vegetable stands devolved into the eating and gathering habits of a vegan versus a carnivore but I’d like to get back to the topic. Monopolies like MA bell from ages ago or the Bank of America of today are all corporate megalith examples that stifle competition. Eventually that monopoly will implode in a capitalist economy. Competition has to exist for there to be growth.

  24. To Henry McHenry Jr.:

    I’d like to hope that the trend McKibben’s writing about, which has mostly been a grassroots trend (desire for better, healthier, local food) will inspire a better, healthier politics; everything reflects back to the soil, after all, literally and metaphorically. Although there are tipping points in such things, I don’t think we’re close to one, because today’s leaders still view most everything through the lens of the “mass” — or generalization/abstraction, as you pointed out. Mass often implies “cheap,” and externalizes costs, such as pollution of water, air and soil (which is why something can be so cheap). This externalization can take place because mass production is typically production that takes place far away from where something will be consumed, so there’s little to no accountability for quality of the product or preservation of life supports, such as clean air, clean water and healthy soil. Petroleum is a great example of one such product.

    Instead of viewing everything through the lens of the mass, our representatives would be more progressive if they worked on providing frameworks that allow for local solutions to local or global issues. (You see this controverted in laws that overturn the will of people to be free of the degradations to soil, air and water associated with CAFOs).

    Maybe McKibben phrased it best when he asked: “Can you figure out a principle that might undergird a hundred different policies?” I have to come back to love as a principle. Maybe that sounds mushy; it’s anything but. Love in action is hard and fraught with all kinds of difficulties and conflicts. I certainly don’t feel much love in any of today’s politics or any of the policies so-called leaders develop or allow special-interest groups to develop on our behalf. Maybe as a species we’ve never truly let love guide our actions, our politics, our agriculture or our businesses. Maybe it’s time to start.

  25. Thanks, Leigh! I, too, am being dragged toward Christian theology.

    To all of us: How about that? Love, not as a feeling (a mush) but as a policy. Maybe Jesus had it right about loving your neighbor (keenly appropriate word for this discussion) as yourself – as if s/he were yourself.

    Barack does say occasionally that he wants us to be our brothers’ keepers – for which he gets branded a Socialist, of course. But he hasn’t developed a pragmatic of leadership. We need a prophet, in the Biblical sense, to return us to what it is to be mortal together on the Earth.

    But about healthy competition: couldn’t that be a mechanism for taking care of each other? We compete for our selfish interest, sure; but if the market is local enough, self-interest = community interest, like Adam Smith said. Question is, is evolution ‘blindly’ leading us in that direction, or can we become conscious enough to lend ourselves to facilitate the process? What would it take for us here to move this colloquy outside the “choir” – our echo chamber of basically like-minded readers (no insult intended!) – and plant it so it would grow in the national conversation?

    What about “Opponents’ Meetings” or “Hearing the Other Side” – sponsored by private citizens who invite their neighbors on public fora (like this one, like email, like Facebook) to meet face to face with opponents as equals? (Our current issue in this town is smart growth and roads.) Does anyone have any experience with managing such a thing? Maybe it’s not possible for us to “let love guide our actions” – is it possible to implement “love in action”?

  26. Henry,

    I don’t necessarily equate love in action or as bottom-line principle with Christian theology, Christ, yes, as well as others. And, why not see love-in-action as a Universe (and universal) principle? I’m getting to a place where I cannot be anywhere without feeling loved, though I feel it acutely outdoors, as one of the many, not Homo sapiens atop the evolutionary heap (check into Paul Stamets’s work with mycelia…I cannot fail to see mycelia as acting on a love principle, though maybe the mycelia don’t call it that! And they certainly appear to be acting in their own self-interest, but that helps out all the biota…the exception being parasitic mushrooms, but perhaps we have not studied them enough to know?).

    Ah, I kindly disagree about need a prophet or someone outside of ourselves. We all have the Spark within us; it’s just a matter of activating it and often, once this process begins, it’s unstoppable. Self-love begins the process of attracting loving people to you. Maybe some of this does go to Teilhard de Chardin, but it also resonates with a presentation I heard once on Effective Microbes. Ninety percent of microbes, according to the presenter, are influenced by either the pathogens at one end of the spectrum or the “beneficials” at the other. By stimulating the beneficials, more of that 90 percent tips in the beneficials’ direction. So, “brother’s keeper” is not socialist, IMO, so much as common sense.

    Why suggest that evolution is blindly leading us OR can we become conscious enough to facilitate the process? Does it need to be an either/or? Do you sense that both actually are happening right now — concurrently?

    Your other question is much more difficult. But that, too, comes back to self-love as opposed to self-loathing. If you love yourself enough, you may feel upset by the comments of someone who does not see things as you do, but that self-love — and expanded out to others — is what might cause you to ask questions, rather than engage in haranguing someone about their views. I’ll be bold here: I do not agree with those who say eating any animal protein is unethical. But they must eat as they see (and feel!) best. Does that mean that 20 years from now, more of us will have gotten to a place where we eschew meat altogether? Perhaps. We aren’t there now, and for now, vegans and vegetarians are holding that space.

    For the smart growth/roads issue, it may be more useful to focus on the upside of smart growth as opposed to looking at the downside of more roads and really hold to that vision. Ask a disinterested question: Who benefits? Maybe the roads advocates are advocates because on a deep level, they’re constrained by not working where they live…and they are eager to get home sooner to be with their loved ones. In other words, on a deep level, they are driven (pardon the pun) by love, but that love has not necessarily expanded out to include the wild areas or built areas that would be scrapped to build more roads. And maybe they cannot make that expansion, because they just don’t know (don’t know how a road will affect the quality of their water, their air, etc.). This does come back to the “small and the many.” I hope the trend toward that will provide more work in the home – or at least closer to home, so that we can avoid wasted fuel, time and human potential that comes with long commutes.

  27. Whoa, Leigh – you sure are quick on this trigger. How do you write so fast?

    Of course it’s not either/or, but I’m hoping I sense an opening for us to “tip in the beneficials’ direction.” One way of getting that to happen, I’m thinking, would be the meetings of equal opposites – where we could listen for exactly the kinds of love-driven moatives and thinking that would let us hear each other instead of haranguing each other. And would let us see how a love-driven motive can become a moat-ive. (Pardon the clever typo.)

    But have we turned away the rest of our discussion partners with our private ruminations here? Is anyone else still with us? Do you go home to be with your loved ones, or (as I so often find myself doing) to turn on the TV or get on the computer? In our case, if not in the fungus’, it’s automaticity versus the conscious, common-sense practice of reciprocal influence, no?

  28. hit the jackpot!
    In Canada, people lineup at grocery stores and convenience stores to buy Lotto tickets
    Winners ,potential winners alays think in terms of what they will buy.
    There was ever only one winner, of a lesser amount, that I recall, who spoke of investing in their community. This was a First Nations couple.
    Then there is Oprah, and all the shows where people gasp with glee over the rewards, gifts they get/win.
    The auto companies were bailed out yet they spend about $1.5 Billion each year on advertising, and ofcourse those ads help fuel the media.
    We need celebrities to sing/dance a new tune and say enough is enough. Even our faved Tina Fey is up there in the top TV salaries with the Housewives, earning about $13 million per year.
    Role models, more, please.

  29. Following up on Henry’s comments and Myna’s suggestion:

    There is a fellow named Mike who comments on Orion articles and had mentioned how much work can actually be done in small groups. He’s taken part for a couple decades’ minimum in a wisdom circle (check for a book named Wisdom Circles for more info). In light of his example, I set up one with friends, granted, mostly like-minded/-hearted friends, tho’ we don’t agree on everything. We’ve been at it for almost a year and a half. The value of the circle is not only being heard (a talking stick is used; only the person with the stick may speak and there’s no cross talk). Its primary value is the cultivation of listening — attentive, careful listening, which may get to what you’re talking about, Henry. As for how to call up meetings with those of differing views, maybe just set the intention to do so and see what happens?

    Not to be a total ‘mudge, Myna, because there’s merit to what you suggest about celebrities and role models, but maybe it’s a two-way street and it’s up to us just as much as celebrities to demand less/want less…and not to extend our admiration or fascination to those who make a show of what they have? Of course, maybe that’s occupational suicide for them; who knows? As long as there’s an insatiable market for all-things-celeb, then people will step in to fill that role. I was, however, heartened to see the proposed boycott of Ms. Kardashian, whose shows I’ve actually never seen and who I wish no ill. But one thing that stood out for those signing on to the boycott was the “conspicuous consumption,” which is apparently a key part of the Kardashian ouvre. Maybe it’s too much to read into, but I see that as a positive sign that perhaps the tide is beginning to turn. My own role models tend to be people who are just going about their lives doing the best they can with what they have. To me, it seems more important to them to be rather than to have.

  30. It seems that we have hit a tipping point in agriculture and what is starting to happen is good.
    In my neighborhood are many Amish farms which are smallish 60 acres and the John Deer reproduces itself
    and runs on grass and oats. Most of my Amish neighbors are growing and selling to regional supermarket chains
    and a bit in their front yard stands to passers by. Smaller towns are starting to have farmers markets twice a week.
    Madison, WI which is a city of half a million has a mammoth Farmers Market all years that literally surrounds
    the state capitol.

    Not only the Amish but a few English farmers are serving local markets in some major cities here in the Upper Midwest.
    Madison, WI, St. Paul, MN, Rochester, MN and much more. People are starting to demand good food rather than the
    usual stuff we have had for the past 70 years.

    A major concern I have is the fact that 40 years ago most of the farms in my neighborhood were 160 acres. Today they are 800+
    Most of the infrastructure of these 160 acre farms was bulldozed and burned. So, here we are with destroyed farmsteads and like
    much of our mess we probably will have to rebuild farm structures and homes if we can afford to and have the resources? Our rail
    systems are in the same mess. So, good things are starting to happen but it will take a lot of work. The Amish are leading the way
    in my opinion.

  31. And we probably need a shift in mindset about work, Jeff, if we’re going to survive. Or maybe not so much about work, but about money (as has been discussed elsewhere in response to articles Orion has published) about money and entitlements, actually. If we look at everything in terms of energetic exchanges, then we can interrogate ourselves about this subject. Certain work continues to be demeaned and certainly not paid for; this is often work that builds/creates (teaching, homemaking, child care, some of the healing arts, to name a few), whereas work that is destructive — destructive of life-support systems and human psyche/heart — often tends to be very well paid. So, I’m curious to know when you say “if we can afford to and have the resources,” what kinds of things are you picturing as barriers?

  32. Bill Leahy,

    Thank you for posting that link. Interesting item! Brings up a question: With what kinds of goods is going customized likely to work — or work best? Food is one thing as is medicine (or herbs) customized to meet the needs of a specific person. But I’m not sure it can be done as well with something like autos, because of the safety and emissions regulations.

  33. I’m not familiar with either Mr. McKibben nor with the Orion zine. This article is thin as a veil yet just enough to inspire folks to think small and yet big. It’s nice to read good news.

  34. It’s good to read articles like this, in the stew of bad news we generally get. But he does end with a somewhat ominous implication. We can change too late. My worry is that while we’re going to move towards the small and the many, it might look more like the fractured world of the Dark Ages, which basically boiled down to rule by local strongmen, the subjugation of the weak, and constant warfare. It could be easy to see people, in chaotic and insecure times, going to alternative power structures, like gangs, militias, and the Mafia, and that bodes none too well for liberty and democracy.

    This is why it is essential that we heed such warnings and calls to action as this article makes. I am disturbed to see most people, willfully or not, remaining blind to it, sitting on their hands, doing nothing

  35. I’m re-reading McKibben’s article again as the Colorado Senate seeks to turn over all oversight of oil and gas to the state commission, thus cutting out local people from the decision making process. But, the “small” in my part of the state (South Park) are vocal, active and incredibly well informed. And they are howing!!!

  36. Interestingly, small and many has been working across the globe for some time now. Just that we, with our so called American Exceptionalism [interestingly exceptinalism is not even listed as a recognized word by the Encarta Dictionary: English (North America)] can’t grasp the elements of anything that isn’t bigger, and thus better, than anyone else’s. Preventive care, diet, and fitness at all levels are the only way to break the back of the medical monopoly. No more hormones and antibiotics in our meat, pesticide residues in our fruit and vegetable, or preservatives in our foods. I think that it’s time for us to join the rest of the world, not lord over them! Excellent perspective on where we need to go. But my money is on where we seem to be headed, not where a very few are redirecting themselves toward.

  37. Hi Leigh, Regarding having the resources (raw materials) and the (money) is what I refer to. We have wasted our resources on things like war and the same is true of “money”. To rebuild a destroyed rail system would require much of both which we do not have. So, the alternative is the small and many which means local sustanaibility.

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