quinta-feira, 20 de março de 2008

Slow down – jump off the grid

I do sometimes wonder whether it is I alone who has changed and not the world that demands changes. After all, I could very well be delusional, lost my marbles, fallen of the radar, while the world as I knew it in Europe’s 1980’s is still happily spinning around all those little things that made it seem so cosy and care-free. Fluorescent shoes and shirts, punk hairstyles, big old Volvo’s, chocolate on your bread for breakfast, a Technics sound-system, a walkman the size of a book and concerts with long-haired musicians. But then I remember we had the 90’s, and discardable fashion, SUV’s, bread without crust, oranges with no pits, a surround sound-system in every room, the mini-disk and brand-sponsored mega-concerts. From there, it’s hardly a stretch to look back on the first 8 years of the 21st century where just about everything is fast. Fast food obviously but also faster-obsolete-than-you-can-buy products, fast learning, fast one-stop-shopping, fast building, fast dumping, fast wars, fast deals, fast and short careers, fast fun-in-a-jar, fast to mate, fast to separate, fast global warming, fast, fast, fast.

Still, if you were in my position and found yourself armed with little more than a computer, a slightly better than modest address-book and a brain filled with the stereotypes of a few decades, having decided that instead of going back to pursuing that fast and short career, you want to have a shot at “saving the planet” while living of something you haven’t discovered yet, you might doubt your (well, my) sanity. After all, the world is still spinning around lots of little cosy things that can make you happy, if you can block out the warning bells (and you can). A lot of people still seem to make money (and some of them do so in obscene amounts) and follow the well-established bourgeois routine, with the family, the house and the car growing in tandem and proportionately to an (admittedly slowly) increasing wage.

So why am I considering stepping out of the market? Was it my commie phase back in the ‘80s when my dad spanked me for the first and only time in my life? (I did call his friends capitalist pigs over lunch on a postcard pretty Thai beach) Is it the vegetarian in me? Was it 9/11? Or when my wage was cut back 20% in 2003? And again 10% in 2005.. Or maybe when in 2004 I finally and rather dismissively gave up my goal of earning my dad’s wage by the age of 35?

Probably all that, plus the fact that in my life I only really experienced (i.e. benefited from) an upward moving market for the whole of… 5 years. I still remember my discussions with an outraged Finance professor, when I suggested there should be more to companies than their obligation to increase shareholder value. And the times I nearly got fired when as a general manager I claimed running a company without growth or even making a profit was really not such a bad thing. Yeah well, who is going to take that seriously from a manager when the company she’s in charge of is not growing or making a profit.. The thing is, I left that particular company 2 years ago and it’s still not growing or making a profit. I left another company since, and it’s in the same situation, and I was not in charge :-).

And many of the companies that claim they are growing again, are really only recovering their 2000 baseline. Do we really believe infinite growth is possible? Blue-eyed Bjorn from the Copenhagen Consensus Centre claims (on TED..) climate change is not a problem because by 2020 what we now see as a poor Bangladeshi will then be a rich Dutchman and so obviously will have a condo with air-conditioning high up enough to withstand the raging seas (the last part I added). Good thinking, Bjorn! What about the 1 or 2 billion extra people that are going to want to squeeze in the planet by then? If the Bangladeshi are the new rich, who are going to be the new poor? Not to mention the obvious limits of our planet - we’re in ecological overshoot, currently using up 1,3 earths per year globally. Yeah, some Bangladeshi are vegetarian, but the Chinese do like their pork. Something will have to give, it’s simple thermodynamics.

So there you have it. I’m stepping out, or rather aside for now, because I don’t believe in infinite growth. Despite my economic ignorance, I still see signs that the free market model – never free to begin with, as utopic as communism – is very near collapse and the perverse carbon trade experiment might just be the last straw. Technology is not going to patch up the damage, because the necessary technology for most solutions exists and it’s not being put to use under bizarre pretenses such as “15 years from now we can capture and store carbon” and “Hydrogen should be viable in about 20 to 50 years”. When we’ve got about 5 years to invert our route to Easter island according to Mr. Pachauri from the IPCC.

When you can’t count on economy, technology or regulation, what have you got? My guess is common people and their surprising resourcefulness. People working within communities, across networks, putting to use their collective knowledge and skills to protect the common good and a certain quality of life beyond capitalism. Back to basics. Bartering products and services. Swapping clothes, books and CD’s. Swapping advice, no copyrights attached. More people living directly of the land. Living communities. Pedibuses. Cultural associations to cater nearly-for-free to your artistic needs. Groups that practise yoga and Tai-chi together instead of paying a fitness centre. Smart networks like the brilliant Telemadre where unemployed housewives cook up some extra food which they sell to busy families whilst taxi-drivers do the delivering during the low hours.

I could be wrong. About the collapse, I mean. But then again I could be right. And so I figure I have very little to lose and a lot to gain if I could learn to survive off the grid. And given the window of opportunity granted by Mr. Pachauri, I also figure now is “better a time as any” to start.