The Good Life
March 31, 2011 —
When the earthquake struck Japan, people in Tokyo were trapped because public transportation was disrupted. On the third day after the quake, people were taking the last remaining food from stores. After four days, severe shortages of food and water spread across the country. Then the nuclear reactor exploded.
Disasters like the earthquakes and tsunami have occurred throughout the history of this planet. But the devastation has never been more acutely felt than in our “civilized” world. A thin, brittle thread holds us in that world; when that tenuous thread breaks, we become completely helpless within days.
We now operate in an unsustainably constructed world that functions only with the aid of advanced technologies and fossil fuels. When that technology works and the energy flows, we never think about it. We travel to work, make phone calls, send emails, surf the Internet, thoughtlessly travel thousands of miles with relative ease, browse supermarket aisles surrounded by an abundance our grandparents couldn’t even imagine. Life is good.
We survive and even thrive in the technological world, but we are completely helpless when that world breaks apart as it did in Japan–and New Orleans, Pakistan, Queensland. We are unable to feed ourselves without food from a supermarket, and we’ve polluted our groundwater so that it’s undrinkable. We can’t protect ourselves from the cold without fossil fuels.
Most of the time, we are oblivious of the fact that The Good Life is built on a never-ending supply of energy. But these sources of energy are rapidly dwindling. So we’ve resorted to using complex technological innovations, like off-shore drilling, mountaintop removal, tar sand mining and hydraulic fracking to tap into more and more difficult-to-reach places, and nuclear power, ignoring its inherent dangers. We destroy the natural world that supports all life to maintain our constructed world.
It’s a world that is increasingly becoming too big to fail. Like the recently bailed-out banks, the sources and distribution of energy are centralized, owned by multinational corporations who refuse to implement alternative energy technologies. When one link in the chain breaks, as it will when fossil fuels become scarce and expensive, how will we survive? The aftermath of Japan’s earthquake is emblematic of just how fragile The Good Life is.
We are at a crossroads. One road leads over a cliff; the other leads to a less frequently traveled road of viable alternatives, like windmills, geo-thermal systems and solar panels on every home, that can reduce our energy consumption and decentralize energy sources.