Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

November 21, 2011

I Earn an “F” in “Surviving Armageddon”

Filed under: gardening — Tags: , — paragardener @ 5:07 pm

I had big plans this summer for vegetable gardening. Besides the need to make one’s own food following the end of the world, the vegetables at Kroger are pretty much crap that rabbits couldn’t live on, so veggie gardening is of immediate practical importance.

Over the spring, I was paying bills down, so I put off starting the (vegetable) garden until I could afford the lumber, screws and little bit of outside soil I needed to build raised beds, plus some nice transplants to pop in the dirt. Then, my Iron Triangle collapsed, sending me reeling into the wasteland of the economically marginalized.

The Iron Triangle is: home, automobile, and job. Having no home or no auto makes it hard to have a job. Having no job makes it hard to keep your home and keep your auto running. Lose one piece of the Triangle, and it collapses: you are flatlined. In my case, it was the car that died. In fact, I put hundreds of dollars into fixing it, before scrapping it and shelling money out to get the back-up car running… (there went my last chance for tomatoes…) but the back-up car died after a mere $1,500 in various repairs.

I even made my dad stop by my house on his way home from work to drop off my old bicycle, which is truly a more practical form of transport than the energy-sucking, road-rage-inducing car. The bike had a tire about to pop, so it needed repairs before it was really safe to ride. Did the tire get changed out? No, instead money went into buying our friends gasoline and oil changes, so that we could borrow their cars all the time. Cars were still needed, for hauling 50-pound sacks of dog food, and going the miles to get out of Detroit to shop at the Kroger of Habit to buy sacks of barely-edible pale-assed Kroger vegetables. By the time my finances were recovered enough to buy the tire without wincing, I was thinking “hmm, snow coming down soon.”

The short-term, hand-to-mouth thinking extended to my drinking life. “Getting ingredients together for a 5-gallon batch of wine looks like a lot of money: I’d better just get one more twelve-pack o’ beer!”

Eventually, the cable bill lapsed, the blog could not be written, and entertainment consisted of DVDs and books Tam & I already owned. Working from home, I did not lose my job with my transportation, and money eventually got better. I hope to soon have a car again, so that life can go on in its usual suburban consumerist death spiral.

If we have a sudden, drastic economic collapse (hyperinflation, or California sliding into the ocean…), people won’t be ready in time. Before you see people’s lawns turned into gardens, you’ll see someone get knifed in the street for a gas can.

I had lots of time this Fall for cleaning and organizing. I uncovered: a big cube of peat moss, a rubber band of old seed packets, and plastic planters of every size and description. “Why, Dorothy,” said the good witch, “you could have had a vegetable garden any time you wanted it!” Hopefully, the next time collapse visits me, I won’t just stand there flat-footed and let it bowl me over.

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September 6, 2011

Child of Decline

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 2:12 am

I was born near Detroit in 1979, the year U.S. manufacturing peaked. The Motor City and Flint in particular declined before my eyes, as the Big Three car companies were hurt by foreign competition and simultaneously outsourced their manufacturing to countries with crappy union rights. 1979 was also nine years after the first Earth Day, and seven years after “Limits to Growth” was published, warning that the physical resources allowing for economic growth were limited. So I have always lived with the story that human activity is threatening the planet’s systems, from the ozone layer to the local food web.

The old Packard Plant, shattered and graffitied.

Packard Plant by Яick Harris, share and share alike, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickharris/

I’d like to rewind history to 1980 and change the things that went on in my lifetime. We needed to invest in studying and protecting the ecology. We needed to find some means of manufacturing and transportation that created less smoke and garbage. We especially needed new sources of energy. I have the feeling that, had we seriously invested then, by now we’d all have cheap solar panels powering our houses, and maybe charging the car up, to boot.

Instead, we acted like a smoker whose doctor tells them that cigarettes are bad for you. Hmm, quitting is hard. Maybe I could switch to ultra-lights?  Wrapping every object sold at the store in a plastic casket is an abuse of abundance — but it’s slightly difficult to imagine sales working in any other way. So we pushed recycling, which still comes at a whopping energy cost, and doesn’t really fix the problems, but which allowed everybody to keep on with minimal disruption to their lifestyle. We don’t like to hear that adjustments might have to be made — as when Jimmy Carter asked the nation to please turn the thermostat down, and the American people answered by making a one-term President of him.

Also during my lifetime, America exported almost all of its capacity to manufacture goods. Some of our rivers are now cleaner thanks to the shutdown of all the factories on them. It’s hard to find clothes, umbrellas, purses, shoes and so on that are made in this land (I miss you, patriotic Converse All-Stars!). Even our brain capacity is in doubt, with Americans falling behind in math and science. How much easier is it to just hire an Indian or Chinese engineer and work with them online?

Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station standing there like a mighty, but dead, tree. By motionblur, share and share alike! http://www.flickr.com/photos/motionblur/

With no manufacturing, mediocre brainpower, a bunch of fakes running government, and depleted natural resources, how are we going to build a bigger and better future? Oil production, the lynchpin of our economy, has peaked. GDP peaked at about the same time, in late 2007. There is no “building our way out” of our economic troubles, because we have nothing to build with. It’s kind of irrelevant to discuss a liberal or conservative economic policy for the future, because politicians of all stripes have to smile and promise the impossible re-start of growth — working from the real situation is political suicide. We should’ve taken the physical reality of life and economics on this planet more seriously, while we had the chance. Now we’re fucked, as people have been warning about for my entire life. We’re too far down this path to ever get to the future where we all have a green home, an electric car and windmill-driven electricity. To put it in economic terms, there is not enough capital out there to transition to new, sustainable technologies before a rising cost of energy and resources causes an economic collapse and we auction the country off in an attempt to keep going and paying our debts. I might be beating a dead horse with my projections of doom, but I guess I just feel like I have to speak up when many folks always hear that growth and prosperity are just around the corner. The talking heads told the Soviets the same thing in their day, no? Be prepared for things to not get any better. Check out how people have survived, sometimes thrived, in the former Soviet Union, or Detroit, or Flint, or Gary, Indiana.

The Rust Belt I live in is named for decline, and decline makes me feel at home: I think a building is never more beautiful than when it is well into its death, waiting to be torn down. Paint peels off the walls and is replaced by tag art. Plaster crumbles and reveals, by pieces, the grace of a building’s long-hidden skeleton. I like to watch the succession of plants that colonizes an abandoned area. I like living in rotten old Detroit, with neighbors who’ve often given up on having a middle-class career and instead work in the neighborhood to get by with one hustle and another. There is a mile-long stretch of 8 Mile Road that is all pawn shops, used cars, junkyards, restored furniture shops and so on. And I like an object with history, you know?

No one can predict the future with certainty. Maybe cold fusion will come into commercial production sometime in the next couple of years and save us all. Maybe aliens will invade and enslave us all. Until then, look for used-good stores, scrappers and hustlers coming to a neighborhood near you! Detroit survives by recycling itself towards oblivion, without ever getting there: that’s a much more likely future for every American town, than abundant green jobs and a hydrogen-filling station by every freeway exit. The big call for optimism is that you can live in a place like Detroit and still have a decent life. Children of decline, for better or for worse, the future is ours!

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