There’s a moment in Barbara Kingsolver’s devastating new novel, Flight Behavior, where the protagonist realizes the craziness built into our globalized economy. Dellarobia and her husband are in the dollar store, trying to buy a “real Christmas” for their children on $50. Every toy is Chinese-made, plastic, and depressingly cheesy. She tries to find something, anything, that won’t fall apart immediately, and muses:
“There had to be armies of factory workers making this slapdash stuff, underpaid people cranking out things for underpaid people to buy and use up, living their lives mostly to cancel each other out.”
I recently learned something horrifying from this video featuring Society for Organizational Learning founder Peter Senge: It takes a ton of raw materials each day to sustain the American lifestyle. Per person.
I don’t know about you, but it guts me to envision a ton of earthly extraction happening on my behalf—today, tomorrow, and the next day and the next, until the whole house of cards collapses. Or until we demand something different.
Do we really need to buy into this waste?
All that energy that goes into making money to be able to buy stuff? If we could divert a fraction of that into work that sustains us, we might see the merry-go-round start to slow.
I met a young mother recently who had made some changes after asking herself, “Why am I spending money to buy food when I could grow my own? Money doesn’t grow on trees, but food does.” Visionary Charles Eisenstein, Radical Homemaker Shannon Hayes, and countless others have said it: It’s time to rethink, regroup, relocalize.
My partner is cutting her workplace hours this year to spend more time gardening and making things. These projects enrich her life and leave something tangible, and they mean—yes!—fewer trips to the store to buy goods made or grown by someone else.
Sure, we still do our share of purchasing. We’re not immune to the consumer culture. I just got my very first smartphone, after all, with much gnashing of teeth. But we are coming to see ourselves less as consumers and more as small-scale producers, or self-provisioners, or urban farmers. The more we make, produce, grow, and repair with our own hands, the less money we require to live.
One group is working in a big way to break the cycle. Open Source Ecology was started by a young farmer who was frustrated by repeated tractor breakdowns. It bothered him that corporations keep their designs secret and build obsolescence into their products. So he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Now he’s working with others to develop 50 industrial machines to cover every need of a local-level sustainable economy. The open source part is revolutionary: Their designs are available for anyone to use and adapt.
Here’s a three-minute video showing how it all works. There’s a builder from Indiana using one of the machines to make bricks. I love this!
What about you—how are you slowing the merry-go-round?