Wake up. Stop dreaming!

Wake up, stop dreaming

“The sun is in the sky again
There’s a hole in the ocean
And water’s pouring through.
Oh, wake up stop dreaming
And wipe the sleep from your eyes.
Are you frightened of heights?
Are you falling”?

-Wang Chung song lyrics.

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds,” wrote Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac . “Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

I fell in love with woods, pasture and creek living on my grandparent’s farm when I was a child.  After my family moved to the nearby small rural community I found my dose of ‘nature’ walking down a dirt road to the lake, where I would sit with my back against a giant cotton wood tree and look out over the water.  Someone loaned me a copy of the geologic history of our community’s lake.  I was fascinated to learn that it was a remnant of the last ice age; the basin formed from an iceberg that calved off the retreating ice sheet and buried in sediment where it slowly melted over decades.  During a particularly bad drought in the ‘30’s the shore had retreated and farmers plowed the lake sediment.  The lake had existed here for thousands of years and we often found arrow heads in the nearby land.

Wherever I moved I explored the terrain seeking to understand the history of a place.  The Sonora desert of Arizona was a beautiful lonely place where only a few of the several million inhabitants of Phoenix ever ventured.  People lived in a vast city centered within a ring of mountain parks yet never knew what the mountains contained.  Roads are carved though the desert and mountains making it easier for us to travel rapidly from point A to point B.  What about the “in-between” places along the way?  Do we really notice the road we travel or only the places where we arrive?  I traveled north through Utah, Colorado and Wyoming stopping along the way and camping in the desert.    Monument Valley is a beautiful testament to the power of water carving away sediment leaving behind rocky pediments.  This was when I fell in love with geology and decided to study earth science, wanting to become an environmental scientist.

Leopold is right, the more ecological education one has the more aware we become of the wounds humans inflict on the landscape.  We don’t do so intentionally, which makes our indictment that much stronger.  We live without thought or awareness of the consequences of our actions.  We flinch when lectured to by the self-righteous, those whose environmental certainty has the flavor of a religious calling.  We are fairly sure we don’t want to become a vegan.  Can’t we eat at McDonald’s, drink our morning cappuccino from the drive up lane and still be good citizens?

Once in a while we might think about nature.  We think it would be nice to visit the Grand Canyon, the Outer Banks, take a train to Alaska or some scenic place we’ve heard about.  But few people think about the impact our lifestyle has on nature, we rarely understand wilderness because we have become domesticated by our lifestyle.  We enjoy the convenience of a local coffee shop, a good restaurant, the grocery store, the shopping centers (more often now on line), a fast moving road and downtown parking.  We don’t want weeds popping up in our lawn or in the sidewalk cracks.  We like an orderly landscape and we prefer to remain ignorant of the chemicals used to keep it looking that way.  We are creatures of habits long formed by cultural conditioning.

Everything about our American lifestyle requires a constant flow of energy and resources, which few of us really stop to think about or understand.  How much energy does our home use?  Where does our food come from and how was it produced?  Who sewed our clothing or built our cars?  Where do the wastes from our home and car’s tailpipe go?  Finding the answers is too much to think about.  Instead we go on with our daily routines believing we are happy until our doctor tells us we have a disease.  Isn’t there a pill we can take to fix that?  Can’t we just pretend life on earth will continue and tomorrow will be similar to today, until it isn’t?  We tend to think our leaders are doing the right thing until we read in the news that someone’s drinking water was contaminated for years with lead and public officials knew.  We decide to start buying bottled water just in case.  Our lives are filled with misplaced trust and ignorance.

It’s easier to remain ignorant of climate change, even though the science isn’t complicated. When the temperature soars to 100 we complain about the heat from the comfort of air-conditioned space.  We don’t connect climate change with the air conditioning of our homes and automobiles.  The news is increasingly filled with stories of hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, and wildfires, which we’re learning to tune out.  We close our eyes to the messes in the corner of the room, believing that there is nothing we can personally do to change the world or our situation.  Sadly, everything we do is changing the world.

If we looked we would see the signs of decay all around us and we might question the belief that we are well.  It takes a lot of denial to tune out the loud ringing of klaxons!  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the immensity of change needed.  We often think turning back isn’t possible.  It certainly isn’t as simple as some would like to believe.  It’s doubtful that any of our current approaches—be they policy or grassroots activism—will solve our problems.  To be honest, I’m not even sure we can.

Have you ever been told by your doctor “You need to eat better” but they don’t tell you how?  They expect you to know how to eat better.  How do we know what to change in our life if we don’t know what we’re doing that is causing the problems?  We are told that we need to cut back on fossil fuels and turn to renewable energy, but few people actually have any idea how much fossil fuel energy they use.  How much electricity does it take to air-condition our home or car?  How much gas does it take to heat it?  How many solar panels would I need to replace fossil energy I use?

Most people have their electric and gas bills paid automatically and they don’t pay attention to the money they spend on utilities.  Utility bills are unavoidable!  Aren’t’ they?  Is it unavoidable that energy companies have a monopoly on energy?  How much would it cost to invest in solar energy and make our homes energy independent?  Our lifestyle is on automatic consumption mode and we’ve stopped counting the costs.  We are all of us in America complicit; buyers and sellers, purveyors of our Western lifestyle.  The first step in changing our life is to start counting the costs; become aware of how much energy we use and how we use it.  This is the first step to changing to renewable energy.

If we are going to power our life with renewable energy we need to learn to consume less energy.  We need to find meaning and happiness in a life that doesn’t hold consumption as the goal.  We need to accept living with less.  Can you enjoy doing more work with your hands, spend less time wasting energy driving where you don’t need to go?  Can you develop a fierce commitment to paying attention to the energy you use?

Can you imagine how even a small amount of renewable energy could transform the lives of people who use much less energy than we do?  Can we learn to limit what we take from the world and leave room for others, even if “others” are the weeds in our lawn?  Can we want less, share more?  Can we live better, not longer lives?  Can we find purpose in doing what feels right, not always what feels good?

If we are going to reduce fossil fuel use we need to make the switch to renewable energy and electric cars.  We don’t have much time to reduce carbon emissions.  The largest sources of emissions are from coal fired electric generating stations and the oil we consume for transportation.  Americans need to change how we produce electricity and how we fuel our cars.  We need to consume less stuff that requires long distance transportation.  Now is the time to change, not later.  Solar technology is cost effective and Federal tax credits are still available for another few years.  Electric cars are becoming more economical than gas powered.  If we wait to act events will overtake us and we will be the victims of disaster, left waiting for help that never arrives.

The illness of American life is our ignorance of the energy we consume, the products made from it, and the luxuries we take for granted.   I was thinking about energy last weekend as I stacked firewood; my back aching, my arms and legs tired.  I started thinking about the term “energy slaves”.  The forced air, gas furnace that heats most people’s home is an energy slave.  We don’t have to do anything other than pay the bill.  Renewable energy in the form of firewood requires hard physical labor; cutting, hauling, splitting, stacking, then hauling it in indoors to burn, and cleaning out the ashes from the wood stove.  I thought about the higher cost of the energy efficient, low emission wood stove versus a cheaper gas fired furnace.  It’s all about our choices.  It’s our dependence on fossil energy that is destabilizing earth’s climate.  Industrial agriculture is also part of another problem, for selling us food that is making us sick and giving rise to a healthcare industry that profits from our disease.  There is no pill that can fix our lifestyle and we are in more danger than we realize.

It’s time to wake up and stop dreaming.  If we must dream let it be a dream that everyone’s children will one day live in a world where they know the value of the energy they use… where they can see the world as the wonderful gift it is and with a view to preserve this gift for their children in turn…”

32 Replies to “Wake up. Stop dreaming!”

  1. Nice quote from Aldo… and if I might – a couple other quotes from famous Americans:
    Cut your own firewood – it will warm you twice. – Henry Ford

    I have a dream. – Martin Luther King

    On the first – no kidding. And I might even argue that in the act of cutting, splitting, hauling, and stacking you get more from the “warming” then finally when burning. Exercise is great medicine.

    On the second, and this is not to challenge the very high value of your point(s) – but to turn the imagery around as we think about the issue. So instead of a wake up call – wouldn’t it be great if we all dreamed of a time when folk knew the cost of their energy choices.

    I have a dream… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    I have a dream… that everyone’s little children will one day live in a world where they know the value of the energy they use… where they can see the world as the wonderful gift it is and with a view to preserve this gift for their children in turn…

    I have a dream…

    Then, as we wake from such a dream we might be inspired to smell the coffee – and get on with the business of making the dream a reality. [and on that coffee bit – for those of us living where coffee currently isn’t grown… I have a dream that a plant breeder smarter than me is busy breeding a coffee tree that can be grown in our hardiness zone 🙂 ]

    1. I added your quote to the piece. Let me know what you think. It will be reposted on Resilience tomorrow so I can remove it if you want.

      1. Wow, this article has undergone a major edit since I first read it. I have to run – so will return to take a closer look.

        As for the quote – sure, I’ve no qualms with it being there. Have been an MLK fan as long as I can remember (which goes back several years before he was assassinated… I guess I’m getting old). So to riff on one of his great lines is heart warming.

  2. Clem,
    I take your point, to dream can also mean to hope for something beyond what we see today. I often use the term in that way. But I was thinking more of dream as that unreal state we find ourselves in when we sleep and our mind creates it’s own reality. I feel it’s important that people wake up to the danger and act now, rather than dreaming that life will simply go on as is. But I agree with you Martin Luther King Jr. had a way of inspiring others with his dreams of a better world.
    If you ever find a way to bred a plant that lives in our climate zone and tastes like coffee you will be remembered in history! I’ve given up the brew…yet once again, and drink only tea. I’ve also found that I don’t mind chicory and dandelion roots. I used to drink Postum until I had to give up gluten. Chocolate might be harder to live without!

    1. Clem as coffee breeder – perhaps in retirement. Tried the chicory approach once. My reaction was tepid. Have not tried dandelion roots – though not for lack of opportunity… D#%$ things are everywhere. There is a chemist at OARDC (Wooster, OH) working on dandelions for a rubber replacement. I wish her well.

      Biggest problem I can imagine for both coffee and cocoa breeding is the perennial life of both plants and thus the rather longish period from crossing to evaluation. There are newer technologies to help, but the “in retirement” aspect of my possible effort implies I might not live long enough to see the fruits of the effort. Or… I suppose I could move closer to the Equator in retirement and have coffee and cocoa trees in the back yard. Better still perhaps – wouldn’t it be special if we knew someone on an island where good coffee is already grown? Pineapples too?? Grass fed beef. And the fascinating experience of the random volcanic activity or oceanic hurricane to mix things up?? Hmmm, I wonder where such a place might be found?

      I have a dream…

        1. Jody – all I’m seeing is the one sentence text. Is there more to the comment?

          Citrus might actually be a bit more amenable to adaptation breeding for colder climes… BUT given the commercial significance (of all of these species really) I’d be shocked if there weren’t already quite a bit of research that has gone into this and with no noticeable change I can detect. Greenhouse production might be the only way to raise these guys in W. Lafayette (in our lifetimes). 🙁

          1. Jody – must have been the old browser… I don’t see (and cannot access) the link in an Internet Explorer browser, but do see it when using Microsoft Edge. Will have to come back to the video another time. If it matters to the conversation I’ll comment on it then.

          2. Finally found a way to view the link you provided. And greenhouse production it is! But more than just greenhouse… this guy is serious. Alliance Nebraska! Geothermal heating… Valencia oranges… new systems being developed… what’s not to like?!?!

            Abundant sunlight – you caught that, right? Here in Ohio in the winter months this is something we have in short supply. But where there’s a will there’s a way. Geothermal greenhouse for tropical plant production (citrus, coffee, cocoa…) above 40 degrees N latitude. I have another dream.

          3. Clem,
            It is a fascinating idea! I keep thinking of the need for citrus in our diet and how this might offer northern tiers the option to grow it. I have been dreaming about this ever since I saw the video last year. I hope to try this out in a year or two once I get our new farm up and running.

            I find it interesting the many ways we can use technology creatively. I’m realizing that humans can move into a lower-energy future and take our knowledge and innovation with us. We have been wasteful of energy because we had abundance (at least in America). The future isn’t going to look the same as the past, but with a bit of creativity it could look much better!
            I find it interesting that the guy who did this did so after he retired as a mail carrier. What a way to retire!

    2. There’s something called “coffee” chicory you can grow, and roast it along with barley in the oven. It has been selected over time for large, tuberous roots not unlike, say, anemic parsnip or skirret on steroids.
      It yields a frothy, malty hot beverage that is pleasantly enough like coffee (in aroma at least) to be a more than acceptable substitute. Taste? Acquired – and you will learn to acquire it I guarantee!
      I grow it out for seed production every few years. (Seed longevity is about 3 years, and it is of course a biennial which requires overwintering and vernalization to be triggered to flower in the second season.
      I’ll send you some seeds for next season, and some photos of the roots via PM.
      Good to see you back in the (writing) saddle again!

      1. Brian,
        I would love to get some chicory seeds. I see you have updated your website. I will look through the seeds you offer and place an order.
        It is nice to finally have time to write again. It has been a very busy year and I’m relieved winter is soon here. I love the down time in winter; sitting by the fireplace enjoying my cup of morning tea and writing. We purchased 7 acres of farmland and are building a new pole barn. I have lots of plans for the new land including sharing some of the farm ground with young market farmers. I inoculated some logs and wood chips with mushroom spores last spring and plan to do more of this in the wooded area on the new land as well as the woods around my home. We’ve added kitchen space in the new pole barn and I plan to teach cooking and canning classes. I’ve been getting more involved with the Purdue Student Farm. It’s nice to teach again.
        How did your gardens and seed business do this year? Lovely to hear from you.

  3. ‘It’s time to wake up and stop dreaming’ – aye! to that sentiment Jody, and thanks for this stirring piece. Another line I like from it: ‘We are fairly sure we don’t want to become a vegan.’ Queen Victoria couldn’t have put it better!

    1. High praise indeed. The British have mastered the art of the understatement. One of the reasons I love British writers.

  4. Yes, our ignorance of what all our “stuff” actually costs is a great illness. We don’t learn to analyze the true costs of our driving habits and our technological gadgets, the food that we eat and clothes we wear. If we could see the costs – the degradation of our own health as well as the world’s health – would we all still go along with it? I think that you are right that we are in much greater danger than we realize, largely because we seem to lack the tools – intellectual and institutional – to address the problems effectively.

  5. Jody – your comments are quite relevant to today’s society. Over 30 years ago my wife and I saw the light and installed a solar hot water system. We added solar electric in 2003 and although we are not divorced from the grid the savings from what we used to spend on electricity have paid for all the above. Yesterday I, too, was stacking wood on the porch for the winter fireplace insert which does a good job warming us during the cold here in gthe NE. We have a few neighbors with solar, but most of them mow their sculpted lawns and pooh-pooh the idea. Oh well. Thanks for the pep-talk. Russ

    1. Russ,
      Isn’t it strange how some of us saw the light and made changes long ago, while others keep insisting there is no need. We too have been using wood to supplement heating for more than a decade. We have been powering our home with solar for more than 7 years. The prices have dropped dramatically and now it isn’t difficult to pay off the system in less than 15 years. The thing I don’t understand is the loyalty of the less wealthy to the corporate business-as-usual scenario that largely benefits the wealthy at the expense of the less wealthy. I keep wondering why people aren’t acting in their own self-interest!
      Investing in self-sufficiency, energy independence means we don’t need the corporations to live. How can we be worse off?

      1. Jody – yes, agree – don’t understand why folks don’t opt in their own interest. We’ve kept a database of electrical usage since moving here in 1975. So we know that prior to the hot water solar in 1988 the average annual usage for this all-electrical home was 37,500 kwhs. For the next 16 years, prior to the installation of the solar voltaic, the average annual usage was about 10,000 kwhs less. So in this thought experiment, if you multiply that difference by the current rate charged by our provider, $0.142/kwh, (and it has been more in prior years and in the summers) times the 30 years you get a tax-free “income” saving of $60,918. That is 15 times the cost of the original system of $4,100. During the 9 days without power during storm SANDY two years ago we lasted quite well on our battery power energized by 5kw of solar voltaic. We had hot water and a warm fire place. Our neighbors were scurrying around day and night looking for gas to fill up their roaring generators. But none of our neighbors asked about our system or wanted information or the name of a contractor. Russ

        1. Russ,
          It is astonishing that your neighbors didn’t see the value in what you had done especially after SANDY. Maybe it’s just human nature that some people avoid the crowds and strike out on their own, and others simply follow the herd. I love hearing stories from the pioneers! It gives me hope for humanity.

  6. RE: Stuff
    This week I was given a “swag” bag, connected to my off the farm job. It contained a fair amount of fruit (eaten) and a ton of candy (also eaten). It also, contained a plastic Halloween goblet with a ton of plastic creepy crawlers. Cute…but, talk about a waste in so many ways.
    Guilt over possessing and gilt over trashing, no escape.

    1. Give up the guilt! You do so much good in the world, accepting some sweet swag is a small thing for which to feel guilty. I’d feel guilty for eating the sweets!

          1. In his retirement my Grandfather moved off the farm to a small lot at the edge of a small rural town. He still kept a small barn with a couple sows. On one visit he was showing his grandson how he would wean piglets. I still recall his making a big deal about how the female piglets tended to be larger than their male sibs so he would separate them by gender once weaned. He even went to far as to attempt shaming the girls for being such hogs – and with his characteristic wry smile he said, “I call it gilt guilting”.

  7. Jody,
    You said: “the need for citrus in our diet” … and while I really like citrus – there really isn’t a substantial “need” for it our diet (as the Vitamin C donor). Many fruits contain vitamin C – tomatoes are excellent sources for instance, as are apples. Humans have long prevailed in climates without citrus.
    But this argument aside – as said, I like citrus very much and am just as excited by the much simpler approach of building a greenhouse to facilitate citrus production (and other tropicals) in our environments.
    And I also appreciate your enthusiasm for the creativity of the human mind and spirit. We can do so much once we understand what we are really up against (and so often, what we are really up against is us).
    I see there is a “new farm” in the offing. Fascinating. Keep us up to date with the progress.

    1. Clem,
      You’re right about other sources of Vitamin C. I sometimes forget about things like rose hips too. I love oranges when they are in season as well as grapefruit. Otherwise I eat mostly apples and we can easily grow them in our climate.
      The new farm is progressing. We are having the pole barn built this year. It will include kitchen space thus allowing me to do more canning there instead of at home. I plan to put up green house for tomatoes. That way I can start them early and harvest later, giving lots of opportunity for canning. My son who is studying to be a chef talks about doing a food truck business using produce from the farm. So opportunities there as well. I’ve also talked to one of my customers that grows cut flowers for the farmers market and is looking to expand production. We may partner on a piece of the ground for growing flowers. Then there is the wooded area where I’d like to do some mushroom production. It’s my retirement hobby farm!

      1. Ahh… the retirement hobby farm. Makes me think of a line from Hamlet:
        ‘To die, to sleep – to sleep – perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.’

        Before we shuffle off this mortal coil… in retirement… the hobby farm. I suffer the same dream myself. Is the 7 acres quite close by, or will you be moving there at some point? Any critters on the horizon – a rabbit hutch perchance, or some chickens? Or maybe you get really invested and try your hand at aquaculture??

        [suffer probably isn’t the word I should have chosen… but I’m going to leave it anyway]

        1. Shakespeare was an interesting writer. “Mortal coil”…conjures up an image of a spiral with souls reincarnating around each turn, hopefully going higher not lower.
          The farm is about 15 miles away from our home and no we don’t plan to leave our earthberm home. The new land is 3 miles away from land Soilmaker currently leases. So my main reason for buying the land is to move Soilmaker finished inventory and give up the lease on the current site. Our county won’t allow a composting business to be on land zoned agriculture and industrial zoned land starts at $38,000 per acre. Too far out of my price range! So I won’t be able to continue making compost at the new site. I will move all my finished compost and continue blending and selling soil until my inventory is gone. Maybe after 4 or 5 years. Then I will retire the business and see if one of my children wants to take over the land. While I’m there I’ll divert some of my attention from composting towards food production and teaching. I just like learning and trying new things.
          No animals, since we won’t live there. We had chickens, pot belly pigs, and dairy goats at the our last home/hobby farm and my husband said “Please, no more fencing!” Some times I miss having chickens and goats were a lot of fun but also a lot of work. I still take care of our three dogs, cat, an aquarium, and a guinea pig…..which is more than enough critters!

Comments are closed.