No More Phones

The following blog is the third article submitted to us by one of SPP’s Western Pond Turtle Inmate Technicians.  Although we may not agree with all he says, we think it is a well thought out and interesting presentation of the challenges and possibilities of building a sustainable world.  We want to thank Mr. Anglemyer for sharing his meaningful perspective.

By Mr. Anglemyer, Western Pond Turtle Inmate Technician

Simulation done by NASA showing CO2 in the earth's atmosphere.

Simulation done by NASA showing CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere.

The following is my attempt to put the climate crisis into an analogy that defines the seriousness of the problem and how easy it is to become distracted from it by short term goals, wants and the ostensible necessities that we all seem to be obsessed with.

Nothing seems more important to people nowadays than their phones, so I’ve decided to use a phone analogy in order to be as relevant as possible. Let’s say that: Everyone has a cell phone that runs off the same communal battery. This battery has been around forever; before phones and even people. It belongs to no one and everyone (including non-human animals) at the same time. This battery has a really long life–four to five billion years or so. Unfortunately, this battery has no gauge to tell how much of a charge it has left; it is impossible to tell when it will run out. The battery can recharge itself to a limited degree, yet it never recharges faster than its optimum potential and it will recharge slower (or even to the point where the recharging is not sufficient to stop the battery from depleting) depending on the amount of use.  Moreover, its recharging capacity will become permanently damaged by extreme over use.

All the phones will die if the battery is depleted completely. The battery cannot recharge itself if it is drained below half of its capacity. Once it passes the threshold of half charged to below half charged, that’s it. It will run down its last half charge and then go out forever, done, dead, kaput!

As long as the battery is kept charged above half full, it will continue to recharge itself and will be around for a very long time– the aforesaid five billion years. The problem is, although the battery will continue to hold a charge for a long time, the time that it takes for it to go from above half charged to below half-charged will happen in an instant. Because there is not a battery gauge it is necessary to be conservative with phone use and liberal in regards of charging the phone, right? That seems rational, does it not?

Let’s think of the planet as analogous with the phone/battery described above; a phone that will last for eons; a phone that we depend on.  It is the only phone that we’ll ever have access to.  The phone just needs to be kept charged above half at all times.  This means that it is our duty to conserve use and be careful with how we use the phone.  If we hand the phone over to our children only half-charged they will not be able to recharge it. It will last them and their children, and their children’s children (maybe longer, maybe not, definitely not equally in terms of quality); but it will never be recharged again. It will have a lifespan that is a small fraction of the four to five billion years.

The ability of the battery to recharge in this analogy is similar to how the planet’s ecosystems work to keep the planet healthy. The degradation of the battery represents the degradation of the ecosystems which sustain the planet in a livable form. The air, water, and soil are all necessary for life. Their degradation to a point which they are unable to regenerate themselves is the end of…well…the end of everything (at least as far as we’re concerned). These elements regenerate as long as the plants and animals that support their health are not destroyed, poisoned, or overharvested past the point of their own ability to replenish themselves. Once the soil and the animals that contribute to its ability to regenerate die out forever–it’s, as they say in showbiz, a wrap.

No more phones — forever. No more planet–forever.  All that had to be done to prevent this tragedy was for people to take a stance on the side of caution, dial down their consumption, and put an end to their wastefulness; thusly, allowing the ecosystems to heal.  Instead it looks like our species (and many others, thanks to our myopic actions) is soon to be evicted from this world–like loud, destructive, and messy tenets from a rental (and rightly so, if we don’t change our ways).

I know this is an oversimplified analogy. I’ve probably failed to put it down in an articulate way–the way it made sense in my head.  I’m not a professional writer. I’m not a professional scientist. I’m not a philosopher. I’m just some dude in prison with lots of time to think.  I may be wrong. The climate might not be becoming unlivable; the animals may not be becoming extinct; and, if they are, our species’ activities might not be the cause. But, if, there’s the slightest chance that they are, and we are causing it, wouldn’t it be sensible to be extremely cautious with regards to the impacts we impose upon them?

Anglemyer holding an federally threatened Oregon spotted frog. Photo credit: Sadie Gilliom

Anglemyer holding a federally threatened Oregon spotted frog. Photo credit: Sadie Gilliom

The thing that worries me though is that if I have come to these conclusions about playing it safe when it comes to our planet: why haven’t most of the extensively smart and caring individuals that have been elected to represent us in the legislature come to the same conclusions?

I’m sure that many of them would say that I’ve been brainwashed by environmentalist propaganda.  They’d say that I’m anti-business, or even anti-American.  Others might just make excuses for how change happens slowly, or how we’re just not ready to make the jump to a “green lifestyle/economy.” I’d retort by accusing them of being the lapdogs of industrialism and imperialism.  But sadly, they’re not alone.  We’ve all been enchanted by the spell of industrialism.  We all live and depend on the conveniences and privileges that Industrialism and Imperialism force upon us–privileges and conveniences that addicted us to an extremely unsustainable and wasteful lifestyle.

Recently, we had some people come out and give an estimate of what it would take to set up a solar powered shack. They gave a well-researched, thorough presentation. I felt so discouraged when it was over; Thousands of dollars for initial setup and one huge battery to run only four 100 watt heat lamps. At the time I remember thinking: “What a bummer! I really thought that solar power had come much further than that.” I had fallen victim to the energy addiction that industrialism has to offer. In reality, 400 watts of power is a lot of power. It is plenty to reasonably light a house, but it’s not enough to keep up with our excessive demand for energy.

A model of the proposed solar power unit for the turtle shed. Photo credit: Sadie Gilliom

A model of the proposed solar power unit for the turtle shed. Photo credit: Sadie Gilliom

We’re going to have to say goodbye to lots of the things we have become reliant on, before a sustainable—and healed—world is possible. This means that instead of depending on others to feed us, we are going to have to become responsible for growing our own food. This means cities will have to transform drastically from their current state of existence. This means that, our economy is going to have to change as well. We’re going to have to figure out new ways to feed and entertain ourselves, hopefully we can. We all might become more responsible family members, friends, neighbors (as people connected to their land bases usually are) … you know, better HUMANS, more connected to each other than with our stuff.

These changes are going to be fought against by many of us. “What do you mean I can’t have bacon and cheese on everything!? What do you mean I can’t have avocados in February? What do you mean I can’t drive a monster truck that gets 6 miles to the gallon? I’m an American! Which means that I can have whatever I want whenever I want it, and do whatever I want whenever I want to!” I can hear it now. Indeed, I do hear it now—it seems to be the attitude that many people have when told that things they have become accustomed to are destroying the planet’s ability to sustain life.

Switching back to the phone/battery metaphor, people with the above attitudes want to use their phones more and more. More data, more apps, more Google searches for meaningless trivia or celebrity gossip, more and more till the battery is drained past half and can never be recharged.

So when you hear some politician or plutocrat and their commercials spouting slogans like “energy independence,” “economic stability,” “more middle-class jobs,” “make America great again,” realize that they’re peddling the destruction of everything and everyone in the future in order to make gluttons of themselves in the present. They want to run the battery out as quickly as possible. They want to bleed the planet dry as quickly as possible, and they are relying on us to be complicit (or at least complaisant) in the waste. They are selling what we have been buying for centuries; the same myopic idea of utilitarian use and pervasive domination that got us into our current crisis.

It is an easy sell. Change towards a sustainable world is going to be hard work. I mean literally and figuratively. It will entail the literal, hard physical, work of growing food and raising animals and tearing up parking lots and renovating office buildings into more useful structures. It will entail the figurative, mental and emotional work of reimagining social organizations and power structures. (So much more could be written about these aspects, but this is a blog, not a book.) It’s a shameful fact that the hard physical work that sustains our agriculture and construction industries has been consigned, for the most part, to the most vulnerable of our population—the undocumented and uneducated, the marginalized and the poverty-stricken. If sustainability is to become a reality everyone is going to have to do their share of labor (real labor that produces needed things). The changing of deeply ingrained ideas is going to be a lot harder. It may take a very long time; and, it may never be completely finished.

So instead of running down the battery watching NASCAR on your 60 inch television, playing fantasy football, immersing in presidential politics, becoming obsessed with the latest exercise or diet fad—or some other wholly insane and preposterous activity, try thinking about what you have been buying all these years and why you need it (or don’t). Realize that it’s been easy for sellers to peddle these things/attitudes to you, because irresponsibility and gluttony sell themselves—especially when their disguised as inevitabilities that are going to be bought with or without your consent.

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