Youth of all income levels also confront future global climate challenges such as sea levels likely to flood Sacramento and other low-lying areas, increasingly intense weather and likely flooding from rivers, as well as ocean acidification and overfishing which will collapse the oceanic food chain unless we act immediately. We confront peak oil, and also nuclear arsenals which could cause a nuclear winter sufficient to counteract global warming and incidentally obliterate civilization.
Yet well-meaning adults just say that youth must resolutely avoid drugs and gangs, and instead go to college, get a good job, live in a nice, air-conditioned house with a tidy mow-and-blow unsustainable lawn, and put lots of money in a 401k (where it’s rarely invested sustainably) for later. In ordinary times, this might be a good idea. But this advice is based on double standards and wishful thinking, two key reasons the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When the carrot is rotten, the stick is useless.
First, drug prohibition and enforcement are based on bad science, a terrible example for youthful students. And when law enforcement gets to define who is in a gang and who is not, without unbiased and due process, who is really choosing? Pretending that youth can truly choose when cops get all the power to label them is just wishful thinking.Although drug abuse is dead-end behavior, prohibition and prison is a cure worse than the disease. We must reform this prohibition that supports organized criminal gangs and political campaign corruption, and we must not allow police and prison spending to exceed (or even approach) educational spending. We reversed Prohibition in the 1930s and we can do it again. Besides, our incarceration rates are unsustainable.
So to resolve problems of drugs, gangs, and guns, adult society (that’s you and me!) must substitute respect and truth for double standards and wishful thinking. Let us do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us remove the beam from our own eye before complaining about the speck in our neighbor's.
Second, colleges (as well as high schools) are not teaching youth (of any income level) what they need to know to build an ecologically sustainable future. While much of the information may be there, it is rarely presented in a coordinated way.Although low-income youth are naturally preoccupied by more immediate survival concerns, there are solutions to our ecological and sustainability challenges which would effectively address just such worries. Substantial reductions in energy use and huge improvements in social issues such as health care costs and jobs are available simultaneously and quickly, but only if done right.
And authoritarianism is our cultural illness which now prevents us from doing it right. We have been treating Mother Earth like a slave, and we must start treating her—and each other—with friendship and kindness. We must replace competition with co-operation. Individual competition means you can’t win unless someone else loses. Only through co-operation and community can we all win.
It's Not About Money
The classical story of Midas shows us the limitations of money. Midas, granted a wish by Dionysus, wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. "So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold cursed his prayer." Some say his family were also turned into gold statues.
When Dionysus heard Midas’ plaint, he relented and told him how to reverse his wish, whereupon “Midas, now hating wealth and splendor, moved to the country, and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields."
The physical and mental challenge of building a sustainable society is real and crucial enough to banish boredom and fulfill and focus all the strong and impatient energy of all young men and women.The first step to achieving ecological and social sustainability—true security—is, like Midas, to go back to the fields. We all need clean air and water, healthy food, and warmth, and we can only get them from Mother Earth. Professors can make economics seem very complicated, but it really has just two steps. First, we take resources from Mother Earth. Then we help each other by shaping these resources to meet our true needs.
Reclaiming traditional, low-tech crafts and trades is the most efficient and effective way to use Mother Earth’s resources and to meet our needs. History lists these skills, and some grandmothers and grandfathers still remember how. One hundred years ago in the deep South, people of color knew how to live—comfortably—off the land. Even now, other people of color living even further south still use these precious skills, when not preempted by forced inclusion in the monetary, corporate, globalized cash cow.
These traditions include no-spray, well-composted, biodynamic and permaculture gardens and small farms with both vegetable and animal crops. They include food fermentation, drying, and other traditional methods of preservation. They include spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, and tanning. They include carpentry, metal-working, plumbing, and building designs that are naturally cool in summer and warm in winter. They include health care wisdom based on healthy food, plenty of exercise and sleep, and the herbs and minerals Mother Earth offers.
All but one or two of these traditional industries were developed and practiced by prehistoric illiterate peasants who were smart enough to notice what was really good for them. Early American pioneer homesteads also practiced these traditions, which are our birthright. In fact, modern industrial civilization is just a very much larger and more specialized version of the traditional farmstead.
But the military-industrial-corporate-government-advertising complex has conned us into trading our birthright for a mess of pottage and empty profits. The love of money is the root of all evil. We can’t expect officials or CEOs to help us create a sustainable future by recreating these traditions in a cooperative way. We must just do it ourselves, by relearning sustainable ways, reclaiming our government, and kicking our dead-end habit of fossil fuel addiction and abuse.
Let’s cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in half in just 5 years, to 1950 levels. If not us, who? If not now, when? Why wait until gasoline costs $50 or $100 a gallon? (And no, nuclear power isn’t sustainable either, because it requires far too much fossil fuel for mining and refining, not to mention the unsolved waste storage issue.)
As addictive fuel use is reduced in our personal lives, space appears for other more wholesome aspects of life, such as breathing fresh air, walking to the garden, biking to the store, cooking locally-grown healthy food for friends and family, relearning the traditional crafts that many still practice as hobbies, raising our own children, and minimizing the taxes owed to a government that is using most of our money to buy weapons to protect the empire based on that very same oil addiction.
This is a future that would create all the jobs needed for anyone who is willing to put in an honest day’s work. And a lot of unhealthy habits—such as driving to work, fighting ‘blight’ with unsustainable over-irrigated, over-pesticided and useless lawns that need mowing & blowing all the time, buying packaged preserved and junk foods that are highly processed and trucked long distances, expensive gym fees, widespread depression, worrying about whether someone is breaking into your house or abusing your kid while you're all at the office, etc.
Now we all know that politicians are beholden to big corporations that think this kind of sustainability is bad for (their) business. So we should just do it ourselves, now, and not wait for the President, governors, or Congress. We don’t need ‘economic growth’ and we don’t need a lot of money to do this. We just need to do it, together. There’s nothing stopping us from living traditionally and sustainably—starting now. We will all be happier and healthier after recovery from our addiction.