I’ve looked forward to meeting Rick Reese since I read his thoughtful and highly readable book What is Sustainable: Remembering Our Way Home a year ago.
Rick’s driving question is “what is genuine sustainability?” In his just-published Sustainable or Bust, he reviews over 60 books to glean the wisdom of traditional cultures, big-picture thinkers, and thoughtful observers. His reflections are short, clear and friendly, and often spiced with a wry wit. He posts the chapters on his blog Wild Ancestors.
We videoed Rick beside the Williamette River in Oregon, where sustainable cultures lived for thousands of years before white colonization. I asked him: “What would a sustainable culture that’s post-industrial civilization look like?” (Hint: no soil mining (till-based agriculture), no metals mining, no water mining…you get the drift).
Despite his clear-eyed observation that humanity’s imprint on the planet is patently unsustainable, Rick remains an optimist. He dreams of humans returning to a life that is wild and free — the way we lived before civilizations imprisoned us. How we get there is anybody’s guess, and he cheerfully admits we who are living today won’t be around to see how it turns out.
Here’s a taste of his thinking, from our email correspondence:
“I’m interested in promoting the notion of genuine sustainability. Our current mode of living is the opposite. We can’t return to sustainability any time soon, but we can learn about it, understand what it means, and share this knowledge with others — especially the young.
For 20 years, I’ve been trying to comprehend the Earth Crisis, and ways to move beyond it. The more I learn, the more complicated it becomes. Humans quit being ordinary animals when we became addicted to tools. As our tools became more powerful, our numbers increased — and this cycle is repeating at an ever-increasing rate. It’s about to explode.
Collapse is a normal component of every civilization’s life cycle. Our civilization has become global in many ways, and Peak Everything is sure to pull the rug out from under us. We are moving into the biggest collapse in human history, and it’s unavoidable, because the temporary bubble of cheap and abundant energy is wheezing. This, plus changing climate, ensures that this century will be a painful time of major change.
Collapse will eventually end our current way of life permanently. Our societies will become much smaller, slower, and simpler. We will be forced to develop new ways of living, and it would be awesome if we could deliberately pursue genuine sustainability. This will not be easy. We will have to reject numerous unsustainable alternatives that will be easier.
The better we understand genuine sustainability, the better our odds for surviving another century or more. It would be intelligent to promote the discussion of this issue, while a global communication system still exists, and before the lights go out.
Watch What is Sustainability (episode 271). Pick up his books. His work deserves a much wider audience, especially for those wanting not to repeat history’s mistakes.