Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Teen angst is not a new theme in society, but I think that all of the issues of the past that caused it have been ratcheted up about a ba-zillion notches. When I was teenager in the mid 70s my mind was consumed with girls, and cars, and working (to make money for gas for the car to meet girls) and occasionally I thought about school stuff. I lived in the suburbs but they didn’t seem like a bad place to be at the time. Everyone lived in the suburbs didn’t they?
The band Rush had a song in 1982 called “Subdivisions” including the lyrics
“Subdivisions... in the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out...”
Heavens knows James Kunstler (author of “The Long Emergency”) has made a career out of trashing suburbia. He calls suburbia the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the planet. In a post peak-oil world he understands the problem with living in suburbia.
Some of today’s youth seem to get it. And they get it at a much deeper level than I can conceptualize of at that age. Last year our daughter Katie was living in a vegan coop at The University of Toronto. Whenever we visited I’d make a point of meeting the other students living there. They were a socially aware group of young people and it was great to find out what they were studying but also what causes they were involved in.
I was talking to one of her roommates one day who was pretty pumped because he’d just finished his Master’s thesis. I asked him what it was about. It had a long complicated title, but as best I can remember it was basically about the impact of peak-oil on resources. I felt like saying “Huh? Peak oil? You’ve heard about Peak Oil? You shouldn’t have even heard about this stuff!” I certainly don’t discuss it around my daughters. But not only have some of these young people heard about peak oil, and climate change, and experiencing the effects of the economic collapse, they seem to really grasp the enormity and consequences of it all.
I began to wonder what impact this would have on a young person’s mindset. I know the effect it has on me at age 50, but what about a 20-year-old? At 20 I saw nothing but good times and endless possibilities. Today? If I were 20 I’d be living in my parents’ basement trying to log my 10,000 hours on “Call of Duty.”
And why not? Their parents helped screw up the system. They sucked up all the easy oil to live the suburbs. And now they’re taking up all the good jobs and they refuse to retire so that young people can have a shot. Oh, and when they finally do retire they’ll suck up and bankrupt public pensions and the healthcare system. Yikes.
My daughters are part of this exceptionally intelligent generation. Along with being smart and worldly, and having a great sense of humor, they both have excellent taste in music. While Michelle was upstairs home schooling them during their elementary years, I was in the basement running our business, and playing music loud, so I feel that I can take credit for their taste in music.
My daughters recently introduced me to a great band from Montreal called Arcade Fire. (They recently won the Grammy for Best New Album of the Year.) Bands today are just better than they used to be. They’re somehow tighter, they have better production abilities, they write more haunting melodies, I can’t describe it but everything today is more advanced and complex and I think music is too. One of my daughters gave me Arcade Fire’s new album (at my age we still call them “albums”) called “The Suburbs” and it’s quite amazing. The music is great but the lyrics are just hauntingly insightful. How do people so young get to be so smart? They were obviously not spending all of their time on the football field in high school.
There is a great song called “The Suburbs”.
One of their lyrics talks about the quality of the houses built in the post-war boom when the suburbs were born…
“When all of the walls that they built in the 70’s finally fall,
And all of the houses they built in the 70’s finally fall.”
Where do young people get these ideas? I was living in a relatively new suburban house in the 70’s and I never once gave any thought to what the walls were made of. Recently we had an electrician here for some one-on-one consulting about off-grid solar and wind, and he was talking about a new subdivision he has been working on. These brand new houses consisted of a layer of drywall inside, fiberglass insulation, 1-inch rigid insulation on the outside and then a layer of vinyl siding that was screwed right into the rigid insulation (i.e. made directly from a barrel of oil). If you were into karate and you punched your wall and missed the stud, you could punch your fist right through the house!
And I love this lyric for the song;
“So can you understand, why I want a daughter while I’m still young
I want to hold her hand, show her some beauty before all this damage is done.”
I always wanted daughters. I would have loved to have a son, but I treasure my daughters. And they’re smart and funny and bright lights. And I hope they’ve seen some beauty in their lives. We’ve taken them to some beautiful places in North America, but now if they want to see some beauty with their dad the best they’re going to get is this 150 acres when they visit. And it is beautiful. And I will continue to nurture and protect it so the ponds can clean the water, the trees can clean the air and the soil can grown healthy food. And I will continue trying to learn from the wisdom that is locked in the rocks and trees and earth that has been here for millennium and will be dispensing that wisdom long after I’m gone.