I will graduate this June, and then I will move somewhere else. While I don’t yet know where that “somewhere else” will be, I do know I will not want or need to bring most of what I own along with me. “Need” has taken on a new meaning to me recently, as recent events have given me a glimpse into a future for this world that is far from stable.
Generations before mine were raised to see their lives as stories of steady progress and growth. You go to school, you get a nice job, you fall in love and marry. You work your way up in your careerby being hardworking and loyal, and you steadily gain capital. You have children. You buy your first new car, you buy a house, you buy yourself more stability through flood insurance and fire insurance and health insurance and car insurance for events you suspect will never happen. You save money for a vacation here and there, you put your kids through college so they can follow in your footsteps, and then you retire. Well done.
I suppose there were times in my life when I ascribed to this life story. I suppose in some ways, by being a graduate student at age 24, about to leave academia and venture off into The Real World, I still am. Yet questions have arisen during my time on Earth that challenge this common understanding of the Plot Line for Life. I am a member of a capitalistic society that is running out of fuel. I am a citizen of a country that removed itself from the Paris Climate Agreement, whose president is actively working to undermine environmental protection agencies, research, and regulations, and who seems all too happy to provoke a similarly unstable authoritarian who is making threats of nuclear war. I am a citizen of a world that is in the midst of the largest extinction event in geologic history, and I am a member of a species that is at the root of thatextinction.
For me, “Anthropocene” and “apocalypse” have become virtually synonymous. I swipe through my phone and pause to watch a video of southern California going up in flames. I watch as hundreds of cars wind down a highway in a scene that seems so familiar, but I can’t place it. So I stop, think, and oh, right – this is the image of Hell that is branded into our brains from a young age, seemingly whether we grew up religious or not. This is the climax of the movie when theworld goes up in flames.
I don’t have a job lined up for the future or plans for kids and a house, but I plan to gather together the essentials for a bug-out bag this winter, so that I am ready to leave my home at a moment’s notice and never return. I plan to coordinate a way of communicating to and meeting up with my loved ones if an earthquake strikes, or a fire erupts, or a flood engulfs the Willamette Valley. And then, I plan to learn how to grow my own food, filter my water, and start a fire without a match. I plan to learn what I can eat in a forest without getting sick, and I plan to become more familiar with my local resources, in case our globalized systems collapse, and my world suddenly shrinks to a few hundred miles or less.
Do you think I’m crazy? Look at this world. Listen to the President of the United States. Look at the devastation from Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Harvey, the 210,000 gallons of oil that just spilled out of a pipeline in South Dakota, and tell me that the world isn’t crazy.
But this is the part of my post where I am supposed to offer a ray of hope, so I’m going to try. Have you heard of the Degrowth Movement? At the beginning of this term, Dr. Barbara Muraca gave a talk at the OSU Center for Humanities in which she presented some of the work she has been doing that looks into this movement. I have to be honest with you – I am still wrapping my head around Degrowth and what it means to undergo “downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet,” as it is described on an online forum for the movement. I am still imagining the implications, based on current power structures, for people of color and other underprivileged communities to transform toward “a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions.”
Yet, I am excited to see transformative movements gaining traction and earning respect in a university setting, and I plan to keep stoking my glimmers of optimism about the future of this planet by reading and learning about resilience thinking. I plan to keep surrounding myself with strong, passionate people who are ready to approach the future with creativity and wit, and I want to wiggle into that perfect niche where I am both useful and happy.
In the meantime, (and in the spirit of Degrowth), I need to get rid of a few things. Can you help? I have a pile of clothes I don’t wear, boxes of half-broken gadgets, and too many shoes. When I graduate and move out, do you want all my furniture? Do you want my old textbooks? Do you want my phone? Do you want to relieve me of this reflex to consume products I don’t need and resources I shouldn’t use? Do you want to help me start a garden? Do you want to teach me how to sew? I’m trying. I’m learning. And this is my plan for the Anthropocene.
— Lucia Hadella