We are the ones we have been waiting for


  • Earth Day 2020, 50th anniversary STAFF ILLUSTRATION/ANDY CASTILLO

Published: 4/24/2020 8:17:17 AM
Modified: 4/24/2020 8:17:06 AM

When the college semester was canceled, I headed home. I was somewhat disappointed to return to rurality, where it felt like time moved slow. However, in this coronavirus era of the anthropocene, I have witnessed the vigor of neighbors on my dirt road and the adaptability of local economy. In this turbulence, small towns are the best places to live in and learn from. To navigate towards functional societies, the systems of awareness and involvement intrinsic to small communities must be implemented on a greater scale.

We are living in unprecedented times. For 50 years, sustainability researchers have warned that our growth economy can only last so long on a planet of finite resources. Urged forward by profit motives and an ever-increasing debt load, humanity is now exhausting 1.75 planets worth of biocapacity. In tandem with our dangerously inefficient consumption, we have disconnected from what it means to be human. Our current living situations are not true habitats; they are not places that should provide everything we need to live. Reliance upon global trade reinforces greediness that digs our environmental and economic hole deeper.

Loneliness, a response to isolation, has been proven to weaken the immune system. More people live alone now than ever before. Orders to remain at home makes knowing your neighbors important. As herbalist and poet Dori Midnight writes, “It is already time that we might want to know who in our neighborhood has cancer, who is old, who has extra water, [and] who has a root cellar.” Strengthening ties and forming new bonds keeps loneliness at bay. By uplifting your locality, personal health rises as well.

There has been talk of getting things back to normal. Many accurately recognize the “business as usual” attitude of normalcy as the cause of current global falterings. We have been living in a disaster. This is the crisis that can open our eyes to it. A future with people in it is dependent upon a degrowth economy. As Serge Latouche, a leading thinker on the subject, explains, “The movement for a ‘degrowth society’ is radically different from the recession that is widespread today. Degrowth does not mean the decay or suffering often imagined by those new to this concept. Instead, degrowth can be compared to a healthy diet voluntarily undertaken to improve a person’s well-being, while negative economic growth can be compared to starvation.” For people around the world starvation has been a reality. That reality is now encroaching on those who believed themselves exempt from this struggle.

I have seen small businesses like farm stands, restaurants, and co-ops succeed because they are based in community interdependence. Guidelines of distancing reinforce awareness of others. We are slowed down and think more consciously about interactions. These are mainstays of small-town life, and will emerge as normalities in a smarter future. Expect the power of collaboration and horizontally-networked business to play a great role. The most potent choice we can make now, is very simply, to know each other. Organize a neighborhood knowledge exchange of skills and there will be gratification through coalition. Necessary measures include a return to the land, and a return of industry. The fifth largest crop in the U.S. is the lawn. Creating your own garden is not just a hippie’s tool for self-sustenance, but an intensely political act that reduces your dependency on failed ideologies of exponential growth.

I have been participating in a mask-making effort, hosted by the Launch Space in Orange. To make these masks, polypropylene totes are disassembled. Community members sew patterns, sterilize, and they’re off to regional hospitals. When I cut these bags apart and watch the “made in China” tag fall, there is an irony that leads to optimism. These totes, traveling thousands of miles, immediately become waste or, at best, the bag that holds other bags in the back of a drawer. Now these symbols of our unsustainable global economy are being upcycled by townspeople on factory floors that were once vibrant with generations of industry. The wasteful lifecycle of these materials is re-envisioned to make the masks that literally keep our communities alive. Many of these bags were donated from a local bank, blue fabric emblazoned with “Your money. Your community.” May it be clear that your money will not be enough.

This period has shown that we must think and act beyond the metrics of an antiquated economy. It is time to look beyond oneself and prioritize the vitality of our collective. Your commitment. Your community.

Levi Baruch, 20 is an Orange resident and a junior at Wesleyan University studying sociology, studio art and writing.


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