We have a freshly bought bag of birdseed on our staircase, ready for the bird feeder. I bought it to entertain the cats and us. I have never seen a Titmouse, Nuthatch, Junco, Ruby Throated hummingbird, red-headed or downy woodpecker so close-up before. I keep buying the seed, Its an obligation. Lately, our seed is getting wasted on a set of four house finches I call “the teenagers”, who hog the feeder and eat it all up before the virtuous (and striking) Chickadees can take advantage.
- Our use of the birdseed is exchange of cash for a good that we derive pleasure from: birds at the back window.
- The obligation itself is a currency. I feel bad if I fail to feed these birds
- Decades ago, we might’ve used the birds as an industrial feedstock, Centuries ago, we might have used the birdseed to trap the birds for food. Millennia ago, we would’ve been glad to eat the birdseed ourselves, as we had no idea how to grow it.
- The birds come not to entertain us, but to eat food that is easier to get on the trees. The cats watch not to look cute to us, but because they want to eat the birds. We only have the surplus cash to set up this system because we have eaten and we are warm. The foundation is still eating though.
- If the cats could turn the doorknob or the birds break the window, they could mine the resources beyond. If they could transmit this knowledge, like Blue Tits on milk bottles, then they could start a global revolution. Even a Petunia would destroy the world if it could. Life is about expansion, not steady state. Technology is the story of overcoming these barriers. Living in balance with nature means dying as often as we are born. You first.
- Eudaemonia is a poor model to prescribe for the way birds consume. Greed is an honest emotion. It is not a relationship of virtue, but convenience, and I would nit expect any more. The finches see a resource, and they exploit it. If women are having children out of wedlock, people are driving SUVs, or we eat in restaurants more than we once did, it is because we can afford to, not because we are evil.
We are not going to consume our way out of climate change, we are going to collapse our way out of it. The rising Gini index in the West, the even faster rising Gini index in the cities, and the eroding middle class are all caused by an economy made to deliver the spoils to the victor and the innovator, and only them. For the increasing majority of humanity, monetary wealth is becoming as relevant as high fashion.
Money was once the sole province of the truly powerful. With the Incan empire or Cahokia, food was once the province of the powerful. Money only became relevant to most people with industrialization and globalization. It is not so hard to imagine a next step, when we care about money as much as we care about food. Easy to get enough, but getting too much is just wasteful. We have better things to do, after all. Money is just an abstraction of food, shelter and connection. Our carbon use is just an abstraction of a very specific way of getting money. When we were few and didn’t burn anything for more than warmth, we didn’t use much Carbon. When we are many and don’t need electricity for much more than checking the internet, we won’t use much Carbon either. There’s not that many jobs around anymore. If winner take all, what is the point of having kids? Collapse.
Like the birds outside our window, we know where the good stuff is. As with the agricultural revolution replacing hunting/gathering as a lifestyle, and the industrial revolution replacing agriculture as a lifestyle, the information revolution is going to replace things and money as goals with, Experiences? Projects? Connections? I am as adept at predicting the currency of the future as someone from 1720 would have been at predicting a toaster. The notion of money and farming will still be there, but only in a supporting role. They will no longer be so interesting to us.
The reason climate change is so feared is because it is a Jeremiad of doom based on current behavior. Early agricultural economies required a lot of labor, ironically to grow enough food to support a lot of workers. Industrial economies required a lot of money, and were infamous for replacing labor and ingenuity from the middle of the 17th century onwards. It stands to reason that the next step will require a lot of thought, and will make labor and money so cheap as to be irrelevant. It may make nature irrelevant, but we will still need to eat.