Following Naess, Leopold, and other natural philosophers, we have devised three precepts for a post-fossil-fuel society. First, we must recognize that we are one of many species on this planet. Second, we must work to mimic successful natural systems and live off of the planet’s surpluses. And third, we must prefer the simple to the complex, and the complex to the complicated.
One of Many
Human beings’ ability to think has enabled us to overvalue our position on Earth. While we can out-think insects, they out-eat us, out-weigh us, and out-number us. Metacognition, or our ability to think about thinking, ourselves, and our place in the world, however, has endowed humans with hubris. Many cultural traditions, not just the Judeo-Christian ones, believe that the world was created for humans. Anything that is not human is considered a resource for humans to exploit. Every animal, plant, and mineral is thought to be just waiting for a human to come along to use and/or destroy it. Instead, we must recognize that we are one species on the planet, and just like every other organism, we have evolved with special traits. We are not the fastest or the strongest, nor do we have sharp claws or dangerous teeth; our specialty is thinking and communicating. That is all. These abilities have granted us an out-sized influence on the world and dominion over other organisms, but with this power comes responsibility. We have been shirking our responsibility and abusing our influence. We must take a more objective view of life on Earth and use that perspective to reign in our arrogance.
We live in a post-Englightenment society and (most of us) believe that science and careful study can lead to greater understanding of the world, often through experimentation. Nature has been running experiments in survival for over four billion years, since the beginning of life on Earth. While we are quick to share the latest scientific discovery on social media, we are loathe to critically examine our own way of life when compared to the many experiments carried out by nature. For example, no species has survived by exhausting its resources, yet we appear hell-bent on burning the last drop of oil. No other omnivore depends so completely on so few species of plants as we do, and furthermore, no mammals, including us, have adapted to survive on such high consumption of cereals and grains. Successful species, that is, those that have stable populations and have survived for millions of years, share a number of traits. First, they depend on the sun, decomposing organics, or geothermal heat for external sources of energy. Second, successful species respect their resources: wolves eat the young, old, and sick prey animals, leaving the herd to reproduce, and herbivores migrate to fresh pastures, leaving the exhausted ones to regenerate. Third, omnivores survive because they eat a wide variety of foods, akin to having a diverse stock portfolio: if one “stock” fails, they can eat more of the others. We ignore the successful adaptations around us at our peril. We knowingly overtax our environment by using more resources than necessary.
Simple > Complex > Complicated
We purposefully complicate our lives and call it progress. Living depends on five actions: sleeping, eating, drinking, breathing, and eliminating (plus procreation when we discuss the continuation of species). From a minimalist point of view, everything we do beyond fulfilling these five-plus actions is an added complication. This critique labels almost all jobs in the industrialized world as complications. Most of us do not build our own shelters or beds, grow or even cook our own food, gather our drinking water, ferment our favorite beverages, or worry about our bodily waste. On a daily basis, we must only decide in which way we wish to fulfill our needs. Most of our time is really spent in pursuit of diversions. Of course many of our diversions are exciting and bring us great joy: art, music, sports, story-telling, and games. Our society, though takes for granted the fulfillment of the five actions and consequently has shifted its focus to the fulfilling of diversions. Furthermore, the way in which we fulfill our needs has become incredibly complicated. We must eliminate the complications, reduce complexity, and champion the simple and straightforward. The more of our five actions that we can see to for ourselves, the better.