My name is Dillon Naber Cruz and I am an addict. As an addict, I know that when I act upon my addiction, I hurt other people, I hurt the planet, and I hurt myself in the process. Though I know these things, I seemingly remain powerless to stop the cycle of addiction and I continue to use of all of the things that are causing so much damage to me and others.
I am addicted to having electricity on demand. It doesn’t matter if I wake up in the middle of the night, which is a frequent occurrence with me as a result of PTSD, I want to be able to turn on EVERYTHING that I own at will, regardless of the costs to my global neighbors, my local bioregion, and the planet itself. I am addicted to having electrical power whenever and where ever I am. I use that electrical power to write this blog, cool my bedroom at night, have lights on in rooms sometimes even if no one is in them, amongst many other uses of electricity. Sure it’s true that I do pay extra to purchase my electricity from suppliers who provide it from renewable sources, but the fact remains that I am addicted to on demand electricity, which is seriously contributing to climate change and will make it all the harder to adjust to a time when on demand electricity is no longer available due to resource depletion.
I am addicted to entertainment. Spectator sports, sitcoms on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, movies, video games, podcasts, books, and the occasional night out to see an concert all make up the overwhelming amount of choices that I as an American take for granted when it comes to being entertained. Of course, all of this entertainment comes with a price in terms of electricity, electronic devices to watch it or play it all on. Then there are the questionable cultural practices resulting from the entertainment world that skews reality such as the absurd amount of money that athletes, film and TV stars make in relation to their actual societal contributions and the amount of waste that is generated by the press as they report even the most mundane and quotidian details of their lives and livelihoods. We are able to be entertained 24 hours a day 7 days a week and as a result I am addicted to it.
I am addicted to cheap gasoline that allows me to drive all over the place, whenever I so choose. It’s true I do walk a great deal more than most Americans and I ride a scooter that gets “excellent” gas mileage as my personal primary transport rather than buying a second car, but sometimes I just jump in our truck and drive around the county for no other purpose than to pass the time and take in the scenery. I do this despite knowing that burning fossil fuels is contributing to rampant climate change by adding too much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and knowing that we are well above the 350 p.p.m. of atmospheric carbon dioxide that ensures a relatively stable climate. I’ve lived most of my life in America where we as a culture seemingly feel entitled to fill our vehicles up with ludicrously cheap gasoline to drive, drive, drive, our outsized SUVs, sports cars, and pickups without regard to anything or anyone. Our nation fights wars, deposes democratically elected leaders, and essentially steals the wealth of other nations to feed our heroine like addiction to gas and oil. Millions of lives are lost so I can drive with or without real purpose. Like drug dealers who peddle their poisons to children, politicians get paid handsomely to enact laws that ensure the maintenance of the fossil fuel status quo, keeping the citizen’s addicted to oil, while hindering any real, achievable change in terms of advancing transportation technology, environmental safety, and innovation while actively ignoring the incredibly real phenomenon of peak oil. My habits and patterns of transportation prove that I too am addicted to oil and gasoline.
I am addicted to feeling comfortable. Sure, sometimes during the day I wait until it is over 80 degrees on the first floor of our modest two bedroom home before I turn on the window unit air conditioner, but many summer days I choose to turn it on so I can feel cooler despite the fact that I grew up in Texas without air conditioning. In the winter, I turn the thermostat on the heater up to 65-67 degrees so I can be warm. The colder it is outdoors, the harder my heating system has to work, thereby burning more natural gas, just to keep the indoor temperature up to spring like levels even in the dead of winter. I also shower frequently, sometimes everyday, thus using up and potentially polluting precious water (depending on the personal hygiene products used) as well as burning more fossil fuels to heat the water. In so doing, I am allowing vanity to override my concern for the planet and its people.
I’m addicted to convenience, ease, and choice when it comes to food and drinks. Though I lament the packaging that much of the food I buy comes in, I buy it anyway contributing to the massive amounts of waste that ends up filling the landfill in the southern area of the county where I live. Rather than exclusively buying whole foods and cooking things from scratch, I often purchase prepackaged items like frozen pizzas, cookies, pastas, condiments, sauces, beverages, and so on seemingly ad infinitum. Though I do grow some of my own produce, mostly vegetables, I also buy fruits and vegetables even when they are out of season and have to be shipped hundreds if not thousands of miles from where they are grown to my plate, so I can eat whatever I want at any time of the year, which is definitely working against nature. I know that eating seasonal, local and organic produce would be far better for my local economy and the planet in general but I remain addicted to choice and convenience.
Some people reading this may be thinking, “What are you talking about? That’s basically what everyone in America does.” Those saying that would of course be correct, most everyone does do those things, and herein lies the problem. As Bill Bryson notes in his excellent book At Home: A short history of private life we are profligate in our use of resources in a way that globally speaking is avaricious. To give the gist of Bryson’s point, the average person in Tanzania takes an entire year to use the resources that it takes the average American to use in less than 29 HOURS. Our rapacious greed in consuming resources is incredibly wasteful and also hinders the potential and quality of life of billions of our global neighbors, all of whom are equally worthy of comfort, safety, and convenience as we are. Of course, many people in America have no idea about this disparity in resource utilization and the quality of life it engenders for us nor does the average American know a great deal about the comeuppance we in the industrialized world will receive when peak oil (along with peaks in natural gas, uranium, and coal) becomes unquestionably the reality if we choose not to transition to a much more intelligent and resilient way of life that must include personal and societal sacrifice. We can do better, we are called to do better, and if we want to survive, we sure as hell better do better.
One of the principles of permaculture is to make the least change for the greatest effect. Despite the confessions outlined above, I have made many changes to my life and continue to make them in order to live more lightly on the Earth and to treat my global neighbors better. Clearly though, I have a long way to go, and identifying my addictions to what I call “American Privilege” is a good first step. This is not said in order that I sink into a torpor of self loathing and guilt–nor is it to guilt trip for you who may reflect on your own life and patterns of consumption as a result of reading this. Rather it is in the spirit of the self audit, as outlined by David Holmgren in his book Permaculture: Principles and pathways beyond sustainability, which is an excellent tool for self assessment so one can begin to make changes both large and small to live more equitably with our global neighbors thus embodying the Golden Rule- or the Rule of Reciprocity as it is also known. The twelve principles of permaculture as presented in Holmgren’s book could be seen as a great 12 step program for humanity to design a world that is free of fossil fuel addiction. I pray for the strength to implement it in my own life.
Peace be with you.