Headlines and soundbites in the media are increasingly sounding the alarm about rising fuel and food prices, food shortages and, here in my city, the early signs that our overinflated real estate market may finally be heading for a correction. There’s even talk of hard times coming.
And I say, BRING IT ON.
It’s true that these issues spell trouble for many people around the globe. But here in the Global North (to borrow a term from Raj Patel) it’s a painful transition that I believe is necessary for people to finally take a good, hard look at our collective lifestyle and our dependency on petroleum-based energy (not to mention fertilizer). And ultimately a change in lifestyle here will have direct and positive repercussions for those people currently suffering in other countries.
High food prices are leading more and more people to consider growing their own food. High fuel costs are going to affect imported goods to a greater extent than local goods, thus balancing pricing more in favour of the latter. High food prices make shopping at a farmer’s market seem more affordable. I think back to the war years of the Victory Garden and hope that a similar attitude starts to pervade our country.
High fuel costs just may prompt people to scrutinize their vehicle use and look for alternatives. It will also heavily punish those who moved out to the suburbs, embracing sprawl and traffic congestion. It made sense when gas was cheap and you could buy a 3000 sq foot house for the price of a downtown condo…but now that fuel prices are rising (and will only go up as our province introduces its Carbon Tax this July) it may make commuting less desirable as an option. Combine that with an increase in housing affordability and we may see the end of suburban sprawl, hopefully combined with a push to turn suburbs into community hubs where people can work and live in relatively close proximity.
Industrially, the high costs of fuel will prompt companies to seriously consider alternative forms of energy, as will – we hope – the carbon tax. And in a really great world the rising prices of fertilizer and transportation may just prompt a change in the way grow and distribute our food.
I’ll be the first one to admit that our family is in a great position to weather such a storm, so it’s easy for me to hold this attitude. We are virtually debt-free (stay tuned for next month’s Quarterly Check-in) and we are renters. We’ve got a healthy savings account (and when we do use it to fulfill our Dream of buying land, we will not overextend ourselves or take on more debt than we can comfortably handle). We’ve already started learning how to grow our own food, shop and eat local, and live frugally, avoiding the pitfalls of consumerism and easy credit. And when I read words like this from our very mainstream major newspaper…
For most of history…humans existed on a variety of locally grown grains and legumes and a smattering of meat. But today…grain that used to feed humans is now being grown to feed chickens and animals raised for their meat. What’s more, countries such as Nigeria that grow little wheat on their own have become accustomed to bread because of decades of international grain aid….The commodification of agriculture…is pushing small, versatile farmers off their lands and into cities, which may not be capable of coping with everyone’s food needs as prices rise or recessions set in.
The world has seen large-scale food shortages and spikes in commodity prices before, says Friedmann, but this time could be different. We have made obtaining food much more income dependent than ever before, she says.
“Even in the Depression in the 1930s, most people tended to know someone on a farm. They could barter for food. Doctors were paid in chickens. That is not the case anymore. If you don’t have money, you won’t eat well.”
…I actually feel hopeful. Perhaps this is the wakeup call we all need to return to a system of values that embraces frugality, simplicity, and self-sufficiency. Combine this with a growing recognition of the effects our actions have on the Earth, and things just might even seem downright rosy.