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Twenty-something guide to WTF Happened to Your World

I know a fair number of people in the 20-30 age range.  And I’d like to say to all of you:  We’re sorry.  And if we’re not we damn well should be.  My generation (Boomers) have done a bangup job of taking a pretty good country and turning it to shit.

OK, so modern medicine has improved since I was a kid.  And I love the internet.  And yes, the air is cleaner than it was in the 70’s (though I’m sure we can ruin that, too)

Twenty-somethings grew up in a world where new technology was always just around the corner; where everything got smaller, faster and cheaper each year; where we as a society enjoyed an affluence never seen before in the history of the world.

But the cracks are starting to show, making themselves felt, and most of that is being noticed by you.  People my age are still cushioned by the undue confidence spawned by 30 years of relative affluence.

You guys can’t take that world for granted any more.  I’m pretty sure most of you have figured that out, largely due to graduating college with debt and no job prospects in your field.  We told you — we pretty much guaranteed you — that if you got “edumacated” you’d be as affluent and secure as we were.  Yeah, about that…

We built infrastructure, and now we’re letting it fall apart.  We’ve constructed communities where no one can get to a job or a grocery store without a  car. We allowed corporations to hog the fresh water supply, to spill their shit into the air and rivers and oceans, and then get off scott free by declaring bankruptcy or offshoring their finances, leaving you to pay the bill and suffer the consequences.  Energywise, we put all our eggs in the fossil fuel basket and now we’re losing our grip on that basket.  At the top of a flight of stairs.  And the floor is lava.

So, in a somewhat lame attempt to try and make it up to you all, I’m going to write down some ideas on dealing with the fabulous new “WTF World” you’ve been handed.

Part One: Learn to Keep Yourself Safe 

(because you can’t count on anyone else to save yo’ ass.)

Modern American society expects everything it desires to be available 24/7/365: Cash.  Snacks.  Meds. Gasoline.  Directions.  As things continue to change, it’s likely to be true less and less.  If you wrap your brain around this new reality now, you’ll save yourself (and maybe others) time and trouble down the bumpy road.

Gasoline: you know how irritational people get at the gas station right before a three-day weekend?  Now imagine if one or two of those gasoline tanker deliveries don’t make it to the station on time.  Avoid the rush by never letting your tank get below 1/3 full.

Food&drink: “Hangry” is definitely a thing, and nobody likes it.  Your vehicle should always contain a few granola bars and a couple extra bottles of water.  Ditto your desk and/or locker.  Do you really want to wade through floodwaters, only to die fighting a guy at the Quick Mart for the last Tasty Kake?  Didn’t think so.

Cash Moneys: Always have $20 in the glove compartment, and a ten stashed in your purse or the back of your wallet.   Between credit system hackers, power outages, and local equipment failures, you’re gonna need cash eventually to obtain the aforementioned gasoline, food or water.

More thoughts later, and remember kids, “Always know where your towel’s at.”

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Innocence Abroad

It was 1979, and Freddie Laker’s Skytrain was offering $100 flights to London.  My best friend Linda and I were both wrapping up our senior years at college, and Europe on a shoestring beckoned.  Unfortunately, Freddie’s fleet of DC10s was grounded (some sort of giant crack in the fuselage caused the engines to fall off midflight and hit Jake Gyllenhaal on the head, or something like that) just before we were due to leave.   I graduated a week before Linda did, and managed to make my escape from the desertlike climes of LAX by sitting at the PanAm desk for 48 hours straight, until I reached the front of the standby line.

I’ve always been a planner.   I was a girl scout for only a year, but “be prepared” sank in.  When someone went on a journey in a book or TV show, I would carefully note what they put in their saddlebags or rucksack.  Going to Europe would be the ultimate test of my finely-honed prep skills.  Could I manage with only two pairs of shoes?  (yes)   Would I be mugged on a London back street? (no)  Could I survive spending only $9 a day? (poor nutrition for the win.) Did I really need to pack a skirt for the spontaneous dinner date with a handsome Italian grad student? (a world of no).

Having planned for nearly every issue (the drunken English businessman who tried to drag me into his Morris Mini was, admittedly, unforeseen), my first week in London went pretty well.  Then Linda arrived and blew my strategies all to hell and back.  She lost a fair chunk of cash a week into the trip.  We ended up staying in BnBs that featured cockroaches so large we could have employed them as bodyguards on our late-night dammit-we’re-lost-again-but-we-can’t-afford-a-bus wanderings.

Linda found it hilarious that my OCD had caused me to treat a trip to Europe as if it were a trek through the Amazonian rainforest; but I drew a solid satisfaction from being able to produce Excedrin, kleenex, or a packet of cookies at the opportune moment.  Granted, I was unprepared for the food poisoning, but it turns out that miming abdominal agony in an Italian farmacia will get you some powerful OTC meds.  (The colorful, hallucinatory side effects also made Milan look like Fantasyland, a distinct improvement over reality).   After two months’ travel I got back home with $14 to spare.

The one thing we never had to do was beg strangers for resources.  While I can see how having to do so might possibly have set our feet on an interesting path, my trust issues cause me to believe that we were better off for our preparedness.  I haven’t had great experiences with relying on others to save my bacon, so I prefer to be the one offering help rather than asking for help that may not come.

So, hurricane Sandy (how’s that for a leap?).   People with plenty of warning and time to evacuate, who found themselves sitting in their attics with the water up to their necks.  People roaming the streets in the aftermath, literally yelling for someone to bring them food and fuel.  People who, weeks later, were still pissed as all get out that no one had saved them from mother nature.  And way too few people showing any guts, gumption or forethought, or creativity in dealing with the situation.  There were some sterling exceptions, and they give me hope for the human race.  But my overall impression was that natural selection sure as hell ain’t been working in the great state of New York.

The rest of us shouldn’t get all smug and superior.  We are, most of us, far too dependent on an uninterrupted supply of electricity, clean tap water, waste removal, gasoline and heating oil, and groceries.  With bizarre weather becoming more and more common, the smart money is on becoming more prepared for the excitement that is bound to come our way.

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Is it hot in here or is it just me?

As a committed environmentalist, I would love to see global carbon levels drop, or at least stop rising.  (Even if only as a personal comfort measure, because ever since menopause I tolerate hot weather even worse than I did before.)  And I appreciate and admire the unstinting efforts of the many educated, thoughtful people who continue to raise the alarm about carbon levels affecting the world’s climate.

But does anyone who knows anything about human nature really believe that we, as a country or as a world, will voluntarily give up our fossil-fuel based comforts to avoid something that may or may not harm us personally, sometime in the next 20-50 years?

Think of how many people regularly go out and drink to excess.  They KNOW what the following day will bring, sure as the sun will rise: puking, monster headache, an empty wallet if you’ve been drinking at a bar, and possibly horrible photos of you posted to the interwebs.  And yet even though the consequences are personal, reliable, and violently unpleasant, the next weekend is pretty much like the previous one.

How much more difficult is it to convince at least 50% of the population (because we still vote on things like this) that they should add inconvenience, extra labor, exhaustion and sometimes actual misery to their already-burdened lives, for a benefit they consider both unlikely and of dubious merit?

You can make as many laws and regulations as you like, but an unconvinced and unwilling populace will eventually find a way to burn every last calorie, joule and watt of fossil fuel based energy.

I’m just saying, I think environmentalists need to move on, and spend our energies in more fruitful tasks.  We can re-green our forests (no one will argue against that); we can encourage clean renewable energy sources; we can help our neighbors learn to grow their own food; we can transition our communities to cater more to pedestrians and use local resources; and we can start planning now for the disruptions likely to occur as a result of climate change.  There is enough work in these fields alone to occupy every environmentalist for a lifetime.

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