My parents were born at the beginning of the Great Depression. My grandparents struggled to provide what was needed for their families. My father's first pair of shoes were hand-made by my grandfather using leather cut from the seat of a Model A Ford pickup. My mother's parents migrated from the Dust Bowl conditions in Oklahoma to raise their family as migrant farm workers in California. They all worked hard to build better lives for their children and grandchildren. So did most others of their generations, and they succeeded. By the mid-1950's things were much improved from the depression and the war years -- and the future looked even better.
Most families had a car, and modern appliances in their homes made their lives better. Highways were built and improved across the nation. Radio, and then television, brought news and entertainment directly into their homes and cars. Their children, including me and others of my generation, did indeed live better lives as a result. My generation, in our turn, followed the example set by our parents and grandparents, working to build even better things for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. We also succeeded (by some measures of "success").
Always there were among us those who said "you know, I miss some of the things from those old harder times". Always there are some who long to return to the (often mis-remembered or imagined) simplicity of life during those old days. As an example, in 1971 John Prine wrote "Paradise", a song which laments his inability to reclaim the joys of his - or his father's - youth.
"Paradise" - This recording made July 19, 2020 at The Pour House Deck, James, South Carolina by Solid Country Gold was found at <https://archive.org/details/scg2020-07-19.peluso.flac16>
And Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County?
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay.
Well, I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away.
Sadly, our efforts to build better lives for ourselves have resulted in a great deal of destruction -- and that "progress" we made may actually end up killing us all much sooner than nearly any of us imagined. I hope I'm wrong, but I really do think that within my lifetime we'll be living in a much-simplified world with much less intensive use of encapsulated (or fossil) energy sources. The process of degrowth that gets us there may be a rapid but planned and relatively smooth one, or it may be a chaotic apocalyptic collapse of human societies along with most other species and ecosystems. While I can't predict which route we'll take to get there I'm fairly certain we'll end up living in an almost pre-industrial society: small communities focused on local production of most goods and services.
My grandchildren may well end up looking back longingly at this "paradise" of today that we've built for them, remembering how their whole lives seemed to be anchored by connections available to them on their cell phones, tablets, and computers. "Remember when we could just order anything we wanted and have it delivered right to our door?", whether it was a burger and ice-cold soda from across town, or the latest gotta-have gadget or clothes from the other side of the planet. Remember when there were millions of us whose work and lives were all dependent on the internet and global supply chains?
Those things and more are likely to become scarce in our lives, luxury items if available at all. What will I be able to say to my great-grandchildren? Unfortunately, probably not much more than "I'm sorry."
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