Interview - David Room (2/2)
The following is an edited transcript of an interview that I conducted
in late November 2005 with Policy Director of the Post Carbon Institute
David Room, at his home in West Oakland, California. In part two of
the interview, David spoke about our grossly inefficient housing
paradigm, the sorrow that will result from the dispersion of our family
and friends, and the inhuman cruelty of our global goods supply chains.
http://www.postcarbon.org for more.
Let's talk a little bit about shelter. We have this notion in the
United States about what our housing arrangement looks like. And the
dream -- which I tend to want to call the American Illusion, as opposed
to being the American Dream -- the dream is that we all can have a
single-family house, and by today's standards, it's palatial! I mean,
the ones that they're building now, they're 2000, 3000 square feet.
There's no thought into solar orientation. There's no natural
materials. It's a housing situation that fits a cookie-cutter business
for developing a huge number of homes in a very quick manner. In a way
that creates a product that many people want.
There's a lot of problems with this, especially if we're talking about
the suburban developments, because they use a tremendous amount of
energy. So as we think about our concepts of shelter, and the need to
reinvent them, we need to look to ways that we can provide housing that
do not require tremendous amounts of energy, that do not require us to
use materials that are shipped from all across the world, that do not
require us to cut down our forests, our remaining old-growth forests.
We need to get an understanding, or reinvent, these ideas around
sheltering ourselves, such that we can do it in a way that's much more
ecologically sustainable, such that it creates good, worthwhile jobs,
such that it creates community. It allows us to enhance community,
because in the energy-scarce future, the real social security will be
being on good terms with your neighbours. So we need to figure out how
our living arrangement can support that, can support us being on good
terms with our neighbours, being friends, being there, showing up for
other people who live near us. It's going to be very, very important.
* * *
I actually believe that there's going to be a lot of sorrow in the world
due to the mass dispersion of people. It seems to me that we've
dispersed more than ever, basically chasing paycheques. I mean, people
move all the time for jobs, and they're not necessarily moving within a
county, or a general area, we're talking about moving across the
country, or even across the world these days. And people are so spread
out, it's hard to find -- at least people in my circle -- a family where
everybody lives near each other. It is very, very rare.
And if I look at my current situation, if I say, How many friends can I
walk to? We're talking about less than a handful. Well, I'm excluding
my neighbours. My neighbours are my friends because we live right next
to each other, but if I'm talking about friends that I've had for a long
time, people that I've had heart connections with over the years, very,
very few live within 10 blocks of here, if even a couple miles.
So, my sense is, we've come to have this notion of mobility, where we're
able to go from point A anywhere in the world to point B anywhere in the
world in less than 24 hours, and most of the time, less than 6 hours.
So we can get up in the morning in San Francisco, and be in New York for
dinner, party in New York, get up the next morning, and fly back to San
Francisco, and have lunch with a friend! So we've got this arrangement
going where we believe that it's this small world.
"It's a small world." This is ingrained from childhood. I mean, think
back to Disneyland. Most people have been there, and go through the
little tunnel, the little mechanical dolls are singing, "It's a small
world after all." That gets built upon as we go through life, and we
meet people. Serendipitous encounters that are probably statistically
ordinary. We meet people, and we say, "Well, who do you know?" They
say who they know. They say, "Well, I know so and so." And all of a
sudden, you've got a connection. Like I said, statistically ordinary in
a world where people are just zipping around in cars, in trains, in
automobiles, in planes. In that world, you will run into people, and it
will seem like, "Oh, it's a small world!" But it's only because we're
able to have this hyper-mobility that's completely dependent on fossil
fuels, that's completely dependent on oil.
So what's going to happen when there's much less oil? Well, it's no
longer going to be a small world, the world's going to seem a lot
bigger. And the problem here is going to be that people are so
separated. I'm worried about people being stranded on the other side of
the country, or in a different state, or even in a large state like
California, southern and northern California, a huge distance between
us. And that distance which we're used to traversing in such a quick
and easy manner is going to seem very arduous in the future, in the
energy-scarce future, in the energy-constrained future.
* * *
Our system, the global economic system in which we live, allows us to
make choices, without any consideration of the impact of those choices
on other peoples, or other beings on the planet. And the reason is, is
we've created this layer of abstraction that hides the tremendous
complexity, the amazingly complex supply chains that link all across the
world to provide us with these goods that we want.
The layer of abstraction is the retail outlet. The big box, it embodies
it. We just go down there and provide money, and they're able to
provide us these goods. So the only decision-making criteria that
mainstream America uses is price! Price, and the desirability of that
specific model of the good. And by the way, there's probably 20 to 30
to 50 of that exact thing that may have a little tweak on it, because
it's been done by a different company, or it's been made to fit a
But the point here is that when we go in to this store, we provide our
money based on price, the ecological impact of what happens beyond the
layer of abstraction, that happens in the complexity of the supply
chain, is unknown to us. So we're not thinking about the mountains in
the eastern United States that have had their tops cleaved off, and the
rubble from the mountain is pushed down into the valleys where rivers
are. We're not thinking of that, when we're thinking about the
coal-fired energy that we're able to enjoy by flicking the switch.
We're not thinking about the people in China and India that are working
in these tremendously large sweatshops, and we're talking about the
scale of a sweatsohp that you would not even imagine,
sweatshops with thousands of people squeezed in next to each other,
doing monotonous factory work, in a way that is certainly damaging to
their health, and they're not getting paid for it. Besides that, it's
probably not being done in a way that's ecologically sustainable. Or,
let's just be clear: It's NOT being done in a way that's ecologically
So, we don't notice any of that, because we've externalized it, and
we're just looking at cost. The sad thing is that it seems like there's
a global race to the bottom, with respect to production of our goods.
Other countries that covet our business are aiming to provide the lowest
cost production to our large companies, like Wal-Mart and Target and
these other large entities that are trying to provide us with the
absolute cheapest goods.
What happens is, when we go to these places, and we are looking for the
absolute lowest cost, well, it means that the workers are going to be
paid the absolutely lowest cost, and it means that there's going to be
no consideration, or very, very little consideration, to what the
impacts on the local environment are.
Now, in the future... the future's going to be a little different,
because we're going to have to be a lot more local, for most of the
things that we need on a daily basis. Now I'm not saying that trade's
going to go away. Trade will be around, trade has been around for
thousands of years. It's just the scale of trade, where we're dependent
on trade for the things that we need on a daily basis, the scale of
trade is going to change. Things are going to get much more local, and
that's going to mean that we're going to have to move production here
locally, for local
When we have production here locally, we're going to have to do it in a
way that's much more ecologically sustainable. Because the impacts of
our production are going to be felt by the people consuming the goods.
We're going to look and see, How is the new production and manufacturing
that's going on here, how is that impacting our rivers? How is that
impacting our air? How is that impacting the things that are important
And if it's a local business, the beauty of a local business is, I can
go over there and knock on the door. and if the owner isn't there in
the facility right then, he lives down the way. So there's some things
that we can do when we see some soot, some smoke coming out of the
stack, or there's a noxious odour in the air. We can cut those things
off. This is not what's happening in the global economic system right
now. We have a situation where those things are not part of our
decision-making process. Now as we move forward, we can incorporate all
these things that have been left out: the social treatment of the
workers, the way we deal with our environment, and how we interact with
the ecological systems. When we have the control of production, we can
work that production into our lives in a way that works better for us.
http://www.postcarbon.org for more.