Seldom does a day go by when someone or other doesn’t pronounce the American lifestyle doomed. Our cars will kill the planet, our cities will kill the planet or our very existence will kill the planet. We’re just wrong, wrong, wrong and we some person who is “right” feels the need to tell us what to do to save ourselves and everybody else.
Let me say first off, I have no sympathy whatsoever for the overpopulation alarmists. Nine times out of ten they’re crypto-eugenicists who are absolutely terrified of the countries where people are still having children above the replacement rate (places where people have dark skin… coincidence? I think not!). These are the very same people who feel that we ought to blanket all of Africa in a layer of latex to prevent “them” from ever being a threat to our self-indulgent existence. These folks are worse than the hippies — at least the hippies are willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to sustainable living (even though I’d rather see the hippies compromise when it comes to hygiene) — these folks think that shopping at Whole Foods and posting child-hating comments on blogs fulfills their duties as stewards of the earth (unless they’re not shopping at Whole Foods because corporations are evil. Lucky for us the Zero Population Growth crowd is a self-correcting problem in the long term… we just have to live with their blatant hypocrisy in the interim.
More reasonable opponents of the American lifestyle fall into two categories. The first are what I’ll call “Walden Pond Hippies.” They think we need to go back to the land and leave our cities and suburbs to fallow. While they certainly have sympathies with the crypto-eugenicists, and share their distaste for homo sapiens sapiens, the Walden Pond Hippies envision a new America based on a return to farming small towns and local commerce. And in a sense, the Hippies aren’t too far off from a livable idea — the Amish already live the life they foresee in a fairly complete way. And you can’t find people who more honestly live a substantial portion of the American dream than the Amish. Not to mention, the Amish do Steampunk in real life. In no other country could you find people like this. It just would not work.
Unfortunately, the WPH’s still want things modern things like electricity, which is where their plan (as opposed to the Amish) starts to break down. Rural living is hideously energy inefficient. There’s a reason why New York City is the most energy efficient portion of the United States, no matter how much the WPH’s despise it — density breeds efficiency. Even the Amish would have to change their lifestyles in “Hippymerica,” as they don’t oppose technology like Luddites, they just don’t want to let technology disrupt their community life. They still profit from our fancy American lifestyle, albeit indirectly. In “Hippymerica” this would no longer be possible.
The second group of opponents to the American lifestyle are what I’ll call “Effete Europeans.” Noting the flaw in the WPH argument — their proposed alternative is profligate in energy — the Effete Europeans insist on urban living as the real answer. Goodbye Levittown, hello Hell’s Kitchen. The problem with this argument is again all in the density — people who don’t have space generally don’t reproduce. There are a number of reasons why fertility rates in Europe are in the toilet but the one I want to harp on here is simple — when you’re stuck living in your tiny apartment (or worse still your parents’ tiny apartment, which appears to be the European norm), you’re not going to have kids. Which two European countries have the highest fertility rates? Ireland and France the two countries whose love affair with the land (and in France’s case, with farming specifically) hasn’t been consumed by faceless urbanism. “Euramerica” would look just like the worst parts of Amsterdam only with more cynical gun-toting conservatives. Call me unimpressed.
And so we’re left with America’s Choice: The Suburb. Sure it’s energy intensive — but not as bad as “Hippymerica” and we’ll for sure have a lot more space for the kids necessary to preserve Western Civilization than in “Euramerica.” Truth, Justice and Subdivisions. We have a long way in terms of things like energy efficiency, but if saving the planet means living in Walden or Amsterdam, then I’m all for investing heavily in space travel right now. I hear that real estate on Mars is pretty cheap these days and the views are out of this world…