Nope, you can’t have everything (and that means everyone)

The question of electricity (and where it comes from) has been much on the minds of South Africans lately.

Ongoing entrenched problems at the nation’s power utility mean we suffer from “load shedding” – rotational power cuts, aimed at preventing the national grid from collapse. (There’s a good explainer here).

The latest round of these power cuts happened at around the same time as sustained international news coverage of COP26 and the climate crisis.

In our house at least, all of that has meant a lot of discussion about energy: renewable, non-renewable, solar, wind, coal, fossil fuels, CO2… none of us are experts, but we are relatively well-informed and have our opinions and thoughts.

It struck me though that energy and where it comes from is just a small part of a much bigger picture.

It’s not a new thought that the population of the globe (7.9 billion people) might be outstripping the capacity of the earth to support human life. This article puts that in sobering perspective (emphasis mine):

…world numbers are projected to reach 8 billion around 2023, … (and) expected to level off around 10 to 12 billion by 2100. This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

Yep: carry on as we are, and eventually start starving to death. That’s not a pretty thought.

Here’s a slightly prettier one: a mindset adjustment means we might make it through this.

And that means adopting one simple motto: we can’t have everything.

For instance: Maybe the expectation of always-on electricity, everywhere in the world is too ambitious? Perhaps we could all do with having two hours a day when the lights go off (yes, the people in the US and Europe too)? After all, many millions of people live without any electricity at all.

Covid-19 has brought this home in savage ways: we have learned to live with less in all sorts of ways, for fear of death. Less travel, less time with people we love, less money. In the face of a wave of disaster, we are being forced to cut back, to live more simply.

And I think the climate crisis means we all have to cut back to what is sustainable, rather than what is desirable.

Writer Ryan Holiday brings this down to the personal. He says (my emphasis) : “Work, family, scene. Pick two.”

Work is creative output, he says, family is your close personal relationships, scene is the fun stuff that comes along with success.

He concludes: “Life is about tradeoffs. When we know what to say no to, and we know why, we can say yes with comfort and confidence to the things that matter. To the things that last. Work, family, scene. You can have two if you say no to one. If you can’t, you’ll have none.”

So, perhaps this is the way things will be now: we need to learn to say no to growth and greed, to be content with less, to accept that good enough is better than perfect.

Perhaps humanity can learn to be adult, finally?

Main picture: Pop & Zebra, Unsplash

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