ConsumerismGlobal Warming/Climate ChangeSociety

The Question of Turning Back the Clock

I woke up this morning hoping to send some emails and get a bit of computer work done before heading out to take the sheep out to pasture, cut some greens for the ducks, and change the sprinklers. As has often been the case during the past couple months, however, the vortex of the internet has led me down the rabbit hole of seemingly endless reports and gloomy analyses relating to the imminent crises caused by climate change, biodiversity loss, and as one report put it, “the end of nature.”

It´s hard to not pay attention, especially to reputable commentaries such as the October 2018 IPCC report which pretty much lays the cards on the table as far as the climatic disasters we´re creating. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is set to release another gloomy report in May of this year looking at how the loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is also a direct threat to our long-term wellbeing. I´ll probably spend some time getting depressed while reading through that one as well.

What really disheartens me, however, are the proposed solutions set forth by academics, activists, and others. I just recently finished reading Jeremy Rifkin´s book titled “The Third Industrial Revolution.” The basic theme of the book is that if our political leaders can get their act together and make the transition towards a world powered by renewable energies, electrical cars, and decentralized “smart grids”, the mantra of global economic growth powered by infinite consumer demand can continue unimpeded.

The Green New Deal as proposed by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez seems to follow a similar logic: our economy needs to continue to grow and expand, though prioritizing those areas of business that lead to the decarbonization of our economy. We need to fly less, she says, but we´ll make up for the economic losses in the aviation industry by building millions of miles of a high speed rail network powered by millions of solar panels and wind turbines across the country.

“The show must go on,” as Roger Waters tells us, and our civilization seems perfectly incapable of questioning the fundamental elements of our livelihoods that have led us to the brink. Instead of taking backwards steps away from the precipice that is fast approaching, we seem to only accelerate our pace, trusting that magical engineers will come up with a way to build a bridge or perhaps trusting that our increasingly velocity will simply wonderfully project us into a better future.

While I have all the respect in the world for those young, student climate activists who are skipping school to demand important climatic actions, I have yet to hear any sort of meaningful, profound, and consequential calls for action. In one sense, it seems pretty obvious: centuries of unprecedented economic growth fueled by access to cheap fossil fuels and exacerbated by increasing consumer demand that always comes with affluence has completely ruptured the balance that is required for healthy ecosystems to sustain life.

The simple solution? Reverse that trend. Stop growth. Limit our consumer desires. Restrain technology.  Accept the natural limitations and boundaries that come with being a species on this earth that we share. The problem of course, is that none of that sounds very sexy. Limitations, restraint, and boundaries are not things that people get excited about. Try and build a political career around that platform and see how far you get.

It´s much more rousing to promote solutions that sound futuristic. The Third Industrial Revolution. The Green Economy. Electric cars and solar panels, and smart homes and connected grids. These solutions, however exciting they may sound, are just a continuation of the economic growth paradigm; a furthering of our attempt to technologically control and manipulate the world for the advancement of comfortable, consumer lifestyles.

In one of the news reports I read this morning, one of the young climate activists who participated in the recent school strikes for climate action was talking about how indigenous people around the world offered knowledge and wisdom that could be useful in helping us to find solutions to the global ecological crises that threaten our future. She said something along the lines of: “of course we can´t turn back the clock to live like indigenous people do, but we can learn from their values.”

Why can´t we turn back the clock? What would that entail? Why is that 99.99% of people would accept that statement as an undeniable truth? These are questions that I think get to the heart of the matter and that need to be honestly dealt with as we search for ways to avoid the catastrophes that appear ever closer on the horizon.

If turning back the clock means living simpler lives, travelling less, being more attached to the places that offer us sustenance, reducing our dependence on the technological wonders that only reinforce our control of the planet and our separation from the natural world, perhaps turning back the clock is exactly what we need.

Turning back the clock most likely means that we will have to reverse the trend of urbanization. There needs to be less office jobs and more field work, less smooth, manicured computer hands and more rough and calloused farmer´s hands. We need to increase the “eyes to acres” ratio of our rural areas, and have more people directly involved with natural economies that can provide a sustainable sustenance for placed communities.

Turning back the clock means advancing the proximity of our lives and livelihoods to the ecosystems and watersheds that provide for us. The closer we are to the world that surrounds us, the more we will feel the effects of our economies and the better equipped we will be to tailor our lives to a greater sense of balance.

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

Tobias Roberts

After working in the development industry for over a decade, Tobias decided it was time to stop advising Central American farmers how to do things if he didn´t have a piece of land to live coherently with what he taught. Together with his family he runs a small agro-forestry farm, tourism cooperative, and natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador.


  1. Thank you for having put in words my thoughts,as I agree that it is important to turn the clock back… to experience time in its own time, to look up the sky and see the stars have moved and cut brumbles ànd see the weaving of plànts which support one another. We have to learn observing nature and its creatures to improve ourselves, as masanobu fukuoka says. Thank you again

  2. First of all this is the most annoying site to post comments to. The verification should be AFTER you type in the information, so you don’t lose it when the recaptcha gets you. I’m a doom and gloom person, but all I worry about is what I can do myself. I have a food forest in the middle of a town of lawns, so when I pass away the wildlife can survive and do what they do best, spread seeds all over, so if everything and every human becomes a thing of the past, nature all around can regenerate from what I left behind. I do not expect a nuclear attack, just stupid people continuing to committing suicide while not even knowing that’s what they are doing.

  3. The main sources of media and the government are both currently serving the interest of centralized large corporations and the very wealthy. Our entire capitalist financial model relies on wealth extraction from natural resources and labor – that’s why the interests of “capital” are primary. So a degrowth model will never gain traction in the public domain. In the US there are 6 large corporations that control all news outlets. It is not in their best interest to promote real solutions because it would seriously erode their bottom line.

  4. we at [email protected] live for Mother Earth . We practice REGRESSIVE ECONOMICS AND MICRO-ECONOMICS. if we cannot afford the electricity….we are happy with candles . EAT WHAT GROWS AT YOUR FEET said Masanobu Fukuoka.
    Regression is our only way forward. Carmeno was so right with his statements. and stop flight travel ? how radical >>>> but we gotta do it. soon everyone will be holidaying on youtube hahaha that will be fun….and cheap too. [ we do it now ] and it leaves no footprint. an economy based on tourism is UNECONOMIC . kind thoughts david

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