When I left Moab in 2015 to care for my aging parents, I was disheartened by how much Moab had prostituted itself to the tourist industry. It’s worse now.
A realization came to me. Two things live by unlimited growth: cancer, and the monetary economy. Neither can say, “Enough. Let’s stop now.”
Listen to any politician. Sit in on any city council meetings anywhere. Notice one unwavering rule: Do not question the holy mantra of unlimited economic growth!
Moab’s economy never really was sustainable. It was once a uranium economy and now it’s a tourist economy.
What little sustainability it had—local farms and orchards—has mostly been plowed under, sacrificed to the idol of commerce.
A year before I left Moab, I saw “Wrenched,” a documentary about author Edward Abbey and his influence on modern eco-activism. The film played in Star Hall to an overflowing audience, followed by a panel discussion with friends of Edward Abbey.
The passion for the environment was high. But it dawned on me that everyone was talking about everything but the root of the problem: lack of local sustainability. Nary a word was breathed about it. I myself didn’t speak up.
We all knew that even the most avid environmentalists, including Abbey himself, couldn’t live in Moab to discuss “monkey-wrenching” without our unsustainable, non-local economy: tourism, wallowing in fossil fuels and waste. Monkey-wrenching has its place, but it makes no sense fighting the dragon in the day and feeding it at night.
I did bring this up in a later discussion. An enlightened-looking man argued he didn’t want to knock tourism, because it brought in Moab’s “progressives.” I then realized this was about image.
But I can’t single out anybody to blame. The problem is systemic: you simply can’t make a monetary living growing local food, though food is our life!
For example, consider this absurdity: shipping apples from the other side of the earth, like from New Zealand, or importing grapes from the southern hemisphere, for example from Chile, is cheaper than simply growing them right here.
Less than a decade ago, a group of us volunteered to grow and process food on a little Moab farm–the joy of our lives. Our farm manager sold the produce at the Moab Farmers Market.
Even so, the farm couldn’t even break even, despite our free labor. And, despite him selling below cost, customers still complained about his high prices!
On the other hand, my friends and I were oblivious to this monetary crisis. We lived directly from the produce, took no pay, and camped out. I knew that if we all forgot about money and simply enjoyed the land’s bounty like raccoons, wrens, and rodents, we could live both locally sustainable and happy.
But I wasn’t naive and knew not everybody could live this way–at least not easily.
This got me thinking. By its inherent nature, the monetary economy always evolves toward non-local production. Money’s very purpose is to trade for non-local goods and services. Money must separate the consumer from the producer. Money is obsolete in a truly local economy. Money currencies evolved when indigenous tribes wanted items from far away, items they didn’t need.
In other words, money creates distance and removes accountability–cutting off face-to-face interaction and removing us from the visible consequences of our actions. Why would you want to exploit the shoemaker or dump sludge in her yard when she is your neighbor?
The monetary economy’s inherent nature is the unintentional exploitation of others and the environment, often unawares. For example, who really knows that our iPhones destroy the Congo? Out of sight, out of mind.
A year before I saw “Wrenched,” I also saw “Uranium Drive-In” at Star Hall. The film is about a proposed uranium mill in the destitute town of Naturita, CO, which residents hoped would lift the town from depression, while environmental activists from nearby wealthy Telluride protested it.
I admired how the film presented both sides, showing the problem isn’t black and white. It is a wonderful illustration of the divide between conservatives and liberals. However, again, both the film and the related discussions dodged the root of the problem: how to make Naturita locally sustainable.
Yes, the solution is starkly obvious: local sustainability. It’s not so simple to achieve, yet all solutions come by first acknowledging the problem. Like in a twelve-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, you’ll never get anywhere without step one.
When environmentalists acknowledge the true issue, when city councils dare step outside the dogma of commerce and say, “Enough. Let’s stop now,” then healing’s first step begins, here and for the whole world.
Then, I will dare say, money would start going obsolete. But that thought is too “extreme” for most folks to handle, so forget I said that... for now.