Lately, I've noticed that gas prices and the state of the economy are at the tip of everyone's tongues. In an ad I heard on the radio yesterday, a woman's solemn voice announced, "We are a country of consumers. But that's okay." But in America, it seems as though we are always pulled in different directions when it comes to consumption: we have to consume to keep the economy going, but our consumption habits are not sustainable. We have built the American way of life by embracing excess, and the talk of fuel prices and economical hardships scare the crap out of us - because in order to change our world for the better, it is possible (and even probable) that we'll have to radically rethink the way we spend our money and our time.
I don't like to think that the downturn of the economy and the tension surrounding petroleum is the beginning of the end. But I do think that the only change that will positively impact the environment is on a much larger scale than building a few green homes or driving a Hybrid. Not to say that these things aren't a step in the right direction - but they're not enough. It seems that the first step in creating change in the world is to change perspectives - starting with young people. If we do need to head towards sustainability, it's important to consider where the things that we need in our daily lives actually come from. Emily wrote a post about local foods recently, and to take it in that same direction, I'd like to mention a movement that I heard about recently: the Makers movement.
My grandfather, who died about six years ago, was an engineer. He built model airplanes, fixed his glasses with duct tape, and often modified things to fit his needs using only household supplies. When the California sun through the sliding-glass door made the house unbearably hot during the summer, he rigged a porch screen using tarps and rope to keep the sun out. After he lost the use of two of his fingers from a jackhammer injury during WWII, he modified his flute with some O-rings and wire so that he could still play. He is probably the reason why I am fascinated with the ideology of the Makers movement: he taught me that it is incredibly empowering to create or fix things using your own hands. And it seems like that idea will be incredibly useful to anyone who wants to affect change on an individual level.
Another, perhaps tenuously connected, but important part of that movement for me is the relatively new online fibers and textiles community. Men and women from all over the country, and some from around the world, share the things that they're knitting, crocheting, and sewing, and often branch out into the realm of cooking, gardening, and other craftsmanship. Not only is the aesthetic appealing, but the practicality is there: yes, it is useful to be able to make socks for your children, or a wool sweater for your father. Some skills like this have been cast off as antiquated or anti-feminist because they used to typically be classified as "women's work", but there has been a reclamation of practical crafts, due in part to the recent trendiness of knitting. And it is comforting for me to know that people have been knitting for hundreds of years, well before the advent of electricity and industry - because that means that no matter the changes that the world undergoes in the next few years, there will always be sheep, there will always be yarn, and I can always knit a sweater to wear on the coldest of winter days.