Writing in the January/February 2007 issue of Sierra magazine, Bill McKibben looks at our global warming predicament and offers some hopeful suggestions for stabilizing the climate. In his analysis he makes the following observation about how fossil fuels has transformed many of us as human beings:
And it's when you start thinking about those kinds of shifts that you understand what fossil fuel, with all its magic, has really produced. Not just wealth and global warming--but also a redefined human being, one far more individualistic than before. One, in the extreme American version, who lives in a big house (twice as big as in 1950) on the far edge of a distant suburb and drives everywhere (usually alone). One who depends very little on neighbors. In fact, one survey found that three-quarters of Americans don't even know their next-door neighbors, a novel condition for any human being at any time in history. (A novel condition, for that matter, for any primate.)
McKibben contrasts Americans with the more community-minded Europeans and points out that the greater emphasis on community results in the average European using only half of the energy that the average American uses. Unfortuately, believing that the trend toward increased individualism in the United States can be reversed quickly enough to combat global warming seems like a stretch. McKibben points to the increase in farmers’ markets with local produce as an example that the first step is being taken, however, the houses in the United States are still getting bigger and the suburbs are still being pushed further and further out from urban cores. If stopping global warming requires Americans to become more community oriented we may be in even bigger trouble than we think.