Guest Commentary

Is Mother Earth about to get rid of us--or can we save ourselves by living sustainably?

According to the prophecies of the seventh-century Maya sage/King Pacal Votan and the ancient Tibetan teachings of the Kalachakra, as well as those of the Hopi and the Inca, in less than four winters--during the year we call 2012--Mother Earth will destroy the humans. She will destroy them by means of natural disasters, they say, because humans have become greedy and violent and have abused her. She will rid herself of them, because they have thrown away the old ways, the good ways.

According to native legends, the world has ended three times before, and we are now in the fourth world. It has ended those other times, they say, for the same reasons this one will end. Each time, however, a small number of humans have survived into the next world.

What relevance could these farfetched prophecies and legends possibly have for Tucsonans of 2008? In today's world--where epidemic, famine, war and natural disasters are raging, the economy is being exposed as an imposter, and the environment is going to hell in a handbasket--we cannot afford to ignore them. But what can be done?

The answer is contained in the ancient legends themselves: The humans who survived into the next world were the ones who kept to the old ways. How they survived may be the secret to our own survival.

What is meant by "the old ways"? And how can they be adopted in a modern desert city of a million people? We can better understand this by translating "old ways" into current buzzwords like "green," "sustainable," "locavore" and "off the grid." As it did for our ancestors, our own survival strategy will depend on how we harvest food, water, energy and other necessities of life. The more directly we can harvest these things from the source--with as little dependence on economic systems, technology and nonlocal interests as possible--the better chance we have of survival.

Take food. There are untapped sources of abundant food in Tucson, free for the taking. Wild edibles, though they would only amount to a supplement, are available throughout the city. At various times of the year, one can harvest tasty and healthy foods like mesquite beans, palo verde beans, nopalitos (prickly-pear pads), cactus fruits, amaranth and dates. A much larger potential source is food which is currently being wasted. It's illuminating to know that in most native languages, there is no word for "waste," and for good reason--it would never have been a good survival strategy.

Although in the Sonoran Desert, we are blessed with abundant sunshine, the average Tucsonan probably can't afford several thousand dollars for solar panels. But you can take advantage of solar energy directly, for the most part at no cost. Some examples are drying laundry on a clothesline, which is possible year-round; making sun tea; cooking in a solar oven; taking solar showers; sun-drying perishables (which can be stored without requiring energy for refrigeration); and building with adobe. Adobe houses require very little extra-solar heating or cooling.

Rainwater can be harvested from rooftops. Depending on the surface area of your roof, what material it's made from and the size/type of storage containers you have, you can get most--if not all--of your water free, from the sky! This goes for drinking water, too. It won't be perfect, but it's got to be better than tap water.

As important as these physical manifestations of "the old ways" are, they represent a deeper, time-tested awareness of walking lightly on the earth and being content with what we have. Our survival will also depend on decreasing our consumption of natural resources, limiting population and eliminating concepts such as "waste" and "pollution" from our language. Putting these new old ways of seeing and living in the world into practice in the Tucson of 2008-2009 will require imagination, foresight and, above all, adaptability. In other words, it will require expanding our physical and mental comfort zones.

Can we make it past 2012? Or will the fourth world be our last one? The writing on the wall is clear: The ones who will survive are the ones who keep to the old ways. The wise ones have said so.

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