New Normal

New Normal

I'm with my family on the overnight train to Beijing from Shanghai and "New Normal" is on my mind. Old Normally, I would have flown everyone to Beijing. It definitely would have been faster. It also would have been twice as expensive, three times if you count the hotel room we're not using. It also would have had a much higher carbon footprint.

Most of China's planes are still packed to the gills, so the passenger miles per gallon of jet fuel is much better than in the U.S. But so is the train: Pretty much every bunk or seat is taken. And while passenger loading does make a difference in the calculation, trains clearly are the carbon champions of motorized transportation. Plus there's all the energy used in hotels, not to mention the carbon burden of getting to far-flung airports. So trains definitely qualify as New Normal in my book.

So, what is this New Normal and how do we get there? Well, in some instances one could argue that there is no getting there, that all or most of the conditions of New Normal are already in place, but we simply haven't grokked it yet. ("Grok" is a Martian word for "understand the essence of;" it's from the Heinlein science fiction novel "Stranger in a Strange Land").

The first step of grokking something is to accept it. With New Normal we're still too stressed to acknowledge it; stress is what happens when the mind refuses to accept what is. The Russians I knew were highly stressed when they woke up one morning to learn that the stories of communist dominance they grew up with were just fairytales. Now it's our turn. We've been succored by (or suckered by, depending on your perspective) the notion that an economy can grow without limit and that with hard work or, in recent years, easy credit, we can live the life we've always dreamed and leave things better for our kids without having to worry about the ultimate bill coming due.

New Normal is a world of increasing "global weirding" to use Hunter Lovins' term, where Katrina-like dislocation becomes increasingly frequent, our favorite plants and animals are no longer found in our neighborhoods and shifting rates of change in the adaptability in different parts of the food chain can produce unanticipated, and potentially catastrophic results.

New Normal is actually saving for a rainy day and living within our means. If this newfound prudence sticks, it will be a great thing for this country. Though, I have to say, the speed with which people forgot the lessons of $150 per barrel oil was about as fast as a Tesla off the line.

New Normal is people get paid for actually producing something rather than using financial sleight of hand that mostly involves the complicated repackaging of overvalued or over-leveraged assets for other greedheads.

New Normal is a re-definition of wealth that emphasizes satisfaction of simple basic desires over the accumulation of cheap stuff. New Normal is appreciating the process of traveling or eating, not just the end result.

New Normal is an economy and a built environment that operates off of the flows of the planet, rather than its accumulated stocks. New Normal is when tapping into those flows is inherently less expensive than chewing our way through dwindling stocks.

So, how do we get there? I'm planning on writing about that next time, but I'd really like to hear from you-all about what YOU think it might take to get there from here. Send me your thoughts: [email protected]

Rob Watson,
Executive Editor,

Image by star-one.