A couple of winters ago I was wandering around the local library – snow signals marathon reading at my house. On a front display, I noticed The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins. The subtitle, “From oil dependency to local resilience” intrigued me – 20 minutes later, there I am, in front of the Ben Franklin wood stove, educating myself.
Interestingly, the book is portioned into three sections – Head, Heart and Hands.
Head deals with the combined observations of both peak oil and climate change. Looking at both of these, it becomes abundantly clear that just cutting carbon emissions is not enough. Rebuilding local resilience is a must in order for us not to degrade ourselves back to Neanderthal status, once Oil is no more.
Heart deals with finding the personal and community tools, as well as the courage and confidence, to deal with what sometimes seems like overwhelming obstacles in the journey from ‘here’ to ‘there’.
And Hands places the flourishing touch on showing, by way of example, how towns in the UK have made their own transitions – a blueprint and honest appraisal of what worked and what didn’t.
As you guessed, my post today will focus on the Heart portion….
Rob Hopkins reports that any successful transition from oil dependence to local resilience starts with a local town meeting that includes, as one of the initial activities, attendees sharing their thoughts regarding what the end of cheap oil really means to their daily lives. In other words, an external dialogue about our deepest fears regarding the loss of our only known way of life.
“Change is the only constant” is most commonly attributed to Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher – we are all familiar with this quote.
Our heads and rational souls acknowledge this.
The beliefs and motivations driving our daily actions, are often, however, some 180 degrees the other way. We strive to maintain what is known and comfortable.
In my own humble analysis, I believe the “fear of change” monster is kept well-fed by complex society.
When the amount and variety of information available as to how things really work is so staggering that one average lifespan is not enough to learn it all – it becomes oh-so-easy to feel inadequately informed about what is actually causing the problems and therefore, not very confident in coming forth with solutions.
Add to this internal disquiet caused by ‘not knowing’, unstable economic times, the responsibility and duty to provide for those who depend on you and the stress of wondering if you will have a job tomorrow, self-defense and coping mechanisms quickly come to the rescue.
Self-defense/coping can take many forms – but the most common seen in a society faced with serious issues is ‘”Delusion”, “Distraction”, “Ostrich Syndrome” and last, but not least, “Scapegoating”.
Definition: A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence
Currently, we have a lot of this going on. In the face of changing climate, massive oil spills and scientific evidence that fossil fuels are being consumed waaaayyyy faster than they will ever be replenished, we (myself included) tend to continue in a lifestyle that is not even close to being fossil fuel free.
Delusion #1 “Somehow, someway, off-grid living and renewable energy will become affordable and obtainable for all soon – until then, it’s our civic duty to keep working (even if that means a 50 mile commute) , producing and consuming.”
As Americans, for the most part, we are slowly losing ground every day in sustaining what’s touted as the American Dream, but we are so sure, given our freedoms, ingenuity and inherent work ethic that we can turn it around. (which is delusion #2. Please see Ostrich Syndrome and Distraction for details)
I do not know of Anyone in my circle in a position to say, “Ya know what? I’m going to force industry to get us to solar sooner by not buying gas today, tomorrow or even next week. That will get ’em moving. Nope, I don’t even need to own a car”, without really facing some very uncomfortable adjustments. Course, I’ve been known to hang out with the wrong group at times…
I’m not judging…Remember me saying I’m included in the “We” group? If there were no fossil fuels (or energy generated by such) available 20 minutes from now, I’d be screwed. Not like, “right away” screwed, but “fire drill have to do something soon” screwed. (Plus, you wouldn’t even be able to read this commentary I’ve spent loads of personal energy on…)
I have dehydrators to process all the frozen meat in my freezer (meat faithfully purchased directly from a somewhat local-to-me producer) but, oops, I don’t have a way to generate electricity to run the durn drying things.
I have a lot of canning jars and salt in my garage, along with vinegar – maybe just maybe, I can get all my food stores preserved via fermentation in time – but I’m not betting on it.
I also know my family is going to have to be facing starvation before they’ll eat my fermenting projects. Subtle accusations regarding ‘poisoning’ and doubts regarding ‘food safety’ have permeated my home since my endeavors started.
Who cares that up until about 100 years ago, this was the way our ancestors prepared for winter in a culture that didn’t have Frigidaire…we now know it’s a miracle anyone survived long enough to reproduce without pasteurization, antibacterial soap and modern preservatives…or so we’re told…
I have my year’s supply of wheat, again faithfully purchased direct from the farmer, but that doesn’t do me a lot of good, since my grain grinder works off electricity and even if I possessed a hand-cranked one, I probably don’t have the muscles or energy to grind out my daily bread.
I also am drinking my daily coffee while writing this… to my knowledge, coffee does not grow in Colorado…
My view of what the withdrawal process from TV and Xbox looks like probably echoes my family’s view of my quitting smoking experiments….
My household is not willingly ready to endure such commotion, at least not yet.
So along we drift, with our one car, energy saving lite-bulbs and Farmer’s Market produce, hoping total collapse waits for us to be prepared for it – all the while quietly aware we probably won’t adjust to new ways until we absolutely have too.
This is known as Acknowledged Self-Delusion.
The increase in “For Rent”, “For Sale” and “Bank Owned” signage in my area, coupled with seeing these same properties remain empty for months, tells me the mortgage and real estate industry, along with private property owners would rather let a house sit unoccupied for 3 – 6 months or more, rather than reduce their sales price or rent requirements.
History has deluded us into believing that both up and downturns are par for the course and if you have managed your affairs properly, you will survive the downturn and really make a killing when the upturn arrives.
I truly question the possibility of an ‘upturn’ being accomplished by elected officials and big business. Most of my circle agrees – yet still, the debates rage on about how stimulus packages should really be spent, what’s needed to stem unemployment rates rising, etc….
Which leads me to the next evil ….
Okay, if you’re a girl, ignore this next part. I look like a girl, but somehow did not inherit the ‘need shoes and purse to match every outfit’ gene. So my recent epiphany on what I choose to spend my money on is no big surprise. I somehow was graced with defective genes that make it much easier for me to focus on food, local needed services and products as the bulk of my expenditures and give up the luxuries (more shoes and clothes than I can wear in a week, books than I can read in a lifetime or computer software and cars that depreciate by 3000% the moment I hand over my debit card.)
I’ve been Distracted into thinking that solely by amending what I purchase, from whom and in what quantities, I can save the world. But note, I live in an economic system that relies on unlimited growth and expansion in order to survive. I’m not sure ‘no limits’ and ‘sustainable’ can simultaneously be linked with the word ‘lifestyle’ in my current plane of existence.
Already, news stories are touting the gloom and doom attached to Americans ‘saving more’ and ‘spending less’ – remember that Capitalism needs to realize 3% growth every year in order to be a viable system. 3% growth does not occur when people are not buying.
My brother calls weathering uncertain economic storms as ‘hunkering down’. As a nation, it seems, we’re in ‘hunker down’ mode. Cries of ‘smaller government’ and ‘less spending’ and ‘save for the future’ lead many current grassroots movements.
The problem is, we have been Distracted from the fact that erasing the government debt will actually be the death blow to our system. Remember that 3% growth thingee? Well, monetizing government debt is one way to create new money (and expanding government counts as new growth and new jobs, no matter how violently it is opposed.)
I will also note that Public Works projects during the Great Depression did result in useful infrastructure creation and repairs. (think dams and nationwide highway systems). Our current Public Works project to create new jobs is called the US Census. We spent a lot of money to count people. So we know where to spend money we don’t have.
Interesting side note – the gain of 71,000 new jobs in July was quickly lost by the 143,000 temporary Census workers whose jobs ended.
I can think of a lot of other ways to spend the money flushed on the Census – but then, hey, remember, I’m a political non-sophisticate. I’m too dumb to understand the finer nuances regarding government, finances and economy. Right…..
So successfully have we been distracted from how our economic system really works, if our pleas for smaller government and no debt were actually answered, our whole way of life will collapse like the proverbial house of cards.
(If you think I’m crazy, then please take some time to read the following: How Money Is Created)
We are all aware of debt – ours, the government’s etc… But realize that in the 70’s, when a ceiling was put on the Labor Market (hence, limiting earned income that could be spent and therefore, threatening the stability of Capitalism) the source of our current woes WAS the solution.
In short, here’s the overview:
“Yes, in order to make new business ventures profitable and investment in such desirable, then we must limit what is spent on labor, in order to maximize profits. Oops…if the laborers aren’t earning, they can’t purchase the newly created products and services. How do we solve this? Oh, give ’em credit cards. Problem solved…. “
Again, if you do not believe me, take a gander at this perspective of Capitalism.
I’m reminded of Loretta Spark’s observation: “Every Problem used to be a Solution”
In a nation raised on the tenets of individual freedom, hard work coupled with perseverance equals success and anyone can make it if they are determined, actions I label as “Ostrich Syndrome” coping, are touted as our greatest strengths and saving grace by others.
So many in my circle put their nose to the grindstone and persevere in working harder, working smarter or working more – secure in the fact that hard work and ingenuity will win the day.
When you are not in a position to independently set the value of your own labor (value of the US Dollar) or possessions – when the fruits of your labor must pass through numerous hands before making their way back to you (taxation, debt interest and regulatory fees), when your local supply and demand formula can be ruthlessly exploited by the non-local, (tax breaks for big business and business travel), then you can work yourself into the ground, producing the best product for the best true price and still go under.
Being a ‘good worker’ is laudable, but if the system you labor within is a complex and cleverly disguised version of serfdom, your dreams of being rewarded for hard-work will never be realized. Short term illusion, yes. Long term reality, not possible.
So instead of depending on working longer and harder, spend some of your time getting real clear on exactly what system you labor under. See how much control and empowerment you have within that system. And then decide if it’s worth putting your back into…
Definition – The act of singling out an individual or group for unmerited treatment or blame.
This will be a short section – really, a historical list is all I have to say about it (I’m just hitting quick-to-type highlights, this is by no means all inclusive):
- Salem witch trials
- Nazi Regime
- Most modern political campaigns
- The start of most wars
When folks are scared on a deep level, it becomes very easy to point fingers (and believe) where the root of all their troubles lies.
Scapegoating wastes a lot of time that could be spent on figuring out solutions, but it continues to be a favorite activity of those who wish to gain converts to their way of thinking.
I’m less interested in who is to blame and more interested in how do we fix it? Trust me, in your quest to identify “how-to-correct” actions, you will discover any and all contributing factors to the problem, your own actions included.
As Forest Gump said, “And that’s about all I have to say about that.”
I’m not denouncing us as blind idiots or sheeple. I am certain though, we are all, to some extent, easily led by grand misinformation campaigns, which flourish in a complex system.
My new mantra is, “It’s only as complex as I buy into.”
Simplicity is focusing on what’s needed for daily survival, how to fulfill those needs via your own local backyard and then taking steps towards working within that system or creating that system if needs be.
Remember, there are plenty of folks around you who wish to do the same. Some just aren’t sure where to start. Others are fearful of what drastic change will mean to their daily life.
Lunch at the Farmer’s Market while discussing what’s really important to you and how deep your fear and insecurities run, with your neighbors is a beginning….
Identifying where you and yours do have power and what you’re willing to support via your energy is the next.
One step at a time, We The People can persevere.
As I once told a discouraged process improvement team; “Change is coming down the pike. Let’s get our two cents in now and direct how that change occurs.”