Monday
Nov212005

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I sent the following to my email list after having a great turnout at my showing of the WalMart Movie by Robert Greenwald. The part of this message about Thanksgiving and peak oil falling on the same day, only to be followed by business-as-usual is especially bittersweet and poignant for me. I plan to have a great dinner with the closest thing to a functioning family that I have: Kelli and I are going to spend the holiday with some family friends who have adopted us and made our lives richer for the time we've been together. It is interactions like these that show me the promise of the community that I think is critical in the near future when a lot of promises and hearts are broken because of energy scarcity. We already see problems of large operations in entropy—the response to Katrina is one such instance that our government is unable to meet our needs, and should not be counted on. The only anything that will matter is our determination to cooperate and share what we have.

Some have rightly noted that most of what I present is not all cheery. It lacks the Hollywood ending. I leave the Hollywood endings to Hollywood. What we have before us in Peak Oil is a huge issue that no three living generations of humans ever had to cope with before. The implications reach across all sorts of human activity and our civilization itself. Huge question marks are popping up over all sorts of minds when the topic comes up: how does a global society that is addicted to cheap and abundant oil deal with the time when that is no longer possible? What is at risk when the very lifeblood of our elaborate systems of agriculture, transportation, economic growth, finance, and technological development is in peril of peaking and declining steadily (oil), or altogether crashing (gas)?

We got problems.

One thing I can't stress enough is that the range of things that I am talking about are not partisan issues. They are everyone's issues. There is some need to get partisan because we do have a lopsided "balance" of power in this nation, and these people are distracting us with petty nonsense that is worthless in the face of what our real enemy is: the end of the oil age, and the fact that it will up and smack us in the face with an utter lack of media attention. So, folks like me who find the time and will to give a damn are the ones who are saddled with the chore of spreading the word. I guess I am the liberal media.

People often ask what the solutions to these things are. The answer is simple: it's not simple. However, I do offer a few things like:

Take stock of your motivations for what you do. Don't take things for granted. Have you let the quasi-official state religion of consumerism get the better of you? Challenge yourself to break habits that keep you in debt, or that keep you from engaging in good relationships with family, friends, and community, or following your God. Why do you work 60 hours a week?

Trust your own abilities. A lot of consumerism comes as a result of people who have been trained to doubt themselves, which is just the sort of people who will have to shell out money for all sorts of goods and services that might be unnecessary. A lot of us like to "leave it to the experts" when we don't even need to. What you can't do yourself, maybe your friend can. And vice versa.

Ask yourself if there is any simpler solution to whatever problem you face. Or can you be any more resourceful than the last time you faced the same problem?

Value things that can’t be bought. One day not everything will be for sale. If we are looking to devices, knick-knacks and other junk for comfort, then someday when this system fails us, we are going to have a nightmarish depression that a world of psychiatrists can’t fix. Consumerism is not a substitute for the fundamental joy we should derive from real life, in all its complexity and beauty, and yes, tragedy. You’ve heard it before—you can’t take it with you. After a century of economic growth predicated on disposable everything, and predicated on insecurity, it is only up to us to decide to claim our lives back. We’re headed for a time when there will be a permanently declining amount of fortune. Either we can be invested in disposable artifacts of our present, or we can be invested in the community life that will do the work of sustaining us when everything else falls away around us.

There are no for-sure things to tell you. But my time researching all this for the past two years has led me to doubt most of what passes for the name-brand media, and to doubt rosy-sighted economists that tell us the future will be better when we just get this technology or break through the regulations that hold the market back. Nonsense. What we have is an overly complex civilization that is ready to fall from its own mass. Hurricanes can’t be dealt with by our inept government. Corruption is rampant, but is business as usual. Marketism is the official religion that keeps us scared—stop consuming and the economy will collapse. And of course, the hijacking of at least two of the world’s major religious faiths by radicals who can’t be called fundamentalists because they really don’t get what the fundamentals of their respective religions really are! What we have is a system that is already in the process of crumbling. It is usually a fate that any large system can look forward to. Would we not be fools to think that our turn would never come up?

I want to reiterate some things that were mentioned briefly at the meeting on 11/20.

Kenneth Deffeyes says that peak oil is due to take place on Thanksgiving 2005. The day after that is the day that Adbusters.org has dubbed “Buy Nothing Day” as a deliberate attempt to jam consumer culture on the highest of high holy days for the retail sector. Hmmm. You folks, and others like you might be the only ones who can appreciate this point in history. It is a microcosm of the world’s dilemma-at-large. One day we will have peak oil (whether or not it really is on Thanksgiving 2005), and the next day, people will continue on with life as usual because no one will have told them about the day before, and what it means. Life as usual of course means that people are spending themselves silly, flying in airplanes just to play the slots in Las Vegas, and generally living like there is no tomorrow. Well, I have news. There IS a tomorrow. But if we don’t stop this madness, it will be in the dark, in the cold, and we will all be watching as our precious world gets torn asunder under the stress of figuring out how to live differently, while still clinging for dear life to the old ways— easy motoring, something-for-nothing, and in a consensus trance that everything is goingalongjustfinethankyouverymuch. (I just ripped off Jim Kunstler in a big way.)

For Thanksgiving this week, promise me you will take a moment to understand where we are today. And where we look to be going. Imagine your Thanksgiving in the absence of cheap and abundant oil and gas:

How would you get your family together from across the continent?How would all that food get to your table?How would it be cooked?How would you be able to heat your home to a pleasant 70º F?How would your veggies be grown without the natural gas based fertilizers and the pesticides and herbicides that keep them looking like prize entries in the local fair?

Whether or not this Thanksgiving turns out to be the momentous point in human history when we have successfully used up the first half of our ancient sunlight endowment, it will probably be the last when we can operate in “business as usual” mode. But I hold that this is actually a good thing.

I wish you all a good holiday. I’m taking December off from annoying all you folks with such stuff, so stay tuned in 2006.

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