Our Blog | November 2008

Guest Post - David Spero

by: Heather on 11/12/2008
Posted in: Guest Posts

This fascinating post-election reflection just in from David Spero, author of Diabetes: Sugar-Coated Crisis. Thanks David!

In researching and writing Diabetes: Sugar-Coated Crisis, I learned about the social causes of illness. Not just bad food and little access to medical care. Everybody knows about those, but they really play a rather small part …

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John Michael Greer - A Window of Opportunity - Part Two

by: Heather on 11/07/2008

As promised yesterday, here is Part Two of John Michael Greer's presentation from Plan C: The Fifth U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions. John Michael is the author of The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age and one the most respected voices in the peak oil community.

Thanks again John!

...And that, again, opens a window of opportunity. The cultural narratives and habitual thought patterns that undergird a culture's vision of reality resist change; that's their job--to create a sense of meaning and continuity over time, to fit what William James called "the blooming, buzzing confusion" of raw experience into shapes familiar enough to enable people to get through their daily round. Yet those narratives, those thought patterns, are not fixed in place forever. They change under pressure; and what makes them change more rapidly and more completely than anything else is the experience of failure. The educator Eliot Wigginton, whose work in Appalachia gave rise to the Foxfire project among other inspiring things, reminds us that failure is the first step toward learning; it's the experience of encountering an obstacle we can't get past unthinkingly that shocks us awake, and forces us to reorient our narratives and thoughtways to deal with the realities we've been trying to ignore.

In the years to come, I suggest, a very large number of people throughout the industrial world are going to be in that position. They have been raised, the vast majority of them, to believe in progress--by which I don't merely mean that they believe that it happens; that's a minor point. I mean that they give it the same subjective aura of unstoppable power and unlimited goodness that other religions see in their gods. I say "other religions," because faith in progress is a religion; it's the established religion of the modern industrial world, even though we don't like to talk about it that way; it anchors the hopes and provides meaning to the lives of countless millions of people today, people who have learned to think of all human history as a single vast upward movement from the caves to the stars, with today's industrial society, of course, firmly placed in the vanguard of that journey. In the last century or so, they have learned to identify the concept of progress pretty much exclusively with the increased complexity of technology and the increased abundance of energy that have been such notable features of recent history in the industrial world; and as those factors reverse--and they are beginning to reverse right now--a great many of them will have to face the loss of that faith--the sort of experience that sent stories and rumors scurrying around the ancient Roman world about voices from the woods shouting out that Great Pan was dead, and the gods of Olympus weren't there any more.

This sort of thing is a shattering experience, but it opens up the possibility of rethinking the world, and once that happens, profound change becomes possible. That's the message that I hope each of you takes away from this weekend: change is possible. The coming of crisis brings a window of opportunity, and people who have been forced to recognize the failure of the existing order of things by circumstances they can no longer ignore will be in the market for something that actually does make sense of the new realities taking shape around them. Just as deposit insurance and legal labor unions were politically impossible before the Great Depression, and government-sponsored recycling and economically successful organic agriculture were pie in the sky fantasies before the Seventies, a good many things that seem completely out of reach right now will be simple facts of life by the time things return to what will then pass for normal, ten, or twenty, or thirty years from now, when the crisis of our time gives way to the inevitable period of stabilization.

That doesn't just apply to the specific changes needed to face the crisis of peak oil, by the way. The Thirties and the Seventies also saw sweeping changes across the board in politics, society, and culture. Read an American newspaper from the 1920s--and I encourage each of you to actually do this sometime, it's an amazing education--and you'll end up feeling very quickly that it comes from an unfamiliar planet. You'll find society pages, chronicling the doings of the social elite as they rubbed the nose of the nation in just how rich they were and how little they cared about the opinions of hoi polloi. You'll find editorials and interviews insisting that it was a very bad idea to sell radios and refrigerators to working class people--it might get them thinking above their station, you know. You'll find the latest antics of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, who made sure that readers in America couldn't get literature from Europe that was considered immoral. Even though none of those things were directly impacted by New Deal programs, by the end of the Thirties most of them were history and the rest were dying a slow death by neglect.

In the same way, the Seventies was the seedtime of the second wave of modern feminism, and saw important legal changes in the status of women in most states; birth control, which had been a huge screaming issue for decades before then, became an ordinary fact of life for most people; environmental legislation such as the Endangered Species Act went from an ecologist's pipe dream to the law of the land; social mores changed so far that for a while, the necktie looked like it would find a place on the endangered species list--though I'm sorry to say it was rescued in time. That's the sort of thing that happens when the basic assumptions of a society fall flat on their faces; a window opens to change, and while it's open, a great many necessary changes can get made in a hurry.

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John Michael Greer - A Window of Opportunity

by: Heather on 11/06/2008
Posted in: Peak Oil

John Michael Greer, author of The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age has allowed us to share his presentation from Plan C: The Fifth U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions. It's quite long, so I'll post Part One today and Part Two tomorrow. It's well worth the read.

Thanks John!

I'd like to start by thanking all of you for coming to this conference, and the conference organizers and the sponsoring organizations--Community Solutions and the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center--for making it happen. We have a lot to talk about this weekend. There's some good news to share, some good ideas to exchange, and no shortage of major challenges that we need to confront, together and individually; and a conference like this offers possibilities for all those things.

It's an auspicious date for such an event, too. In the faith tradition I follow, the Druid faith, sunset today marks the start of the festival we call Samhuinn, the feast of the ancestors. It's a time of endings and beginnings, the end of the harvest, the beginning of our new year, and endings and beginnings make up a great deal of what we have to talk about this weekend. The way of life nearly all of us have grown up with--a way of life founded on the extravagant use of irreplaceable fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources, and on the pursuit of unlimited economic growth at all costs--is coming to an end around us.

That's the rarely mentioned driving force behind the economic convulsions of the last few months; behind the political crisis under way in this and many other countries; and also behind the very widespread feeling nowadays that our lives and our societies have gotten onto the wrong track, that something has to give--something has to change. And that realization, uncomfortable as it often is, is the place where endings give way to beginnings, because it's the willingness to face change that's really been lacking in the mainstream of the industrial world for the last quarter century or so; and that willingness has begun to spread, in recent months, to an extent that might have been hard for any of us to imagine, say, ten years ago, when today's peak oil movement was first beginning to coalesce.

I don't think it's irrelevant just now to glance back for a moment at that earlier time. I think it was '97 or '98 when I first encountered people online who were talking about the end of the age of oil. The concept wasn't new to me; I spent my adolescence in the 1970s reading The Limits to Growth, Roberto Vacca's The Coming Dark Age, that sort of cheerful literature; at the time, for a variety of reasons, the future they portrayed made a good deal more sense to me than the bland pronouncements of business as usual forever being retailed by government and the media. I somehow managed to miss finding out about M. King Hubbert and the Hubbert Curve during those years, but his prediction of a global petroleum production peak sometime around 2000 wouldn't have surprised me at all.

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Plan C Conference Roundup

by: Heather on 11/05/2008
Posted in: Events

We're just back and settling in after a fantastic weekend at The Fifth U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions.Plan C: Individual and Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change. It was great to meet several of our authors - John Michael Greer, Dmitry Orlov, and Pat Murphy - it's a rare and valued opportunity to meet …

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