Based on today's intensifying trends, warning signs and an understanding of history,
one must be ready to see the fossil-fueled phase come to an end most abruptly.
When common practices cannot be maintained and too many people suddenly scurry
for scant supplies, the desired resource dries up. This causes ramifications that
quickly compound whatever triggered the crisis.
At this writing, crude oil futures have passed the $65/barrel mark. In this
column we have been anticipating heavier, rapid changes to economics and social
order: petrocollapse (see previous reports).
Fossil-fueled civilization has spanned all of modern times, even though its
reign will have been short. But its length has been the most damaging event
in the planet's history during humans' existence. To really fix today's vast,
complex, fossil-fuel-based problem, the culture that created it must be eliminated.
Forces beyond anyone's control will bring this about.
What will we be left with? Forget Walmart, celebrities' plastic smiles, and
another $286 billion to pave over more good land. Finally! "The Revolution
will not be televised," as the Last Poets advised three and a half decades
One does not look forward to no lights, refrigeration and what have you. Those
who anticipate a future without "universal" material luxuries should
not be considered bent on depriving others of what are called necessities in
the U.S., although most of the rest of the world does without them. However,
if the petroleum-dependent societies are going to revert to what is really the
long-term norm -- that of subsistence farming and very low energy use, as predicted
recently by writers such as James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg -- it
can only be healthy to anticipate the coming absence of appliances and whatever
else passes for wealth in the consumer economy.
Not only have global warming and a massive wave of extinction been irrevocably
launched; a road-based transportation mode has overrun much of the planet, and
petrochemicals are an unmitigated disaster despite their convenience and versatility.
An overall replacement for the dysfunctional fossil-fueled system is the honoring
of the Earth's natural processes that provided wise tribes with the wherewithal
to live for millennia. This statement is a heresy to those who love today's
cities and who therefore would only reform our terminal civilization. It is
as if their fossil-fuel tradition is deeply rooted.
Much of what passes for nice and proper in today's fossil-fueled culture is
unworthy of preservation. Most of the world's people are assaulted daily by
commercialism and toxicity as an extension of capitalistic exploitation. When
the effects of runaway technology are seen as an assault on nature and they
isolate humans into being consumers, "the baby needs to be thrown out with
the bath water." This does not at all mean cutting our own throats if we
are committed to positive change. In fact, there are helpful if daring steps
to take now (read on).
To sketch in the details of what could be tomorrow's Utopia is useful but not
the task of this essay. Visions from Culture Change and others such as Ecocity
Builders, and the eco-village and permaculture movements are making the attempt.
It is as if we are in a dark night trying to describe a new place the dawn will
bring, and we are unable to see what the landscape will look like or how populated
it will be. We must leave assumptions behind, particularly if they are the product
of a failed system of a dying culture.
Even if we cherish certain aspects of civilization, e.g., an impressive city
such as Paris, perhaps very little can survive petrocollapse. So it serves us
well to reject the basic concept of fossil-fueled (and, by extension, nuclear-powered)
civilization. If we trace its creation, fossil-fueled society had to do with
generating maximum profits via boom and bust development and subjugation of
peoples and their environments. If we think about the purposes and benefits
of fossil fueled civilization, the price is too high. The main march of history
must end and give way to an entirely new sense of respect for all humanity and
all living things.
To get on with terminating the planet-threatening fossil-fueled lifestyle and
the built infrastructure strangling the world, we should first list some absurdities
that negate the "progress" of fossil-fueled civilization:
- shipping food thousands of miles
- loss of self-sufficiency in food, water, medicines, etc. in one's home region
- killing abroad for oil
- the holocaust of global car crashes
- loss of hand-craft skills
- commodifying life's essentials that had always been free
- effects of crowding such as diminished freedoms
Wind energy and other "renewables" have been available since before
petrocollapse appeared certain, but renewables have failed to gain a significant
foothold. Now it is too late to revamp the whole economy. More meaningful action
than the technofix is required immediately, and more technology would primarily
extend the status quo. Those who imagine that universal hot running water and
ubiquitous computers are necessary for life believe we must preserve our technical
accomplishments at all costs.
In truth, the imperative to terminate fossil-fueled civilization is the greatest
adventure today and perhaps ever in history. As the fall of this civilization
is already starting -- no matter if China, for example, serves to maximize global
consumption -- the encouragement of inevitable change is an opportunity for
In our lives, changes often impact us badly when we are unprepared. But when
a conscious change is undertaken to advance one's desired goals, there is more
control and enjoyment. Julia Butterfly told the Auto-Free Times, in her first
cover-story interview by a national magazine, that some people wait to have
"change hit them upside the head like a two-by-four." Taking risks
for changing one's life can be hazardous, but how can eliminating fossil-fueled
dependence be a risk? Clinging to massive energy use in an overpopulated world,
by enacting only a Kyoto-Protocol level of change, for example, is a scientifically
understood formula for failure of our precious, delicate, common global climate.
In the absence of any activist group with courage that enjoys a mass support
base, individual and affinity-group actions are required to strike at the fossil-fueled
beast by demonstrating low-energy-consumption living. Additionally, high-profile
monkey-wrenching that does not smack of terrorism can serve to educate.
A tiny list:
- Potatoes stuck into exhaust pipes are a harmless but clear statement if a
note explaining the action is placed on the windshield. Motorists would get
the message and tell others.
- By the same token, bicycle riders should be given hugs, gifts and reverence.
- Preparedness drills should be carried out whereby a community's food or water
supply is cut temporarily, of course with the consent of all concerned, to dramatize
today's extreme dependencies.
- disruption of school classes and other institutional meetings should be undertaken
to speak extemporaneously about the peak of global oil extraction and the implications
for business-as-usual. There are artful ways of doing this, if we take the example
of the Yippies who burned dollar bills in public and kissed each other during
university lectures devoted to maintaining the loveless status quo.
Why must this urgent approach take precedence over the possibility of reforming
the system from within? The global economy is the enemy if it runs on polluting
fuels and sets people up for devastating deprivation once petroleum shortage
hits "without warning." Therefore, a John Kerry presidency upholding
"free" trade agreements and pledging to keep subsidizing the price
of gasoline is a non-starter.
Daniel Quinn wrote in his 1999 book Beyond Civilization that programs serve
the (flawed) system and do not offer a replacement vision. So nothing substantial
is fixed. What I got for the first time, from this book and two of his other
great books of our time, The Story of B and My Ishmael, is a clear sense that
reforms and programs do not solve the inherent flaws of civilization and our
unjust society. A new vision or a better model, in place of the existing social
system, is the only sensible course.
Quinn points out that a culture's visions are more powerful than programs,
and that both visions and programs can turn out ugly. Programs attempt to protect
the environment, for example, but only to keep it from becoming even more degraded
than it is. Programs can be essential but ultimately inadequate because they
are essentially reactive: "...they only make bad things less bad. They
don't bring into being something good, they only drag their feet against something
bad... If there's no new vision for us at the end of the road then we are going
to die, because programs (useful as they are) just don't have the capacity to
keep us alive indefinitely."
Can the word "reforms" be substituted for "programs"? To
write this essay, I asked him what he might have on the subject of reform in
his books. He refreshed my mind that he had instead written about programs and
vision. He refered me to his theme-index for his books at the end of Beyond
Civilization, which I recommend to anyone. I reread today with pleasure some
of his observations:
"The tribe, in fact, is just a wonderfully efficient social organization
that renders making a living easy for all -- unlike civilization, which renders
it easy for a privileged few and hard for the rest... The tribal way isn't [necessarily]
the right way, it's just a way that worked for millions of years, in contrast
to the hierarchal way, which has brought us face to face with extinction after
a mere ten thousand years."
The original title of this essay was "Ending the idiotic fossil-fuels
existence". I altered it to "Termination of the fossil-fuels society"
for the sake of credibility. I originally flashed on this whole concept while
sitting in a restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. I had a very odd feeling
about our civilization, a feeling which very few people probably ever had a
number of years ago. Things are more absurd every day. When one takes a serious
look around at society's set up, the overwhelming madness is clear. For example,
one of the mind-blowing mini-analyses of our materialist culture is what Daniel
Quinn pointed out: the food is locked up. What's hard for many to grasp is how,
if society and Western Civilization do work, more reforms and programs are inadequate
and even may be the wrong approach at this hour in our deepening dilemma.
What is idiotic is the pursuit of the "unending" existence of fossil-fueled
society, in all manifestations: electronic music, plastic tables, natural-gas
heated food, SUVs powering noisily by, and, craziest and saddest of all, thinking
that maybe this is heading in a good direction someday somehow.
I want culture change not just because I want to see the ecosystem saved for
biodiversity. I want community which will help save the ecosystem and see social
justice, and I want people to enjoy their time on Earth. Fossil-fueled culture
gave up community and can barely help itself address real problems. If you want
culture change too, tell others.
Links and further reading:
Petrocollapse: Culture Change Letter #101: http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=2
"End-time for USA come oil collapse"(CCL #100): http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6&Itemid=2
Plan B package: "Preparations and policies for petrocollapse and climate
distortion" (CCL #104): http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17&Itemid=2
"Surfing the tsunami of change: following up with Plan B preparations"
(CCL #105): http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18&Itemid=2
Plan B Project: http://www.planbproject.org
Citizen Petroleum Councils (Culture Change Letter #11): http://www.culturechange.org/e-letter-11cont.html
Daniel Quinn's website: http://ishmael.org
The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005,
New York, NY. www.groveatlantic.com
Peak Oil and Community Solutions - second annual conference, Sept. 23, 2005,
Jan Lundberg and Richard Heinberg among speakers. Yellow Springs, Ohio http://www.communitysolution.org/05conf1.html
Julia Butterfly Hill's Circle of Life foundation: http://circleoflife.org
To donate to Culture Change, please visit http://www.culturechange.org/funding.htm
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