Archive for October, 2007

Blog On Vacation

Sharon October 15th, 2007

Even though I suspected it was coming, I admit, I’m pretty bummed about the dual confirmation that there’s not much we can do about the tipping points in climate change. I’ve decided (and we’ll see whether I actually do manage not to write anything for a few weeks - it is something of a compulsion sometimes) to take a couple of weeks off from the blog to work on my books, take a breather from the news, and otherwise get my head in order. So I’ll be back on November 1.

For those of you who are around Ohio, or who might be there for the occasion, I’ll be at the Community Solutions Conference in Yellow Springs Ohio from Friday 10/26 to Sunday 10/28. I’m speaking Saturday on food, diet and agriculture, sitting on a panel about how to adapt, and doing a workshop with some other farmers on agriculture and food production. Because I’m training it, I’ll be offline from Wed 10/24 to Wed 10/31. Before that, I’m around, just not posting new material. I came from CS last year inspired and energized - hopefully that will be true this time as well.

If you are just dying for something to read, or an excuse to slack off at work, I offer some older articles on various subjects, relevant and irrelevant.

Here’s one of my analyses on how peak oil may play out:

Here’s a creative writing piece on what my life might look like five years from now:

Thinking about chickens? My sister and her husband just got their first ones. Here’s a bit about chickens:

This subject will get more in-depth analysis in _A Nation of Farmers_ but I think is still enormously important:

This is just silly, but I had fun writing it:

I just kind of like this piece:

Right now I’m not so wild about my writing job, either:


Even when I’m in a lousy mood, I still think this is true, and maybe the most true thing I’ve ever been able to say:

See you in two weeks!



100% Emissions Reduction

Sharon October 14th, 2007

One of the most important studies I’ve seen, coming out of a major climate change lab whose work has been used in the IPCC and other models was released yesterday. Here’s the good news - the Riot for Austerity with its 90% reductions is broadly on track. Here’s the bad news - it’s goals are 10% too low. The only way of avoiding the critical 2 degree temperature rise is to reduce all industrial emissions worldwide by 100%. Let’s repeat that sentence. We’re going to see massive warming, flooding, the loss of the polar bears, etc… unless we reduce emissions by 100%.

Here’s the study:

Another analysis, Tim Flannery’s, confirms this here:

The important points:

Andrew Weaver and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Canada say this means going well beyond the reduction of industrial emissions discussed in international negotiations.

Weaver’s team used a computer model to determine how much emissions must be limited in order to avoid exceeding a 2°C increase. The model is an established tool for analysing future climate change and was used in studies cited in the IPCC’s reports on climate change.

They modelled the reduction of industrial emissions below 2006 levels by between 20% and 100% by 2050. Only when emissions were entirely eliminated did the temperature increase remain below 2°C.

A 100% reduction of emissions saw temperature change stabilise at 1.5°C above the pre-industrial figure. With a 90% reduction by 2050, Weaver’s model predicted that temperature change will eventually exceed 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures but then plateau.”


“Tim Lenton, a climatologist at the University of East Anglia in the UK, agrees that even the most ambitious climate change policies so far proposed by governments may not go far enough. “It is overly simplistic assume we can take emissions down to 50% at 2050 and just hold them there. We already know that that’s not going to work,” he says.

Even with emissions halved, Lenton says carbon dioxide will continue building up in the atmosphere and temperatures will continue to rise. For temperature change to stabilise, he says industrial carbon emissions must not exceed what can be absorbed by Earth’s vegetation, soil and oceans.

At the moment, about half of industrial emissions are absorbed by ocean and land carbon “sinks”. But simply cutting emissions by half will not solve the problem, Lenton says, because these sinks also grow and shrink as CO2 emissions change.

“People are easily misled into thinking that 50% by 2050 is all we have to do when in fact have to continue reducing emissions afterwards, all the way down to zero,” Lenton says.

Ok, everyone who thinks we can reduce emissions by 100% raise your hand. And remember no burping or farting - ever again.

Now periodically I get yelled at for daring to criticize people who don’t want to make “extreme changes” for pressuring them to go further than the IPCC and national governments want to. This is considered mean. It turns out, though, that I’ve actually been way too warm and fuzzy, because 90% is by no means enough. This post:, which I mostly mention because I think everyone who hasn’t should read Auden’s amazing poem was a good example of my meanness, but I’ve seen nothing to indicate it isn’t the truth.

Is this shocking news? Not to me it isn’t. This information merely confirms the aggregate data that I’ve been looking at. The IPCC report was wildly outdated by the time it was published, in part simply because the new science is coming in so fast, and in part because it is a political body, affected by governments. The IPCC report, for example based its assessments on linear arctic ice melt, which we now know to be wrong. It based its assessments on political expedience, which we know has nothing to do with science. It based its assessments on outer numbers, unsupported by science. And it based its assessments on the notion that our emissions would rise at a rate only 1/3 rate between 2000 and 2004. The IPCC was wrong, vastly, horribly, grievously wrong.

I don’t particularly begrudge the IPCC or Al Gore their Nobel Prizes - I honestly give them credit for what they did. But the truth is that their work (and perhaps anyone’s work on this matter - certainly my own) was too little, too late. We are committed. The report offers fairly faint hope - they call for all industrialized nations to rapidly reduce their emissions by 90%, while finding some realistic measure for carbon capture. The likelihood of this happening is about the same as the likelihood that we’ll all be reducing our emissions to 0 - very, very tiny. That’s not to say that some parts of this should not be attempted - as Mark Lynas describes in his forthcoming book _Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet_, there’s a big difference between saying “we can’t stop catastrophic warming” and “we can’t stop it, but we can limit it.” The ecological changes we make now may be the difference between a mere disaster and something out the Christian Bible, apocalypse section.

You know, here’s the part where I get to validate my own readings of the data and my role as prophet. If I had something worth selling, here’s where I’d say “I was absolutely right about this, and if you’d like to see more of my predictions, stock market advice and ideas, buy this booklet.” The thing is, it isn’t very much fun to be right on this one. Because the really bad news is this - if by some miracle we can get the political will to reduce our emissions enough to avoid turning into Venus, we’re still going to spend the next decades cleaning up an increasing number of disasters. We’re still going to visit the circles of Hell with no Virgil to guide us. I guess I should be excited I was right. Instead, all I can see is that I should have moved up the dates in my essay on what my children’s future under climate change will look like: . Writing this piece made me cry, and my family felt it was overy negative - but all the data coming in suggests that in fact, I may have underestimated. Damn.

This should not be taken, however, to mean that there is no hope. The fact that we are in for a very, very rough ride does not mean that we also cannot make a large difference in just how rough and how awful things are for ourselves and our descendents. Getting carbon levels down fast is going to have to be a worldwide priority - and yesterday.

And here’s the other thing I’m going to be proved right about. I am going to be proved right shortly in the fact that we don’t have the time, money or resources to burn to do an enormous build out of renewables. Because such build-outs come with enormous energy costs - and they would be fueled by fossil emissions - by coal and artificial nitrogen fertilizers, by oil and natural gas. And we can’t afford to do that. Today’s Energy Bulletin has a post by Richard Heinberg offering up Eco-Keynsianism as a possible outcome for the post-peak, climate change future. Here’s Heinberg’s always-interesting commentary: #35739.html, and Susan George’s work on Eco-Keynsianism, which I think is very interesting, if not perhaps, right I would note, just as a sidebar that Bart over at EB includes Amartya Sen’s claim that there has never been a famine in a democracy with a free press without noting that many people have disputed this claim, including Vandana Shiva, who notes that regions of India have undergone famine in a democracy with a free media. That’s not to say that I don’t agree with Bart’s point about democracy - I absolutely do.

While I think some elements of EcoKeynsianism will be applied, I think there are powerful reasons why we should not be imagining a New Deal/WWII escape from this problem. I’ve articulated some of them here: We’re running up against our own walls - the fact is that even if we could all agree to make a 90% emissions reduction, it wouldn’t look like what we’ve been talking about - it wouldn’t be so much a thing we do as things we stop doing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not imagining that the world suddenly switches, overnight, to an agrarian society, but I think the likelihood that we’ll be following the ecojobs and doing the big build out is pretty small. We don’t have the resources and we don’t have the luxury of time or of burning coal and oil to help us manufacture enough rigid foam insulation and windmills to make the society as a whole look familiar to us.

Is that the end of the world then? No, I don’t think so. Mixed in with the bad news is some good news - not enough, but some. And the good news is this - there is an alternative to the public economy and to borrowing money to put people to work on ecological projects. There is an alternative to present-day industrial society. And the answers are related - they involve a return to small scale “intermediate” technologies that are powered by human beings, animals, wood, manure, etc… They involve a world where many more people are engaged with the basics of food and shelter, caring for those who need care and tending land.

The good news is that the informal economy is significantly more robust in many ways than the formal economy, and doesn’t require massive inputs of fossil fuels. It was the informal economy that kept people in the Soviet Union and Cuba alive during their social crisis - the gardens they grew, the things they bartered and sold, the local economies they produced. We have an informal economy too, but we don’t rely on it very much - or at least, most middle class Americans don’t. Many of my neighbors do - they cut a little firewood, sell some pumpkins around Halloween, barter some labor, do a little handyman work in the winter, babysit a neighbor’s kids - all under the table. And they tend to make a passable living doing so, enough to pay the taxes, buy beer and supplement the deer and wild turkey they hunt with food.

Now there are problems in imagining 300 million Americans and 6.7 billion human beings all relying primarily on the informal economy and such informal methods of feeding their families - except that 3/4 of us actually *do* rely on that. That is, according to Teodor Shanin, the founder of Peasant Economics, only 1/4 of the world’s total economy exists in the formal sector, with formally paid, documented work. The rest of us do other things. 2 billion people live by subsistence farming. Another billion survives entirely by selling off-book to their neighbors.

As Gene Logsdon puts when he writes in The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening, about “gardening to save us from the economy,”

“It seems to me that the part of ‘the economy’ that depends on biological processes, not industrial processes - especially food, but also renewable resources such as cotton and wool and other natural fiberts for clothing, and wood for construction, furniture and fuel - is particularly vulnerable to the volatile and chaotic conditions of the industrial manufacturing marketplace. An ear of corn grows at its own sweet pace, no matter hwo the interest rates are manipulated. Much more biological production than is now the case should be protected from this market vulnerability, and the most practical way to do so is by having more gardens. A garden economy would provide society with a much safer ’social security’ than pension money sunk into volatile stock and bond markets…maybe this sub-economy could offset the money madness enough to avert a real catastrophe…” (32)

Is this any easy society to create? Of course not. It will be hard to keep our houses, it will require enormous advocacy. It will be hard to adapt our suburban and urban homes with comparatively little investment to serve us in hard times. It will be hard. It will undoubtably be disastrous for some of us.

But all of us can begin, just a little now, to put our feet on the comparatively stable ground of the informal economy - one that will never make you rich but might allow you to go on. We can begin adapting our infrastructure right now, using what we have and what we can acquire. We can pay down our mortgages a bit more each month while we’ve got the money and grow a bigger garden each year. We can start that cottage business and find time to do mending or bake bread and sell it, or tutor local homeschoolers. We can begin the process of creating Amish-style local economies, and teaching others how:

And we can begin to prepare ourselves and our gardens for a changing world, remembering that even though some options are gone to us, we are still the youngest and weakest fair godmothers at the Christening - we cannot take the curse away, but maybe, just maybe, we can soften it a little.


Feeding New York

Sharon October 12th, 2007

Well, Al Gore and the IPCC won the nobel prize, something I’m more than a little ambivalent about. On the one hand, they both did an enormous amount to draw attention to climate change, and that’s really important. On the other hand, in re: Al Gore, I’m reminded of what Tom Lehrer said when Henry Kissinger was given the nobel peace prize, that it made political satire obsolete. I mean the man was a participant in the Clinton policies that, among other things, allowed half a million kids in Iraq to die from sanctions. But then again, I would have thought “never was a Nazi” was a criteria for Pope, and that’s clearly untrue. And obviously the “never was a mass murderer” bar for the Nobel Peace Prize, if it ever existed, is long since broken. Probably my standards are too high.

As for the IPCC, I would tend to say that were I give out Nobel Prizes (which no one has asked me to do yet, for the record, but I’m sure any day now), I would tend to focus on people who actually bring about peace and show moral courage doing it. While some IPCC scientists have shown enormous courage, the committee as a whole has not been able to withstand the pressure of governments not to water down its findings - as hundreds of its own members admit. So yes, I’m glad the IPCC is bringing attention to this issue. I’m glad Al Gore is bringing attention to this issue, and that he is in some sense redeeming his participation in other ills. Heck, if he runs for president and we have to choose between mass murderers, him, the comparatively powerless veep, the current monster or the she-president who could have at least withheld sex (ok, Al could have withheld sex too), I’ll probably vote for him. And yet…in my fantasy world, the Nobel Peace Prize actually stands for telling the truth and bringing about change. Of course, in my fantasy world, all this new awareness is happening 30 years ago, when it would do a lot more good. Ah well.

But moving on to more interesting news, I was wondering how I could get from the Nobel Prize in climate change to the following. Pat Meadows sent me the report on this fascinating study at Cornell on how much land is needed to feed people. This is a really important study for a couple of reasons. But equally important is the study that came across my desk yesterday, documenting that shipping goods around the planet produces more carbon than flying does: The reality is that relocalization of food and goods is more urgent than ever. We have to start growing and producing more goods and foods locally.

The value of the Cornell study, particularly as it intersects with the UN’s work on shipping emissions, is that it brings to our attention the deeply urgent word POLYCULTURE. As we know from the work of Peter Rosset and other researchers, diversified farming is the name of the game to getting the most possible good food out of our land. The revelation that we need farmers to make use of grazing and marginal land in multiple ways shouldn’t be news, but it is.

Second, it supports something I’ve been arguing for a long time - the future will not be vegan. I don’t mean that we won’t be eating vastly fewer animal products than we do now, but this study demonstrates that animal husbandry is an integral part of maximizing food production per acre. The 0.6 acres required for a largely vegetarian but some animal products diet is just about how much arable land will be available per person in the US by 2050.

Third, it highlights the absolute urgency of getting gardens going. The arable farmland calculations used in the Cornell study do not include home yards, public greenspace, etc… According to this study, the maximum number of people that New York State could feed is about 32% of its current population. Well, we don’t have much choice but to raise up those numbers - transportation issues, natural disasters, rising food costs - we need more regional food self-sufficiency, even as this study also indicates our interdependence with other states.

If we put our lawns and yards under intensive cultivation, integrated small scale chicken, rabbit, pigeon and goat raising into our gardens, if we encouraged the growth of small farms of 1/2-5 acres, encouraged polyculture techniques in existing farms, and layered animal agriculture, if we transformed some of our existing marginal and forested land into nut forests providing protein, if we invested our interests into absolutely maximizing our food production, how many people could we feed?

Half, I suspect, at least - maybe many more - on a largely vegetarian diet with small amounts of meat, eggs and milk mostly as flavorings. And that brings up an important point. Half is not everyone. We’re always probably going to depend on agricultural areas for some transportation, and stabilizing those relationships is going to be essential - we don’t just need ways to transport food, we need ways to keep farmers in the midwest from going out of business in the long term - because the best farmers are the ones who know their land, and are invested in their land. The best farmers want to make a living working the land - they need to be able to do the kind of farming we need, and still make a living. They need not to be pressed by the money into growing biofuels, because it takes time to develop polycultures. That is, we need to expand the CSA model, so that whole regions are directly connected to the people who are growing the food they cannot grow, and are invested in their success. The Japanese term for CSA is “farming with a face” - we not only need to maximize our production, but we need to put a face on the people who we depend on, and integrate their success with ours. Because their failure is certainly ours.

And at the same time, we cannot say “well, because New York may not be able to grow all of its food” it shouldn’t absolutely maximize its production. We cannot afford to warm the planet by bringing oranges from Israel to the US, or lettuce from Columbia. We need to get our food (and our goods, but I’ll write more about that later) as close to home as possible - which means we need polyculture, diversified *small* farms, experimental agriculture, and every other trick in our collective book.


We’re Going to Need More Pie

Sharon October 11th, 2007

The other day I got embroiled on a newsgroup in one of those endless discussions/debates/headbangings about what the best approach to greening the planet is. Of course, all of you know that my defining characteristics are my reasonableness, aversion to confrontation and sensitivity, so my role here was to calm the hot tempers and settle the differences of others, which I do from my sheer love of humanity. I provided a calm and rational perspective that I know helped settle everything right down, because that’s just the kind of healing, caring person I am.

Ok, just on the off chance that anyone involved in that group says otherwise, I want ask you upfront, who will you believe - them or me? After all, the people saying I was fanning the flames of this stupid umm…integral argument are nothing more than two or three hundred ordinary voices, where as I am a professional idio…author. I daily produce hundreds of words that are pulled randomly out of my a…er…finely crafted and honed for maximum effect. Sometimes the words even make sentences. Once in a while even grammatical sentences. These words are read by as many as eight or nine people around the world every single day. So you can certainly imagine that my ravings…um wisdom should outrank the sworn testimony of several hundred people.

So you’ll be proud to know that I, of course, natural leader that I am, did come up with a healing solution, something that we could come together on, a real commitment to change, a possible solution to the profound difficulties wrought upon us by the Great Change that comes sweeping over the (ok, stupid metaphor deleted).. But I did have an idea.

The idea was pie. And my position is that I’m for it. I know this is just the kind of hard-edged, radical position taking that you can expect on this blog, the reason you know you can turn here first to hear opinions that are beholden to no one…except the guy up the road with the cherry trees, who I can’t afford to piss off if I want pie. But this kind of risky political statement in favor of pie is just the sort of thing I know you’ll wish to support by donating a large portion of your salary to keep me going. Just click on the button below that says “big heaping wads of cash.”

I’m in favor of pie. I mean, what could be better than pie? It is commonly associated with good, noble things like motherhood, America, light bondage and domination, clowns and the federal reserve, so how could we not be for pie? In fact, who isn’t for pie? Well…I have to tell you the ugly truth. There are powerful anti-pie interests in our government, and people working night and day to restrict your pie access. But we here at Casaubons book (Who is “we” you ask in puzzlement? Well, Sharon has obviously gone off the deep end writing her book, as you can tell from this post, so mostly the voices in her head. But they sometimes wear cool hats, and one of them is named “Leo.”) are committed to bringing you the truth about pie access and other equally crucial issues, like socks and beer.

It occurred to me, as I was healing the rift in this newsgroup brought on by unnamed troublemakers not named Sharon, that pie can do a great deal to heal our environmental crisis. For example, today’s climate change and peak oil news was particularly awful. There’s the coal, the war, the monks in Burma. There’s the fact that even if we halved our emissions, global warming will keep going for 600 years . There’s the mass extinctions. The fact that one of the few bits of environmental good news, the reforestation of the east is threatened by us: There’s the money news. All in all, I think the only possible reaction (other than hysterical weeping) to all this bad news on a cool, grey October afternoon is to put on fuzzy pajamas, bunny slippers and eat half a pie. Or to drink a lot of local beer, I guess. Heck, you could drink beer and eat pie together.

Yes, I know that’s pathological of me, but sometimes a retreat into pathology is rather comforting. I doubt I’m the only person who has ever responded to the bad news about our environment by thinking “apple or pumpkin?” The reality is whether we believe in stockpiling ammo or creating sustainable ecovillages, the need to derive comfort where we can is our common ground. Pie can bring us together. And that unifying power isn’t limited to the peak oil movement – pie can cross religious, cultural and national boundaries. While there may be deep cultural divisions between those who believe that you should make your sweetened orange vegetable pies with sweet potatoes and those who vote for pumpkin, I believe these barriers can be crossed, if only we’ll just take a piece of each with a lot of whipped cream.

Pie can be a powerful political motivator as well. Right now, money tends to be the most powerful tool in politics, but let us not underestimate the influence of pie. Pies in the face are a powerful tool of political resistance in Europe. I’ve heard rumors that Bill Clinton sent the Haitians back because the republicans offered him all the blueberry pies he wanted. Dick Cheney regularly sits around nude, plotting his attacks on Middle Eastern countries while eating entire mince pies. If he gets indigestion, he invades – a reliable source tells me it is as simple as that. This kind of inside information isn’t easy to come by – the author had to send several pies to congressional aides. Fortunately, they are sleep deprived, wired on coffee and morally bankrupt so bribing them with pie is very easy.

But pie is also essentially, deeply democratic. Pie is an essential ingredient in town-meeting style democracy in many New England states, along with baked beans. And pie is about democracy – fundamental pie (and pasties, empanadas, dumplings, wontons and all the other pie relatives) are about stretching high value foods to share with everyone. If you have six apples and ten guests, someone gets screwed, unless you put them between two crusts with some spices and call it pie – everyone gets a piece of sweet apple, everyone gets some crust. Pies are a way of getting maximum enjoyment from high-value foods. Meat, fruit, spices – these things are special. But they can be enjoyed regularly if carefully combined with filling starches. They are about democracy, frugality, comfort and family.

And pies are things that you have to produce either for yourself or in your locality. The truth is that frozen pie crust tastes awful, and that Sara Lee pies taste like corn syrup, which is what they are mostly made from. Real pie. Good pie comes either out of your kitchen or a local bakery or diner where they make it fresh every single day from real ingredients. Pies are part of a whole lifestyle – if you want to eat pie, you have to cook, or you have to have a little Mom and Pop bakery. And those things are democratic too – as opposed to corporatist.

Sure, you say, but if I eat too much pie, I’ll get fat. And lord knows, that’s a real possibility. But here’s the thing. How many of you have ever met a really fat Amishman? I haven’t. And they eat pie more or less constantly, or so my Amish neighbors tell me. Pie can power a human-powered lifestyle in the way that junky processed crap can’t. Certainly the Amish cookbooks I’ve seen are filled with pies. And back when dessert (or breakfast in New England) was routinely pie, people were a lot thinner. One might argue that pie isn’t what makes you fat – it is not living the pie lifestyle. Because the pie lifestyle means picking berries or walking to the bakery. It means eating pie as a treat, and as the place where you put your special festival foods that you don’t have all the time, while most of you meals are basic, beans, rice, greens, vegetables. Instead, our breakfasts are poptarts, which despite a plastic resemblance are not pies at all – because they aren’t actually food. The poptart lifestyle makes you fat, the pie lifestyle makes you thin, or thinner.

Pie makes you thin. It brings about democracy. It brings about agrarian or relocalized societies and economies. It provides comfort, crossing political lines. People talk about oil as the “master resource” but perhaps we need to start reconsidering the power of pie to create a sustainable, human powered economy. Pie-centered societies, ones that provide a chicken in every pot pie, are what we’re striving for. We can all consume less, and still have an evenly distributed piece of the pie.

Which is why I must say to you with a heavy heart – we are facing peak pie. Corporate interventions, and the “better than homemade” slogan has resulted in a US population that mostly doesn’t know how to cook anymore. Millions of people think that pumpkin comes from a can. Farmers are still going out of business at an appalling rate. The majority of our pie ingredients are contaminated by pesticides. Our ability to provide for our pie needs is deeply threatened. We are facing the final destruction of the pie lifestyle – and the end of the last remnents of our democracy.

So what can we do about it? How can we fight back for the pie lifestyle, for Mom, Teddy Bears and Apple (or Peach) pie? The only way to deal with this depletion crisis is to start living the pie lifestyle. Bake a pie today from locally grown ingredients. Eat a pie today, and use it to fuel human powered activity – dump your leaf blower and get out a rake, get rid of the power mower and bring out the push mower, lose the chainsaw and get the bucksaw down. Make a pie and give it to a neighbor. Give out the recipe. Get together and make pies for elderly shut ins or the school bake sale or to buy solar lighting for the neighborhood watch. Throw a pie at a warmonger – we’ll have a bake sale to raise your bail. Point to the coal plant builders and the energy wasters and tell people - they are against pie! Start “Pie Eating Veterans for the Truth” and tar polluters and heavy emitters with the scorned label “pie haters.” Don’t forget to mention that they don’t like mothers, babies or kittens either. Have a town meeting and hand out pie. Give out pie at the voting booths, to hungry people in the park, to the shelter and soup kitchen. Try pies from other places, other lands – and send the money you would have spent on poptarts to good causes. When the world seems to suck, eat pie, and use that energy to get back on your feet and fight again.

Fight now, for motherhood, justice and apple pie!


Read This Speech

Sharon October 11th, 2007

Van Jones has hit the nail on the head - here’s more of the speech than I’ve quoted below:

“So we live together in these bubbles that touch, and we call that diversity, but we don’t know each other. And when that bubble breaks for just a second and we’re face to face with each other, it’s very, very hard to hear that reality.

But white supremacy, to use the provocative term, will reinterpret that experience for you; and make it not be about your inability to hear, but be about other people’s inability to speak. This is one of the most remarkable things: if you can get this, all doors open. There is the assumption—this is deep, this is deep—there is the assumption that when there’s a breakdown in communication between people of color and white people, that there is an deficiency but that the deficiency is not in white listening, that the deficiency is in black speech. “Why are they so angry?” People start critiquing, and then you find somebody who keeps themselves together just for a little bit and it’s, “Oh that one’s very eloquent, that one’s very articulate.” Right? Always the assumption is that the deficiency lies with the people of color. “Why don’t they care about the environment? What wrong with them, don’t they see the big picture? We’ve been talking at them about this for years? Don’t they see that we have this big beautiful conference, this big beautiful training? Why aren’t they coming? What’s wrong with them? We’ve been outreaching at them for years, I could show you the e-mails I’ve sent outreaching at them. I even make phone calls out reaching at them. What’s wrong with them? Maybe they are just too poor or busy, because certainly there is nothing wrong with our speech!””


“People are always talking about their comfort zones, you ever heard that expression? “This is outside of my comfort zone.” Grow your goddamn comfort zone then, okay? ‘Cause we are running out of time. My suggestion is, grow the comfort zone.

People say that I am hard core about some of this stuff but I know because I have been to Davos, and I’ve sat with Bill Clinton and I’ve sat with Bill Gates and I’ve sat with Tony Blair and I’ve sat with Nancy Pelosi. I’ve sat with all these people who we think are in charge, and they don’t know what to do. Take that in: they don’t know what to do! You think you’re scared? You think you’re terrified? They have the Pentagon’s intelligence, they have every major corporation’s input; Shell Oil that has done this survey and study around the peak oil problem. You think we’ve got to get on the Internet and say, “Peak oil!” because the system doesn’t know about it? They know, and they don’t know what to do. And they are terrified that if they do anything they’ll loose their positions. So they keep juggling chickens and chainsaws and hope it works out just like most of us everyday at work. That’s real, that’s real.

And so I’m hard on people, I try to tell a few jokes, you know, to make it go down easier, but I’m hard on people. But I will tell you why I am hard on people. This is real ball, this is the last chance, this is it. I’m not telling you that; Tracy’s not telling you that. You go to places like I go, and the Pentagon will tell you that. This is real ball and people, for whatever reason, need sometimes a little encouragement. You walk up to that limit of yourself and you want that limit, ‘cause that wasn’t your limit yesterday and you go Whooo! I made it, now let me start telling everybody else what to do. But the goal is over there and every step hurts and every step is challenging and every step is humbling but every step has to be taken or we’re not going to be here.”

A while back I wrote a piece on racism and peak oil, based on some material sent to me by a gentleman who had a lot to say about this. You can read the piece here:

And the response was mixed, as such things always are, but a lot of the response focused on me, on who I was, and on what was often called “guilty white liberal Jewish pcism.” And I can understand why people saw it that way - after all, middle class overeducated white chicks from upstate NY talking about racism look like apologetics, and to a degree, I guess they are.

But Harvey Winston wrote to me because he didn’t want to take the much nastier shit he’d get for writing it himself. He’d been around the internet enough to know what he would have to eat in order to express himself. He wrote to me because I’d asked what to do. And I sat on my ass for about 2 months with his letter, thinking “someday I’ll write about it” and hoping to G-d I wouldn’t have to, because what if I said something stupid and what if I wrote for someone else and ended up misrepresenting them and because I was a coward. Eventually, I sort of got over it, and figured out that maybe it was better that I write something, even if it was wrong. And, because I have a big mouth, I wrote it anyway, and probably said a lot of stupid, wrong things.

But a lot of people were much more comfortable reading my piece as about me, rather than the black anger that I got from Harvey Winston’s letter - and I guess that’s ok, because we’re a lot less scared of liberal white women than black men. But I think a lot about how sad it is that the peak oil community is such a hard place that Harvey had to come to me first, because he couldn’t say it out loud here, and then his anger got lost because it was filtered through me.]

I’m accused of being too angry a lot. And maybe that’s fair - maybe I am. Or maybe I’m too angry because I don’t really have a lot of good reasons for anger. But it seems to me that when we fear anger, when we feel like anger of any kind is personalized and scary, we find ourselves talking in the passive voice a lot. That is, we get angriest when we name perpetrators, when we assign responsibility. We like to talk about environmental issues in the passive voice, in ways that mean that no one in particular did this, or is responsible for this. But that’s wrong. As Jones says, the things we’re trying to undo are in us, and in our heritage - we’re fixing the sins of our fathers and our own sins. We don’t like to use the active voice, to name names and take responsibility. That’s too angry, and more importantly, the anger takes everything out of the passive voice, in which it just happened, and thus, it is no one in particular’s fault.

Some people who read my prior essay were particularly angry that I’d named names and accused people like Kunstler and Lundgren of bigotry. And maybe that’s fair - peak oil is still a small community, and it is hard to go around smacking each other in the face. I was told there is a solidarity issue here.

And there is, but it isn’t with me and Kunstler. We’ve already got common ground and all the solidarity in the world. We’re both white, we’re both roughly middle class, we’re both writers, both passionate anti-modernists, we live about an hour from one another, we both think the Northeast is the best place to survive peak oil, we’re both jerks who say stupid things sometimes, we both think that the word “fuck” can be grammatically used as a comma. He’s only 10 billion times more famous than I am, vastly cooler and smarter - if I were really lucky, I’d be related to him. But he’d still be wrong about some of the stuff he says.

The thing I like best about Jones’s essay is that he tells the real truth - there’s a solidarity issue, and it is mostly between people who don’t know how to talk to each other, who are a little afraid of each other, who both want to yell “kwitcher bitchin’, it ain’t my fault.” The thing is, solidarity isn’t about really understanding each other, or really liking each other, and I’d I don’t think it is about spiritual development either. It is about sucking it up and going to stand next to the least comfortable person in the room, and asking them to sit down with you. It is about, in every sense, growing our comfort zones.

There’s a lot of talk about like-mindedness on the subject of peak oil and climate change. But the people we need to talk to, and listen to most of all are the people with wholly different experiences than ourselves. I’m not particularly good at that - knowing this doesn’t make it easy. The people who have the most to say about living a low impact life are mostly poor. The people who have the most to say about the effect of climate change on the world so far are mostly people from the Global South. The people who most need to hear about peak oil are devout conservative Christians in churches. The people who most need to confront anger are the people most afraid of anger. The people who need most to sit down together and, not stop being angry or afraid, but at least accept that they are going to look stupid and be angry and afraid are the people least likely to do so. But we have to.


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