I have found it difficult to write of late. Its not that nothing has happened – my CSE group has met and maitained its momentum (virtually all of the original members returned for the second meeting), I attended a weekend long strategic planning meeting for Sustain Jefferson, and on top of the typical holiday madness associated with a retail based career I have upped my reading pace. But neither am I overworked. I am leaving much time for reflection, something I feel is uterly imperative in these unsettling times. No, my lack of posting stems not from lack of time or material, but from either a reluctance to post inconclusive thoughts or, perhaps, a reluctance to actually put my fears into a more permanent form than ethereal thoughts.
One risk always associated with upping my time allotted to reading is the commensurate amount of effect it has on my psyche and thought patterns. The past several winters have found me reading non-fiction/practical gardening/farming/soil science books with some “lighter” anecdotal/philosophical books from the likes of Gene Logsdon, David Holmgren, John Ikerd or Joel Salatin. These are practical and inherently hopeful books that fill the dark days of winter to overflowing with the potentialities of the coming Spring. But this year is different. The Great Unsettling that occurred in August/September shook even the likes of Greensban, so I, being prone to doom and gloom, am by no means immune. As many of the books that I am ripping through have introductions by Peak Oil pundit Richard Heinberg (of Power Down, and The Party’s Over fame) my mindset is sliding distinctly south of optimism of late. And that is with me reading rather hopeful books like the Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook and the Transition Handbook. When I combine the belief in Peak Events (Oil.Water.Soil.etc.) with Climate Change on top of the lack of Global Will to Change and then look into the eyes of my two young children after coming home from a day in Fortune 500 Land fielding questions of when (not if) my team’s hours will be cut… things are getting rather –real.
I’ve been sliding this way for several weeks, months if I am honest. But it all came rushing into stark clarity while at the Sustain Jefferson retreat this weekend. The board and “fire souls” of the group gathered that weekend are mature (most are 50% older than I), intelligent (engineers, public officials, educators), and practical people -well read , experienced, and willing to Work For Change. These are people I look to for advice and have earned my respect. Late in the afternoon on Day 2 soon after the formal planning had completed, a retired engineer posited the following question -how are we going to help our community weather the coming storm- failing economies with their rising social costs, the end of cheap energy and the strain it will place on non-resilient towns like ours, and the lack of social cohesion that will be necessary to negotiate the closing of The Funnel (right). Hearing someone whom I think of as educated and level headed give public voice to my Dark Thoughts was extremely sobering to me. So much so that I had to go for a long , cold hike to shake the existential nausea that had overtaken me. While the planning meeting accomplished an incredible amount of work in a short amount of time towards setting our organization on a more productive course, one of the real results is that I am personally more concerned than ever about what Change I will see in my lifetime.
The difference is Tipping Points or Overshoot. As recent as 6 months ago I felt we had time to work at the grassroots level to educate and inspire so that we could begin the urgent, but gradual change towards a more sustainable future. CFL’s, hybrids, Victory Gardens – little things done by a growing number of people adding up to Real Change. Now I am moving beyond that to Life Boats -what skills will we need to survive Overshoot. Moving from adapting our lifestyles to something akin to survival. Why? Climate Change pundits often speak about Tipping Points -the abledo effect being one (when temps melt the arctic ice, which reflected much of the heat from the water, and the oceans begin to heat even faster); methane released from melting permafrost rapidly accelerating the Green House effect and the news of late is that the scientist are in awe at the rapidity of the current change -its making a mockery of their models. My fear on the Peak Side is in Overshoot: when the we, in our hubris, “cross the streams” of the funnel – when resource use exceeds resource availability (finance, food, water, oil, soil) – we survive blindly for a time, only to come crashing to reality as the bubble bursts and we are forced live within our means not unlike overpopulated deer overbrowsing a habitat in the depth of a bitter winter. The food riots of last year and the $140/brl oil spurred Economic meltdown come to mind.
Like I said – dark. Thus far I am still able to channel the malaise into energy to keep going. To learn ways to produce energy from Biomass; to eck out literally tons of produce from suburban backyards; to produce liquid biofuels from waste products from permaculture farms… to build the tools that may (will?) be necessary to soften the landing of Overshoot. Optimism and Hope are now, if it was ever doubted, very necessary skills to have in your urban homesteading tool box.
May your hearts and thoughts stay positive and hopeful.
May you continue to Be the Change.