Thursday, March 29, 2007

Let All Who Are Hungry...

This is one crazy week here. Getting ready for passover always is, and we're headed off to a wedding first, so everything has to be done ahead of time. Let us just say that advance planning isn't always my strongest suit and leave it there. A better, more loving wife would have done laundry sooner and made sure her husband wouldn't have to wear damp boxers (and no, this doesn't have anything to do with gender politics - I volunteered to pack and do laundry in exchange for him getting rid of the winter's worth of dog poop and the half-eaten dead possum that the melting snow revealed on the lawn - I think I got the better deal!), but since I'm not that wife, I might as well write a bit, while I'm waiting for them to get to merely damp.

The peak oil movement has a survivalist streak to it. There's quite a few people who hear that the peak is coming and believe that building up their stocks of ammo and heading for the hills is the way to go. I understand that impulse - it is the impulse to protect your own, the panic you feel when you realize that your society, which on some level is supposed to protect you, hasn't planned ahead for this one. And so there's a tendency of people to get into discussions about what happens when refugees or hungry folk come around, and a lot of times the answer is that you have to protect your own again.

And maybe sometimes that's true. But I also think that sometimes this is a product of reading too many science fiction novels. You know the kind - the end of the world comes suddenly, either because, as MEA says, Alien Space Bats change the laws of physics, or the giant asteroid hits the earth or whatever - and all of a sudden, 99% of the population of the earth conveniently (sure, it is a little sad, but Our Heroes coincidentally manage to avoid being eaten by cannibals) dies off, and then it is left to the survivors to recreate the world with their new religion (a la Octavia Butler), their coincidentally spared nuclear power plant and handy astrophysicist (Niven and Pournelle), the SCA (Stirling) or something or other else. In these books, you always know, somehow, that if you don't save every single crust of bread, your loved ones will starve to death, so it is a moral choice to say no to the wandering beggars. In fact, it is fairly moral, generally speaking, to do anything but eat them, because, after all, every refugee is a threat. And in the books, they usually have swords and big guns.

Well, I can't swear life will never be like this, but it is worth noting that in many hungry places in the world, including New Orleans in 2005, refugees were actually much more *vulnerable* to violence than they were aggressive. Despite the stories of rape and murder and mayhem (which turned out to be largely nonsense), and the people standing by their doors with big guns, most of the most desperately needy people did nothing more than wait politely, weep, beg for help and maybe sing a little. And that's true of most refugees in the world - these desperate people race across borders, trying to escape disaster or terrible violence, and they don't attack those around them - they wait, and pray for a little food.

During the great depression, thousands of young men and women took the rails because they were hungry and had no jobs. While they did occasionally commit acts of violence and fairly often stole small amounts of food, generally speaking, these young people were much more likely to be abused than to do serious harm. They were thrown out of towns with no food into the cold, because the law said no one who didn't live there could have the sun go down on them. They were raped and beaten up by other refugees and by locals. They were thrown in jail and set on chain gangs for the offense of being homeless. Writing about it later, many of them told stories of going to soup lines and being cast out hungry - because the town said that there was nothing for anyone but their own. A young man tells a story in David Shannon's _The Great Depression_ of travelling all winter through the midwest without a coat of any kind, and visiting, in each town, relief services and asking if anyone could give him a coat. He never got one.

Now it is possible that none of these places had a coat to give. It is possible that adding one more bone and two more potatoes to the soup pot would mean someone's child died of hunger - I don't know. But I think more likely, what happens is that when things get hard for us, we often panic - we look at what we have and we see all the terrible things that could happen - and so, we hold hard onto what we have, regardless of the consequences to others. Unlike the novels, we'll probably never know for sure that we'll always have enough - there isn't any way to be sure, sometimes, whether there will be more tomorrow or not. So how do we know whether to share or not, whether to greet the stranger with a gun or a plate? How do we know, if things change and the world seems uncertain, how to respond to one another?

Well, the world was once much poorer than we are, and there was a fairly universal set of rules for this. We in America are richer than the kings of old. And my religion, and every single other religion and society I've ever heard of tells the story of the stranger in disguise. The stranger who appears in the form of someone desperately poor and in need, and who turns out to be a god, or an angel in disguise. Those who turn the stranger away are punished. Those who welcome them in are rewarded.

In Judaism, it is Elijah who walks the world in the form of a stranger. And at this season of the year, at Pesach, just as the first new foods are coming, but before we are overwhelmed with plenty, we are to open our doors and call out that all who are hungry should come and eat. A few years ago, I was teaching Hebrew school to fourth and fifth graders, and I asked them what they would do if, in their comfortable suburb, someone were to come through the door and ask to join them. Almost universally, they were horrified at the thought of sitting down at the table with someone strange, who actually needed food badly enough to come in off the streets. They felt that such a person would inevitably be dangerous. Most of the children said that their families don't really call out, and don't really leave the door open.

And that, I think, is where we are at in our society. I'm not arguing against prudence and care, or that we will always have enough to give away. But we are rich now, and I think it is worth remembering that in every society and faith, the obligation to welcome the stranger and offer them something *even in the face of our own hardship* is central to our beliefs. These stories aren't always religious - sometimes it is the good king or another of power who travels in the guise of the poor. But the stories are universal. They are designed to teach us that nothing is ever certain, that we can never have *enough* for everything we need. We are supposed, in our vulnerability, to be willing to risk something for another both because it is right, and also, because we too have been strangers.

We Jews have been strangers many, many times. And the future, with all its difficulties, means that none of us can be certain that we will remain priveleged and comfortable. You can prepare perfectly and still lose your home, you can do everything right and have bad things befall you. There are things we cannot control. So each of us must live in the world as though we will someday be the stranger who turns to another for a hand. And each of us must be willing to offer one, if we expect to receive it.

This is much more risky than greeting the hungry with violence, or indifference. It is frightening. It is hard. What if the stranger who comes in to the door is angry, or smelly, or frightening? What if, despite our best rational precautions, harm is done? But then again, what if *we* do harm to an innocent other by allowing our fear to shape our thinking too much? And what if the stranger at our doorstep is Elijah, come for his glass of wine, his plate of food, and to see if we have the courage of those who came before us?

Chag Sameach All! A Happy and Peaceful Pesach!


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Take the Oil Quiz

Gail Tverberg's quiz at Energy Bulletin here: is fun to take, but also includes a great deal of very clear information about the impact of oil peaking. For example, she makes clear why a 2 or 3% decline in production is likely to have large effects on the world than it would seem.

Check it out!


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Starting from Where You Are

My daily hatemail generally includes 3-4 messages using quite a string of obscenities to describe the indecency of my daring to speak about peak oil and climate change because I have four children. This morning I got a nice one suggesting that I should practice "retroactive abortion," which I thought was particularly charming. Oh, and I got one that reassured me that it really, really wasn't that I was Jewish that was the problem, it was my family size - but they made such a big deal about the fact that it really, really wasn't that I was Jewish that somehow I got the impression that it really, really *was* that I was Jewish - along, of course, with the sin of having a big family.

Now I'm a big girl, and I'm the one that chose to put my family status out on the blog, and in my public bio. I could easily have left it out, since there are other people in the peak oil and climate change movements with children who don't discuss their families. In fact, I can't think of a single major male figure (which is pretty much all of them) who discusses their children in their bio. By talking about mine, not only do I draw a great deal of entirely expected hostility, but I also reduce my own credibility - women who write about children and parenting are generally not taken as seriously in the guys clubs as men who write about depletion rates.

But it would be dishonest, IMHO, not to talk about my family status (although if the emails keep increasing in violence, I may change my mind about this). My kids motivate a great deal of what I do in two ways - first, because I am concerned for their future, and second because I do have more children than my just share, and thus I'm obligated to reduce my family's impact further. Our goal, not yet achieved, is to have the same ecological footprint of a family the same size in India. It this point, we use resources at about 1/3 of the rate of an American family of four. We're getting there - but it is a process.

What I find interesting about people who react so strongly to my having so many children is that it isn't really clear what they expect me to do about it. They say something along the lines of "but what you don't seem to understand is that your having all those kids is the root of the problem." But having had all those kids, and starting from where I am - what would you suggest I do? Should I stop writing? Spend all my time weeping and penning mea culpas about my reproductive habits? Would it be better if I switched this blog to being movie reviews and stories about the cute things my kids said, so that I never disturbed anyone by talking about anything more important? Frankly, the latter two sound pretty boring to me, but I live to serve.

Like everyone who comes to the peak oil and climate change movement, I have a past. Perhaps all of those reading this blog have a perfectly ethical one - you've lived your whole life in a one-room cabin lighted by your own hand-dipped beeswax candles. But I don't. I flew. I bought groceries from the supermarket. I had Barbies when I was a kid, - I'm pretty sure the plastic from will outlive my grandkids - and I didn't always fully understand the implications of population. And so I start writing from a post-lapsarian, fallen position, in which I have consumed more than my share, done environmental harm, and contributed to quite a few problems - including overpopulation. I admire those of you who come to this from a different perspective - who have never harmed the environment, and have always made wise choices. I have no difficulty at all admitting that you are better people than I am.

For the rest of us, we start from where we are. If you worked in the defense industry, or you had more than a just share of children, you bought designer clothes made by slaves, you burned oil that warmed the planet and that nigerian peasants were murdered for - the only thing we can do is to go forward from where we are. The thing is, if the only people who are allowed to speak are the ones who have always done the right thing, and always lived the right life, it will be a very quiet place. Me, I'm for having everyone speak. It isn't that I'm suggesting absolution - each of us has to deal with our prior impact in our own way. But angst about what is done is an indulgence I don't think we have time for - there's simply too much useful work to be done.

My children are my one great selfishness, and I don't deny that. I never made much money. I didn't drive a car until I was 28 years old, and I grew up with a father who never owned a car. I was poor, so I ate cheap and low on the food chain and I always liked interesting work and political activism better than vacations and nice clothes. But I have four kids, from a combination of desire and an absurdly high fertility level that has defeated every form of birth control known to mankind. And I'm very fortunate - more, perhaps, than I deserve.

There's a story in the Talmud: Jacob has four wives, and it has been prophecied that he should have 12 sons. So the matriarchs agree that each of them should have three children. But it doesn't happen that way - Leah is fortunate, and she has a fourth son, who she names "Judah" which means "Now I will praise G-d." She praises G-d because she was given a gift that was greater than her own just share, and she knows it. And she knows also that her gift comes at a price - another of Jacob's wives has only two children. In the end, the only thing that she can is be grateful, and to acknowledge and recognize that she has more than her just share.

I too have more than my just share. I don't represent myself as a role model in this, and I know that it doesn't pass the sniff test - everyone can't do what I have done. And that's true of a disturbing number of things I still do - for example, there isn't enough oil in the world for everyone to have a car, and yet, I still have one. And there aren't enough resources in the world for everyone to have four children. And yet, I still have them. Like Leah, all I can do is minimize their impact in the world, and be grateful I have them, while also not representing myself as a model for anyone else.

That said, however, I'm not wasting any energy on guilt. I did what I could with what I knew and the resources I had, and if you all want to engage in navel-gazing about your SUVs or your kids, go for it, but not here. Nor do I think that everything that is said by the zero-population growth folks is true - I believe strongly in the voluntary reduction of population, and I support measures to encourage that, but when people start talking about sterilizing the poor and other undesirables and forcible abortions, I'm right out - sometimes it is about me being Jewish. And I still think that an Amish farmer with 8 kids is better for the world than a suburban pet psychologist with two. Over the last half century, the population growth rate has dropped like a stone, for a TFR of 5 in 1950 to a TFR of 2.7 and falling. All that reduction has come from the empowerment of women and rational choices for the most part by those women - statistics show that less than 20% of that change is due to birth control availability (which is not, of course, an argument against birth control availability - it is merely an interesting observation that women are rather good at controlling their fertility when they have high status, regardless of the technology they use). That is, once women started to see that they didn't have to have six kids to see them survive to adulthood, they don't for the most part. This is not a byproduct of wealth, either - Cuba, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Albania... all of them have TFRs below the US's, and all of them are poor. So I believe strongly in *VOLUNTARY* population reduction - and voluntary means voluntary - that means that women like me who get pregnant by accident despite their best intentions, and people whose religion, or personal reasoning leads them to a different conclusion get to do what they want. I've no objection if we offer major tax penalties or pegging a system of rationing to family size so that you only get X amount of carbon emissions no matter how many kids you have - go for it - I'll help! - but voluntary is voluntary, and we're all going to have to suck up the fact that statistical outlyers will exist, no matter what. As long as you are reasonably civil, though, you can be as mad as you want at me for being one.

The thing is, people who are here are here. That means the children we've had, and the aging baby boomers who are past their best hoeing years but still keep eating are all on the same footing - the goal is to keep all of us alive and fed and to offer everyone a fair share of what's necessary. And we still have the resources to do that - if we choose.

And from there, all of us need to work as hard as we can only using only a just share of resources - period. And I don't mean a just share by American standards, I mean a share that leaves enough for everyone else in the world. Some people, including me, will have to work harder and give up more than those who haven't had as many children. Some may never get there - elderly people, for example, may always need to use more resources than younger ones, and the only choice that we younger people will have is to consume a little less still, to leave some for those who need it more. And sometimes we'll all fail - we'll fail to do the right thing, we'll fail to make the right choice when we should.

The peak oil and climate change movements needs more people - and that means people who haven't always lived perfect lives. That means people who spent their money on frivolities, who watch tv, who eat meat, who have kids, who bought an SUV, who supported the Iraq war, who are against abortion and don't use birth control, who wear leather shoes and smoke cigarettes. This simply can't be a movement of the perfect - there aren't enough of you. Heck, Julian Darley worked for Disney, I'm told, I'm willing to bet that Matt Simmons is still neck deep in the stock market, and I've heard a rumor that Richard Heinberg used to drive a van and play rock and roll. I fear our Gandhi may not be here yet (actually, don't look to close at Gandhi). Me, I'm just a girl with too many kids and little taste for martyrdom. If you don't like what I write, feel free to read someone else - there's plenty of someones out there.

And for those of you who are pure, who begin having never used more than a just share of resources, I salute you. I admire you. I can't be you, because I'm me. But I do admire you, and I understand why my failures offend you so. I just don't understand why so many of you, instead of working in your gardens, have so much time on the public computers you must use to write to me, and why, with all the free time for thought you must have, you can't think of anything better to do than tell me that it really isn't that I'm Jewish...


Friday, March 23, 2007

How You Going to Keep them Down on the Farm Once They've Seen Manhattan?

Fortunately there's no need to keep anyone down on the farm. Living a low-impact life starts where you are now. This is really important, because I think one of the instinctive reactions that people have to facing the future is "I've got to get a farm!" Now I love my farm - I wouldn't trade it for anything. But I liked being a city girl too - I still miss car-free life, since I didn't drive until I was 28 (and I still hate it), and I loved the vibrancy and culture.

So what can you do to save the world if you live in NYC, or Boston, LA or SF? Well, you could do what Colin Beavan and his family are doing at They are living a life without disposable anything (including tp), with only local food, no cars, no nothing, minimal appliances, no buying (like us, but we still buy recycled toilet paper) and it sounds like fun to me. Colin is a smart guy, and there will be a movie and a book about this as well.

All of which should just remind everyone that there are no excuses - you do what you need to now, where you are, in your place. If you can't grow a victory garden, get a windowbox. If you can't give up your car, walk or bike a little more each day. If you can't undo what you've done, start now and begin thinking "what do I really need, and what gets me the life I believe in."

And check out Colin's cool blog. And if I'm going to keep up with the Beavens', I'd better go try and persuade Eric to go toilet paper free. Hmmm...I wonder how high the impact of all that divorce paperwork would be... ;-).

Sharon, who has actually been experimenting for some time with mullein and lambs ears leaves ;-).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Not the End of the World

-Not the End of the World

Peak oil is a big deal. Climate change is a big deal. The likely economic restructuring that will accompany both of them is a big deal. But it isn't the end of the world, or at least, it need not be.

In spring, this season of renewal, I think it is important to remind ourselves of that fact.
Marie Mies, one of the authors of _The Subsistence Perspective_, recounts the story of attending a symposium on the future. Great scientists and scholars arrived from every nation, and Mies was invited to represent the "feminist perspective" (read - be the token woman) among the great men. The scholars prognosticated bleakly on an environmentally devastated future in which nuclear violence, climate change and overpopulation end the world as we know it. And then Mies spoke, saying

"Please, remember where we are in Trier, in the midst of the ruins of what was one of the capitals of the Roman empire. An empire whose collapse people then thought would mean the end of the world. But the world did not come to end with the end of Rome. The plough of my father, a peasant in the Eifel, used to hit ths tone of the Roman road that connected Trier with Cologne. On this road where the Roman legions had marched grass had grown, and now we grew our potatoes on that road."
(Mies and Bennholdt-Thomas, 25)

Mies pissed off the guys at the symposium, whose claims were that there was no hope, no future to prepare for, no reason to go forward with the next thing, to plant the next potato. In fact one of them, Josef Weizenbaum argued that we women were at fault, because we keep going on, and don't cease entirely to bear children. Weizenbaum said to Mies that women should go on sex strike. And perhaps that's not the worst way to get people to behave themselves (a la Lysistrata), but Mies also pointed out that we women often clean up the mess and go on, that there notion that nothing more will come when we have lost what we're accustomed to is a male one. Men, not exclusively but still more often than women, hold the power of large things in their hands. And I think when large things fall away, it is easy to forget that small things - the seed, the child, the need for dinner - stil go on. And so will we, at least in some way.

I don't insist on the notion that there is something fundamentally gendered about this difference - that's perhaps a little essentialist to me. But ultimately, many of us are going to have shift our focus away from distant things to the local ones, away from our preoccupations with things like B-to-B software engineering and averting the client's latest crisis, and back to things like dirt and water and dinner. We will have to turn our eyes towards the things that enable us to go on, rather than the less necessary things that put our going forward at risk.

Empires end. Eras end. Ways of life end. But people mostly go on. Yes, there's always Easter Island, and it is technically possible that we'll render the planet unhabitable by warming it. More likely we'll just kill a few billion people. But none of that has to happen. None of it is necessary. And much of what is required to prevent it is simply coming to terms with the notion that a radical change in your way of life is not the same thing as the end of the world. I think many people tend to associate the two - we have always been wealthy and comfortable and lucky here in the west, and the loss of some or all of those things seems like a disaster of unimaginable proportions. But it doesn't have to be - that's a way of thinking we can choose to discard, recognizing that those who live less comfortable lives often value them equally.

Take the toilet. Most of us are rather attached to indoor plumbing. We like it, we consider it a convenience, and more. Many of us are disgusted, sometimes violently so, by the thought of coming into contact with - even just for a moment - our own urine and feces. We have become accustomed to the notion that fresh drinking water will simply whisk away anything that we deem unpleasant. The same people who change diapers and scoop cat feces out of litter boxes are irrevocably opposed to the notion of once in a while emptying out a drawer full of dry compost from a composting toilet. People who have shit in the woods while camping would rather die than give up their flush potties at home, because they somehow have attached the whole structure of civilization to their toilets in their heads.

But there's nothing natural about the idea that we shouldn't have to deal with our own wastes - through all of human history we've done it. In fact, the last couple of generations of rich white American folk were really the only people in history ever to have to have nothing to do with their own poop. In us is the capacity to get over the toilet, or the lack thereof, to stop wasting drinking water and start building soil fertility from human waste, rather than from artificial nitrogens that warm the planet and destroy the environment.

And the same is true of all the other things we've become accustomed to - we've tended to think
that if we don't have X, or live Y way, the world will come to an end - we'll be savages, awash in a Mad Max-esque world with nothing worth living in it. But not only is that wrong, it is a demeaning way of thinking - demeaning to our ancestors and everyone else in the world who lives without the luxuries we have. For us to say "life without hot showers wouldn't be worth living" even in jest, is to begin our thinking with the assumption that those who don't have hot showers somehow live a lesser life than we do. But were our grandmothers less civilized, less human, less valuable because their lives didn't begin with indoor plumbing?

Even deeper things and those of more value than hot showers carry the same false associations. Modern medicine is in many ways a good thing, and people who advocate doing anything to preserve technology often talk about defibrillators and appendicitis and emergency response. And I'd like to see these things continue too - but more people die every year from medical errors than would die if we didn't have surgeons for appendicitis. Fewer of us would need defibrillators if we lived in a society with less meat and more exercise. And 1/3 of all emergency response calls are in relation to car-related injuries - 1 million people die every year because of cars. But that's a holocaust we're willing to tolerate because we're comfortable with it and we see it as an inevitable downside of our society, rather than something that if we changed it, we wouldn't have to endure. A life without much of modern medicine - still keeping the germ theory of disease and knowledge of low-intervention care like splinting bones, washing hands and midwifery would undoubtably lose more people to death in childbirth, accidents and sudden heart attacks. It would also lose less people do to superbugs, medical errors, car accidents and other downsides of modern life. I haven't run the numbers - I don't know which would save more lives in the end. But what matters here is that a life in which appendicitis condemns you to death is not inherently more hellish than one where riding to work condemns you to death - we tend to associate what we have with the "civilized and good" and what we don't as "uncivilized and terrible" - but again, that's a habit of thought we can change.

Civilization is not a lifestyle, it is a way of thinking about our relationship to other people. In a civilized society, you act as though other people are as real as you are - that is, you assume that they feel pain like you do, and you endeavor to do unto others as you would have done to you. In a civilized society you believe that others have rights, just as you believe you do, and you attempt to extend them as justly and fairly as possible. Perhaps we cannot offer everyone the right to be free of hunger - I hope we can, but perhaps it won't be possible - civilization begins at the moment that we try to create some kind of real equity, and at best, don't go around enjoying our enormous meals in front of the starving as we do today. Civilization has existed in all of human history at one point or another - and if it has a definition, if you can sort out the societies that thought public beheadings were civilized from the ones that didn't - it comes down to the notion that we have responsiblities towards other people, and the other people have rights and responsibilities towards us. The rest is culture - and culture is valuable, but we are not so written into our culture that we cannot learn to think anew.

And there is nothing in civilization that has anything to do with lights, ipods, toilet paper, social security and clean underwear every morning. We have gotten in the habit of associating the *objects* of our civilization with the *fact* of civilization, and thus seeing in the absence of those objects, the end of the world. And that is a real and serious mistake.

It is a mistake for two reasons. First, it leads us in the wrong direction - it means when we seek to preserve what is good about our lives we are focusing on what things we can keep going, as if that was the central issue, rather than what objects we need to achieve a just and decent society. And second, when it turns out that we can't all have our own ipods anymore, it plunges us into despair, thinking that we have lost our world. But our world is not its objects or comforts, and it is not our wealth.

Beyond certain fairly simple needs - home, shelter, food, water, clothing, love, society, in many cases, the things we have are barriers to civilization - they are barriers to doing good, honorable work that doesn't harm anyone. If we substitute a powered object that warms the planet for something we can do fairly easily - like hang laundry or mix bread - we have stepped away from what we consider civilized and done injustice for no reason other than a few minutes of saved time. And the moment we begin justifying harm to others and the future by saying "well, I'm very very busy, and my very important work justifies this..." we've stepped onto the road to moral evil. As long we believe our own comfort is worthy of doing others harm, even our own children, we will never be able to achieve justice. And many times, the objects we have implicitly tell us that we are not competent to do these things the right way - the rototillers stands speaks volumes as it says, "the hoe is too hard."

The same is true, more explicitly, of the industrial economy - its functioning depends on making itself indispensible. That is, we must need corporations enough so that however they act, we will continue to absolve them because we need them for food and clothing and shelter. Our dependency narrows our choices - it means, for example, that we cannot require the industrial economy and the things it makes to serve us and our definition of justice - we must accomodate ourselves to it. And so we are told that an increasing host of things that no human being before us ever needed our indispensible to human life - that we cannot go on without the objects of civilization, and the multinationals that provide them. This is, of course, a lie. Perhaps *the* lie.

As long as we perceive civilization in the objects of civilization, we will be dependent on the industrial economy, industrial agriculture, and all the other things that do harm to us and the future. I do not mean this in a purely sentimental sense - I don't think it is possible to live without doing harm, and there are tools that we all use to make life better. But understanding the harm they do, and choosing wisely and honestly, from a perspective that understands that these are merely tools to be picked up or laid down as we choose, a useful means to the kind of world we want to live in - is the key to having power over our future. We accept that a politician who takes money from agribusiness is probably influenced by their desires. But we are not free of the influence of agribusiness as long as we are dependent upon it to feed us. And as long as we are dependent upon the growth economy to supply our most basic needs, we may speak of resistance, but we are voting with our dollars for industrial society, and our dollars always speak louder than our words.

We must begin to turn around our thinking, and begin not from the objects we associate with civilization, but from the values we hold dear. From there, we can move forward again in a meaningful way, asking ourselves of each choice "is this truly necessary, and are its consequences things we want." We might think, as the Amish do, for example, before we adopt a technology, whether its unintended consequences are worth it to us. The Amish do not drive cars, not because they believe cars are evil - they will ride in them - but because they believe cars enable a society of distance and independence that is incompatible with their basic beliefs and values. What would the world be like if we evaluated everything we chose in the same terms - if we looked at the things in our life not as links to civilization, but as catalysts for a particular kind of society, and asked ourselves, are we choosing the right catalysts. What might our culture look like if we chose only to take the best and most essential elements of what we have, and conserve the rest? What might it look like if we held any values dear enough to limit ourselves in order to enjoy them? I suspect, in fact, that we *do* as people hold values dear. And thus, the ones we claim we care about - freedom and justice, honor and integrity - those are the things the structure of our society should reinforce.

There is very little doubt that we have enough resources on the earth today to enable our society to gradually come to a sustainable population and avoid any kind of disaster - if we in the rich world are willing to give up many of the things we have come to associate with our culture and civilization itself. There is no need for hunger, or continued warming of the planet - but in order to create a world in which resources are used more wisely, we'd have to undergo tremendous cultural change. And the first such change would be the disassociation of the world itself with the way of life we have become accustomed to, with a real and serious evaluation what it is we want our lives to be for.

Someday - whether in 10 years or 500, the odds are good that someone will plant potatoes on the highway that passes my town. Societies end. Ways of life end. The grass comes up again. And it will for all of us. The question is what do we offer the people who are here now and those who come after us - is the best we can hope for to have them scramble to survive in the ashes of our "civilization" or can we do better.

The grass will be up soon here. Perhaps we had better choose. And wisely.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More on Post-Peak Fiction

One of my former professors, Paul Morrison, used to say observe that never before has the gap between the books that most people read and the books that we consider worthy of attention in literary critical circles been so great, and of course, he was right. And it is a fascinating gap - if you look at the books people buy, they tend heavily to genre fiction (science fiction, mysteries, romances, chick lit, thrillers, children's literature and the modern sentimental novel of family trauma), but for the most part, literary critics don't pay much (official) attention to these books. In fact, I would argue based on a wholly unscientific sample, that there's never been a greater gap between the books that literary critics read for pleasure and the ones they write about.

After a decade or so floating around various halls of academe, I found that while we all read "Paradise Lost" and _The Waves_, when you poke a literary graduate student or professor, they often can talk with astounding skill about the books that everyone else is reading. That's not to say that we don't love high art - we do. But just as most musicians have high catholic tastes in music, and appreciate its pleasure in multiple forms, before we were literary critics we were all just passionate, obsessive readers, and have remained so. Underneath the post-modernist taste is often a deep knowledge of Star Trek novels, medieval mysteries, Harry Potter or horror fiction. Heck, I knew at least as many professors and graduate students who wrote genre fiction as published poetry, plays or literary novels - I had a professor who wrote _Sweet Valley High_ stories, several graduate students I knew parlayed their deep knowledge of a historical period into a career writing period bodice rippers, and at least two Profs of my acquaintance write the most formal sorts of mystery, complete with plucky young heroine and resolution on the 280th page.

I mention this, because I happened upon an essay by Erik Curren in the electronic magazine "Conserve", in which he critiqued my recent call for peak oil and climate change fiction for showing utopian leanings. Utopianism, he observes is boring. He then launches into a defense of high culture dystopian literature, which he happens to teach. I must say I'm grateful to Curren for giving me an excuse to write more in the genre of my old profession, literary criticism. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to spend some time thinking about what kind of writing we might both want and need to read in the future. You can and should read Curren's essay here: He says,

"Some of us will certainly enjoy reading inspiring visions of how great life can be when every other lawn is a permaculture garden and Wal-Mart is just a bad memory. But if you want to put peak oil and global warming in the classroom – or on Oprah – then maybe you’ll need fiction that’s good literature first and propaganda second."

On this, I agree with him wholeheartedly, but I don't think those are quite the only choices.

There are places where I disagree with Curren, but one of them is not in the claim that Utopian literature is boring. But he mistakes (and really, the mistake is mostly mine - my rather hastily articulated call to fiction may well have given the wrong impression) my suggestion that we offer a vision of what life could be as a call to write utopian political fiction. I can understand why he thinks that's what I'm saying - the juxtaposition of my call to propaganda, the reference to _Little House on the Prairie_ (Which most people have mixed up with the sentimental television show of the same title. Until you read it as an adult you won't appreciate its bell-clear prose and a vision of what childhood is like as fascinating, in its own way as _What Maisie Knew_ - Wilder's books are not nostalgic, except for a lost *family* - that others read them nostalgically is interesting, but much more about reader than writer) as representing a call for utopianism.

But what we're actually talking about is not utopianism, but Romanticism - that is, the genre of literature that represents both a harkening back to an agrarian past and a leftist call to arms to recreate a better society is Romantic literature. Romaticism had traction in just about every Western nation during the 19th century at some point or another - Germany, France, America and England among others all had their Romantic schools. We tend to think of Romanticism as only Wordsworth and Shelley, but in fact it included Gothic novels like _Castle Rackrent_ and _Frankenstein_, American writers like Hawthorne, Germans like Goethe, etc... Romanticism produced really quite lovely poetry, and some good novels too - actually quite a lot of them. It was one of the most artistically productive schools of literary thought in history.

I think Curren is rather quick to dismiss any representations of a meaningful or interesting future as Utopian - the assumption is that envisioning any future other than abject disaster is a vision of a conflict-less monotony. Not only do I think that's not true, I think it is a bad way of thinking about the future of people, much less art. If we can't come up with some meaningful ground between dystopia and utopia, we're going to have a rather nasty future. But fortunately, there is considerable middle ground in romanticism. The move to a *more perfect* (but not necessarily perfect) future, connected to a meaningful past is a real and useful way of putting together two ways of thinking. In fact, it might be helpful for us to think of ourselves as part of a new Romantic movement - romanticisms specifically believe in the possibility of meaningful cultural change - something that most post-modern literature does not. Instead of detachment, romanticism represents engagement in the most literal sense - which is why the romantic writers wrote political tracts, set up new living arrangements, and fomented revolution. All environmental movements are to some degree romantic - and we're no different. If we didn't believe transformation was possible, we'd be getting rich on the other side ;-).

The problem with old-style romantic movements is that they tend to be rather impractical, and their passion is such that one burns out with all that emoting. The 1960s generation has been characterized as a species of romanticism, and after 30, things kind of petered for most of the boomers. So what we need is a literary, and literal romanticism of adulthood - a romantic movement that thinks more carefully and husbands its energies more wisely. Is that achievable? I don't know. I do think, however it might make for some fascinating writing.

Which brings me to the second thing that I found of interest in Curren's essay - that he makes such a powerful contrast between high culture literature and low culture literature. The authors he lists are all full-scale, "official" high culture literature, although Atwood hasn't always had that designation. But she's something of an exception - the rest of the writers he invokes to make me look silly and the ones he actually teaches are high canonical authors. I was left wondering whether Curren's students, who, of course enjoy mulling over the end of the world are ever actually connected to the dystopian fiction that shows up on most people's shelves - for example, do his students read the massive best-sellers, The Left Behind books? They are admittedly dreck, and the dreck of a politics I find nigh-on-unbearable, but they are also important if you believe that literary scholars should have anything to do with the culture at large. If all it is a cataloguing of what constitutes high art, and the reading of those books so that someone will, literary criticism has very little to do with anything other than the preservation of high culture. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for the preservation of high culture. But there is no inherent distinction between "literature" and "what folks read" - and I would think that a class on dystopian fiction would address the cultural implications of the vision that shapes more dystopian thinkers than any other at present.

Personally, I thought Curren's list of books was on the limited side. Margaret Atwood isn't a bad writer, but *two* of her novels? She's not Shakespeare either. And Philip Roth, having not had a book that people really talked about in a decade or two, uses the conventions of...what else...genre fiction to get a book that people will actually read. The same is true of McCarthy. I like both writers very much, but to a large degree what their books do is make high culture writing accessible by taking on the conventions of genre fiction. It happens all the time - when the culture of New York readers stopped being such that there was a large audience for Susan Sontag, she wrote a straight out romance novel, the _The Volcano Lovers_ - nothing wrong with that (some of the best high and low culture literature has a good romance in it) - but again, a defense of high culture dystopian literature is something of a contradiction in terms - good writers are picking up low culture genres for their own pleasure or for expanded audiences.

But if the genres aren't themselves low culture anymore (there was a time when no high culture author would consider writing science fiction), then the fact that mystery, children's literatures and science fiction writers don't get on Oprah's book club or get taught in many lit classes isn't because they aren't good writers (that we'd have to look at on a case-by-case basis) or because genre writing isn't worthy of being taught in some inherent way, but because of our prejudices.
That's not to say that plenty of genre writing isn't dull and stupid - it is. But there's nothing inherently less literary about the books regular folks read that you can discern from where they are shelved in the library - that is, Hawthorne may be a better writer than Laura Ingalls Wilder, but only if you can argue that point out - he isn't a better writer because she wrote for children and he didn't. And he isn't a better writer because college teachers teach him. He may be a better writer - I think he is, although not in clarity ;-), but we shouldn't assume so - we should read them both.

The references I made were mostly to books that people actually read. And I think that's still the right thing - because there is no contrast, despite Curren's implication - between good books and children's or genre fiction. There are good writers in every format and genre, and ones who deserve more attention.. But I do think we should focus on closing the gap between high and low culture - there is no reason that intellectual fiction is not or cannot be accessible - having to work hard to understand what is being said is not the definition of good writing. And if literature is to have any influence, it needs to have an audience - as someone like Roth knows. Writing books that 14 literary critics read may add another piece of art to the world and let another fairy get its wings, but its real impact is about nil. Books matter because they are read, and discussed, and thought about - and the way books become read and discussed and thought about it to be accessible (not easy) to everyone who wants to read. There will, of course, always be a place for James Joyce, and I suspect any new Romantic movement will have its Joyces. But it may be that we need its popular - and interesting - voices even more.


100 Children's Books that Encourage Sustainable Values Part I

100 Children’s Books that Support Sustainable Values

I began collecting good kids books for my children before they were even born, often bought used at library and yard sales, and I've continued. This is the first half of the list, covering books for young children. Older kids books and the second part will be along when I get around to it. I welcome additional suggestions, of course.

Notes on this list - this is not intended to be a comprehensive list of good children’s books, but rather a selection of books that besides being well written and entertaining, also offer important messages that children don’t often hear in our culture. Things like “growing and making things yourself is important and valuable work” and “Cooperation and kindness are more important than competition and consumption.” We’re not interested in books that are simply moralistic, however, but fun, readable, beautiful books that also teach children what their parents value. Children need lots of books, and they don't always have to be perfect in every way. But it is important for our children to be able to imagine the world we'd like them to live in, and books are an important part of that.

The age ranges here are approximate - use your best judgement. The ideal situation is for parents to read books to their children, or to read them concurrently with older children, and thus be able to discuss them together. We’ve noted when there are issues parents might want to discuss with the children - sometimes older books that are otherwise valuable have ugly racial or cultural messages, and many contemporary children’s books have strongly vegetarian messages that families that raise animals for food might be uncomfortable with. We have tried to include a mix of urban and rural images, although images of people growing food and making objects tend to be biased towards the country. In general, we recognize (and hope you will too) that no book is perfect, but that these are good and important books for children.

-Baby Books:

These are book for children 3 and under - simple language, lots of pictures, simple, quiet stories, potential for interaction.

1. _Maisie On the Farm_ by Lucy Cousins. There are an infinity of ‘visit to the farm” books, but the Maisie ones are especially charming to little people, and among other things, Maisie’s visit includes a chance to shovel manure.

2. _How Kind_ by Mary Murphy. Mary Murphy writes the best books for little children imaginable. In this one, everyone in the barnyard wants to be nice to each other. The perfect book for very small children.

3. _Joy_ by Joyce Carol Thomas An African-American grandmother and grandson enjoy nature together in every season. Lyrical, lovely text with intergenerational images.

4. _A Little Bit of Soul Food_ by Amy Wilson Sanger. This book and the 6 others (among them _Let’s Nosh_ and _Yum Yum Dim Sum_) introduce and celebrate traditional cultural foods to very young children. Funny lyrics and funky quilted visual.

5. _It is the Wind_ by Ferida Wolff. A little boy identifies the sounds of the night with many soothing repetitions. There are comparatively few African American children in most books with rural scenes and this is a pleasant exception.

6. _The Big Red Barn_ by Margaret Wise Brown. The perfect farm book for babies - soothing, peaceful, adorable, full of animals.

7. _Pancakes, Pancakes_ by Eric Carle. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Eric Carle’s books, but this is an exception. Young Jack wants pancakes for breakfast, but his mother is busy, and he has to help - he takes the wheat to the mill, collects the egg, and gets the jam from the cellar.

9. _Farm Tales_ var. authors - A Golden Book Collection. The Little Golden books were the high quality children’s books before Dr. Seuss. Some of them are better than others, but some of the best ones are collected in this single volume. Here is the story of _The Little Red Hen_ who gets no help at any stage of bread making, except the eating. Here are Margaret Wise Brown’s little gardeners (gloss rapidly over the spraying part of the book), and favorite of all of my children, here is _The Boy with the Drum_ who parades through the world with the animals behind him.

10. _Good Bread: A Book of Thanks_ By Brigitte Weninger and Anne Moller. A little girl and her mother bake bread, and the history of the loaf is shown in beautiful illustrations, beginning from seed, and including the growing of the wheat, hand grinding it, and an expression of thanks and hope that other children have such good bread. It is a lovely, lovely book, with a message that doesn't require faith but lightly invokes it.

11. _To Market, To Market_ by Anne Miranda. A woman goes shopping and keeps coming back with inconveniently alive animals who wreak havoc in her house. She resolves the difficulty by going shopping for fresh vegetables (admittedly at a supermarket, but the book is so good this is worth overlooking) and making soup for the lot. All of my children *adored* this book.

12. _A Ride on Mother's Back_ by Emery and Durga Bernhard. Asher, my 16 month old likes to look at the pictures of children all over the world being carried by parents, siblings, grandparents in the course of their daily activities. His big brothers like the descriptions of what it is like to live in each place.

13. _Carry Me, Mama_ by Monica Devine and Pauline Paquin. The glorious paintings show a little girl coming to terms with not being carried all the time as she gets stronger and more independent.

14. _Jamberry_ by Bruce Degen. A silly fantasy about a world covered in berries, it glories in the pleasures of simple things like a ripe strawberry. Another family favorite.

15. _The Farmer's Alphabet_ by Mary Azarian. The perfect first alphabet book, friendly woodblock prints of farm animals and other things familiar to northern children in agricultural regions look out. Even babies love this book. The book was specifically created by Azarian because many alphabet books represented a world the Vermont school children she taught had never seen. All her books are wonderful, including _The Gardener's Alphabet_.

16. _Hush Little Baby_ by Sylvia Long. Instead of Papa buying things for his baby, Mama helps here little rabbit see beautiful things in the world around him. Gorgeous illustrations.

17. _Summertime_ by George Gershwin and Co., illustrated by Mike Wimmer. Stunningly painted, a rural, obviously poor African-American family has a wonderful time enjoying the summer. I sing this song to my children every night.

18. _Naamah, Noah's Wife_ by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. If you don't object to the Judeo-Christian story content, this is an excellent book. It shows Naamah's part in the Noah story, based on a story from the Talmud. Naamah is told by G-d to gather seeds and plants, while her husband gathers the animals. She almost forgets the dandelions, and because of that, they are given special gifts to spread. She then replants the earth. A potent metaphor, and simple enough for young children.

-Picture Books

These books are for children from 2-6.

19. _Oxcart Man_ by Donald Hall. If I could recommend one single book for this age group, this would be it. It is a beautiful book, with lovely folk-art illustrations and the poetic language Hall is deservedly famous for (he’s a major poet). My children love this book, and can recite the text with me. In it, a 19th century farmer and his family collect “everything they had made and grown that was left over” to sell.

20. _Tomorrow’s Alphabet_ by George Shannon . Alphabet books are a dime a dozen, but this one is truly fascinating when teaching children that things don’t just magically appear in their world - that everything comes from some source. The book shows an item, and “tomorrow” it becomes something beginning with each letter. So, for example, for “A,” an apple seed is “Tomorrow’s Apple” and for P, clay is “Tomorrow’s Pot”

21. _This Land is Your Land_ by Woody Guthrie. The Classic Folk song, with lovely illustrations by Kathie Jakobson. Includes the full lyric text, with its call to personal action and social justice.

22. _Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel_ by Leslie Connor. Like all of Connor’s books, and like nearly everything illustrated by the sublime Mary Azarian, this is a lovely book. “She could have had a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chosen a shovel back in 1856.” Miss Bridie sets out from Ireland to the new world, and her shovel helps her in every stage of her life.

23. _Just Enough and Not Too Much_ by Kaethe Zemack. Simon the fiddler wants more and more…and then he doesn’t anymore (I suspect we can all identify).

24. _A Chair For My Mother_ by Vera B. Williams. A hard-working family saves and saves to buy a beautiful, comfortable chair to sit in at the end of the day. A great book, with several sequels.

25. _Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus_ by Mo Willems. This might seem like an odd choice for this list, but the techniques the pigeon uses to try and convince the reader to let him drive the bus are a classic laundry list of peer pressure and manipulation techniques (often the same ones used by children to get stuff from their parents ;-). My four year old thought this was the funniest book on earth (plus, you can sing it to the tune of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt…Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus/It’s not a good idea….), and found it completely ridiculous that anyone would ever believe these comments. There are many sequels, including the rather sweet but funny _The Pigeon Has Feelings Too_.

26. _How Groundhog's Garden Grew_ by Lynne Cherry. This is my favorite gardening book for children. The illustrations are stunning, including drawings of plants at every stage of development, and the story is endearing. Concepts like thinning and perennials are included. Little Groundhog learns he can't just take food, he has to grow his own. A wonderful book.

27. _Joseph Had a Little Overcoat_ by Simms Taback. Based on a folktale, Joseph has a lovely overcoat, but one day it gets old and warm. What does he do about it? The cutout illustrations show it becoming a vest, a scarf, a handkerchief, a button and finally... a story about making things out of other things. Good even for younger kids, but has lasting value.

28._Snowflake Bentley_ by Mary Azarian. I know her name appears often here, but that's only because her books are so invaluable. This is the true story of the first man to seriously study snow crystals, and besides being a lovely book, it is also a reminder that the local is just as important and magical as the distant. The book allows children to understand that close knowledge of a single place is at least as valuable as wide knowledge.

29. _Keep Looking_ by Millcent Selsam and Joyce Hunt. This is my three year old, Isaiah's favorite book. He is our noticer - he is always the first to hear the bird or see the flash of a deer's tail. And this book is all about the small creatures and life one can find in an ordinary winter landscape.

30. _Agatha's Feather Bed_ by Carmen Agra Deedy. Agatha operates a small shop in New York city, and spins and weaves. She tells children "Everything comes from somewhere/nothing comes from nowhere," but forgets that this dictate applies to her as well. She orders a feather bed from a catalog, and one night, some angry, cold geese appear. Her resolution to the problem is wonderful, and the illustrations in the corner show the origins of many common items. The reminder that we cannot pretend things just come into being is essential.

31. _Cook-A-Doodle-Doo_ by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. An ambitious rooster, grandson of The Little Red Hen, famed in story, decides that he wants to learn to cook too. He has the same difficulties getting the cat, the dog and the goose to help him that his grandmother did, but fortunately, Potbellied Pig, Turtle and Iguana are there to "help." The book provides careful and very funny instructions for cooking, and also a good reminder that mistakes happen in the kitchen. Recipe for strawberry shortcake included.

32. _A House Is a House For Me_ by Mary Ann Hoberman. This lovely poem is an invitation to think of the whole world as home to someone or something. Children are shown over and over in their own "houses" crafted of boxes and tables.

33. _Homeplace_ by Anne Shelby. This gorgeously illustrated (by Wendy Anderson Halperin) tale shows a grandmother telling her granddaughter the history of their home over the last two centuries. Each generation improves the home and adapts it to meet their needs, and the little girl learns that she too will be part of her history.

34. _The Tale I Told Sasha_ by Nancy Willard. All Nancy Willard's books are surreal and beautiful, but this one was Eli's favorite for many years. A little girl in a small house on a rainy day is given a yellow ball by her busy mother, and magical, Lewis Carrollesque journeys ensue in her imagination. We are told, "Our house is quiet, small and plain,/and yet its rooms run far and wide." The book is truly magical, as are David Christiana's illustrations. Another one of hers to check out, _Pish Posh said Heironymous Bosh_ doesn't really have anything to do with sustainability but is so terrific I have to mention it.

35. _Stone Soup_ by Marcia Brown. This classic folktale tells the story of an impoverished community where everyone is afraid to share. The travellers show that it is possible, working together, to create something more than the sum of its parts.

36. _The Boat_ by Helen Ward and Ian Andrew. In a brilliant variation on the Noah's Ark story, an old man rescues animals, but dislikes and fears humans, who in turn fear him. When a flood occurs, a young boy enables his community to cross the barrier of fear and connect.

37. _We Gather Together_ By Wendy Pfeiffer. A history and narrative of harvest festivals all over the world. Emphasizes that harvesting food is always a time for celebration and joy.

38. _Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs_ by Tomie de Paolo. I remember my parents reading this book to me, and now I read it to my children. It resonates especially with them because until recently, their great-grandparents lived with them. Tommy loves his grandmother, who cares for his great-grandmother, who he also loves very much. This book does talk about death, and also about the obligations extended families have towards one another. Many of Paolo's other books are suitable as well - _Quilt Story_ for example.

39 _The Quilt-Maker's Gift_ Stunning fairy tale about a magical quilt maker who teaches a king to be unselfish. There are companion books of quilting patterns and techniques available (and a prequel in which the insulated young quilt-maker discoveries she cannot enjoy her privelege in a world of poverty and suffering), and this is an excellent book to introduce handwork with, as well as a beautiful story.

40. _Pumpkin Circle_ This wonderful, clever book describes the seed cycle, including the transition back to compost and saved seeds. It is exuberant and fun, and very popular in my house.

41. _The Three Questions_ by Jon Muth (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy). Nikolai wants to know how to be a good person, and he finds a variety of answers, and then discovers he has known all along. Tolstoy's short story _The Three Questions_ is excellent reading for teenagers.

43. _It Could Always Be Worse_ A classic Jewish folktale - a man who is too crowded in his small home goes to a Rabbi to ask what he should do. The Rabbi says, move your goats and chickens into your house! Of course, that only makes it worse, and the man returns, and more and more things are added to his house. Finally, the man who could not manage in his house with his wife and children is permitted to remove all the animals, and miraculously, the house is spacious and comfortable. An important message for our times.

44. _The Mitten_ by Jan Brett. Brett's astounding illustrations and clever texts are a real pleasure. Nikki wants mittens as white as snow, but his grandmother thinks he'll lose them. She knits them anyway, and one finds itself lost, a home for many silly animals. Also check out _On Noah's Ark_ which has one of the most complete visual catalogs of animal life I've ever seen in a book, and gently reminds us how important it is to preserve all that life.

45. _The Patchwork Quilt_ by Valerie Flournoy. There's a reason there are so many books on quilting in this list - it is one of the few popular ways of linking us to the handmade past. This is a particularly good book. Tanya's grandmother is making a scrap quilt, and Tanya's mother doesn't understand why this hand made quilt is so important to Grandma. Grandma makes the quilt out of the pieces of Tanya's life - her favorite old clothes, the fabric used to make her African princess outfit. When Grandmother becomes ill, Tanya helps finish the quilt. Light Christian religious content, but well worth it for non-Christians because of the strong images of extended families, and commitment to maintaining the past.

46. _Horton Hatches the Egg_ by Dr. Seuss. I bet you thought I was going to go for _The Lorax_, no? But as much as I like the old truffala-guy, I think the message of Horton is equally important. Horton is a faithful, kind and nurturing guy whose courage and generosity are rewarded in the end. And, of course, like all Dr. Seuss books, a great deal of fun to read.

47. _Let's Eat_ by Beatrice Hollyer. This book, produced by Oxfam, is a terrific introduction to the food and the culture of other places. It gently helps children recognize that not everyone has enough, but does so in the context of showing the way everyone participates in food production all over the world. Recipes are included. _Wake Up World_ is a related book that tells about the lives of children everywhere.

48. _Soil_ by Christin Ditchfield. Author of five books on natural resources including ones on oil, coal and water, Ditchfield's books are wonderful, clear-eyed introductions to science and sustainability. The book is on the complex side for younger children, but accessible and smart, and allows children to begin understanding the differences in soils and how to grow things in them.

49. _Tops and Bottoms_ by Janet Stevens. A very funny book in which a hare (who got into trouble losing a bet with a tortoise) tricks a lazy bear into "sharing" a garden with him.

50. _The Errant Knight_ by Ann Tompert. In a magical world, a noble knight sets out to serve his king, willing to fight dragons and slay giants if necessary. He does not want to be an errant knight, but one who concentrates on serving his ruler. But on his journey to his king, he keeps encountering people in need - a lost child, a church in need of rebuilding, a serf who needs freeing...the knight keeps doing good deeds until he grows old, never reaching his king. Until, one day, at the end of his life he arrives to see his king, ashamed that he never made it to the king's side to serve him. But the king raises him up and lets him know that each time he served someone in need, he also served their rulers.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On Market Failure

Sir Nicholas Stern, the current greatest authority in the world on the economic consequences of global warming visited congress recently, and during his testimony reiterated his phrase that global warming is "the biggest market failure ever seen." The economists on the panel didn't much like the claim, of course, because they didn't think that things like loss of species diversity and extinctions really could come under the definition of market failure. But Stern held his ground on this one.

But, of course, global warming is not an example of market failure in the classical sense: market failures happen when the market does not efficiently allocate goods and services, and when some kind of central organization would work better. But that would imply that the failure to address externalities (carbon and methane emissions included) is a market failure, an error in a functioning system, rather than an integral part of the markets themselves. No wonder the economists don't like the idea that this is market failure - because the markets are failing because they are operating as intended.

Acknowledging this is an indictment of the system, and a recognition that the problem of global warming is fundamentally a problem of the way markets do business. The markets of growth capitalism operate efficiently because they are able to offload consequences on to the general public. Admitting that externalities are the origin of a big old, planet destroying market failure might make us reconsider whether we should be letting human beings with brains and ethics decide how our economy works rather than magic fairies with invisible hands.

I'd be inclined to argue with Sir Nicholas on one point though - global warming may not be the biggest example, at least if we're talking about scale. In terms of, oh, potential destruction-of-all-human-life, climate change is the biggies, but in terms of markets creating the largest possible failure to allocate goods and services wisely, in a way that could have been better handled by a six year old with an abacus, that market failure prize would go to the gigantic economic disaster known as industrial agriculture.

Because, of course, it turns out that the most efficient way to grow food is to have a lot of people grow it in small scale organic polycultures. I've pointed this out before but even the World Trade Organization now admits that this is true, so there really isn't that much dispute. Peter Rosset's research on agricultural scale took place in dozens of countries and in every agricultural model conceivable shows that small scale, polyculture farms of 4-100 acres have a per acre output many times greater than industrial agriculture.

In study after study in journals like Nature, organic agriculture yields the same or better than industrial agriculture. In trials traditional rice paddy cultivation methods outyielded industrial models. Why don't we know this? Because we've been lied to. We've been told that GMOs and Cargill are our only hope. But right now, 2 *billion* people on this planet (according to the UN) are living entirely off of small scale organic or largely organic polyculture - this methodology is feeding more people than lived on the planet for most of human history. And they are doing it on marginal land for the most part, having been pushed off the best land by export crops and industrial farming. What could they, what could we do if the best land in the world was used for feeding the people who lived on it?

It also is the case, as again even the evil WTO has to admit, that when agricultural jobs are lost, only about 1/2 of what is lost is made up in the rest of the economy - most of the people displaced from their farms end up much worse off, which is, of course, bad for the economy as a whole. The next billion people added to the planet are almost all going to be urban slum dwellers, and they don't contribute a lot to the overall wealth of the world. So even if you have no scruples about displacing farmers from their land, it doesn't make anyone richer or better off to do so.

And it doesn't make people happier either. Farmers who are conveniently relieved by the industrial economy of the terrible burden of their work have a disquieting habit of killing themselves. It turns out that terrible drudgery was something they loved passionately, and their relationship with their land was central enough to their lives that giving it up destroys them. Whether the farmer lives in Wisconsin or India or Korea or Columbia, they often die or end up impoverished and miserable when you take away their land to feed the growth economy. Again, whether or not you have any ethical scruples about killing people and destroying their relationship with their land, it turns out that it doesn't make anyone's lives better, except, perhaps the tiny number of rich people who always benefit. Coincidence, huh?

So we are growing less food than we could, creating less wealth than we could, making more people unhappy about their food choices than we could, plus killing some farmers. That, folk, would be major, large scale, serious market failure. Because in agriculture, for the most part, economies of scale - aren't. Makes me wonder whether it might not be true for other things. It certainly is true of global warming, where we're considering sacrificing our own lives to keep the economy going - because we can't imagine our lives without the magic market faeries to save us.
Here's the real, sneaky truth. If the free market is willing to kill us, and let people go hungry for its functioning, then human beings have come to serve the markets, rather than the other way around. We're the slaves of something that has no mind, no soul, no ethics, nothing other than an endless, gaping need for growth. In fact, the growth economy devours its young. Way back when in the middle ages, Christians used to have this thing about interest - they believed that allowing money to make money without anyone doing any work was creating something out of nothing, and that was territory only for G-d, not for man. It allowed money to take the place of G-d. Well, it turns out that the early Christians were right. Not only does it take the place of any other gods, but it isn't a friendly, long hair and a robe kind of divinity - we're talking Cthulu with the dripping fangs, people.

It isn't market failure. It is our failure - our failure to recognize that we have devoted ourselves to a god that will destroy us. And the best solution to that one is a good, rousing, old fashioned, throw-the-golden-calf-on-the-fire rout of the false gods.

Where's my pitchfork and torch?

Sharon in upstate NY

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Still Think We Should Keep Flying...?

From The Sunday Times
March 11, 2007
To the end of the earth

This is our future - famous cities are submerged, a third of the world is desert, the rest struggling for food and fresh water. Richard Girling investigates the reality behind the science of climate change

Mark Lynas rummages through his filing cabinet like a badger raking out his bedstraw, much of the stuff so crumpled that he might have been sleeping on it for years. Eventually he finds what he is looking for - four sheets of printed paper, stapled with a page of notes.
It is an article, dated November 2000, which he has clipped from the scientific journal Nature: "Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model". Even when they are mapping a short cut to Armageddon, scientists do not go in for red-top words like "crisis". If you speak the language, however, you get the message - and the message, delivered by the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Change, was cataclysmic.

"There should have been panic on the streets," says Lynas in his new book, Six Degrees, "people shouting from the rooftops, statements to parliament and 24-hour news coverage."
In layman's language, Hadley's message was that newly discovered "positive feedbacks" would make nonsense of accepted global-warming estimates. It would not be a gradual, linear increase with nature slowly succumbing to human attrition. Nature itself was about to turn nasty. Instead of absorbing and retaining greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, the figures suggested, it would suddenly spew them out again - billions of years' worth of carbon and methane, incontinently released in blazing surges that would drown or incinerate whole cities. Ice would melt in torrents, and the Earth's essential green lung, the Amazon rainforest, could be moribund as early as 2050. A vicious spiral would have begun which would threaten not just our way of life but the very existence of our own and every other species on Earth. Lynas's notes, still fixed to the report, have the dour humour of the gallows: "The end of the world is nigh, and it's already been published in Nature."

Read the rest of the article folks - very, very carefully. Time to riot.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Part II of The Next 100 Things You Can Do...

Is up over at Groovy Green:

Things are a little crazy here - trying to _A Nation of Farmers_ up and running and early chapters off to the publisher. So I doubt you'll get much new content from me until next week - of course, I didn't intend to write the last piece, so you never know.

It is starting a long, slow warm up - yay!! Spring is coming, and with it the garden. We've got kale growing now, and tatsoi and mizuna ready to pick in the house, but it will be lovely to touch dirt (the three feet of snow has been something of a barrier).

Much to do. Much to plant. Maybe I'll get a list of what I'm planting up soon.


Monday, March 05, 2007

How to Change the World in 10 Easy Steps

I have recently been told in email that some people read me because I'm a "sweet natured mother who cares about the earth and her children" and that I "appeal to people's better nature." So if that's the case, and that's why you read this blog, I want to suggest that you take a break and go read something else.. Re-read my piece on Esther and how we can all change the world, or pick up a nice, sustaining novel. In fact, I beg of you, avert your eyes! Because by the time you finish this, you will think I'm one Machiavellian bitch, someone who could probably have dated Karl Rove. And you probably will want to go read someone nicer and fuzzier. I have no wish to disillusion you.

The truth is that I am a mother who cares about the earth and her children (too many of my friends and family read this blog for me to even try and get away with "sweet natured" ;-), and I do truly and sincerely believe that we can change the world and that we should. I also am extremely practical, which is a term I prefer over the laden word, "Machiavellian." But it means much the same - as my sister once said to me, "Sharon, you are surprisingly good with a carrot, and not too bad with a stick." As for bitch, well, depends on who you ask, I guess. And as for Karl Rove - we're too far apart in age, I fear, but if we were closer, I will note that I did date a whole lot of debate geeks over the year, many of them as unattractive as Karl Rove, so it isn't out of the question. I will simply note that I have little doubt that if I had, Karl would be a leftist serving the Gore Presidency ;-). Practical is powerful.

Because I am not a nice girl, or maybe not merely a nice girl, I feel that I should point out that the peak oil movement and the climate change movement are losing the race to plan the future, and to a large degree it is because we are refusing to be practical, also known as Machiavellian. We tend to think that practical tactics are immoral tactics. And, like all high minded people, we're getting our asses kicked by the low minded ones. Since I am not all that nice, I have no trouble with practical techniques of moving public opinion in the ways I think are wise, provided I am telling the truth. The good thing is that I don't have to lie - the other side of these issues has to lie, but I don't - I have the truth on my side, along with a firm taste for low culture and low tactics, within certain parameters. Personally, I think we should all get much more practical, very quickly.

Because while the world may be becoming aware of peak oil (Bill Clinton, for example) and climate change, slowly, slowly, slowly (I suspect 8% drops in Ghawar production will help a little with that), but they are united in their failure to understand what is needed, and what solutions are possible. The "technology will save us and enable us to live in precisely the same way, only with pluggable hybrids and ethanol furnaces" message is getting through - and it is a cornucopian lie. As Joseph Romm points out in _Hell and High Water_ in the last 30 years, virtually nothing has changed about the basic sources of our energy or the ways we use it, and it will take decades, if it is even possible, to make widespread, fundamental technological change filter down across the industrialized world. And we don't have decades - we don't have decades to reduce carbon emissions and we don't have decades of cheap oil. The odds are good the world has peaked - if not, the moment will come very soon, and the day at which prices rise enough to really hurt us is not far away.

We who think about it know that while there are technologies that can help us, the simplest answer is often the best one - in this case, the only one. As the UK is forced to acknowledge that it will fail to meet its own self-imposed carbon cutting goals, the rest of the world needs to be forced to admit that the basic unit of currency for dealing with peak oil and climate change is NOT BURNING IT - that is, turning things off, and getting rid of them. And the basic project of peak oil and climate change is adapting our infrastructure to dealing with life turned off and gotten rid of. Now many people fear this outcome so deeply that they are willing to destroy all human life rather than face it. So our task is to reassure them, to offer up a vision and alternative to the choice between hell and hell, and point out that the life without that stuff is not a bad one. We need to tell that story - yes, we can work on technology too. But first we need to tell the basic story that you don't have to go shopping all the time, you don't need that much stuff, you can turn off the appliances and get out in the garden - and it will be ok. If we don't get this message out, we will lose in the most literal sense - we will die. Our kids will die. Our grandkids will die. This is losing. And I personally don't much give a shit if I use low tactics (within reason) to keep that outcome from happening. I'm willing to go to hell for using propaganda - better than going from not using it and letting the world burn.

That's because the opposition is on message and way, way ahead. "Trust us," say BP, Shell and Exxon - "We have your interests at heart." "Trust us," say the idiots who pervert science and lie like rugs in the Bush administration - "Climate change can't hurt us. Don't look at the NASA scientists, read this nice novel by a right wing idiot. He's so smart we didn't even have to change his data for him!" And always the message is "we just need good new technologies." Well guess what - technology doesn't work like that - you don't put in a coin and get out a prize. Some things work, some things don't - remember how superconductors were going to revolutionize our technology? Got one in your fridge? How hydrogen cars have been just around the corner for a decade and more? Well, they are just as far around the corner now. How fusion was any minute now - 30 years ago?

Now it is true that we have done this twice - we made it to the moon, we built nuclear bombs. But the nuclear bombs took something we don't like to admit we once had - a centrally planned, tightly managed economy. Yup, the US was once as centrally planned as the Soviet Union - we had rationing, farmers were told what to plant and when to plant it, clothing manufacturers were told what kinds of clothing they could offer, people were told what they could waste and penalized for it. We had black markets and price stabilization, and manufacturing was told what to make and where to bring it and at what price they could sell it. Niels Bohr said that the only way we could make the bomb was to turn the entire country into a factory - and we did. The whole nation worked together on one goal, and used all its resources towards that goal - as opposed to the way we operate now. We may yet do this again - but that too requires that we lay an intellectual and propaganda foundation.

The Hirsh report, commissioned by the DOE in 2004, found that the only way we could fix peak oil, if we had two decades before peak, was with an "unprecedented" devotion of national energies and resources to both conservation and research. World War II scale was mentioned repeatedly. And if peak oil was closer, the statement was that we probably couldn't avoid major problems, including a massive change in the nature of our economy. Well, it turns out that if you look at Canterell in Mexico (double digit declines), Saudi Arabia (8% down), and the North Sea, all the big oil fields are not only declining, but crashing. OPEC announced a "voluntary" 3% cut next year. Hmmm.... The US's answer was pretty much "NOOOOO!" - that is, we need all the oil they can burn. But there's never going to be as much of it, in all likelihood. The odds are very good we don't have anything like 20 years. We may need a WWII style economy to power *Down* - but we can't let the current assholes decide who gets screwed - we need to take control of the discourse, of the why and how, not just at the high level, a la Heinberg's Oil Depletion Protocol, but at the low level, at the practical, girl and guy on the street level, so that when the time comes, they are on our side. Because all the protocols on the planet won't help if ordinary folk don't buy it.

Meanwhile the news from climate change gets worse and worse - all the solutions except "don't burn the damned carbon in the first place" - pretty much seem contingent on keeping atmospheric temperatures from rising - that is, if we want to sequester carbon in the oceans, the soil or the trees, we have to keep world temperatures down, because every time they rise, we lose ground, and more carbon is released. The only way we can deal with the warming we've got now is simply to stop emitting so much carbon - RIGHT NOW. Climate change is happening much faster than people think - even than scientists think. British soils are starting to release carbon. The rainforests are catching fire *now* - in 2005, their total carbon release from wildfires caused by climate change induced drought was 41% of the total carbon. We're very near not having any control at all of how the temperature goes. And, of course, it turns out tha our government plans to raise emissions by 20% over the next decade and a half.

Now that we know that peak oil is now or about 10 minutes from now, and that climate change is a disaster that is happening today, we need a massive change in policy - that is, we need millions of people in the US to come to a rapid consensus about what constitutes the American way of life and how we should change it to be compatible with our survival. We have no choice, because we have no time. But while Exxon and Shell are getting their message "we're working on new technologies, don't worry about the rising temps and the rolling blackouts" we're not getting any useful or unified message out AT ALL. Seriously, people who have heard of and researched peak oil often look at it and think "if this is true, it is the end of the world, therefor I'm not going to think about it." And they don't. They look at climate change and see their government not acting and hear the counter messages, and they say, :"no reason to do anything differently" or they think it is the end of the world again, and they might as well have some beer. And we in the peak oil and climate change movements are not much helping this along. Oh, we're calling for more studies and arranging public demonstrations, but we have no unified message, and no consensus. Some people are pushing a unified message - Heinberg and Campbell's Oil Depletion Protocol is certainly better than nothing. But even that isn't exactly catching the world on fire. Ultimately, we are plagued by the basic fact that even many of the people offering these alternatives don't believe that large scale change is possible.

But, of course it is. You only have to look at human history to see that we've tried just about every form of change that there could be - we've held all property in common (no, I'm not talking about communists, but early Christians), we've had unfettered markets and fettered ones, we've believed kings were divine and overthrown the kings and instituted democracy, and then we've lied our way out of democracy. We've believed homosexuality was an abomination and we've let gay people get married (nope, not talking about Oklahoma and Massachusetts, but the medieval Catholic Church vs. the early Catholic church which had lovely rites for gay couples to marry with). We've changed everything we think and how we live so many times that I can't count them all - we've had a billion revolutions, and we can have another. Yes, it would be radical, radical change. So what? So was the American revolution, the anti-colonialist movement, the worldwide women's movement. All of those things took unthinkable things and made them real.

We will never be convinced of our capacity for change unless we shake off the big lie that we cannot - and it is a lie that is endemic to the peak oil and climate change communities in themselves. I've heard famous people on both sides say the same thing. George Monbiot wrote _Heat_ precisely because despite his involvement in the anti-globalization movement, he believes that the current civilization is non-negotiable, so he make the case that we should give over the power to control our shopping to the big-box stores, little as he may like it, because, after all, we can't change. But when you take that assumption apart, and take it out of the equation, what you get is that our notions of what is possible are narrowing down our choices in ways that are not acceptable, and lead to untenable conclusions, like Monbiot's claim that we have to give over power to the multi-nationals, because we can't simply change shopping altogether. Bullshit - we can change what we choose to change. We will not be shopping during the apocalypse - we can tell people the truth - that less shopping and local economies are going to make you richer and better able to shop for what is made nearby than selling your soul to Walmart. If we tell them right, they'll believe us - because it is true.

Right now, the cornucopians are talking revolution - a revolution of technology. And we are talking limitation, what is made possible by a kind of expedience and underestimation of human capacity. No wonder they'd rather listen to the cornucopians - they aren't more appealing because of what they are saying - yes, we like to hear we can have what we want, of course, but we are willing to hear other things if the central message is that change is possible and it is joyful and good. Revolutions are first and foremost radical changes in our assumptions, and we need to get the heck over the big lie and start preparing for changing ours. We need a real movement, a movement of revolutionaries who believe in a better future. We can have it - we just have to change our thinking.

There are three elements to the belief that people won't or can't change, and they are all false. The first one is a slander of us. It is this: that we today are stupider, and lazier, more in love with our comforts, more selfish and less humane than people in the past. That's one of the big ones - the "people won't change until they have to" message ultimately argues that we value our comforts more than what is right, or what is just, or anything else. But, of course, look around you and you will find millions of examples of people choosing things against their personal interests in order to do what is right. Millions of people, for example, don't tithe to their churches because they are more comfortable with less money. Millions of people don't go on strange diets because they don't really like chocolate. It is true we are bad at giving up our personal comforts in many cases, but it is also true that we encounter enormous opposition - an entire society and its advertising telling us we need these things, we can't do without them. What is taken to be an inherent attachment to comfort is actually the machinations of advertising and the growth economy, and recognized as such, it can be resisted. We have done it before - think about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for example, where thousands of people walked miles for more than a year at great personal cost to themselves. Well, despite the slander, we can all be just as courageous and honorable as those people. In fact, if we speak and live as though what we value is courage and honor, we will see much more of it.

Part of the problem is that free market economics has penetrated into our psychology in ways that are hard to resist even for people who resist the outward cloth of them. The idea that people act primarily in their own self-interest is pretty much false - even the wildly inaccurate accounts of human behavior in behavioral economics admit that. Sometimes we act in our self-interest in the narrowest sense, sometimes we act on it in the broadest, and sometimes we pursue other goals altogether. What we need to do is tell people, in a way that they are interested in and engaged by that their interests, and also their other motivations are best served by creating a radically different culture, and by looking at self interest differently. But we need to be persuasive - as persuasive as the powerful forces saying otherwise.

The second assumption inherent in our inability to change is that those of us who *have* begun to change our lives are somehow exceptional. I've written a whole post about this elsewhere on my blog, and I won't reiterate it. But that is also a lie. I'm a regular person. I'm selfish and greedy, lazy and self-interested. I'm not better than my neighbors, or smarter or kinder or anything else than them. I am ordinary. And if one ordinary person, or 10 ordinary people, or the 1000 ordinary people who might read this blog (might as well go for the gusto) can change their lives, everyone else can to. If I am subject to the reason that minor declines in physical comfort have the possible solution of creating better things in the long term, so are other people. It is as simple as that. If you believe you are capable of change, unless you believe you are somehow special, than others must be too.

The final assumption that is widely made is that change can't happen because we must bow to "realism" - and generally speaking, "realism" is the lowest common political denominator - that is, we can only hope to accomplish what is reasonable given today's political parameters - nothing more is possible. But what is politically possible changes, often quite rapidly. One day it was possible for a British Queen to completely ignore her drama queen former daughter in law, the next day it was not, and people talked about the shaking of empire. One day it was possible, but not especially politically wise for a mayor of New York to let his cops shoot random black people on the street, the next day he was a hero and entitled to all the human sacrifices he wanted. One day Bush is a yutz whose Daddy bought him the presidency, the next day he's a yutz whose nation stands behind him no matter how dumb.

And etc... Political circumstances change - and often rapidly. Being ready for the next change in political circumstances is a huge part of taking the initiative and moving the public.
And what is it that creates what is politically possible, anyway? Whether or not you live in a true democracy, or if you live as we do in one with a thin candy coating of democracy over a dark chocolate totalitarian filling, ultimately, the people have the power to determine what is politically possible. When they care about something, or decline to care, respond one way or another, they make political possibilities.

And how do people come to decide what political options they consider to be on the table - hmmm....well, through the shaping of public opinion, once called agitprop. Most people see the world in fairly superficial terms, except for the things of great interest to them - you and I are no different. My knowledge of whether Britney Spears is a skank or not is among the most superficial on earth. I am limited to the tiny impressions I have gathered by the sort of information that I can't possibly avoid gathering no matter how desperately I try - and thus, I have an opinion on this subject (try and guess what it is ;-), because my opinion has been molded by others. That's how most people see peak oil and climate change - and we're letting Exxon decide how they will feel about them when the stuff finally hits their consciousness.

On the issues I care about, I mold my own opinions, but people care about quite a range of things, and most of them don't care that much about peak oil and climate change. On the other hand, they could be persuaded to care, and persuaded to assume, even from the most basic perception they could not avoid getting, to think highly of solutions that involved reserving resources for urgent things, devoting money and energy to recreating infrastructure, etc... What we would have to do is persuade them that a. it is necessary and b. that they should want to, for reasons that might vary from better food to less war to a more relaxed pace of life to patriotism to better sex. I think, without a single lie or misrepresentation I could compellingly argue that all of the above are logical results of cutting our consumption, changing our economy and changing what the American way of life is. I suspect many others could too.

Practical public relations, then, is the next big project for both peak oil and climate change. Thus far, people who have spoken for the most part have been scientists - very good, very smart scientists, but they have been, while wise, often a little boring. We cannot afford to be boring. We are telling the truth, and the lies that are being told are not boring - they are very carefully crafted. Time to compete. Better yet, time to win. Ultimately, everything is told in the form of stories. And good stories usually trump bad stories. The stories of fun writers trump the stories of not-so-fun writers. This is why James Kunstler writes for Rolling Stone and Matthew Simmons doesn't, even though both are very smart. The future that face, and what we could accomplish makes a superb story - all the elements of edge-of-your seat fiction, survival against all odds, courage, self-sacrifice, nobility, honor, strength, love, heroism. We need to tell it that well, well enough that the stories that corporations and governments sell seem flat and dull by comparison. We can do this.

So I offer 10 strategies for how to win the peak oil and climate change PR battle and change our society and the world. This is not something I can do by myself - so some of you had better get to work on this stuff. I will point out that I have ethical issues with lying here, so that somewhat limits the possibilities for me, but not all that much. I recommend against lying, because it can come back to haunt you. Besides, we're unlikely to be better at it than Karl Rove. Better we spend our time making him, and the rest of the voices look stupid. That's not so hard.

Practical Suggestions for Changing the World

1. We need video - lots of it. This is not, sadly, one of my gifts, but there is no question that that's how most of the world is accustomed to seeing things. We need to persuade people that what we are offering is better, prettier, nicer, cleaner, healthier, happier, more loving. We need video - I don't mean YouTube video of people sitting in darkened rooms talking about peak oil, but agitprop video - inspiring music, beautiful images of what can be. People immediately think that giving up their comforts means living in a degraded, filthy hell. We've got to show them that isn't true, and let them envision this as a better life. We need funny videos - anyone who saw the Massachusetts Gubenatorial "Head Up Their Asses" campaign ad last year knows that there is a lot of opportunity for good, smart, funny video out there. And there's a lot out there for beauty - one of the things we are selling is a better life. We need to show pictures, still and moving, of people living better, being healthier, being happier. Sell it like a patent medicine, with testimony and pictures of what can be. If we don't give people a "Morning in America" image of their own, of little Johnny walking down the street to pick up his eggs and fruit at his neighbor's garden, and skipping home, people will be vulnerable to whatever stupid lies they are told that give them that dream. Beat them to it.

2. We need to make fun of the stupid people. When Exxon puts out an ad saying that they are our clean air experts, deface the fucking thing! Make fun of it. Tell us how much methane comes out of their asses and CO2 comes out their mouths. When the Bush administration says that ethanol will save us, we need to remix Bush lying and add nasty commentary. Every time they lie, we show them, and we call them liars to their faces. Throw pies at them. Paint horns on them. Make cartoons. We need a whole group of people devoted to mocking the lies being told to us - not just a rational debunking, or blog sarcasm, but dead blunt, dry, funny, up-your-ass mock the idiots.

3. We need famous people. People trust familiar faces. Get 'em moving. If Willie Nelson or Ed Begley Jr or Florence Henderson cares about peak oil, get their asses into some ads, dammit. Noble and brilliant as they are, Sir David King and Helena Norberg-Hodge aren't going to get the masses going. If we can't get famous people, get impersonators - they have to be cheaper. Make it funny - say "We believe the US government has the real Madonna in a Cuban Gulag. Here is a Madonna Impersonator to tell you just how to change a lightbulb." Or get people who just look reassuring - I've seen enough aging hippies at the conferences to know there must be one out there who could grow a mustache and look like Wilfred Brimley, and there have to be 50 who look like Willie or John Mellencamp or someone. If you make music, write a song - not a bleak song of grief but one about how great it is to grow your garden and hang your laundry on the clothesline. The rest of us will save cash up to hire the Dixie chicks, but make your music video and put it out there. And dammit, grow those mustaches. David Crosby will do.

4. We need to get better about using the net to create buzz. We need peak oil myspace. We need to make it clear that all the cool kids care about peak oil. Peer pressure is good (this time). And remember the stupid, stupid, "Snakes on a Plane" thing - without the internet it would have been a mere contribution to whatever studio's annual tax writeoff. Come up with a slogan, dammit. Do something funny - we're too damned boring. I mean it - as was said before, so far, all I've come up with is naked peakers - you didn't listen, so now I'm threatening. If you people out there who read this blog don't get off your asses and come up with something funnier and smarter (how hard could that be?), I'm going to hunt down every famous peak oil related male on the earth and make them pose naked, and then I'm coming to your house and make you stare at them whether you like it or not. I mean it - I'm not trying to amuse anymore, I'm threatening every man and woman in the peak oil movement with pictures of Ken Deffeyes' weenie. I will not let you avert your eyes. So if you wish to avert the tragedy of seeing these pasty men, get your butts in gear and do something funny, and make it public, and send it round the net.

5. We need good fiction. One of the ways that people envision the future is through books. We've got some sci fi out there, and there are a few good pieces written on the net, but we need our own Michael Crichton (may polar bears piss upon his grave). Where's Barbara Kingsolver when you need her? Write your damned novels, people. Tell people what the future will look like, but most of all, what it *could* look like - no one will start dreaming to get to Mad Max - they want Little House on the Prarie. And we should give it to them - what is LHOP except a reminder that life was not hell without all the stuff we have (ok, don't let them read _The Long Winter_) - we need a new LHOP, a new vision of a pastoral and lower consumption future, without all the crap. We need to sell it to children, and adults who read children's books. And we need genre fiction - romance, Christian, children's books. Again, all of this is how you tell the story folks.

6. We already have all the good iconography on our side - start using it. Speaking of LHOP, that's ours. So is Norman Rockwell, and the World War II Victory Garden material. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are ours if we want them - we are recreating the Nation of Farmers that the founding fathers dreamed of. We get to use them whenever we want. We have the land girls, and Benny Goodman, Laura Ingalls Wilder (someone dust off Melissa Gilbert and get her into a long dress), we have our agrarian past, cute lambs, sexy dairy maids, half naked farmers stripped to the (sexy) waist, we have agricultural festivals and down home music, we have the country, and nostalgia, delicious home grown food, Mom, apple pie, happy kids running in fields, cute baby ducks - we have all the good images. They have smokestacks and George Bush's face and trucks - but we've got the real cowboys. If we can't beat them with what we've got, we're not trying. But we have to take the iconography and make it ours.

7. We need sex. Sex sells. Use it. Ok, no one wants to see naked engineers, we all know that (I'm not kidding - I'm going to make you look at them if you don't get busy!), but there are presumably a few good looking people out there in the peak oil movement. Most of what we are asking people to do is get sensuous - that is, get down in the warm soil, eat ripe fresh vegetables, spend more time in nature and less time at the mall. There is no reason in the sensual delights we are offering, while we show the young woman cheerfully hanging her laundry, while the song "Suds in the Bucket" plays in the background, that them who want to should be looking at her behind. I know, I'm a feminist, I'm not supposed to objectify women - but I'm also bisexual, and I like looking at women's behinds sometimes too. Sue me. I don't think that's evil. I'm not suggesting she strip, or really that anyone do ;-), but I am suggesting that if someone associates doing their laundry by hand or hanging it on the clothesline with nubility, great! I'm fine with the ass in question being a firm man's too. Drugs and rock and roll are good too - I've been to two peak oil conferences now, and I've yet to see anyone dance, or even really drink. For cripes sake, the energy party may be giving out, but the people parties run on laughter, dance, music and beer. No wonder we aren't filling the stands.

8. We need to invite more people into the club. I know I keep singing this song, but it is true. People who felt alienated from the peak oil movement listen to me because I'm not a 55 year old white guy. Now let us be fair - a lot of those 55 year old white guys know much more about peak oil than me, but there's something about talking to your approximate peers, or at least your sex. We need a lot more people writing and talking and singing and making noise who don't look like your average petroleum geologist. We need non-white people, and young people (the average age of peak oilers has to be close to 50), we need Christians to talk to religious Christians and Moms to talk to Moms and what have you. And we need to put a lot more of those people's *faces* out there as the image of the movement, and their voice too. So if you aren't a 55 year old guy from Texas, start talking, start writing, start a blog, make movies, stand up in your community - make yourself the face of peak oil (older guys from Texas can do it too, even if we've got your demographic covered ;-). We need to talk in ways that other people can hear us, and go out looking for new, interesting voices. And then shove them up on the stage.

9. We need to be ready for the next crisis/opportunity, and we need to be ready to find the right person to lead. Our fuhrer squandered his chance to engage the American people. But a lot of people noticed that, and were looking for someone to be the voice of reason, to tell them what to do and where to go. Even if the leadership isn't ready, we can be ready, we can have a unified voice that says, "this is what we need to hear from you, this is what you must say." Because if enough call for that, our leaders will respond appropriately - if the stakes are high enough - if they know that we'll cast them out on their asses if they don't meet our needs. That is achievable - if we talk enough about what we should hear from leaders, those leaders will hear and obey. But we need a message, we need a unified message, and we need to be ready - because something bad will happen soon enough, sadly. And we need to look for better leaders, both as a nation or state, but also within the movement. It isn't that the people who are there now aren't wonderful - they are - but if we're to galvanize ourselves into something more than a lose collection of the worried, we need someone to inspire and help unify us and our ideas. Leaders are a strange thing. Most of them just trot along behind the crowd, hoping to catch up and look like they were directing traffic. Every once in a while, someone who is truly visionary, imaginative, powerful comes forward and does lead - and if we see that person coming, don't forget to grab them. Because that's what peak oil and climate change need most right now - is a voice that can inspire, a voice that can lead, a voice attached to a mind that can see the future. We're still waiting for that voice - and who knows, that voice may not realize s/he's the right person for the job. Keep your eyes out.

10. Peak oil and climate change are justice movements. If you want to get regular folk out into the street, angry and outraged, we need to draw the lines between the energy we burn and the people that hurts. We need to point to the hungry people, and the displaced people, and we need to make it clear that justice for those people is what matters here. Every successful people's movement has been at its root about justice. We need to show people how peak oil and climate change hurt them, and WHO is doing the hurting. We need to point fingers at the folks who have blown this off, and show everyday people who will suffer and who profits. We need to make it as clear as this - this is about who eats, who drinks, who lives, who dies. We will never get people to the streets and to congress based on a movement that is about oil - we will only ever get them there if we draw the connection between JUSTICE and these issues. And we don't have to tell a single lie for that. We need to take our lessons from the WTO protests and the civil rights movement - we need to teach the people who are most vulnerable here - the poor, women, the elderly and non-white people just how vulnerable they are about to be and make them angry enough to take to the streets demanding justice. We need to connect the dots - over and over and over as clearly as possible - that peak oil and climate change mean poverty and suffering, hunger and diminished opportunity - and we need to do that fast. Enough with depletion rates, yes, they matter, yes, they are important. But what people need to know is this - this is a human rights exercise. Our right to live, our right to a future.

I know that there are people reading this blog. I swear, I'm going to find you and make you look at Richard Heinberg's buttocks unless you get moving and start saving the world. I know you are out there. Me, I'm in here, reading my copy of _The Prince_.