Friday, June 01, 2007

Depletion, Racism and Paving the Road to Hell

A while back a gentleman named Harvey Winston sent me an email, trying to explain why it is that the peak oil and climate change movements are as lily white as they are. I had asked in another post what we had to do to engage poor people, particularly poor non-white people, who are, after all, already the biggest victims of rising energy prices and climate change. Winston sent me some answers that are right on the money. And he kindly gave me permission to quote him and discuss this publicly.

Because this is a really important issue - the people who are currently suffering from energy depletion and climate change are overwhelmingly not white, both in this country and around the world. Whether we intend it or not, climate change and peak oil are operating to make non white people poorer, more vulnerable, sicker and less safe. And the people who are preparing most, and getting their communities organized are mostly white and comfortable. That disparity is bad for all of us for many reasons, and its wrong.

But the only way to change that disparity is to engage African-American, Native American, Asian and Latino people in finding real, local, community solutions for themselves - that's not up for debate. We need engaged activists to help devise the right strategies for a voluntary, sustainable energy descent for their communities. There are plenty of activists out there - they mostly, however, have not been drawn into the peak oil movement. Externally imposed solutions are likely to be both inappropriate and smack of condescension. But even more importantly, we need this engaged body of non-white environmentalists because they have a great deal to teach us. Many poor, non-white communities have been using less energy than we have all along. They've been making do and adapting to things like food availability challenges, budget cuts and loss of utilities for a long, long time. Non-white people in the US and the rest of the world have created lifestyles that use less energy and fewer resources, and we need to learn from them.

For example, without meaning any disrespect to Colin Beavan, aka NoImpactMan, tens of thousands of people read his blog and watch him on television describing how he lives without electricity in New York city. They are fascinated by this project. But thousands of poor people, many of them not white, live in housing projects and poor neighborhoods of New York city without power or with only intermittent utilities. They already know how to do their laundry, deal with electricity loss do to inability to pay, how to live cheaply and on what is available in your neighborhood. We have glamorized the choice of wealthy, white people to live much like poor people in our own country do now. And I'm delighted Colin is doing this - anything that awakens people to energy depletion is good. But we need to hold up as role models the people who have already pioneered this life and reality. Frankly, the fact that we are looking on this as a novelty doesn’t say anything very good about us - it says that we mostly admire this stuff when it is done by people like us.
During and after Hurricane Katrina, we learned the reality - if you don't own a car, you don't count. You’ll be left to die. This outrage ought to have been a rallying cry for environmentalists everywhere. The victims of hurricane Katrina, mostly poor and black, were also models of community centered, low impact living in many cases. But while the hurricanes themselves inspired climate change activists, few people recognized the victims as potential role models, or the community they'd created as something to be emulated. I find it unlikely that the same would be true if any of the fancy new urbanist communities built in Florida had been so devastated.

Winston gave me a list of 5 reasons why non-white people who encounter the peak oil or climate change movements have been turned off. Here they are, paraphrased by me.

1. The public bigotry of some of our spokes people is a turnoff .
2. Doomerism is a turnoff because it makes the disaster for poor and non-white people seem inevitable, and thus not worth resisting.
3. The war of all against all destroys trust - that is, poor people know that they are the evil marauding hordes everyone is talking about shooting.
4. A lot of prominent peak oil figures don't believe in collective action
5. Poor people are priced out of most of the solutions available.

I think he's on the money with all five, and I'd like to discuss why, and what we can do about that. There is no question that onus is largely upon the environmental and peak oil movement to be inclusive - period. There's no excuse otherwise.

In regards to #1, Mr. Winston used James Kunstler as an example of someone who alienates non-white people with bigotry. And while I admire Kunslter's writing and think he's really smart, I have to say, this is almost certainly true. Kunstler comes very close to being a simply misanthropist - but it is hard not to notice that he's surprisingly more tolerant of people who are a lot like him. My friends and I laugh about his nasty stereotyping of southern white people, and his claims that Asian pirates and Mexican nationalists are going to overrun the country, but what you get, in the end, is a sense that Kunstler thinks that any place that isn't mostly white northeasterners is doomed, mostly because it has a lot of non-white people in it. This is bigotry, and we need to point that out.

Winston mentioned only Kunstler, but I'm going to also suggest that there's a good deal of very subtle racism and classism (in the US it is almost always difficult to separate these two) among peak oil writers, who tend to pitch their discussions to their fellow rich white liberals. I'm guilty of this as well, and it alienates. Because of where I live and who the largest part of my audience is, I tend to justify this by saying that it is we rich, fortunate people who most need to cut our energy usage. But that in no way justifies speaking in a way that closes off discussion, or narrows my audience. It is easy to call people bigots and hard to put the hat on your own head, but in the interest of justice, it is worth taking a clear eyed look at what we've personally done to make the movement unfriendly to non-white people.

When I've attended or spoken at peak oil events, most of the faces in the audience are white, and the faces on the stage are *ALWAYS* pretty much all white (and usually pale males at that). ASPO is trying to get Bill Clinton, Willie Nelson and has managed to get T. Boone Pickens. Not to pick on them (I do, a little, and this isn't entirely fair - they at least had a Brazilian ethanol farmer, which is more than Community Solutions can say), but I wonder if it occurred to them to try and get Wilma Mankiller, who has been talking about the impact of nuclear power on Native communities, or Michael Franti, whose songs about oil depletion have a vast following among people who are not over 50, male and former energy executives. Do they even know who Michael Franti is? He's got a biodiesel vehicle as well, I hear. We could get Harry Belafonte instead of Willie Nelson (no offense to Willie, who I worship) - he's been involved with the Venezuelan oil program to bring poverty relief to people in the US, and that's certainly relevant. The thing is, when pale males start looking for public speakers, they often come up with, shall way, a disparate number of fellow PMs.

I had occasion, recently, to discuss the Oil Depletion Protocol with Richard Heinberg in email, and one of the things I asked him is what I should tell a poor, black, urban woman who wants to join the project but whose energy usage is already dramatically lower than the general populace. Heinberg, who I think is actually one of the peak oil figures most conscious of racial issues, pointed out that the ODP wasn't really for her - that is, there's no incentive for her to sign on. And while I understand his reasoning, it struck me as troubling that a major public initiative to reduce our energy usage has little to say to poor people who are already priced out of energy markets, and offers no particular means to engage them. Now I don't say this to pick on Heinberg, who I admire a great deal, and who I am not, in any way, accusing of bigotry - but I think it does go to show how entirely we are excluding non-white populations from the policy discussions that must go forward.

What do we do about this one? We cut the crap. I have no doubt that some people are going to claim that this is an issue of “pcism” - and that’s just silly. The simple fact is that all of us can achieve giant-assholedom if we really try. But the challenge is not to try - to try to be better than the biggest assholes in the room. Implicit or explicit racism and exclusion are, besides being ethically wrong, asshole behavior. Any one of us can be better than that. Heck, all of us can be better than that.

I've written before about the ways that peak oil and climate change can justify our worst impulses, but I think this is particularly alienating for non-white people who encounter a vision in which the worst excesses of racism are naturalized as inevitable because we can no longer do anything about them. Given that we have managed some pretty hideous excesses, this is scary stuff. This was Winston's second point, and a particularly well taken one.

Die-off, for example, envisions a living hell a la Mad Max in the cities, where, coincidentally, a lot of non-white people live. It envisions this as inevitable, irrevocable, and irresolvable. Thus, there's no point in talking about things reducing infant mortality, health insurance for the poor, better democracy, sustainable urban food systems - the end of the world is already inevitable, and because it is inevitable, we white folks can just sit around and lament, without actually feeling responsible for any of it.

Well, that's nonsense, and we all know it. Will the energy transition be difficult? No doubt. Is it hopeless - absolutely not. If we use peak oil and climate change as an excuse for doing harm to others, or not mending that harm, we're being assholes, we're not bowing to inevitability. For example, we have models - Cuba, for one, of societies that give priority in energy descent to things like health and social welfare, food and poverty abatement. Our society could choose those things as well. We could choose them right now - and use our resources to create infrastructure that would equalize inequities today, and would make the descent much less painful for tens of millions of people. We have not - but mostly because we have a long tradition of choosing policies that can best be summed up as "fuck the poor, benefit the rich." This is not inevitable. It is s choice, and every single participant in our democracy is morally responsible for it. We cannot vacate that responsibility by moaning that it is hopeless.

We have a lot of choices, and we need to call our choices by the correct name. If we pick high gas prices instead of rationing, let’s be explicit about what we’ve chosen - we’ve decided to ration by price, and screw the poor again. If we end up not doing anything about food systems in urban centers because we’re unwilling to demand that commercial buildings grow food on their roofs or because we care more about parking than the fact that many kids don’t get dinner, we need to call the proverbial spade a spade and admit that we chose to fuck over poor hungry kids, so that we’d have parking. Making all the bad stuff seem inevitable is lying.

#3, the notion that we're all going to be at war with one another is a really destructive ideology for everyone, and most of all for the urban poor. We've all seen the end of the world scenarios, and they all somehow look a lot like the movies, with individual (white) people holed up in their survivalist camps shooting the purple haired mutants, who happen to come from the cities. This is hardly helped by books like _Lucifer's Hammer_ and Heinlein's _Farnham's Freehold_, in which the cannibals just coincidentally are black ;-P - often read by such people and cited as evidence of something or other.

Even if you aren't a whack-job survivalist, there's definitely an "us vs. them" theme to peak oil planning. Winston notes that Jan Lundberg writes about the town of Willits, CA and whether they might blow up the bridges leading into the town to keep the starving urban hordes. He wrote that he wondered if it was him who would be left to starve on the other side of that bridge.

I think some of us don't really grasp that not everyone identifies with those blowing up the bridges. I see a lot of rhetoric attacking potential "refugees" - a term that often operates as a code word for non-white people. After all, most of our images of refugees are non white - both Katrina victims (who loathed the word "refugees" because it implied that they were not citizens) and foreign victims of disruption. Refugees are victims, but we turn them into something to be feared and hated. It is worth noting that the people who are potential refugees, many of whom have compelling reasons to stay where they are - lack of money, lack of resources, community, the ability to live a low money life - see themselves being described as "them" and understand exactly what that means, even if we deny publicly that we mean anything by it.

Frankly, I hadn’t seen this comment by Lundberg, but I think it is horrifying if Winston is correct. Willits is often proposed as a model community for people preparing for sustainability. But if our only solutions to dealing with our neighbors are to watch them die, how sustainable is it? Again, we need to watch what we say, and think hard about why we say it. We need a little more compassion and a lot fewer bridges blown.

Winston's fourth point was that there's a lot of dismissal of the possibility of change in the peak oil movement, particularly collective action. He points out that there's a great deal of shooting down ideas, particularly ideas about radically changing the economic or political system, or making cities sustainable. And there is also a great deal of resistance to the notion of real redistribution of wealth.

Frankly, I think most of us are afraid of this stuff. For example, I think that my readers tend to be a pretty radical bunch - but my peasant comments really got a strong negative reaction. But realistically, a society where everyone uses no more than 4 acres for their ecological footprint probably is a peasant society, for most people. But even among my readers there's a lot of instinctive fear of living like poor people. Some of that is justified - but how do you tell real poor people who are living like this now (for example, Keralans, for example, in most health and welfare measure live about as well or a little better than poor people in urban Cleveland), "Yeah, we're just not prepared to redistribute the goods that far - sorry, too hard - we don't want to be like you." There is no question that if rich people give up some privelege, they are going to be giving up some things they might not be happy about losing. The only possible argument here is that there's a greater good involved.

A lot of what the negativity I think comes from fear - real and legitimate fear, but that's still a bad place. We are still willing to justify what we do for personal reasons - :"well, I *have* to use more than my share because of (insert job reason/family reason/personal problem/medical problem.) I think we need to be absolutely clear what those kinds of rationalizations sound like to people who are already experiencing real rationing of things like medical care, good food, safe housing, transportation - people who are already priced out of those things that we say we desperately need because of our personal reasons. It isn't like none of them have long trips to their jobs, or health problems, personal justifications or family issues. What they don't usually have is luxury of using that justification.

Realistically, if we're talking about something more than the survival of the richest, we're talking about equitable redistribution, and that means finding a way to live on only your share - period. It doesn't mean saying "oh, well, I'll just take a little more - the poor people won't mind." They mind. Is it scary? Absolutely. But places like Cuba and Kerala show that it doesn't have to be hell, or even that bad. And the fact is, we have no choice but to do the right thing - and the right thing means living not with a little less, but a lot. Again, call a spade a spade. If you think that poor people in Cleveland and Mexico should have less food or electricity because your very important job as a lawyer makes it too hard for you to do the dishes by hand, say so. Own to it - after all, Mexican peasants and poor urban janitors don‘t work hard at all ;-P. But don’t cover it up with icing and call it cake. None of us is perfect, and in many ways it is as hard to get down as it is get poor people raised up. But we need to shake off the garbage and the lies we tell ourselves.

Again, it would be helpful if we privileged and well educated white people would turn to the poor native American, black, Asian and Latino people and ask, "how do you do it? Can you teach me?" instead of assuming that they won't mind if we just use a little more than our share, because after, all, we're very busy and very important, and our reasons count more than theirs. Without some kind of recognition that we are being led by our own poor communities, our relationship with them will always be one of dismissal.

The problem of being priced out of solutions is one I'm really passionate about. My assumption has always been that most people won't have big fancy solar systems, they won't be able to buy a lot of land, and they won't be able to have every tool they want. When we focus our solutions on expensive renewable energies, as though those are feasible for most poor people in America, we are in danger of increasing an already extant energy-inequity, in which electricity or heat are the privilege of the wealthy and comfortable. Those of us with our private solar systems have visible reminders to those who can't afford them that electricity is not to be theirs.
Most intentional communities and other group alternatives preparing for a post-peak future are very expensive to buy into - they are oriented towards people who already have houses and money and jobs, not to people who don't have those things. They are simply out of the question for most ordinary lower income people - and thus, they end up mostly white.

Winston points out that things like intentional communities seem oriented to people who are using them as a substitute for family and community - but that many non-white people already have strong communities and family ties, and are alienated by the assumption that they should make their connections based on preparedness, rather than the important relationships they already have.

He notes that he knows some people who have become peak oil deniers because they are so alienated by the seemingly anti-progressive message of the peak oil movement, which at times denies that we'll have time or energy for the elderly, the disabled, the vulnerable. Speaking as the mother of a disabled child, this is something I've seen too, that I find deeply disturbing - we have the resources to become a better society, not a smaller, more selfish one. I don't blame people for getting the sense that preparedness is for rich, healthy white people. It is worth noting that many poor societies and poor communities do a much better job of caring for vulnerable people than the richest of us - that is, they tend to do so as family and community, rather than as a job you pay someone for.

At Community Solutions, a woman told me about a friend's daughter who is wheelchair bound. She said that the daughter thinks that peak oil activists are looking for a world cleansed of inconvenient and energy intensive people like her. She noted that walkable communities where no vehicles are allowed are tough on the elderly and disabled, and that almost all discussions of medical care end with a shrug. Well that's not a good enough answer, and people with disabilities and non-white people cannot be blamed for suspecting that in our heart of hearts, the post peak future is one that is sanitized of inconvenient people. None of us think that consciously, but it is worth noting that our rhetoric does this on its own. Can you imagine how terrible, and frightening that is?

There are a lot of non-white people who need jobs, and many, many who have skill sets that would be extremely useful and valuable to us - but these people are not being welcomed or encouraged - how many of us are seeking to bring Latino farmers into our neighborhoods and preparedness communities, or to provide jobs for Hmong immigrants with agricultural skills? We could and should be welcoming whole communities of poor people who already know the things we need to know. I am reminded of a story I read once, in which a group of recent Hmong immigrants went to visit Plymouth Plantation, a historical reenactment museum. When they saw the huts made of wood and thatch, and the chickens and gardens, the head of the community asked if, instead of being relocated to their apartments in Providence, they could simply live there. They noted that this was all they wanted - a simple place to live and land to farm. Instead, we have overwhelmingly displaced poor, non white people into cities, where they compete for jobs with people who have urban skills and fail. They then end up on welfare (the same thing happened to southern black farmers over the course of the last century) and over time loose their agricultural skills. We simply can't afford to have that happen again to this generation's agrarian population.

How many of us with businesses are employing non-white people? How many of us are seeking out community activists in non-white communities and asking them to teach us about energy descent? How many of us are seeking ways to get immigrants into our communities, rather than keep them out? How many of us are actively looking for non-white voices to speak on these subjects? How many of us are devoting our time to improving poor schools and bringing things like food and gardening projects to them?

We need to make sure that when we’re talking about broad, national solutions, we aren’t just talking about the middle class, the healthy and the fortunate. We can’t just talk tax cuts - poor people often don’t benefit from them. We need to talk subsidies, redistribution, justice. We need to grasp right now that peak oil and climate change are justice issues - as much as civil rights were. In fact, they are civil rights. If we price people out of things that they should have a basic human right to - food, shelter, basic medical care - and those people just happen not to be white, we’re no better than those guys with the fire hoses shooting at black kids during the civil rights movement. We’re just better at hiding our responsibility.

Honestly, my message to activists and engaged people from non-white communities is this. There is little doubt that you stand potentially, to be royally screwed again. There are some out and out bigots in these movements, and a lot of people whose awareness levels are lower than they should be, almost certainly not excluding me. But you should come out anyway and get involved, because the doomers are wrong, and the one bright spot in this future is that peak oil and climate change represent the greatest hope for reallocation of wealth and justice in the world. But I don't think we'll do it without someone to keep us honest. I can’t promise it will be the most rewarding work in the world. But it may be the most necessary.




Anonymous said...

Hot damn, girl! If you have a spare moment or two, could you pencil in some time to SHOUT THIS FROM THE ROOFTOPS?!

This is fantastic, Sharon. Brilliantly done!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this excellent post, Sharon! Lots to chew on and you have solidly and emphatically voiced some thoughts that have flitted across my mind from time to time and which I've not bothered to think further about.

I think this is often the case: so many people just don't use their brains to think further about deeper issues underlying things they do or see or hear that are routine. Once something has been pointed out, it gets noticed. It just needs to be pointed out to a whole bunch more people. As well as perhaps a suggestion or two for some type of action that an ordinary, non-activist white person could take?


barry stoll said...

excellent post sharon - one of your best.

i admit to wondering about my own subconscious issues as i've been getting my mind around peak oil and 'the long emergency.' i’ve thought less about the race/class angle and more about how like-minded lefty granola people like myself will get prepared and be in a better spot in a few years, and those mean right-wing wind-bags who think this is all some marxist fantasy will be in a world of hurt. i think a lot of us may have some unconscious revenge fantasies tied up in this, but this post is a nice wake up call.

like you say, anyone can be an asshole – it’s easy – but anyone can be better than that too. i wish i was as optimistic, but i think there are a lot of greedy assholes who aren’t going to go down without a major fight.

"...there's a lot of dismissal of the possibility of change in the peak oil movement, particularly collective action... there's a great deal of shooting down ideas, particularly ideas about radically changing the economic or political system, or making cities sustainable..."

i don't dismiss collective action, but i think like everything else it's going to get very local. there won’t be any world-wide round of “kumbaya.” some communities (or sub-communities) will join together and make good things happen, and some simply won't.

-- barry stoll

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I think that in my area at least, the poor will be able to survive a economic downturn (or major depression) better than most. The truly rich will be able to buy their way to survival, but the middle class (white mostly) have no survival skills that are used on a daily basis and will suffer the consequences. There is a learning curve when trying to survive on a very low income, different ways of cooking, raising animals for meat, growing most of your food, and maybe thinking outside the box on how to earn income, bartering for what you need. We can all learn to be a little humble and learn from those who are expert in survival. Personally, I think it is more likely that the formerly poor will have to fend off marauding hoards of white middle class people, not the other way around.

BoysMom said...

There's another side to this I think you missed: the wealthy have had lots of good things and now are basicly saying to the poor: 'Sorry, but you can't have this stuff ever. It's bad for the environment, so you'll just have to go on doing without."
My husband's family is from/in the third world, this is how he sees the greenhouse gas reduction treaties: a way the first world has of ensuring the third world can't ever provide their citizens with the same standard of living.

By the way, Sharon, I like 'Yeoman Farmers', to quote Jefferson, much better than peasants, which comes with the feudalism connotations.

As far as a suggestion, for those who don't have growing space, (such as apartment dwellers) start container gardens. All you need is a sunny window to grow something in a pot. Lettuce is always good in pots, especially with the e. coli issues. Now that I think of it, I bet that would make as good a gift as any. Where did I put my extra lettuce seeds?

Kiashu said...

I think the post was good, but rather US-centric. In talking of "other races" it might be useful to think more of (say) Bangladeshis rather than (say) African-Americans. It's simply that climate change, energy and resource shortages and so on are global problems.

The comments about peasantry got a negative reaction because, as I said, "peasant" was so ill-defined, with some people talking about French farmers and others about Kalahari Bushmen. Those are extraordinarily different lifestyles, one unsustainable and lovely, and the other sustainable but miserable. Jewishfarmer should have described more precisely what she meant by "peasant", which can be both comfortable and sustainable.

I'm glad she took up the example of Cuba - most are not "peasants", but they are relatively comfortable, and their lifestyles could be sustainable - they're not sustainable yet, still using oil - but they use 3 barrels a year each instead of the USA or Australia's 24, and most of that is for electricity generation, so they have very good prospects of sustainability.

Now, as to what to say to people who are already living under that 10% line, or with nothing, what part they can play in this 10% project - well... The first thing is that you can say nothing to them; this is a project on the internet, so the people with nothing aren't listening. The second is that if you encounter them otherwise, you can say, "Well, since I am dropping my consumption, you can raise yours. That money I saved on my power bill? Here you go. Go home, turn the heater on."

If you or the receiver would be uncomfortable with that, well that's what we have taxation and private charities for.

Just keep in mind that the excess consumption problem is really a rich-poor gap problem. Just as the world is not starving because we don't have enough food, but because a few fat countries are hogging it all up (discussed here), so too the world is not heating up because some Kenyan is cooking bread over her cow dung fire, it's heating because of the typical person able to access the internet from home daily.

If you and I consume less, then there'll be more left over for people who have little or nothing. This is why I do not advocate people deliberately earning less, only spending less. If they earn less, there will not be public money for (say) wind farms, whereas if they just spend less there will be, and they can send their money to useful projects of their own choosing. For example, ten families with savings of $10,000 each could work together to start a business which would employ some unemployed and impoverished people.

I think Kunstler is an excellent example of bigotry in a person. Take for example his September 12th, 2001 entry (scroll down) in which he advocates the complete destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq as nations, the destruction of the cities of Kabul, Baghdad, Tripoli and Damascus, and the deportation of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. He offers no reasons for these suggested atrocities save that they are "appropriate" and will "put Jihad out of business." His grasp of international affairs is extraordinarily bad, making Fox News look thoughtful and well-informed. So I am not too interested in things he says. Certainly he has interesting things to say about peak oil, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Jon Rynn said...

I don't see how the urban poor are going to be interested in any movement that is anti-city. The peak oil movement, if that is what it is, has this survivalist streak, as if the millions of surbanites that lose their gasoline and cars are not going to find all the Willits in the country. They seem to think, and this includes Kunstler at times, that we are all going to survive in little villages and towns. Now, it turns out (and go look at Robert Beauregard's "When America became suburban" if you don't believe me), just as African-americans and other nonwhites were coming into the cities, governments at all levels were embarking on the world's greatest burst of construction, suburbia, for the benefit of white middle-class people. The cities and everyone in them got screwed, and basically the peak oil movement is advocating a repeat performance.

So if the government can screw up the cities and make the most unsustainable life form in history, the suburbs, a reality, why can't people act collectively, including poor and middle class people, to create government programs to put those expensive solar panels on every building in the country, which according to statistics I saw provide 60% of the current, overindulgent elecricity needs of the country? Would that be so awful? William Juius Wilson of Harvard advised that the best programs for poor people are programs that benefit all people. So shouldn't universal health care be part of an agenda of change? Or workplace democracy? or what about a huge program of livable, human-scale housing, which is a huge need in both the poor and middle class communities in cities? how about public transit, so poor people aren't relegated to second-class bus systems? What about universal child care, preschool? These are all wider social justice issues that fold into peak oil concerns, but connect to the wider world.

Michelle in Ga said...

I'm cool with being a peasant.
The only true PO believr I know
in the non virtual world is a
wealthy black fella. I've tried
to educate and plant seeds of
sustainability with anyone that
would listen. So far, very few do.
I hate to put the blinders on,
but PO is my family issue. I
work outwards from there as I can

Anonymous said...

I think part of the reason for the type of thinking railed against in this post is described in

I do think we can overcome these instincts but only through religious or quasi-religious (I do not restrict this just to an organized religion. one can be a very zealous convert to secular environmental activism) conversion. Those lacking strong "faith" however, are going to act in the short term interest of themselves, their family and their tribe. A part from some type of "faith" race becomes an aspect of tribe.

I don't doubt that a committed few can enact what you are advocating but I do see a parallel with the Amish in the sense that they have removed themselves from non-believing society on the strength of particular convictions to form a parallel society. You can build a parallel society on faith but you cannot convert a culture. Every "religion" that tries finds itself converted to the ways of the "world" not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

May I question the framing of this issue, Sharon?

You've identified an issue, that of the lack of participation of non-whites in the peak oil and climate change movements. Your conclusion is that this is due to personal failings on the part of activists involved in those movements.

The remedy, you imply, is to criticize those activists, such as Kunstler or the collapsist-survivalists.

I'd suggest that this is a passive viewpoint, which assumes that others have control over one's fate. In the long-run, this is self-defeating.

Instead I'd suggest a more active approach. Peak oil and climate change bring new insights and challenges - how can one's group, party, or movement make use of them? What are the implications? What political programs can be built with them?

One example from the far right is the anti-immigration British National Party (BNP). They've taken peak oil and climate change and really run with them -- they have probably the most thorough analysis of any political party.

On the liberal-left, there are some Green Party initiatives and people like Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center. Van Jones emphasizes the economic aspect (green jobs), which is probably the key to attracting the interest of working people. Food security and relocalization could also be issues to organize around.

Right now there is a lack of analysis from the left, socialists, feminists, people of color, the Third World, etc. There are a few isolated thinkers (you for example), but on the whole ... not much. I find the intellectual life on the left to be stagnant, mostly recycling ideas and approaches from the 30s and 70s.

There is need for fresh thinking and creativity.

If one waits for other people to become enlightened, one will be a long time waiting.

Energy Bulletin

Dave said...

Such an excellent post, Sharon. Perhaps your previous post addresses the heart of the issue, that the peak oil movement tends to concentrate on solutions for keeping what we have, compromising only where it's comfortable. The have-nots by definition do not possess the same motivation.

The one area where I see tremendous potential for crossover regards local food production. Our industrial food production makes the cheapest calories also the least nutritious, favoring also the foodstuffs most likely to render people fat and redolent. Easy comforts (including TV) become the bread and circuses of our day, keeping the bulk of the citizenry content enough not to contemplate what might lie ahead. I see this less as a racist issue, and more one of socioeconomics. Anyway, a focus on nutrition, breakfasts for kids heading to school, changing the culture from process foodstuffs to cheaper, more nutritious food requiring preparation might be a step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

I would have read the entire article but then I ran into that little "Cuba" paragraph. What a load of BS! People in Cuba are not enjoying adequate health care unless they are in the upper echelon. If Cuba is so great, why are so many Cubans risking their lives to get out? I have a friend who came here from Cuba and he would tell you that you're out of your gourd if you hold Cuba up as something to aspire to. A communist dictatorship? Is that what you aspire to for this country? Have you forgotten how many lives have been sacrificed over the years to keep this country free?

Anonymous said...

Hey Sharon,

Sneak a peak at the "environmental justice" movement. You may find some suggestions for integrating people of color into PO and climate change movements.

Thanks for your blog - it raises good issues.


jewishfarmer said...

Bart, I agree with you about the analysis on the left, but I don't think my intention here is to merely critique the personal failings of various thinkers - in the sense that I don't think racism is a purely personal failing. Our presumptions are cultural, and go rather deeper than the purely personal.

I agree that integrating the ways that peak oil and climate change can serve these communities is important - in fact, I'm writing about that right now, but this post is long enough. But I also think it is worth noting that for all we say we want more people to join us, we don't always act as though we do.

As for Cuba, anonymous, Cuba's health care system is one of the best in the world, actually, with more doctors per capita than the US and with better access. That's simply a fact - it isn't an endorsement of their entire political system to note that they have done a better job at assuring *some* things than we have. The bottom line is that ideology can't get in the way of noticing the facts.

Kiashu, I appreciate the reference on Kunstler, and I agree with you about the rich-poor division. My focus is on the US because I feel less well able to discuss institutional racism in other nations - I'll leave that to people with deeper knowledge of the subject. BTW, my name is Sharon - jewishfarmer is my email address ;-).

Boysmom - this is a really good point - and I think poor people around the globe who think that we're saying "ok, we used it all up, and you can never have any" are absolutely right. That's the message. No wonder they are pissed.


Anonymous said...

>> Sharon wrote: I don't think my intention here is to merely critique the personal failings of various thinkers - in the sense that I don't think racism is a purely personal failing. Our presumptions are cultural, and go rather deeper than the purely personal.

I think that's what I'm getting at - the need to go beyond the personal. Otherwise the discussion lapses into personal attacks, counter-attacks... Any deeper understanding is clouded by hurt feelings and self-righteousness.

Talking in terms of individuals gives us the illusion that we understand the problem and can control it by moralising - when the roots of the problem are structural.

The screaming fact about U.S. society (and to some extent the rest of the world) is the increasing polarization into rich and poor and the disempowerment of dissident movements. The labor movement for example, or any political movement to the left of Barack Obama.

If one gets one's ideas and opinions from the mass media or even the elite media (web, books, journals), it is hard to acquire the mental tools to understand our situation. Into this vacuum come the half-baked ideas of Social Darwinism, survivalism, and the other dysfunctional approaches you point to, with their obvious or subtle racism.

In terms of action, what am I suggesting?

Looking at things in terms of economics and power. This is how poor people & people of color will be hit. Higher gas prices are an inconvenience to the upper income brackets, but a body blow to people earning minimum wage.

Talking in terms of working people, rather than purely in racial terms. As economic troubles become worse, the pain will be felt more widely. If the appeal is made to a wide public, there is the possibility of attitude shifts, of alliances and joint action.

Looking to see what already is going on outside the peak oil movement, even though it may not be labeled peak oil. Community gardens and ethnic traditions (e.g. for food preparation) are popular and fun.

Building on the ideas of environmental justice, sustainable urban living, relocalization, mutual aid, jobs in renewable energy, etc. Some peak oil activists will be interested, but I'm afraid that others will not.

Best of luck

jewishfarmer said...

Bart, I respectfully disagree that calling Kunstler on the bigoted crap is merely moralizing. He is, for better or worse, a major figure in the movement, and his otherwise terrific book is a laundry list of his distaste for anyone who isn't like him. And he's using that evidence to tell people where to settle and how to live. Frankly, I think he deserves to be called on it.

Is this why EB didn't pick this piece up ;-)? (Just teasing you!)

And I'm really not convinced that talking about class instead of race is the way to go either - that is, we conceal of lot of straight out racial nastiness under discussions of class - IMHO, at least in the US, poverty and racism are so deeply intertwined that it is difficult to talk about class without implicitly talking about race. And personally, I think talking about things explicitly is always more useful than talking about them in code.

I agree, we need to enlist all poor people in the discussion and the movement, but a lot of times when race isn't dealt with directly, involving everyone seems to be mostly involving poor white people. I think we can take some blunt discussions of the role of race - it could hardly lead to *fewer* non-white people in the movement ;-).


Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

Pat Meadows said...

Hi Sharon,

YES! I'm in 100% agreement with you. Truer words were never written. (Well, very seldom anyway, if not never.) :)

Pat Meadows

Anonymous said...

I get halfway through this overly long screed and think, here we go again. Lily white male this, lily white male that.

My race and gender have nothing to do with the fact that I got into this.

Stop bitching and do something.

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that this "essay" is another example of "white man's burden." We gotta help them poor colored folk that don't know what's going on.





S U F F E R.

Kiashu said...

Anonymous, I didn't see Sharon say that "we" should "help" the poor. I saw her say that we should do what we can to have poor people participate in the whole movement.

Now, what is the difference between "helping" the poor, and "encouraging their participation". I think the difference is very great. For example, rich people would like to know how they can reduce their consumption of energy, etc, while not living a miserable life. Poor people are very well-practiced in making do with less. So poor people can teach rich people a lot.

With that viewpoint, we don't want poor people to participate in the 90% challenge for their sake, but for the rich people's sakes. The poor have skills to teach the rich.

Anonymous said...


The main thing I care about, Sharon, is that things move forward. Can something productive come out of this? I hope so.

Notice that Shepherd Bliss wrote several articles in the same vein last year. He reported getting many enthusiastic emails, so there is a need...

Gender, Peak Oil, and Culture by Shepherd Bliss :
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Energy Bulletin

guamanian said...

Sharon -- Thank you! This is an excellent summary of the racist subtext of too much peak oil discourse... something I have found troubling for a long time.

To see a worst-case example, check out William Stanton's infamous ASPO essay in the July 2005 ASPO Newsletter, where he promotes eugenic killing of 'defectives', the ill and the elderly, the redefinition of immigration as a criminal act, and the lavish application of capital punishment for just about everything... Stanton is an outlier for the directness of his proposals, but the same attitude infests much peak oil discourse.

Even in our local peak oil group – here in a relatively progressive Canadian city – a proposal that our charter include language that we "oppose discrimination and human rights violations in all areas of [peak oil mitigation] policy and practice, and opposing anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policy and practices as solutions to the crisis" was shot down as being too contentious and 'off-topic'.

In fact, it is directly at the center of the work we need to do in order to create any kind of post-carbon future worth inhabiting.

- guamanian

Anonymous said...

It's clear that one can not maintain a large amount of refugees indefinitely. Blowing up the bridge as you mentioned is not a humanitarian issue... it's a practical one. If you have enough food for x people you have enough food for x people not x + y people. Adding the y people will cause the death of x + y people instead of just y.

Bilaal said...

Not only are these arguments true within the US but the plight of poorer nations is generally ignored by the Peak Oil community. In the introduction to my book Peak Oil Paradigm Shift I point out that "Little thought seems to have been given to how less developed countries should position themselves to handle a situation that threatens to derail all their development efforts and send large segments of their populations back to pre-industrial times, or keep them there indefinitely."
It is also true that many less developed countries lie in regions of the world that have more sunshine and therefore higher potential for generating renewable energy either directly (e.g. solar) or through raising crops for biofuels.
BTW flat oil production over the last 3 years combined with record growth in demand from China et al and continued moderate demand growth in the US and other developed countries means that poorer countires are already being gradually priced out of the hydrocarbon market.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Tough subject walking the edge with skill and style.

I constantly consider the plight of the poor. I volunteer at a local church food bank where I handle the interviewing. I get to speak to all of the clients personally, ask them how life is treating them, try to consol them if there is a need. The experience has brought me much humility and enlightenment. They are thankful for the day they are living, hoping to see the sun rise the next day. This is a very common response to “How is life treating you?”

On the plight of the poor, they will survive. It’s what they are good at.

There will be many more poor. Between the housing bubble deflating, credit card usage increasing, and energy prices rising the lower middle class is experiencing a process of attrition towards a lower level.

The poor have their own culture. Cultures might share characteristics, but they are intrinsically separate. When I’m interviewing people, asking if their’s anything special they need (maybe a toothbrush or a razor), I know I’m asking from a different cultural perspective. They know it too. The food bank is a bridge of kindness between the two cultures.

The peak oil crowd is a subculture. It’s not compatible with every other culture. Nor is it needed. The culture of poverty is a culture of survival. The culture of peak oil is also a culture of survival. The poor understand reduced energy availability, just last week I had to help bandage a client who curbed his bike and took a fall.

Culture is the key to why various people do and do not join certain subcultures. Everyone in the peak oil crowd found it on their own or probably through a friend. I feel people’s decisions are greatly influenced by their cultures. And it’s tough to get someone to change their culture.

It is due to economics that I have to write off the plight of the poor as something that cannot be fixed. They can’t afford any real compensating technology. Nor can the public afford to provide it to them. We are entering the end of the greatest energy boom ever, everyone is going to feel the pain. I doubt there will be enough resources for the level of charity necessary to make everyone comfortable. This is a hard conclusion to come to. I find it very depressing.

The poor will survive. Not all of them, that’s for sure. They already have an unfair situation in society. Shoot, as more people slip into poverty those with experience will have an advantage. If everyone’s going to play the game it helps to know the rules. Of course the face of charity will change over time as well, I only hope for the best. I fear a change for the worst is more likely.


Anonymous said...

Sharon you are a good person - but the people of Willits do have a point - you are a farmer - say you have two jersey cows on three acres of pasture - you have good water but there are 100,000 starving dairy cows that have been turned off bankrupted dairy farms in your area - will you let them in, or will you keep the fodder to sustain your two house cows?

Now I know we can sustain more people on a simple lifestyle than an energy hungry one, but it takes time to create fertile gardens, more than the two weeks it takes to starve to death..



Kiashu said...

People aren't cattle.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sharon, for this thought-provoking article. While I'm a pale male ( not by choice : ) , I work in an inner-city school in Miami and so feel qualified to make a few observations.

First, I talk up PO whenever I can work into a conversation. I personally don't let race or gender deter me; I'm a pest with no shame because it's my "cause". The only person who has bothered to look at any of the links I suggest happens to be a Hispanic male. Just random, probably.

Although 90% of the students at my school qualify for free/reduced lunches, the student parking lot contains plenty of cars and more than a few SUV's. Many of their parents are masters at "off the books" income and have more income than they appear to. Almost all the students have color TV's, microwaves, computer game consoles, etc at home. Most of them could find the money to make PO preparations if they wanted to; like the vast majority of Anglos, they have been told everything is fine, go shopping!

One reason the well-off (this includes well-off blacks) fear the young urban population is the glamorization of the "thug life". Thugs think any physical work is for "chumps", if you were to suggest they should be dirt farmers they would tell you you're "trippin!". Over the last year four of our students have been killed by gunfire, two of them by AK47s. There is a fair amount of gunplay in the inner cities already; quite a few young people seem to be able to come up with those staples of the while male survivalists: an assault rifle and a pile of ammo. Please try to understand why those who have made preparations fear "marauding hordes".

Finally, plenty of Cubans live in Miami; they share the viewpoint of the responder upthread who focus on the sort of authoritarian control that seems to be necessary to enforce shared sacrifice. While I admire Cuban as a model of powerdown, the majority of Cubans in Cuba would love to come to Miami and get in on the "cheap oil fiesta".

I'm guessing that making do with less only appeals to those who have had plenty all their lives; those who have little are not interested in having less.

Goddess help us.

Errol in Miami

Anonymous said...

That's a powerful moral vision you've articulated, Sharon. I appreciate the compassionate, thoughtful ways you always add to the ongoing peak oil conversation.

While I agree with what you've said, a part of me wonders how productive it is for you to lecture us white, middle-class, peak oiler's on our unconscious racist tendencies.

Everything in nature -- including human nature -- is looking after it's own self-interests; be it on an individual, family, tribal or national level. You have to sell us the benefits of your anti-racist vision, otherwise you're just "preaching to the choir" and further ostracizing those who are feeling criticised. (Which would include most people, it seems!)

As we continue down the path of energy descent, I think most folks will find that life will become more and more about local economics and "How am I getting along with my neighbors?" (regardless of their skin color or ethnicity.) Racism may become a luxury for a privileged few (and a stupid few) who are convinced they don't need their neighbors -- which, hopefully, won't be a whole lot of people -- but only time will tell.

All the best and keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

I'm very poor, white, female, and partly disabled. My leg circulation is ruined, I have regular migraines for which the meds are 20 dollars per pill, I have PKD and scarred lungs from clots that burn like pneumonia when inflamed. Do I qualify as 'poor and disadvantaged' for your purposes? Good.

Your thoughts are rosy, but woefully unrealistic...for which I have little patience these days. If things get bad, many will fall by the wayside - including me, as I am disabled enough that getting around on foot much is a serious problem...I literally can't do it.

Am I quaking in my boots or angry becaise society should provide for my needs no matter what, and at any cost to others? No - I view it as what happens when industrial society breaks down, nothing more. Poor people will probably do much better at living through peak oil than middle-class people, in many respects, simply because they are used to going without - so spare me your well-meaning but irritating clucks of sympathy.

Frankly, I find lectures about 'involving poor people' insulting - I'm involved, have been for years, and I didn't need any help from anyone to do so. Considering you chose to have 4 kids, I find your sincere suggestions to the rest of us about 'making-do with less' offensive and hypocritical - and let's see how 'starry-eyed-inclusive' you are when a bunch of starving strangers try to take the food out of your FOUR kids mouth's.

You are an intelligent, well-meaning person, but I'm sick of the attitude that poor/minority people can't 'prepare', be involved or know about peak oil (or anything else) on their own steam, without being tutored or invited. Cross-cultural inclusion is a worthy aim, but in your typical liberal clueless fashion, you are just as much of a bigot as Kunstler, only far less realistic. People have enough to worry about, and feel guilty for, without having a load of utopian 'liberal white guilt' heaped on them.

Kiashu said...

Another anonymous one... Again, I think that you're reading Sharon in an unfairly negative fashion. She wrote of "involving poor people" - she didn't specify who this was supposed to help.

You can read it as a patronising "help the poor", or you can read it as "the poor can give us good advice on making do with less", or a combination of the two. You chose the most negative reading possible.

I'd also note that like Sharon herself, you're looking at things from a very Western-centric perspective. You describe yourself as "very poor", but are using the internet, and actually have medicine for your physical troubles. This puts you in the top 10% of the world as a whole in terms of wealth. Of course by Western standards you are "poor" - I know, I am myself. But by world standards, you are rich.

I do not mean that you do not suffer from a lack of material things, or that your life is all sweetness and light, still less do I mean that you should feel some guilt at your good position relative to the world as a whole. I do mean to give some perspective on things.

For example, the picture of crowds of starving strangers overruning farms like locusts is simply not realistic, and does not correspond to anything which has actually happened in history. As entertaining as that sort of Mad Maz scenario is, and as much as the Kunstlers of the world may get erections over it, it just doesn't happen. When the shit hits the fan, people actually co-operate pretty well. Governments collapse before communities do - even newly-formed communities in refugee camps and the like.

So I do not think Sharon has to be terribly worried about starving strangers taking food from her childrens' mouths. She needs to be more worried about people doing their best to read her in the most negative way possible. If a person wants to be any kind of public figure, they'll get that a lot.

jewishfarmer said...

Kiashu has already said a lot of what I would have, but I'd also point this - many poor cultures have strong traditions of inclusively caring for the disabled, for example - it might maximize resources to abandon them, but such choices are not made willingly. For example, the story of the Hmong's escape from Cambodia is one in which elders were carried on people's backs, and children as well. My husband's grandparents endured the Holocaust, and their stories were not of "everyone for themselves" but of doing the best you could for those that mattered as long as you could. Perhaps everyone for themselves would have come out better - but for me personally, the kind of person you are matters as much as the outcome. Believe it or not, people in terrible exigencies often act on ethical principles.

It is rich people who seem most eager to believe in everyone for themselves, people never act outside of self interest. I suspect for some of us, this will be a self fulfilling prophecy.

If you have no interest in attracting people to the movement who aren't just like you, then I have no case. But the endless bitching I hear from people about how they talk and no one listens seems to run counter to the claim that we shouldn't do anything to be more inclusive. Frankly, I think it is mere self-interest, that thing that motivates all we do, as well as the right thing to do.


Anonymous said...

I'm puzzled by the idea that hands down poor people will do better than middle class or even rich people. Some poor people may well have the attitude and skills that will help them, but those without some resources (and those skills) they are as sunk as the rest of use.

Honestly, given a choice between what my middle class life has given me in the way of skills and material goods, (not to mention a patch of land) and what life has handed most of the poor people I know, I think I'm going to do a lot better than many of the poor people I know. (That's on the days I don't think we are all going to hell in a handbasket.) Now, if they'd had my advantages, they might do just as well. It's not the people, per se, it's their situation. Maybe I know the wrong sort of poor people. I seem to know more who are not really fuctioning that ones who know how to plough with mules (yes, I know some of them, but considering they tend to be very old, I'm not sure how well they will fair either).


jewishfarmer said...

I would just add one more thing - I think that most of the credit for this analysis should go to Harvey Winston, not me. I don't know enough about him to know whether he's guilty or liberal, but I'm pretty sure from the conversation we had he isn't white. So this isn't just the voice of some guilty white liberal - this is an expression of one non-white man's experience with the peak oil movement, filtered through my analysis (I encouraged him to publish this himself, for various reasons he preferred that I do).

I don't know too many people who have been actively alienated by the peak oil community who come back and explain what the problem is for both him and the people he knows - I think it is extremely useful for him to have done so. I'm grateful, and because he did this, I think he deserves better than to be dismissed because of his association with a morally responsible (not guilty) white (mostly) leftist (not liberal) - I think the value of the critique shouldn't be lost because I published it and included my own commentary.


Kiashu said...

It's not so much that those already poor will do "well" in a time of economic, resource or social crisis, more that it won't be any different for them. Let's imagine some middle-classed professional person living in the suburbs with 2.2 children and cars and a dog, talking to an impoverished inner-urban person.

"Oh no, the economy tanked and interest rates went up, I may have to sell my home!"
"I don't own a home, and have no credit card or loan debt because I'm not creditworthy because I couldn't ay that power bill a year ago."
"The oil's running short, the government is rationing it to even and odd-numbered licence plates on alternating days, how will I get to work?"
"I can't afford a car and already use public transport."
"Oh shit the power station went down because the company running it collapsed, there's a blackout!"
"I live in a run-down building where the wiring is a hundred years old and if they turn the power on there'll probably be a fire, we've been waiting for six months to get it fixed but it won't happen because the building owner is a real bum, and anyway the power company won't put it on for me until I pay that bill."
"Shit, the economy's gone further downhill, I'm losing my job!"
"I don't have a job. Well, I do, but I get paid below minimum wage under the table."

And so on.

When wondering how it could be that the poor would cope better with some kind of collapse than the middle classes, you're confused because you're saying, "but "coping" means we keep consuming a lot, but without harming the Earth. How can poor people do that?" But "coping" means "making do with less."

As I describe in fuelling the world we aren't going to be able to just flip a switch and have the exact same lifestyle we have today. We are going to have to consume less. Poor people will cope with this better than middle-classed people because poor people already consume less. When resources run short, they won't notice the difference.

The way to lessen the "bump" when our arses hit the resources floor is to begin today by reducing our consumption, reusing things we have, and recycling things we can't use. Reduce, reuse, recycle. This is what poor people already do. Only wealthy people buy disposable things. To the poor, nothing is disposable. Poor people reduce, reuse and recycle because they can't afford not to.

Thus, poor people have a lot to teach wealthy people about how to reduce, reuse and recycle. If you want to halve your power bill, ask someone with half your income.

Anonymous said...

I get that the poor at already adept at coping with very little. I still don't get how having nothing to fall back on is going to help them. People who are poor that they are walking through the bush with a rag or two on their backs and an old coke bottle full of dirty water are just not going to do as well as someone with a bit of land and seed stock, IMO.


RAS said...

I’ve refrained from commenting on this thread thus far because I didn’t want to stir the pot, but I thought I would come in now to respond to why poor people will have an easier time adjusting than the rich. At least in some cases.
First, I should tell you that I was raised in extreme poverty. So extreme that my current life –that of a graduate student –makes me look wealthy by comparison (and is wealthy by comparison with 90% of the world’s population, but that’s off topic since I’m talking about the U.S. here). My mother couldn’t work because of a mental illness, and my dad was often unemployed for months at a time thanks to the economic downturns in the 80s. (Thanks, Reagan.) There were three of us kids, and I was the oldest. We were homeless for long periods of time throughout my childhood. One summer we squatted in a campground for the whole summer while my dad worked a temp job on a nearby construction project. It didn’t pay enough to make rent, but it did pay enough to buy some groceries and there was plenty of fish in the lake. I know now that there were plenty of edibles in the woods, but my parents were city folk and didn’t know anything about foraging.
In the city we relied on a combination of methods: whatever income my dad could bring home, large sales, food banks, soup kitchens, dumpster diving behind restaurants and grocery stores. (No, it’s not as gross as it sounds.) My dad could turn a hand to any task that needed doing. When there was no formal work to be had, we worked under the table. One of our largest sources of income was dumpster diving. We’d pick up things others had thrown out, fix them or clean them up if need be, and sale them. My parents were also descended from carpenters and knew how to use tools. My dad and his friends would scrounge scrap wood, sometimes doing the “2X4 relay” as Jeff Foxworthy put it, to construction sites in the middle of the night to “recover” materials and then they’d build stuff and sell it. Like yard decorations, bookshelves, etc. There are plenty of ways to survive if you’re resourceful.
Air conditioning? Didn’t have it. A car? Often didn’t have one. Electricity? Sometimes we didn’t even have a place to stay, much less juice. Heck, I was in my freshman year of college before I ever really used a computer. (How’d I get to college? Scholarships, grants, a lot of determination, good old-fashioned hard work, and not a little bit of work.)
The rural poor often have it easier than the urban poor. Why? Because the song “A Country Boy Can Survive” is true in more ways than one. If you know how to forage, hunt, and garden, you’re pretty much set.

Anonymous said...

Not wishing in anyway to dismiss RAS's childhood expereinces, and agreeing that rural poor (again, if you have your land and your digging stick or whatever) may well do better than urban poor, when TSHTF, there may well be builing sites to salvage from, but will there be much of a market for book cases?


jlpicard2 said...

The Archdruid Report posting "Is History on Anyone's Side?" directly comments on this posting, in particular, the last paragraph.

Kiashu said...

Anonymous MEA wrote, "People who are poor that they are walking through the bush with a rag or two on their backs and an old coke bottle full of dirty water are just not going to do as well as someone with a bit of land and seed stock, IMO."

A couple of points. The first is that I'm not sure where this image of people with nothing but rags on thier backs and coke bottles full of dirty water comes from. Historically, rather few people end up with so little, only people escaping from death camps, across the Ladoga fleeing the Siege of Leningrad, that sort of thing. Other people may have that little for a day or two, but they soon acquire more things, one way or another. People can be extraordinarily resourceful, as RAS's ost describes.

Secondly, obviously it is better to own something than nothing. However, the person who owns that something had better know how to make use of it, or they'll be in trouble. So the yuppie living in the city with a weekend "farm" - a couple of acres of thistly field - even if they've got a nice seedstock, they simply won't have the tools or know-how to make use of them. So they'll soon find that those people with rags on their back and dirty water in their coke bottles, if some of them happened to even have a little vegie garden back in pre-rags days, well they're going to be employed and have a job now, and the yuppie is going to have to get their hands dirty.

Machiavelli used to say about good soldiers and money that if you had good soldiers you could get money, but if you had money you couldn't get good soldiers (only lazy mercenaries), but of course it was best if you had both. Similarly I would say that if you have to choose between skills and property, choose skills - skills can get you food and clothing and shelter and other property, but property cannot usually get you skills; but of course it's best if you have both.

MEA further writes expressing scepticism that people will want bookcases if TSHTF. Probably not. But they will want other things which are made of wood and steel by handymen. I've been reading about the aftermath of WWII lately, and one of the remarkable things is how quickly markets start up. After the Red Army had swept through, and there was effectively no government at all, people emerged from their homes and wreckages with food and cothing and blankets and drink and burning oil and all sorts of things. Currency from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (dissolved in 1918) appeared in the Ukraine in 1945, people would use anything for currency and trade.

They also traded in work and skills, and some people did nothing but buy and sell. It's really remarkable how it just sprang up in the absence of any local government. Very few people actually starved or died of disease after the Nazis had been pushed out, even though they had few or no rations and medical care from the Russians. People just made do.

It's hard to imagine any truly plausible TSHTF scenario which is as fierce as the collapse of the Nazi empire in Europe. If people can survive through that, they ought to manage through much less severe scenarios, I think.

It is not recorded that wealthy landowners did particularly well in those scenarios. Usually they had already fled the country for more peaceful lands, taking most of their cash with them - the poor squatted in their mansions, and tilled their lands.

Anonymous said...

MEA here:

First, I think there is a lot of conflation of poor people into one huge group, and that's causing part of the confusion.

The very, very poor people I know are refugees from Africa, who walk for 3 years through the bush (that's when they were very, very poor) with their children (and other family members dying along the way), and, from what they tell me (and I've only spoken to women and children, so the men may have had a difference expereince)having a few more things (such a a bottle to carry water, or a piece of cloth) did make a difference, but by and large, vaste numbers of people died. That's why I think that the very, very poor are not goind to do well, despite their skill sets. Historically, few people may have ended up like this. Right now, it's happening daily.

Then there is the mentally ill homeless, who are certainly poor, and depended on a formal and informal services that are likely to vanish as society as a whole gets poorer. Can't see them doing well.

Then there are the working poor, who may be living on rice and beans now, but once the price of food takes off, those of use eating rice and beans and more expenise stuf can fall back on just the rice and beans, but not the those who have nothing to cut.

I just to do "set-up" for poor women who were expecting babies. Some then, esp. the young teens, were so clueless about life, that I can't see them doing well...

It's not that I want them to suffer, it's just that I can't see how being poor in their situtation is going to help then.

And I guess we have different ideas of what TSHTF mean too. For me, it's total collapse, with 80% plus die-off.

Slow crash, which is what I think is the best we can hope for, then people likely can use reworked metal etc. I may be wrong, I may be happily suprised by all of the people I know who I think won't do well.

And I don't think being rich or middle class is going to save you. I just can't see how having resources is going to hurt (assuming the wild ravening mob doesn't carry off your chickens).

MEA, who perhaps just wants someone to tell her that a) it will be all right and noone will suffer and b) the hours she spend sweating over her water barrel weren't in vain.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes. I think another problems with terms is that for some posters the fact that some people survived a certain situtation means that the situations was survivable where as I consider the fact that some people didn't means that for the dead it wasn't survivable. Just a question of how we use words.


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Quick, late comment here.

I agree with you in the main.

Sharon wrote:
"Heinberg, who I think is actually one of the peak oil figures most conscious of racial issues, pointed out that the ODP wasn't really for her - that is, there's no incentive for her to sign on. And while I understand his reasoning, it struck me as troubling that a major public initiative to reduce our energy usage has little to say to poor people who are already priced out of energy markets, and offers no particular means to engage them."

One quick thought: why do they need
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footprint life, they are essentially
on the right track, already. They
don't need lectures (AS WE DO)
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We caused the problem, by profligate
consumption. Now the responsibility
is (largely) ours to face up to it.

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