Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Marathon

I'm back after a bit of time off, including 24 hours each way in transit. I've learned a whole bunch of new things, met some wonderful people, got some new ideas and gotten myself properly excited and energized. Besides being totally sleep deprived, behind on the latest news and desperately short on clean underwear, I'm delighted to be home. Six days apart from Eric and the boys was a long, long, long time - too long.

The most fascinating thing about the conference was the people, as always. Last year I called it "human google" and I think that's a good way to describe it. If you bring 240 smart, engaged, active, passionate people together, you are bound to learn an enormous amount. I spent a week apart from the internet, which was lovely, and I didn't even notice the absence of internet technologies, because I had only to ask a question, and if the person I was talking to didn't know, they could find someone who did. I learned a great deal about public health, the economic value of humanure, agricultural educational policy, old soil research and a million other things.

My favorite presentation by far was Larry Halpern's description of the low energy home he and his wife Gail have created. They've done this without spending very much money (at most a few thousand dollars), but have invested a lot of energy, thought and care into living a low, low, low energy lifestyle. Low as in *36* watts of electricity for the month of October this year. I was lucky enough to see the house, and it was fascinating - they live in one of the most economically depressed areas of the US, in a small city, and are making the most of what they have, practicing "Use What You Have" creative thinking to get the most out of the minimum.

I won't post a full review here - I have no doubt others will, and I won't duplicate their efforts. There were a number of wonderful presentations, workshops and discussion, and right now I'm still processing things in my head. I'll post more about the conference as I go along over the next few weeks.

What did strike me was that when I had my little "enough" moment two weeks ago, I apparently wasn't alone. That is, a number of the people dealing with these issues seem to be struggling a little with their own confrontation with reality. Richard Heinberg looked (and I hope he'll forgive me for this) like death warmed over, which he attributed to far too much travel and bad news. Peter Bane spoke in a discussion panel about panicking at the thought of getting in a car and doing that much harm - even to do good. Several participants told me that they feel compelled to pick up the pace, to move faster, as events appear to be, while others spoke of feeling overwhelmed, or both simultaneously.

As I was talking to the wonderful Faith Morgan about this (Faith has the remarkable gift of always putting her finger right on the most essential point), I realized that to some degree, my own brief period of burn-out came from the simple fact that I've been treating this as a race to the finish, rather than an exercise in endurance.

That is, for so long there has been the hope that if we just worked fast enough and hard enough we could avoid the worst consequences of our inaction. And even though I know better, some small part of my mind had hoped that if I just worked hard enough now, I could fix what was broken, and come to a moment at which things are "ok" again. On every conscious level, I knew that was wrong, but denial is a happy space in your head, and nothing ever brought it home like looking at my fellow activists and seeing how hard the confrontation with the present was for them. I thought it was just me. In fact, this may actually be the first time I was ever in touch with the cultural zeitgeist ;-).

Back when I was caring for Eric's elderly grandparents, I used to stop and remind myself that caretaking was a marathon, not a sprint - that there was no question that I had to do things quickly, but with attention to conserving my own resources. So I'm going to try and take that approach to peak oil and climate change myself, despite my normal "damn the torpedos" relationship to the world.

I quoted T.S. Eliot's poem "The Wasteland" in my own talk, quoting the voice that overrides in the end all the others voice of the Game of Chess section of that poem, asserting "Hurry Up Please, Its Time." And I spoke about how I keep hearing that voice in my own head. It is time to hurry up. There is no doubt whatsoever that we have very little time left to get our acts together. But it is also useful to remember what kind of race you are running before you lace up your shoes and set a pace.

Time to get back to work,

Sharon

37 comments:

Chile said...

"In it for the long haul" requires a very different attitude than "we just need to make it through this", whatever the current this is. While we are trying to speed up our own preparations, we are also trying to live our lives and find daily joy in what is here now. It's a very hard balancing act!

Welcome back, Sharon. :)

David said...

Thank you, and welcome back.

I think I've had a couple minor meltdown moments lately brought on by the same feeling, of a subterranean desperation to be moving faster, doing more, working harder, & seeing more change. It's unreasonable when brought to the surface and examined for what it is; but exerts a powerful force down there, churning away, causing stress and despair.

We're all going to have to set our pace for a marathon. Whew.

Anonymous said...

I am choosing to do what I can within my frame work. The children are being taught, "Think global, act local." and a few others like "Reduce, reuse, recycle."

Maybe I am too hopeful but I try to picture it like a jigsaw. The outlines and initial stages are the worst. Finally great chunks of it fall into place.

Thank you for your insights and the little things that you do have made great changes in me and mine.

We have a long way to go but our success is measureable. We celebrate each little win to help motivate ourselves. For instance our part of Australia is in drought and we have managed to reduce our water consumption a huge amount.

David said...

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/10/27/4851/

David said...

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/10/27/4851/

Synchronicity.

Anonymous said...

I was at Yellow Springs for the conference and also felt the presence of a general fatigue in many of the participants. I’ve recently heard this referred to as “green fatigue”. After all there is only so much any of us can do before we start to wear down.

I was touched by your repeated call to “Hurry up please, its time”. This is how I have felt now for some time.

How to balance the need to hurry up with preserving strength for the marathon seems to be one of the great questions facing us.

sylvia said...

Thanks for that. As a former runner (too many injuries) and current peak-oil burnout, I thank you for the marathon/sprinter metaphor. My husband also thanks you.

Michelle said...

Welcome back. Naps help. I
highly recommend them.
Michelle

Leila said...

Wow - I sympathize on the feeling of overwhelm, and it really does seem to be a meme at the moment. One of my Freshman Comp students told me today that he hasn't finished his opinion essay because he was researching both global warming AND Iraq and got overwhelmed.

My overwhelm includes Middle East nightmares - ancestral village was in the middle of all that bombing of South Lebanon last year. Ugh.

Then I got the news that the breast cancer I thought I'd beaten 3 years ago has metastasized and is in my liver and bones. Fucking A. Now I try not to focus on the global or the catastrophic. It will all have to unfold without me worrying about it. I am thinking local and acting personal - today I spent the afternoon in bed, napping, reading, and trying out a guided imagery to relax and visualize my white blood cells eating up those tumors.

With metastatic breast cancer, it is indeed a marathon, a long haul, not a sprint to the finish. It's treated as a chronic disease now. And my job is to address my emotional and physical wellbeing and do what I can to heal. Part of the emotional well being is to detach from the suffering of the world and reconnect to the joy in my own life.

Thank you, Sharon, for everything you do. And take care of yourself!

Alan said...

Sharon,
"36 watts" can't be right. It's conceivable that it was "36 watt-hours" (although that would be running nothing more than 3 or 4 compact fluorescent light bulbs -- and nothing more all month).

I suspect that it was 36 kilowatt-hours which would still be an almost miraculously small amount of electricity, if they are using electric power for refrigeration and anything else other than a minimum of lighting.

If their electric energy usage is that small, they must be heating, cooking, and heating wash water with other sources.

If solar is providing some or all of the energy for those uses, that's great, but I want to hear some details about how they are doing it and, particularly, what part of the country they live in.

And, if they're using wood, where is it coming from and is it all being obtained and processed into firewood without fossil fuel inputs?

jewishfarmer said...

36 Alan - Of course you are right, I should have written 36 kwh, not 36 watts. But the rest is entirely accurate. On another group I'm on, someone asked whether Larry actually lives in his house ;-). In fact, not only does he live there, but he works out of it as well as a musician and environmental educator.

They do not use a refrigerator, whenever the weather permits they use solar cooking and water heating (not a fancy system - bottles put in the sun). They are not yet using wood heat of any kind, but reduced their natural gas usage to something absurdly low as well, but I can't remember the exact number.

What is truly remarkable about Larry and his wife Gail is that they are showing what is possible on a tiny budget (as I said, both are musicians), in an ordinary urban house, among ordinary people.

I believe Larry's presentation will be published over at Groovy Green at some point soon with many more details. I'll certainly post a link when it appears. Larry is one of my heroes.

Sharon

tk said...

I'm so glad to see you back! Your blog inspires me all the time. I didn't even catch up on all the back postings that I haven't read, either (though I tried, and learned that Carla Emery passed on -- how sad!).

Anna Haynes said...

Don't change your lightbulbs, change your leaders

The Riot is great, folks, but please don't let it keep you from working on the "leaders" problem.

jewishfarmer said...

Anna, I agree with you that we have to do both, but I don't agree with your assertion in the other post that the leadership change is the more important work. Al Gore had 8 years of a major public platform to make change on global warming - and did nothing. He assented to the murder of half a million Iraqi children under the sanctions of his predecessor.

I've seen nothing that makes me believe that a Gore presidency would be anything more than better than any of the other options - good is far too strong a word.

That said, given my options I'll probably even vote for the man if he runs. I (reluctantly) support the draft Gore movement for lack of better options. But ultimately, if real change is going to come, it will come from the grassroots, not from entrenched power that has already shown its strongest inclination - to do little or nothing. Just my .02.

Sharon

Anna said...

> if real change is going to come, it will come from the grassroots

I have seen the outcome of this approach in my community, playing out over the last couple of years, and from what I've seen, it hasn't worked. The folks who show up for every "green" event are the same people, from the same subculture, they don't seem to be having any success in pulling in - or influencing - the community at large. They hold educational events until they're blue in the face, but the wider community doesn't attend them, and if any do stray in, they're put off by the clear cultural/tribal differences.
(I'm projecting/extrapolating a bit here, but empirically, they don't seem to have busted out of their subcultural boundaries.)

And we can't afford to try to do this slowly, by diffusion. We don't have the time.

Sharon I love you, but I think you're still working from the Peak Oil mentality - where a strategy of withdrawal(from the vast consumerist culture at large) and personal/like-minded transformation makes sense. With global warming, this same strategy is ineffective - we have to engage with the rest of humanity to change greenhouse gas emissions, and the most-likely-to-be-effective way to do this is to change the structure of laws/regulations/incentives that sets up the playing field on which our human societal ecology plays out.

Have you seen An Inconvenient Truth?
And have you spent 10 minutes talking to *random* passersby in your community to find out their views about global warming? Believe me, it's an eye-opener.

Gore saw this coming, decades ago. He was ridiculed for it. He would have been ridiculed for it in if he'd tried to do more as VP; and with an antienvironment Congress, how much progress do you think he would he have made?
Plus at the time the science of global climate change (aka global climate destabilization) was not as far along as it is now, so there was still (some) room for legitimate disagreement.

That time has passed. Gore has done more to raise awareness than anyone on this planet, but there's a HELL of a long way to go in this dept, at least in red counties, and many/most people I know who are aware aren't lifting a finger to address this.

Continuing to engage within our subculture won't move us forward at anywhere near the pace that we need.

jewishfarmer said...

Anna, I appreciate your passion on this subject, but I think you are fundamentally wrong if you think a man who had the second largest public platform *on earth* and did nothing to support climate change activism during those 8 years will radically transform society. And I do have a moral objection to beatifying mass murderers. I do appreciate what Gore has done to raise awareness - but that doesn't change that some people are tainted by their past acts. We can't just say "oh, half a million dead kids, let's shake that off, because now we're dealing with a bigger issue" - past silence, past complicity is relevant to any imagined future.

I don't think we can change things from within the little leftist green subculture, but that hardly means that the only other option is to draft Gore. Setting this up as an either/or situation is logically incoherent. It is true that the tactics of an isolated left where people don't talk to the scary people who don't agree with them can never work - but I've never advocated anything like such dumb tactics.

Again, I admire your enthusiasm, I've signed the petitions, and I will vote for Gore if that's my option (something I think is enormously unlikely). But I don't kid myself into believing that four more of the approximate same will change the earth.

Yes, I've seen the movie. Yes, I talk to people about climate change every single day. I appreciate the assumptions you make about me, but perhaps you might not want to assume too much in your zeal to have every single person agree entirely with your tactics.

Sharon

jewishfarmer said...

Oh, let me just add that if we want to compare "what works" over time, let us look at the last 50 years or so. Which has made the bigger difference in making leftist social change - grassroots movements like feminism, the civil rights movement, the gay and lesbian movement...or picking the right liberal candidate? Which of the "liberal" presidents we've had has most advanced the agenda of social change? Quite honestly, in my lifetime, the president who made the biggest splash in justice terms was not Carter or Clinton, but Nixon - and what a terrifying thought that is. Both Clinton and Carter were enormous disappointments on the left, and both did little to advance the agenda of the left.

The little segment of the green community you may hang out with may not make change, but that's not true of the left as a whole over the course of history. To say that grassroots change doesn't work is to ignore, I think, an enormous amount of historical fact.

Sharon

dan said...

green fatigue, human googling, interesting coinages. i like them.

sharon

long story short, ever heard of polar cities for future survivors of glo war? year 2500 or so. IF all else fails.....like i fear it will.

see my blog at
http://pcillu101.blogspot.com and get back to me by email at danbloom
gmail, curious to hear your thts on this.

it's a non threatening thought experiment. i hope.

danny

Tufts 1971

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