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_.



Anonymous said...

Again, wow. Double-wow.

Posted on Energy Bulletin.


Anonymous said...

Ditto Bart of EB.

Blogger on a Cast Iron Balcony (42 yr old Mum of 2) once memorably said after discovering blogging, "I was doomed to spend the rest of what I am pleased to call my life in squalor, typing furiously or scrolling and cackling while the kids drink the bong water".

Now, I'm pretty sure that your kid's are not reduced to that Sharon, but *wow* what are you on?

Whatever it is keep it up :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much.

What a beauuuutiful, beautiful text! I absolutely loved it!

To get the message about Peak oil and Climate change out to "ordinary" people we MUST use a whole range of different, humorous and real kick-butt manoeuvres.

You juuust keep writing!

Uppsala, Sweden

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear you've helped solve our problems by delivering four children onto the planet.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! Your writing is brilliant and thought-provoking as usual. You’ve become the 1 environmental blogger I must read.

A few thoughts before I have to go to work:

1.Your advocacy of more fun, more attention-getting gimmicks, and more emotional appeals has inspired me to take my teddy-bear with me to the Massachusetts Climate Walk in 2 weeks. He’ll be carrying a sign saying “Save My Cousins in the North!” (He’ll also be naked!)

2. In writing letters to the editor these days, I always make it a point to bring out my age (I’m 61). Folks need to know that activists are not all young or male.

3.Here’s a source for climate-change songs, most with audio links so you can download them or listen online. More are coming in daily:

4.Here’s my own small effort in waking folks up. It’s really song lyrics in search of music. I’ll try to come up with another one with a more positive vision.

The Writing on the Wall

It’s written by the dying fish
and by the gas-pump price,
by pictures that look down from space
at melting Arctic ice.

It’s written by expressways clogged
with one-man SUVs,
by Africans who die each day
of famine and disease.

But gossip, games, and gadgets keep
consumers’ minds in thrall.
How many folks have understood
the writing on the wall?

It’s written by the bombs that flash
across the Middle East,
as politicians rush to feed
the military beast.

Our screens are filled with talking heads
who spout the latest lie,
and leaders who exhort us to
shut up, salute, and buy.

“All’s going well!” we hear again
in a halting Texas drawl.
Do dollar signs hide from his eyes
the writing on the wall?

On Easter Island, folks died off
when all the trees were gone.
We’re headed down the same path now;
we may not have too long.

In Babylon, a drunken feast
transgressed God’s clear instruction.
A flaming hand wrote on the wall:
“You’re headed for destruction!”

The letters now loom giant–size
when once they seemed so small.
It’s not so hard to understand
the writing on the wall.

Malva said...

Go Sharon Go!

Let's get those videos produced and uploaded onto YouTube!

I hope everyone who reads you and has a blog of their own writes a peak oil post (regardless of what their usual topic is and regardless of who their readership is). That would be a fast way to touch a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

Have you, in your copious spare time, read World War Z by Max Brooks (son of Mel)? The chapter by the film producer about how he made uplifting films that included a lot of how to and great stories which improved moral and got a lot of people over the hump could be an exlemplar of how to for those vidoes you are talking about. I also think a PO soap opera on the SF channel or HBO would be great. (Assuming that enough change resulted to justify the energyt that went to making it.)


Anonymous said...

Just realized on reason I have such trouble getting the word is two-fold. One, everyone I know thinks I'm an affable crank, (if the are PO aware, they mostly think I'm a PO aware affable crank) so they tend to discount what I say. Two, I have a horrible live and let live mentality, which means, in effect, I feel I have to right to tell, say, SIL II that there is not only no need for everyone in her 4 person family to take a 20 min. shower every morning and a bath every night, but that it is in fact wrong for them to be doing so. (Aside from the fact it would make family get-to-gethers even more thrilling.)

I must, as some point, be telling people off, since I've been told, on line, that I'm shrill and self-rightous. The question is, how to I get the message out without being like that. 47 years of trying to live in such a way so to be an example have converted exactly 0 people.



RAS said...

Sharon, for the record, I don't read your blog because you're a "sweet natured mother who cares about the earth and her children" and that I "appeal to people's better nature." I read it because you tell it like it is and don't pull any punches.

This is a really good post. You're right on all counts. I'm not sure what I can do (aside from what I'm all ready doing, that is) but I'll think about it.

Anonymous said...

So much for peak oil.

Leave the technology to the engineers, please.

Malva said...

Well, I just went on MDC (a natural family living/attachment parenting forum) and proceeded to bump all the threads I could find about Peak Oil. :) If I wake up just one person, it will have been worth it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Sharon,
Another great post. Very inspirational.
The mommies in my area use sales parties (Pampered Chef, Tastfully Simple, etc.) as an excuse to get together, drink wine and dish; however, this usually requires buying overpriced, unnecessary crap. Why not substitute that for a Peak Oil party? Trade seeds. Discuss deconsumption. Talk about how to talk PO with your kids. And drink wine! You're absolutely right about making PO part of the national and local converstation in all different kinds of ways. And I like the idea to use the current cultural psychology to our advantage. Even if the public isn't aware of the particular reasons for the current anxiety, people are desperate for a way to address their overall unease. Acknowledging how out of control things are isn't easy, but the methods you are presenting contain quite a bit of optimism. You're right; there are so many ways to integrate this into our lives. Thanks again for the subtle kick to my ass.

Michael Lemberger said...

Great post. See also Kurt Cobb's Mavens, mavens everywhere...

Coeruleus said...

Humor? Why would anyone use humor and satire when we could all be dry and dull?

[nice post, BTW]

Stone Fence Farm said...

I wanna do a peak oil party! I'll do the seed trading thing. It's that time of year.

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for another great post. I’m happy to see someone who wants to find better way to reach people on these issues—there are too many peak oil “activists” who have a “we’re all doomed there’s nothing to be done save yourself if you can but you probably can’t because we’re all conditioned by evolution to not understand how we’re driving off a cliff” approach to the crisis.

I agree entirely that we must engage the culture in a different way; we must (as Kunstler said at last year’s New York peak oil conference) employ rhetoric more effectively. Milan Kundera said something interesting about this subject in one of his books, when he asked why the AIDS crisis has more “symbolic resonance” than the “carnage” that happens on the highways year after year, with no protest. We need to find more ways to achieve symbolic resonance on peak oil and climate change.

But I don’t think that we should assume that the peak oil and climate change movements are “losing the race to plan the future.” I am currently reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and it is very clear that social and cultural change can come about very rapidly, surprising everyone.

As we enter the next phase of peak oil, our audience has the potential to grow dramatically. The key, it would seem to me, is having the message in place, so that there is an intellectual framework for people to attach to when prices begin to skyrocket; that could be the difference between people making wise choices in a time of crisis and panicking. (It’s all relative of course; there is certain to be both).

Lakis Polycarpou
(City of the Future—

jewishfarmer said...

Ok, Anonymous who proposed the 'Peak oil parties" - you are a genius. Tell me your name so I can credit you as this concept is built upon!!! That's such a great idea.

Lakis - I hope you are right that we're not losing. I tend to think that much of what is happening about climate change right now is what George Monbiot calls "seeming to make change without really making any" but perhaps I'm too cynical.

MEA, I think we all come off as shrill and self-righteous (if we are women - men come off as firm
;-) - I think honestly, the best trick I've found is the one I stole from Bob Waldrop - I don't tell people about peak oil, I tell them how terrific local food is. I don't tell people about climate change, I talk about what a relief it is to spend less time in the car.

Honestly, I don't think you come off as shrill, but wise and concerned. Perhaps you are preaching to the wrong choir - I always think one's relatives are likely to be the very last people to ever listen to us ;-).

Anonymous #2, my kind husband mostly cares for the children while I write, and I compose stuff in my head while pretending to read _Green Eggs and Ham_ - I won't swear the baby has never drunk from the dog's water dish, but I haven't noticed it, and I'm a long way from bongs (although I have the occasional fond memory thereof).

Christine, I think the teddybear is cool and thanks for the song links!!

And Sir Oolius, I would never, ever use humor in any way. It might distract from the utter seriousness of the thing.


Anonymous said...

re: PO parties. We missed last year, but for about 10 years before that a group of neighbors used to have a Gardening Party, were we'd swap seeds and plants (with mental IOUs for things that needed to be divided in the fall, and exchange tales of woe and sucess. We'd also eat and drink, of course.

Might be something to build on.


P.S. Of course, I should have realized that I'm shrill becuase I'm a woman. I also realize that I get told to shut up (ie, can we change the subject to something everyone is interested in) becuase I might be hitting a little nerve. So, perhaps I an sewing a few seeds so to speak.

I often think that even if everyone didn't make massive, let's all go back to the land changes, but just cut out the waste, we'd be a long way towards the reduction in emissions we need.

Anonymous said...

I didn’t post the original party idea, but came up with a similar idea last fall. My idea ties in with the Pampered Chef party theme to help spread the word on PO as well. I think calling it a Peak Oil Potluck wouldn't grab people's attention and could potentially turn people off. After all, PO isn’t exactly a pleasant dinner conversation for unaware people. With that in mind, what about calling it a Fossil Free Feeding Frenzy instead? The parties could emphasize locally grown food and beverage and incorporate topics on gardening, solar oven cooking, seed exchange, skills exchange etc. I thought up a door prize game where you get points for bringing food from your own garden, from a local grower-CSA or farmer’s market, if alternative transport was used-bicycle or walking to the store/market and for using fossil fuel saving cooking techniques-solar oven, haybox, etc. The person with the most points gets a solar oven or some other eco proze. Encourage people to think about where their food was grown, how it got to their table, how it was prepared and how it was transported. Be creative.


Anonymous said...

Love the idea of a Peak Oil party. I ran across the idea when it was suggested by some women in Australia:

I haven't heard much since then.

Bart / EB

Anonymous said...

well-Heinberg or Darley's butts ok- but no- please- not those other guys...;)

Seriously though- you've made some good points but they are difficult issues. One is the difficulty of riling up the younger generation- the teens and twenty somethings- where are they in all of this? Mostly not involved? Why? This will be impacting them greatly but they are mostly not engaged in it. I think part of the problem is that it's not a You-Tube video or on MySpace, etc- it mostly requires reading- which most of them aren't doing- especially books and newspaper articles. Also- I know that the message bothers them a good deal- many are looking at huge college related debt- and the prospect of peak oil economic impacts, climate change etc is not what they want to hear- so they aren't listening.

Then, everyone is so "busy"- "maybe I'll have time to do something when the kids are bigger", etc etc- this is one reason why most of the movement seems to be composed of those with older/grown kids- you are a notable exception Sharon.

And, as Monbiot himself succumbed to, there is the reality that people associate any change connected with this with deprivation and austerity- they don't want to hear this. So even though I recognize that my lifestyle, which is one of voluntary simplicity and doesn't focus on consumption and trips to warm places in winter is mostly a fulfilling one, and a life worth living- it is not what most people embrace in the US, and not what they wish to choose. So we are faced with asking them to give up their lifestyle of choice and embrace another- and maybe they don't want to garden or shop at thrift stores or walk or bike. They like to eat out, buy new stuff at the mall and drive their SUV everywhere. Makes no sense to me, but it's what they like. I, and you, might believe deep in our hearts that they would be happier living as we do- but they don't. So, resolve this one....


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that Bart. I got the inspiration for my idea after reading the story on EB and couldn't find the link to the post or remember where RWBI's website was. The RWBI Austrailian relocation group also came up with some brochures for their parties. Their party idea was to introduce PO and to promote RWBI, and the brochures might be useful as a starting point. The links to the brochures on or EB don't work, but I will try to email them to see if they don't mind posting them again.


RAS said...

Ani, I'm a twenty-something, and I'm involved, so there! ;-) Seriously, most of those in my age group are too busy trying to survive to get involved in this sort of thing. When you're trying to figure out how to buy groceries now it's a little hard (and more than a little frightening) to contemplate PO/GW.

Oh, and Sharon, for the record -threatening to show them pics of anyone's weenie is NOT the best way to get the lesbian community involved, lol. Now, if you want to get the Dixie Chicks to pose nude again....

Anonymous said...

Dan, thanks for emailing me! The links to the RWBI brochure should work now, though the front page of the brochure (with it's "by 2007" mention) is now out of date:

You can read about Cherie's first party here:

Great article, Sharon!

Andi Hazelwood

PeakEngineer said...

Wow, Sharon -- I posted on almost the exact same topic about two minutes before I clicked over to your site here! :) (mine is for those interested) Perhaps this is coming to a head for many of us right now, as the urgency is growing rapidly and the PO community is seemingly merely treading water.

I think we can consider this article a call to literary arms -- the Peak Oil aware must become formally organized (but not bureaucratized), and fight back against the misinformation and apathy. But we must fight back with flair, not the usual (if excellent) written responses to CERA or the IEA. As you imply, we must shock the world into listening.

I, too, am in my 20s, and it's clear that the efforts of the Peak Oil community are not breaking through to people of my generation or younger. NASA has the same PR problem -- our outreach efforts are not tailored to the generations raised on MTV and video games.

We need something big and we need something now. We need to start our own propaganda wars. We must bombard to airwaves with clear facts of Peak Oil. We need hip DJs and VJs to get the message out. We must put the cornucopians (and worse) on the defensive rather than waiting to respond to the next bogus CERA report. We need radical change.

Anonymous said...

Bumper stickers.

"I'm Changing the Climate. Ask Me How"

"How many miles per soldier does your SUV get?"

SUVs are for suckers

Discerning dames don't date resource pigs


Anonymous said...


Well I understand about the cash crunch- been there done that a whole lot- and not just in college. But I do think that a big part of the probem is the debt-load that students are accumulating- they are fixated on getting good paying jobs to pay off those student loans. The prospect that anything might derail this is frightening. They also don't however seem to have any notion of involvement in a political sense- in the larger world. No real concept of speaking up to their elected representatives and demanding change. I teach this age group and get to see this firsthand. It is strange for me as the notion of demonstrations, marches, calling/writing politicians is very firmly imbedded in me- not sure what to make of a group that doesn't relate to this. Although it is so easy now with the internet- can just click and an e-mail message has been zinged to your senator or whatever....

So I think the issue is complicated- and a lot in my opinion, is related to the desire to not know any of this as it presents a frightening future- which could preclude hopes of paying off those loans, buying a big house, etc-

I do think that a big gift we could give anyone not yet in college, or only in the early years of it is to urge them to NOT go into debt- find a way to do college on the cheap if they want to go to college- and don't get into the credit card trap. This generation is being marketed to like crazy- and they need to understand the trap it will put them in.


Jana said...

This website has a bunch of video clips.

I think there is some kind of contest.

Geoff said...

Thankyou for a fantastic post, full of great ideas! I've taken to stirring amongst my peers, and often get comments to the effect that we need to take a softly-softly approach so as not to scare people off, and most of the rest of the responses are cornucopian rubbish, sadly. IMO when we are facing what we are facing I don't think there is time for such an approach.

Anonymous said...

Good ideas, Sharon, and I hope a critical mass of people in this country take your advice. I've read similar proposals at other survival-related sites, but never stated so eloquently. Thanks.

My belief, however, is that when all is said and done, more will be said than done -- most people tend to deny a problem exists until it leaps on their back and eats them. There is a time in the life of every problem when it is big enough to see but small enough to fix. My approach to survival is that we passed that point many years ago. If not, and we can get America back to a fiscally conservative nation inhabited by people who are not blindly self-indulgent and ruled by politicians who are not motivated solely by power and special interest lobbyists, then, well, I've got a lot of rice to share with my not-prepared friends and neighbors and alot of ammo to fire at the range instead of at two-legged varmints! If we ARE marching irreversibly toward TEOTWAWKI, however, then that rice and ammo is going to go towards the survival of my family and a few like-minded friends.

Too many people in this country think every problem can be solved with an over-the-counter drug, some governmental intervention or subsidy, the latest technology, piles and piles of green paper with pictures of old men, or a new, charismatic president who thinks he has all the answers but is just another fucking liar with his pants on fire.


The root of our problem is social and moral, not technical, economic or political. As you said in your About page, a new tomorrow will come from the people, from the bottom up, not from the top down -- people who are willing to change the way they think and act to ensure there IS a tomorrow. Many of us are preparing for tomorrow, and it pains me to say it, but there is a part of me that hopes the unprepared ones do not survive so the rest of us can get on with tomorrow without their sorry, lazy asses.

I respect the possibility, of course, that the tomorrow most of us are preparing for is not the one coming our way. But I also respect people who realize that, in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin' and are preparing themselves for whatever happens so that after SHTF, they will have whatever it takes to re-create the tomorrow they want, not the one handed them by circumstances or corrupt leaders...


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In writing letters to the editor these days, I always make it a point to bring out my age (I’m 61).
Folks need to know that activists are not all young or male.

Anonymous said...

Our screens are filled with talking heads who spout the latest lie,
and leaders who exhort us to
shut up, salute, and buy.
The letters now loom giant–size
when once they seemed so small.
It’s not so hard to understand
the writing on the wall.

Anonymous said...

I feel I have to right to tell, say, SIL II that there is not only no need for everyone in her 4 person family to take a 20 min. shower every morning and a bath every night, but that it is in fact wrong for them to be doing so. (Aside from the fact it would make family get-to-gethers even more thrilling.)
We need something big and we need something now. We need to start our own propaganda wars. We must bombard to airwaves with clear facts of Peak Oil.

Anonymous said...

I should have realized that I'm shrill becuase I'm a woman. I also realize that I get told to shut up (ie, can we change the subject to something everyone is interested in) becuase I might be hitting a little nerve.
our outreach efforts are not tailored to the generations raised on MTV and video games.

Anonymous said...

Why not substitute that for a Peak Oil party? Trade seeds. Discuss deconsumption.
they will have whatever it takes to re-create the tomorrow they want, not the one handed them by circumstances or corrupt leaders

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