Combating 'The End of Suburbia'
As America plunges like a runaway stallion toward what will probably be the most important election in our lifetimes, it's hard to write about anything else.
But a DVD we saw last week at an interesting venue - a converted warehouse named 38 Cameron for its North Cambridge street address - is screaming for my attention - and yours.
The title of the film is "The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream" - and you should see it before you denounce it as crying wolf.
To quote from the Web site, the film "looks directly at the reality of resource depletion, encouraging us to face that squarely, while inspiring the viewer to imagine creative solutions."
They write that the film also brings up thought-provoking questions like these, to which I'm concocting some responses (in brackets):
? What is the American Dream? [I fear it has come to mean the possibility of endless riches. We can have it all, and we can have it now - or very soon.]
? Are today's suburbs destined to become the slums of tomorrow? [Only if we take refuge in denial about the crisis we face...]
? How will peak oil impact transportation and agriculture? ["Peak oil" refers to a bell-shaped curve, the left side of which climbs steeply, showing how we historically accessed more and more fossil fuels until we hit a peak in the 1970s. We are now starting down the other side, as we exhaust the earth's petroleum resources, and the descent will get steeper and steeper. The film spells out not only the impossibly huge demands we are making to support our driving habits, but the fact that agriculture is multiply dependent on fossil fuels for pesticides and transportation - and if we look to agricultural sources to replace fossil fuels, the demand will be so great we will be unable to meet our food needs.]
? What can be done now, individually and collectively, to avoid The End of Suburbia? [We can begin thinking about the problem in personal, community and global terms, not only developing alternative fuels and conservation methods, but imagining new life patterns - such as, for example, small homes and "natural" lawns; local food sources; self-sustaining communities; and user-friendly public transportation. We must also figure how to meet the challenge of the developing world's explosively growing energy needs. Think China...]
? Do we have the ingenuity to find the creative solutions that would make the whole issue irrelevant? [This, I think, is the wrong question. Of course we have the ingenuity to develop creative solutions; we are problem solvers par excellence. We must ask, first, the precise nature of the issue we face, and then, whether we have thewill to develop not only technological, but sociological, psychological and geopolitical solutions.]
Or to quote the Baltimore Chronicle's Thomas Wheeler from the 38 Cameron Web site: "Despite all the warnings that we are headed for an ecological and environmental perfect storm, many Americans are oblivious to the flashing red light on the earth's fuel gauge... How bad will it get? Put it this way. We are looking at the mother of all downsizings."
Do we who live in and cherish the beautiful suburb of Lincoln have the will to face that prospect? What compromises and sacrifices are we willing to make? What will it take to get us to think actively - and positively - about the dilemma we will soon face?
The undercurrent of all this is the geopolitical ramifications, as Dr. William Moomaw, professor of International Environmental Policy at The Fletcher School at Tufts, pointed out in the discussion following the film. American foreign and military policy have been quietly but powerfully guided since the Truman and Carter administrations by America's demand for oil.
That was fine, as long as the sources and pathways of the oil on which we depend were primarily stable, friendly countries. That is no longer true. Increasingly, we must cope with either direct hostility or mischief. And whereas we might offer a stabilizing influence in the form of humanitarian concern in these areas, that approach is diametrically opposed to the predominating neoconservative policies that have informed current and recent U.S. administrations. Check out the neocon vision of empire on the Web site of The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), at www.newamericancentury.org.
Perhaps I'm naive, but I believe we in Lincoln have what it takes to begin to meet the challenge. We and our predecessors have already done much to preserve the beauty of this place. I believe we can be leaders in a brave new world.
October Cullum Frost is a Lincoln resident and a regular columnist for the Lincoln Journal.