As an environmental activist at the peak of industrial civilization I’ve always felt like the underdog. I’ve imagined myself as a street-protesting, petition-signing, door-to-door knocking David trying to bring down a money-wielding, corporate-clad, government-shielded Goliath.
With such long odds of victory, many environmental activists have either lowered their expectations or just burned out. We may have succeeded in convincing Goliath to paint himself green, but he still goes on destroying the planet and the collective future of humanity. And being thoroughly exhausted and frustrated at the daunting task before us, we have ended up defeating ourselves.
I’ve realized that this kind of activism really reflects the outraged, afraid, and vengeful part of all of us. The part that lashes out at evening newscasts, commiserates with friends over the state of the world, never hesitates to remind us that we’re just “preaching to the choir” and gives in frequently to the thought – “We’re all doomed.”
For my own physical and spiritual health, I am giving up this type of activism. I no longer want to “change the world” but instead nurture the new world being born. I want to create instead of fight. Most importantly, I want to do my work with joy and satisfaction.
With the peak – and permanent decline – of global oil production coming, energy prices soaring, geopolitical tensions mounting, and the planet warming, there is a lot of work to be done. It is increasingly clear that if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels, the fate of future generations is at stake.
Yet many of us are wasting our valuable energy on counterproductive activist pursuits. If, so the thinking goes, we can just convince the government and corporations to invest more money in solar and wind, if they can fill our cars with biofuels instead of oil, if they can just develop a hydrogen economy, then our fears of energy shortages and global warming will fade away and the problem will be solved. Our focus on reforming Goliath is akin to decorating our prison cell, and we forgo the opportunity for real change and real freedom.
Peak oil, climate change, and resource wars are not the problems, they are the symptoms. The real problem is our high-energy, over-consumptive way of life. The real tragedy is that while promising us happiness, fulfillment, and independence, this way of life leaves us stressed, empty, isolated, and addicted.
The solution, for both activists and the world, is to live in a more sustainable, cooperative, and compassionate way with our neighbors in our communities. We can replace fossil fuels with relationships in our self-reliant communities, and discover true freedom.
Not only do we become a model for others and contribute to the birth of a new culture, we get to have more fun and live a more meaningful life. We can have our garden and eat it too! And by being our vibrant, strong, and healthy selves and sharing our “produce” we can encourage others to join us. Who wants to be an overworked, edgy activist?
In my work with others I’ve found that indeed this is the best strategy. People don’t change when you shove frightening articles in front of their faces or chide them for stealing from future generations. They change when they see that there is a better way, for both themselves and for humanity.
Clearly not everybody is ready to change. We cannot reach them no matter how many press releases we issue or bumper stickers we display. Yet this should not discourage us. At some point, from a combination of internal disturbance and external pressure, such as rising energy prices, they will be open enough to see another possibility. We need to have the solution ready for them when they arrive at the awareness that they too must change.
That’s why we are not preaching to the choir, we’re preaching to the preachers. In fact, we’re creating a community of preachers that is pioneering a new culture. Our tool is a different kind of “demonstration,” one that doesn’t fight the problem but shows the solution. We are creating a social movement through example, not protest.
So David’s best strategy may be ignoring Goliath altogether. Instead, he can use his stone to lay the foundation of a decentralized, low-energy infrastructure that can actually be sustained and will, in fact, flourish into a post-peak oil era as long-distance transport and energy transmission decline.
In towns throughout Vermont and other pockets across the country and world, such demonstrations are being developed. From cooperatives and carpooling to community-supported-agriculture and permaculture, we are planting the seeds of a new way of life and declaring independence from the old as we move along a path toward sustainability.
Individuals and communities disengaging from a top-down-controlled global economic system is the most revolutionary act I can imagine. When we become producers instead of just consumers, we are taking back control over our lives and our future. When the food, water, and other resources we need to survive are supplied by ourselves and a circle of friends and neighbors in our community then we will understand freedom.
While corporations and governments tell us that we can continue to consume finite resources in ever increasing amounts because there will be alternatives, they are trying to maintain their mastery over us and the planet. When we are dependent upon them for our survival, we sacrifice our freedom. On the contrary, when we curtail, conserve, share, and make other changes we not only assure our freedom, but the ability of future generations to be free.
“Becoming the change we wish to see in the world,” that is, becoming a joyful, cooperative creator of a sustainable, self-reliant community requires an act of faith. Like jumping into a fast flowing river we must leave behind all we know, including the stubborn activist part of ourselves that wants to change the world. We must have faith that the river has its destination, even if we cannot yet envision the new world we are creating. And by confidently joining and enjoying the flow we can encourage others to take the leap as well.