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Better than survival

I love Kathie Breault. You might or might not know her - for years she’s moderated Running On Empty 3, and been a fixture around parts of the Peak Oil Community. She was one of the first PO people I ever met in person - we rode together to ASPO Boston. She’s also one of the bravest people I know - she’s looked at the future, and remade her life for it. And unlike me, she’s willing to stick herself out there for the mainstream media - me, I’m not so into that ;-).

Kathie did an interview with Nightline that aired the other day - you can read about it here. When she emailed me to tell me that she was doing it, she knew (from prior experience) that she’d probably be misrepresented in some way or other, but shrugged, and said that if her exposing herself helped someone, that was all that mattered. And lo, ABC got the whole thing just about as wrong as they possibly could have. The headline reads “Recession Apocalypse:Preparing for the End of the World.” A subheading reads “some survivalists are stockpiling food and guns” - even though Kathie was very explicit that she’s not stockpiling guns (and lo, none of these other survivalists is mentioned).

If Kathie’s a survivalist, at least as ABC means the term, I’m a nuclear submarine. She’s a lot of things - she’s a funny, smart, permaculturist. She’s a grandmother and a midwife. She’s a gardener and a woman of great self-discipline - she lost 100lbs for cripes sake, simply because it was a good idea.

I don’t mean to dis survivalists - I don’t think most survivalists are what ABC means by the term - there are some people who imagine themselves holing up in a bunker somewhere, but most survivalists are also community oriented and active - I don’t mean to demean them. But I think the term is particularly ill-chosen here because Kathie is setting herself at projects that are so much more than simple survival. Kathie is investing the in future - not the end of the world, but the start of a different life.

So she’s got herself ready for life with less energy. She’s growing her own food, and getting it from local sources, making choices that are good for her and good for her community. She’s working with other people to make her county and region more resilient and secure. She’s making herself visible so the people who can look at what she’s doing, not what Nightline said about it, will. She’s starting up her own practice as a home birth midwife, offering low energy, affordable care to the women in her community. She’s trying to help her grandkids into this new world. Every single things she’s doing is an investment in a better, cleaner, safer, more humane future.

Frankly, I think tough times are ahead, but I don’t know too many people who have set their sights simply on survival, or on bunkers. That’s a fixation of the mainstream media, which thrives not on knowledge, but on entertainment - wacky survivalists in their cabins are so much fun that even when that’s not what’s being described, why not call it that.

But more, the idea of people who have invested in a future that isn’t rich, and isn’t filled with energy, and is still worth living, is still a source of potential and hope and joy, is scary as hell to the mainstream media. For virtually all of the last 75 years, we’ve been told there are only two choices - “progress” towards techno-perfection, or apocalypse. And because we were told these were the only choices, everyone in their right mind picked what was behind door number one - more technology, more beaurocracy, more energy, more…

But if there’s another choice, if there’s a grey area, if there’s something between Klingons and Cylons, the Jetsons and the Road - if that’s a place that a nice grandmother, the kind woman who delivers your babies and does your yearly exam, the lovely permaculturist down the road might want to go, maybe even have a vision for, well, that’s kind of scary. Because someone else, maybe even a lot of someones, might start wondering if that’s not such a bad place after all. Their only hope lies in the fact that most people never be allowed to seriously consider a third way.

The commenters at the site seem to get it, though. Their reactions can mostly be summed up by “good for her.” And Kathie was right to do the interview - because despite all the attempts to turn her story into a cartoon, her investment in a future to a desperate clinging to the past, Kathie shines through - on her bicycle, in her words, in her actions. And the third way peeks through too - and today a few more people will begin to see it.


Editorial Notes: The ABC article is: 'Recession Apocalypse': Preparing for the End of the World. You can watch the video segment about Kathie there. Thanks to Sharon for setting the record straight. When I read the article, I had wondered what the real story was. I actually don’t think the story was that bad at all. Despite the atrocious headline, anyone watching the video would start to think, “Hey - this sounds pretty good - lost 100 pounds - boy, she looks great - seems happy - maybe there’s something to this?” It shouldn’t be surprising that the media distort new cultural trends. Look back at the early coverage of civil rights and the hippies, or the Suffragettes for that matter. It’s the price of being a pioneer. Also, we should realize that the two reporters are not necessarily the ones to blame. The headline was almost certainly written by someone else (an editor), and the story itself may have been changed dramatically from what the reporters wrote. PS Just watched the video at the ABC site. If you ignore the silly phrases about doom, it’s a good piece of reporting. Very positive really. -BA

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