The recipe for change in a post-carbon world (review of Fleeing Vesuvius, Part 5)
Book Review-Part V (of VI)
Fleeing Vesuvius, New Zealand Edition
(2011, Feasta and Living Economies)
Parts 5 and 6 of Fleeing Vesuvius are entitled “Changing the Way We Live” and “Changing the Way We Think.” Both are about solutions. They propose broad strategies for supporting large numbers of people in downsizing their energy guzzling way of life.
The main lessons I draw from these chapters are
1. Politicians don’t lead – people do. The notion that elected officials will lead us in finding solutions to the economic crisis, climate change, Peak Oil or the impending food and water crisis is a myth created and perpetuated by the mainstream media. The only solution politicians and the media can think of is to push the poor and disadvantaged off the cliff through massive austerity cuts. One of the important points Gar Aperovitz makes in America Beyond Capitalism is that Franklyn Roosevelt didn’t create the New Deal jobs and social programs (like Social Security). With the New Deal, he merely enacted on a federal level (in response to popular pressure) programs that had been operating for years on a state and local level.
2. There is an awful lot happening on the state and local level to take back our economy and lives from corporate rule. Just because people don’t hear about it on the six o’clock news doesn’t make it any less real. In addition to the Citizens Rights movement and similar movements in other countries, hundreds of US cities (representing nearly one-third of the population) have signed up to the Kyoto Accords and are massively reducing their carbon emissions. Likewise, as Aperovitz points out, hundreds of millions of Americans have opted out of the corporate economy by joining cooperatives and credit unions and creating worker owned businesses, alternatives currencies, farmers markets, etc.
Part 5 Changing the Way We Live
This section starts with economist Brain Davey’s article entitled “Danger ahead: prioritizing risk avoidance in political and economic decision making.” It looks at the difficult proposition of getting national and international leaders to enact meaningful energy and transportation policy. He suggests that we need to stress the dire risk – focusing on an impending food and public health crisis – of not doing so. I find it intriguing that the elitist World Economic forum, which meets every January in Davos Switzerland, makes the same argument in Global Risks 2012 (see http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/01/occupy-wall-street-the-view-from-davos/)
The second essay, “Transition thinking: The Good Life 2.0,” describes the philosophy and success of the Transition movement in helping thousands of local communities to make the local infrastructure changes that will facilitate a transition to carbon neutrality and energy self-sufficiency. As a member of Transition Town New Plymouth, I have been extremely surprised at the receptiveness of our local council to the initiatives we put forward (for example reconfiguring streets to make them safer for cycling and walking, rewarding council employees for leaving their cars at home, and enacting incentives to help residents insulate their homes and install solar water heaters).
“Sailing Craft for a post-collapse world” talks about strategies for replacing expensive, fossil fuel based land transport with boats powered by free wind energy.
Part 6 Changing the Way We Think
This section is a little disappointing, as some of the essays buy into reductionistic drug company hype attributing human behavior to brain molecules. The notion presented here that resource overconsumption is based on the dopaminergic reward system overlooks important work by Robert Putnum, Ralph Nader and others on the link between depression and alienation and breakdown of community and civic organizations. Kalle Lasn (founder of Adbusters) and others have written at length about systematic efforts by the public relations and advertising industry to persuade people to compensate for chronic loneliness and emptiness by consuming. This section also overlooks extensive neurophysiological research showing that human beings are hard wired to crave social interaction. These studies also show that hormones, such as ocytocin and endorphins, and mirror neurons are far more important than dopamine in this programming (see http://www.opednews.com/articles/Marketing-Serotonin-Defici-by-Dr-Stuart-Jeanne-B-100713-513.html).
I found the later essays in Part 6 more helpful, especially those that address the apathy and inertia that prevent most of the developing world from taking serious measures to address impending economic, ecological and resource crises. In “Cultivating hope and managing despair,” psychotherapist John Sharry compares this widespread apathy and inertia to Kubler Ross’s stages of grief in bereavement or impending loss (denial, anger, depression, acceptance). The impending collapse of the global economy, industrial capitalism and possibly civilization itself is the worst loss any of us can imagine. It should be no surprise that human beings’ initial response to such news is denial.
Sharry suggests that Kubler Ross has left out an essential step between depression and acceptance – namely hopeful and constructive action. Based on personal experience, this makes perfect sense. Transition Town New Plymouth draws in many people who still aren’t totally convinced we are heading off the cliff. As they become involved in constructive activities to move our community away from blind corporate consumption, they seem to find it easier to accept that mankind faces a rocky future.
People can follow the progress of the global Transition movement at the Transition Culture website http://transitionculture.org/
To be continued.