Wellhead and Tailpipe / Carol’s Question

So they blew it, and wasted the greatest of chances,
Instead they all frolicked in diplomat dances,
And decided decisively, right there and then,
The best way to solve it’s to meet up again.
And decide on a future that’s greener and greater,
Not with action right now, but with something else later

~ Marcus Brigstocke “Dr. Seuss in Copenhagen” quoted by George Marshall in “Don’t even think about it”

Bilbo, my cat...enjoying a sunny spot in the garden
Bilbo, my cat…enjoying a sunny spot in the garden

To ask the ‘right’ question is far more important than to receive the answer. The solution of a problem lies in the understanding of the problem; the answer is not outside the problem, it is in the problem.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Flight of the Eagle

“What can we do?” The question came as a surprise, as all the good questions: simple, concise, challenging…

I was relaxing between finals at the KPU cafeteria (presented and passed Plant Biology today!), checking emails, sipping some coffee and watching through the window: the sun came out in what seemed more as a spring morning (in mid December?) and a squirrel jumped to the grass and ran to the next tree: “What can we do?” Carol said in her comment…

The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far. Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction? Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?
Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world? Oh, why are people so crazy
~ The Diary of Anne Frank

I turned to my book (still reading George Marshall’s “Don’t even think about it”) and read the next five chapters while waiting for my second final exam. He explains how “bright-siding” (the upbeat tone of the “positive” greens) is as unappealing to mainstream people as the apocalyptic view of the “doomers”, I quote Marshall quoting Zachary Karabell:

Climate change, he says, is not the disaster we fear but instead ‘one more obstacle that humans can
meet, one that may spur innovation and creativity’. This will, he says, ‘make us tough’.
This inspiring vision conveniently ignores the billions of people who find life quite tough enough already
and for whom ‘one more obstacle’ could destroy their lives.

In the next chapters, Marshall shares why big concerts and continuous negotiations haven’t worked so far: big concerts and similar “big protests” may be full of contradictions (starting with organizers and big celebrities who may fly to the event or plainly ruin the show with their wasteful lifestyles) and allow those who watch or attend to “feel good” about the “momentum” but rarely something tangible is achieved; similar with online petitions, a comfortable way to show off with friends and then do nothing…continuous negotiations such as Kyoto, Copenhagen (and I would add, the current ones in Lima) do nothing but (as my opening quote mentions above): “…decide on a future that’s greener and greater, not with action right now, but with something else later”…the reasons? Naomi Klein may have better answers, but part of it is that those who “try” are only trying old tricks that worked “well” for issues such as the acid rain and the ozone layer but will not work the same for a much more complex “problem” such as climate change…


But it is in chapter 32 (“Wellhead and Tailpipe”) where I start seeing things clearly: until now, negotiators, governments, scientists and even environmentalists have approached the “problem” as a “tailpipe” problem: the sale and combustion that leads to “emissions”. In other words, all the “solutions” have been explored from the “symptoms” point of view and therefore, it is the users (us) and the way the “stuff” is sold, distributed and burned/wasted what they have been trying to “solve”…


Addiction is finding a quick and dirty solution to the symptom of the problem, which prevents or distracts one from the harder and longer-term task of solving the real problem.”
~ Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

“What can we do” still moves through my head and touches my heart…there are no easy answers: the answers are collective and individual at the same time. They are local and specific yet universal: the reason why “mainstream” seems not to connect the dots and not to “respond” is because what “we have to do” is seen as terribly difficult, a sacrifice, even unfair…

First, climate change is not “a problem” (see my earlier post about problems and predicaments) , second, we can’t only focus on the “tailpipe” point of view (we also need to see the wellhead, as Marshall puts it, it includes the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels as well as all the systems that create, feed and require these) and third, we can’t forget that the predicament is much more complex, as even if climate change magically disappears, we still have soil and water pollution and depletion, biodiversity loss, huge pollution of seas, depletion of important minerals and other raw materials we use for making “stuff”, ecosystems collapse, species extinctions, social injustice, wars, poverty, hunger, epidemics, torture, unemployment, increase in mental illnesses, etc…

…and for all and every one of these and similar predicaments, we need to see the “wellhead”: where that comes from and why?

Because I myself need to find an answer and move on with “action” (“what can we do?”) I will risk some questions:

  • Could “all” the above predicaments be related to our view of humans as something separated from Nature?
  • Could be “all” the above predicaments spring from a sense of “entitlement”, that we somewhat “deserve” comfort, treats, be like models, vacations and so on?
  • Could be that all of the above is the result of “aiming for the moon” with disregard that is here on this Earth where our home is and where all our needs are met (if we understand what our needs are and stop trying to play god)?
  • Could be all of the above be related to the type of systems we have chosen and supported so far (social/hierarchical, economic/capitalist and so on)?

I haven’t found a better “answer” to “what can we do” than David Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand” (which I translated to Spanish a few months ago and can be found here)…I haven’t found a better answer than what Thay says: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh), and I haven’t found a better answer that what Permaculture has been proposing for more than 30 years: be ethical and become self-reliant (Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, originators of the Permaculture concept) or what Transition and other similar models are trying now: re-skilling, re-localising, simplifying and developing an “Energy Descent Action Plan”…

Now, I acknowledge that many of the things proposed by Holmgren, Thay, Mollison and Transition are terribly difficult to accomplish for most people in these times and world: the majority of us lives in cities; many of us have debt; many of us do not have the skills or means to generate income if it is not through being employed by someone else; current legislation and uses do not allow us to do certain things (such as growing food in our own gardens, having chicken or other livestock, digging for a well, collecting rain water, composting our kitchen scraps or using composting toilets) and so on…

There is another (not so evident but probably more troubling) challenge: with the exception of extraordinary visionaries who had both the vision and the means to “go off the grid” or live a completely different lifestyle, most of us “mainstream” have built our lives around other ”mainstream” people: and most of these “other people” (close family, partners, children, friends, colleagues) are not yet where we are in terms of both awareness (of the predicaments) and willingness (of making the necessary changes): I am part of various support groups and there are many who feel completely alone and powerless: “knowing” comes with a price; if you know but your partner, your children, your sister or your best friend don’t want to listen, support or change “with” you it is double painful: because the decisions you have to make go beyond growing food and leaving your job or composting in secret…you find yourself in a place where you are slowly losing friends and relationships, where every day you need to put on an act to continue dealing with the life your heart has already abandoned, where you may need to make difficult decisions you do not want to make…

“What can we do” Resonates in my heart…after a super roller-coaster week (one of the most difficult in terms of my “awareness”) it is a sobering and caring question.

I was waiting for it. I needed it. Thank you Carol. And thank you to all of you who read and comment or read and do not comment but may still be trying to answer the same question

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

6 thoughts on “Wellhead and Tailpipe / Carol’s Question

    1. Yeah, writing helps but I need more: I have done a lot since I “woke up” but I feel stuck…and you know, my friend, what my challenges are…


  1. The ‘what can we do’ question is very familiar to my work too…and going into the feelings behind it ‘what doesn’t feel right for you?’ sometimes helps, because I see that people have anxieties and doubts about the system and the way the world works, and the very questioning leads to exploration and some insights.

    I find there is a lot of ambivalence as well (and work which expresses this gives a space to speak/explore). But I think these two things, anxiety and ambivalence, tie into the deep roots of agency or the will to do something, and that can create new routes or paths. (or this is how I see it).

    I really do think the separation from nature is tied to our current problem, along with a system which privileges some people or ways of being within the world and not others. So I think it is about colonialist practices, capitalism, race, gender, exploitation and land resources and wars, and perhaps each aspect interlocks with others, to maintain a very faulted system.

    My exploration is connected to the deep knowing of land, and learning from land, that indigenous culture had, and how to explore (and allow others to explore) this way of being in the world. If we look/see/awaken to what is all around us, and we see that the world is not dead, and our own senses come to life, then perhaps the world can be different? I can only hope though.

    There’s quite a beautiful (and inspiring) book called ‘the return of the goddess’ by Whitmont, which looks at the need to question, and the need for different answers, and the need for the return of nature, the feminine and the questioning self. I found it helpful. And, of course, the spell of the sensuous, by David Abram, which looks at how story telling maintained the connections people had with land, and the meanings people gave to place.

    Ah, but now I am thinking again. Thank you, Silvia. I enjoy your posts.


    1. Thank you for the comments and the books Nicci, I’ll check them in the library…we are all “doing” but many times it seems we are not doing enough when compared to the task and the apparent inhability of mainstream to catch up and actually slow down and change…sometimes we feel we are doing too little, too slow and that there is also too little time to make any meaningful difference…it may be a thing of those of us in the “helping” field, those who decided to do something beyond navel gazing: we feel somewhat responsible for what others don’t do (or do) and for the amount we do…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A thought-provoking analysis that asks profound questions about the interlocking nature of the complex predicament. Here’s an hypothesis. If we see people and the world from the frame of “a fall from grace – the loss of eden because of sin,” the institutions we create will be built on returning to eden through the process of reprogramming people’s (and nature’s) evil through control and coercion. Add social Darwinism and the protestant work ethic to the mix, and the poor (be they worthy or unworthy) become a symbol of the problem that needs to be purged through suffering and isolation. Wolves kill livestock, geese destroy grain fields, animals are here merely to feed us, and trees are only good for lumber and toilet paper. Nature has no spirit. If we believe that we are separate from the world around us, that our very skin means we are indeed separate, why should we really care about anything other than our needs, wants, comfort – material success means we are one of god’s chosen people? It’s only one religious view, I know, but other views are used to justify inequality and oppression on many different grounds. The guide the structure and underlying philosophy of the social institutions we create to meet universal needs.

    And then we meet climate change and become immobilized. The options we can envision are limited by our programing – to think only of our own comfort, of short-term simple solutions so we can continue life as it is for ourselves, our family, or our tribe: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/14/shishmaref-alaska-climate-change-relocation_n_6296516.html. The question remains for me – what can we do?


    1. Dear Carol,
      Thank you for your as usual very challenging (but necessary) comments to the ongoing discussion. If you ask me, there is no single “solution” nor a perfect answer to what we can do…I read the link you shared and it resembles a lot to another small island, this located in Newfoundland and Labrador: I attended a couple of courses on Risk and Vulnerability assessment and disaster planning with the woman in charge of their DM plan: the island has identical issues (i.e. isolated, small, problems with waste management, housing and climate change)…if you ask me what I think will happen: there will be more and more climate refugees, first the poor, the isolated villages and countries that have been broken since long time ago (including mine): is already happening, but it will increase to unmanageable proportions…there will be an elite that will do all they can to protect their power and privileges until the stuff will also come to them as this time is bigger…do I think this is some type of “punishment” for our sins…I don’t. I think we did this to ourselves because of our inability to see beyond our noses. What saddens me deeply is that we are dragging many other species along with us, and that most people are still sleepwalking and buying stuff for Christmas as if never has happened. We can only do what our compassion and skills allow us to do with what we have and where we are: for most, that implies living a simpler life (but this, unfortunately, won’t save others) and trying to become less dependent and more resilient. It also includes learning to enjoy life and see all as sacred and interconnected. It includes fighting against the giants even if we know we may lose, and protecting all what we can as long as we can…people like you are very important in all this: we need caring souls, we need honest souls and we need souls that would risk anything to protect what is still here. Hang on there, I need you…we need you

      Liked by 1 person

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