One of the arguments from the fossil fuel industry and people who support them is that we have to continue adding pipelines and projects because “we need fossil fuels”.
Comments from mainstream citizens argue that we all use our cars, heat our homes and offices, fly for holidays or conferences, eat meat, use computers and cellphones and in general enjoy the advantages that are only possible because of fossil fuels…they are both right and wrong, let’s see…
Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada said this week:
“There is science that will suggest one path to climate change and mankind’s influence on it and there is another path that exists and I’m not going to judge one path versus the other. I’m not smart enough to do that,” “What we do know is that broad public opinion and social society today believes that fossil fuels are…necessary and required, and over time we should be looking to minimize the impact of those fuels.”
Do we truly need them?
We don’t need fossil fuels. We have been indoctrinated, socialized and bombarded with propaganda that says we do. We have made believe that having flat TVs, changing our cellphones and laptops every year, owning a fridge, a dryer, a microwave and a care for every adult in our households is a “right” and a “necessity” in modern society. We have also been surrounded by a system that makes fossil fuels the center of our life design, including what kind of work we do, where and with who we do business, where and what we buy, what we possess and where and how we live.
The advance of a fossil-fuel centered life has been insidious, so much that many of us think this is the only possible and even desirable way to live. It is so insidious that now every culture in the world wants and aspires to live the way Americans live.
Some individuals want to change and find it extremely difficult: entire infrastructure has been built to support fossil fuels, from transportation to homes and appliances and entire food, water and waste systems. The entire consumer culture and its trade are built on the shoulders of fossil fuels: fossil fuels not only “fuel” transportation, they provide inputs (both in the form of energy and resources) to the entire manufacturing and construction systems. Almost every object in our lives has used fossil fuels in one way or the other, or is made of some sub-product of oil, coal or gas.
And now we are trapped…or are we?
Millions of peoples around the world still live without direct access to fossil fuels or their “advantages”.
Billions of humans lived without fossil fuels in the past, including different cultures who managed to survive for millennia without damaging the environment as much as the current culture has.
We only “need” fossil fuels then if we want to keep the current lifestyle middle class and the 1% have enjoyed for the last decades…but those lifestyles are not sustainable nor ethical or resilient, they can only be sustained for a few more decades for an increasingly smaller group of people and with the support of increasingly unfair and oppressive strategies.
If not fossil fuels, what do we need then?
We need clean air and water, healthy soil and ecosystems full of biodiversity because these are the things that sustain Life.
We also need shelter and clothing to protect ourselves from the elements, a meaningful role in society to feel useful and loved. We need freedom to exercise our many unique gifts and time and safety to enjoy life.
We need to be with others and feel connected. We need to listen to each other deeply, touch and to be touched, hug and to be hugged. We need to know our lives matter and that our acts contribute to the wellness of others.
We need to feel we belong to the world.
People are dying inside because the above things are not been provided. Some of us have houses but only a few have real homes; many of us live and work in crowded places, but few of us have experienced the sense of community and meaningful work.
As a result, some of us are “rich” because we have flat TVs and microwaves and can dry our clothes when is raining, but we are terribly poor in terms of love, compassion, belonging and life meaning. Our spiritual lives are reserved only for when (and if) we go to the church, temple or mosque. While we are surrounded by nature, we may “hike” only on weekends or even fewer occasions. There are even more of us who are not “rich” in either of the above senses: they lack the minimum basics of life such as access to clean water and healthy food or shelter.
The things we need don’t require fossil fuels. They require that we re-think the way we live, re-discover our story of the world and what we are doing here.
To get there, we may require to re-arrange things and create a more communal life: such as washing and drying the clothes in a communal space or using sun and air when possible. Or having communal meals instead of each having a big kitchen. Or having grandmas and grandpas caring for children and all caring for grandmas and grandpas instead of having daycares and childcares that make both seniors and children isolated and miserable.
We may need spaces where we can share movies and music and create plays and play music ourselves instead of watching stuff in individual TVs isolated from others. We may need to find roles for people inside our communities instead of trying to figure out how to create even bigger transit systems, and highways and building more cars.
We may need to design local production for clothes, food and the products and services we need instead of sourcing them to cheaper labour countries or importing them from abroad.
The thing is: we only have two options. Either we continue the same path and crash (with some affected more than others at the beginning, but all humankind and all other species and ecosystems suffering at the end, with the possibility of mass extinction); or we face reality for once and start being serious and responsible for what needs to be doing.
Nobody wants to say it, but I will: what needs to be done requires sacrifice…and the sacrifice should come from the countries and the levels that have more resources and have polluted more. Why? Because is fair, but also because we cannot ask countries like Bangladesh or Ghana to radically change their lifestyles to something more sustainable or simpler. They are already there, if not sustainable, at least simple enough, not by choice but by force.
Similarly, we cannot ask those in our wealthy countries who experience poverty and discrimination to be the first ones to start the transition. It has to come from the 1% and the middle class, and it has to be reinforced by governments at all levels and businesses. It has to be an all-hands-on-deck effort or else…we will either save ourselves together or perish together.
I have heard and read all types of explanations about why we are not already developing locally appropriated EDAPs (Energy Descent Action Plans). People talk about the difficulty of having all governments speak the same language; or the trade treaties and agreements that don’t allow local production, etc. Or financial interests, or this union’s claim or that minority’s issue….
I only have a question: who will care about trade agreements, laws, financial interests, unions demands or minority group’s issues when we will have “natural” disasters wiping out entire communities and ecosystems; famines due to crop failure and deaths due to extreme heat all over the world? Who will care about any lifestyle when people and animals may be starving and trying to survive under extreme climatic conditions, surrounded of mass migrations 10 bigger than what we already have today in Europe and the Middle East?
It is time that we all, at all levels, start thinking seriously and stop playing games: it is not what future we will leave to our children, is the future that is already happening, expanded ten times more in the upcoming years (not even decades)…our children may not have a future at all if we continue playing with this inertia.
The issue with “renewables”
Many trust that technology will “save us”. That’s the main critique I have on Leonardo Di Caprio recent “Before the Flood” which can be seen entire for free here. There is also a great review by Transition Movement funder Rob Hopkins here.
For those of us who have been reading and studying this for many years, the approach is flawed because of the premise is flawed: instead of changing the source of energy we need to change how we use that energy and what for.
Let me explain: if we try to sustain our current lifestyles and provide a similar standard to peoples from emerging economies, renewables will not be able to do the job. Not because there is not enough sun or air or water, but because how renewables work and the amount of resources and space that sustaining this would involve. Covering the entire Sahara desert with solar panels is not only costly, it is not ethical or sustainable, even when the energy source is the sun: what do you think solar panels are made of? Certainly not sun or air or water!
The same thought goes to how we design our lives: if we pretend to substitute all our car, truck and public transit fleet into electric ones, what’s the point? Electrical vehicles still need to be manufactured and electricity needs to be produced. The parts need to be transported and the old cars need to be disposed of.
EDAP. Or Energy Descent Action Plans were first created under a permaculture course ran by Rob Hopkins circa 2004 and are the main purpose of transition initiatives. While transition initiatives may start by creating awareness and engaging people at all levels of the community, the goal is that eventually the communities will start discussing appropriate ways to create an EDAP that works for them: how do we, as a community, business, household and individuals start a process that will eventually lead to a more resilient and sustainable use of energy and resources?
EDAPs not only include the technical side of how we will transport ourselves or power our houses and businesses, but how we feed ourselves, clothe ourselves and re-design our community so people don’t need a car or travelling two hours to work outside their own communities.
A well designed EDAP would involve discussions on what are the needs of the community and how we can localize the goods and services so everyone has a job, a business or a role that fulfills them.
Is this even possible?
I have to confess that sometimes doubt it. I have seen the surge of the Transition Movement in parallel to other inspiring initiatives such as workers co-ops, community gardens and urban farming, social entrepreneurships and many other ways of exploring local solutions.
While all these initiatives are encouraging, they work in isolation and are always struggling with resources. Most of them “preach to the choir” to already convinced and willing people but fail to involve mainstream…many are also discriminatory by design even when not on purpose: most of their participants are middle class white people who had always been involved in some sort of social justice group or have the time, skills, health, support and resources to be there.
Some are dominated by a group or an individual and some are under the shadows of other competing organizations. Some try to accomplish too much in a wide area instead of focusing on a single, small community, and some stay stuck in the “awareness” phase for years, without ever moving into more radical and impactful work.
We talk about resilience a lot in the social justice, permaculture and transition worlds. But we fail to acknowledge that resilience is actually a property of systems that allows them to stay the same. Resilient, in this context, can be a bad and undesirable outcome: the bigger system (in this case, our capitalistic, postindustrial, consumerist and unequal culture with the stories behind and all what sustains it) make all kind of efforts to keep that resilience: to stay the same and bounce back from every disruption in its patterns.
So we, the small groups trying to create a new world, have created many “pattern disruptions” with our awareness activities and demos that living in other more sustainable ways is possible. But the bigger system has utilized its resilience tools and strategies to keep those disturbances low and inconsequential.
And what are those strategies?
One of them is absorbing: when a system senses that something different is inside or around, it tries to absorb as much of it as possible and incorporate into the system so it is no longer disruptive. That happened with the hippy culture of the 60’s and 70’s. They didn’t “fail”, they were absorbed by incorporating their clothes, music and other superficial traits in such a way that made their claims inconsequential. The bigger system trivialized them.
The other strategy is ignoring or limiting the resources so those involved in the disruption give up or starve and are therefore forced to stay attached to the bigger system. There are many of us trying to dedicate more time to community work who are stuck into “earning a living” because there are not realistic ways to sustain ourselves while doing community work that is not sanctioned by the current status quo and powers-that-be. Only young people without dependents and some few lucky ones can dedicate to this without worrying about money, health, shelter, etc.
There are many other strategies that I will discuss in future posts, but these two are the most visible ones.
Only when we fully understand and start working on supporting each other to resist those strategies is when we may have a change.
Also, the disturbances in the system’s patterns need to be of bigger impact. A community garden is a nice case of “disruptive normality” as Enzio Manzini writes here, and it is needed to build community and create an example of how people can grow healthy food locally. But it is not enough…same happens with many other nice but small and mainly inconsequential activities in which people put a lot of effort, resources and time. But none of them are enough to create a disturbance that allows for a bigger and impactful intervention.
History shows bigger disturbances in the past have most of them been of negative nature: famines, wars, revolutions, natural disasters, all are disruptions in the systemic patterns that created opportunities for people to come together for solutions and change of direction. Not all of them have been successful of had happy endings.
In a smaller scale, individual and family lives have been changed by pattern disruptions of negative nature as well: when a breadwinner loses a job, a family loses a house or an individual has a big accident or is diagnosed with a critical illness, people tend to change. Few people change behaviours (patterns) out of plain will, usually a disruption is needed for change to happen.
I wonder if we may have the ability to create impactful pattern disruptions that are not of negative nature or harmful (or develop a sense of the ones we could utilize) to create a better world?
What would it take?