February 14, 2010
In ancient Greek mythology, Cassandra had such great beauty that Apollo granted her the gift of prophesy. After spending the night at Apollo’s temple, she later did not return his love. In retaliation, Apollo placed a curse on her, so that no one would ever believe her predictions. Many of us activists in the peak oil area frequently feel like Cassandras. We have overwhelming and unquestionably compelling evidence of very serious problems coming out of the peak oil situation. We even have public statements signaling big trouble ahead coming the most credible of sources, such as The Wall Street Journal (article on 11 Feb 2010). Yet we continue to be met with indifference, denial, and deafening silence from almost all of our political and business leaders. Why is that?
Yes of course there are very powerful entrenched business interests that wish to keep us addicted to petroleum as long as possible, so as to eke out the maximum profit they can. There are likewise other structural rigidities, organizational disfunctionalities, and bureaucratic perversions that block our leaders from properly responding to the threats that peak oil presents. I will not write of those here. These can all be handled on relatively short order, after we successfully deal with the problems in human nature that block us from responding as we should. If these structural problems are fixed but the problems in human nature remain, then we will see that still no action is taken. I don’t pretend to have the entire answer here — just four ideas about what keeps our leaders stuck — the same four ideas that keep us all from being effective leaders in this transition movement.
Humans are being called to evolve, being pushed to be much more than we have been in the past. We are for example being called to let go of our pre-occupation with ourselves, let go of our selfishness, let go of our focus on being consumers, get out of our illusion of each being an entity separate and apart. We are each being called to see ourselves as an integral part of a much larger system. We are being called to responsibly interact with and care for that much larger system (you could call this system “nature”). Capitalism has, though advertising, encouraged us to indulge our greed, our pride, our belief that we are better than others, and our belief in separation from others. Although it has successfully sold many products and services, this worldview is not in truth. Our technology has become so powerful, and the damage that we are doing with this technology has become so serious, that we must move into this more responsible worldview if we are to prevent ourselves from not only killing ourselves, but killing everything else on the planet.
Another aspect of human nature, that is blocking our leaders from taking appropriate action, is our desire to remain children. We all would like to be taken care of by a benign and powerful authority. We would love for the government to fix this peak oil problem for us. We have been told that government is going to fix so many of our problems, and as a result many of us have become hypnotized into believing that this will also happen with peak oil. In our desire to remain children, is an unwillingness to take the initiative, an unwillingness to be a responsible adult, an unwillingness to do the hard but necessary work ourselves. Instead, this child in us wants life to be easy, carefree, fun, but alas, this peak oil preparation, this conversion to alternative energy process, that looks to be none those things. It is also the child in all of us that is lazy, that is just waiting, waiting until a parent comes to take care of this problem. This childish attitude has to change soon if we are going to have even a modicum of success with our transition efforts away from petroleum.
Still another aspect of this problem involves our personal relationship to change. Nature and life is attempting to restore a balance in the world, and that is why for example the weather is changing in response to climate change. The peak oil crisis is a reflection of the fact that we have denied, ignored, procrastinated and resisted this transition away from oil for far too long. Because we did not make the change voluntarily when we should have (after the oil embargo in the 1970s), we are now going to be forced to make the transition, only this time it is going to be a whole lot more painful, expensive, and difficult that it needs to be. Our personal relationship with change must be modified so that we look for the truth, so that we honor the truth, so that we seek to handle problems expeditiously before they become full-blown crises. To wait until a crisis takes place, and then take action: that is no longer a viable way to do business (the Washington military-economic establishment often operates this way). This wait-until-a-crisis-takes-place approach is needlessly damaging to the environment, to the populace, to the economy, and to other aspects of our world. We must understand that life involves frequent change, that change is absolutely necessary in order to maintain health, balance and harmony. We must live with the fact that life, by its very nature, involves both movement and change.
One more aspect of human nature that has adversely contributed to the peak oil crisis is the fact that humans tend to ignore long-term trends, even if they are potentially catastrophic in nature. Instead, we pay attention to the short-term pain that is bothering us (such as the Greek government’s deficit spending, problems rolling over Greek government bonds, and the related threat to the Euro as a currency). In the grand scheme of things, it matters little if the Greek government goes bankrupt. Likewise, it matters little, in the grand scheme of things, if the centralized European government, and the Euro as a currency, both cease to exist. In contrast, it matters a great deal that we are on track for millions, perhaps billions, of people to die of starvation because the petroleum-dependent system that has for decades brought them their food is no longer functional. It matters a great deal that we are killing the planet due to our continued addiction to fossil fuels (pesticide toxics pollution, hormone disrupting plastics, climate change, etc.). We must reprioritize what our leaders pay attention to, and if they refuse, we must replace them with leaders who can in fact lead with a truthful and balanced set of priorities.
So the question is: How can we get our leaders to focus on what is important? More specifically, how can we get them to seriously get into action with the transition away from oil? To begin, I suggest that each of us must make the shift. Each of us must personally evolve ourselves, so that we can then be the kind of people we want our leaders to be. This is to say that we must get out of our selfishness and be responsible for our personal impact on the planet. We must be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work, we must be willing to be responsible adults here; we must stop waiting for others to handle these problems for us. We must also alter our relationship with change, so that we take constructive action based on the information available to us, so that we no longer wait until a full-blown crisis is upon us. We must also look out into the future, beyond the short-term; we must see the long-term consequences of our actions, and then take these consequences seriously. As the indigenous peoples of America say, we must acknowledge our “responsibility to the seventh generation.”
When we change ourselves, then we are in a position to change our leaders, and then we are also in a position to positively influence those around us. As Mohandas Ghandi said: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” In our understanding of the great personal development challenge that the peak oil transition presents, in that are the seeds of a more evolved human being. For us to step into this place, for us to make it real, we must not keep our new consciousness to ourselves. We must take it out into the world.
The polite, patient and reasonable approach has not worked. The world cannot wait any longer. It is clear that our leaders are hopelessly stuck in a quagmire. It is time for mass teach-ins, widespread letters to the editor, mass letter writing campaigns to politicians, new government-independent movement organizing web sites, gigantic public demonstrations, mass Internet signature collections, politician impeachment hearings, alternative political parties, product boycotts, strikes, lawsuits, and other legal (but in-your-face big-time attention getting) expressions of public opinion. These and other measures must clearly communicate to our leaders that they must reorient their priorities, they must express these new priorities publicly, they must take the necessary steps to transition away from petroleum, and they must do all these things right away.
Charles Cresson Wood, MBA, MSE, is a technology risk management consultant with Post-Petroleum Transportation, in Mendocino, California. He is the author of the book entitled Kicking The Gasoline & Petro-Diesel Habit: A Business Manager’s Blueprint For Action (www.kickingthegasoline.com).