Monday, June 18, 2007

Fun Facts

George has tagged me, kicked my can, captured my flag; and since I can neither hide nor dodge, I'll play. So, eight more or less fun facts about me. Allee alle incomefree.

1. My grandfather died in 1934 as the second most powerful man in Boston, the Mayor's chauffeur, through whom funnelled all the party patronage. His political acumen died with him, since the only political accomplishment that his twelve children and 66 grandchildren have been able to muster is to stay out of jail (mostly).

2. An example of staying out of jail, or the confession of an eco-terrorist: Back when I was fifteen (so the statute of limitation has long run out, me hopes), a couple of friends and I were pissed off that a developer was destroying the woods we had grown up playing in. He was a very modest developer, probably just a contractor with a hefty loan and small profit margin, a total project of maybe ten houses. But he and his minions were bulldozing the trees, building tract homes, paving paradise for profit. The kicker was that he was building among the standard seven-room capes a fifteen-room colonial for himself. It was like the Lord's house surrounded by his serf cottages.

We weren't going to let him get away with it. We sabotaged his bulldozer, cutting wires, pouring dirt into openings for gas and oil. We slit open bags of plaster and emptied them on the wet ground. We even left notes, expressing our ecological rage in words and letters cut from magazines. In those notes we called ourselves the Green Mountain Boys. On the second or third night-time raid, a couple of guys were waiting for us, and suddenly the blue lights of a cop car came around the corner. We ran like hell, through the paths in the woods we knew too well. They never caught us, but they did put an end to eco-acts of the Green Mountain Boys.

3. I used to dive off cliffs of the Red Rock sort, up to fifty feet and higher, until I got to be 18 and conscious enough to realize I should be scared. And so I was, and so I stopped. From then on I only bragged about my daring-do without daring to do.

4. I once screamed at a power hitter in Fenway Park to bunt. And he bunted.

5. I lived the first 40 years of my life on the 42nd parallel, from Boston to Amherst to Binghamton to Ames (B-A-B-A). Then I moved to Santa Baba.

6. I met Robin swing dancing. On the same date a year later, we got married. Robin wore the same dress.

7. I played on a pick-up basketball team in Robb Gym that won by a shut-out, 11-zip. With a collective experience of over a hundred years of playing pick-up ball and tens of thousands of games, none of us had ever witnessed it before.

8. The only things in life I like to be bitter are coffee, beer, and, in small doses, truth.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Peak Oil and Hope

Of all the cries of doom that shake the souls of environmentalists like me, peak oil is the most apocalyptic. It is inevitable and irrefutable. Someday, maybe someday soon, the supply of oil will no longer keep up with the demand. When that happens, it will begin the end of the world as we know it. The nightmare scenarios are frightening.

But the peak oil apocalypse is also--I'm coming to think, slowly, cautiously, after struggling through depression--full of hope. In fact, by writing this little piece I have convinced myself. Peak oil is our environmental salvation!

I first heard the words "peak oil" at a Community Environmental Council (CEC) event. Two guys were working the crowd like high-tech entrepreneurs in a room full of venture capitalists. Since I didn't really know anyone there, they found me an easy audience. They told me all about the likelihood of war, famine, global anarchy. They told me that the oil companies, see, know all about peak oil, and so do their political lackeys in the Bush administration. Why else would they go to war in the middle east? They told me that Wall Street wizards, see, know all about it and are in a panic to protect their wealth somehow, even profit from the catastrophe somehow. They wanted to know, see, what Santa Barbara was doing to prepare, where we would get our food, our water, our livelihoods. In short, these guys could have come straight from that oracle of peak oil, the rapturous web site for zealots (WAIT! DON'T CLICK THAT LINK unless you are prepared to be depressed for days. Are you ready? Can you handle the truth?) L.A.O.T.C.

I listened to these guys, but I was paying attention to other things, mostly to my unfamiliar surroundings. The event took place at a very nice estate, very pleasant, very understated. All the people were very nice, very well-meaning, very wealthy. Since I'm just a blue-collar boy with too much education, I couldn't help thinking, "I want me some of this elegance, this importance, this charm." I don't need no bluff-top estate. I don't need to be Founder, top donor, or President of the Board. But I want my stake, my claim, my place. In short, I promptly forgot about peak oil.

In this way I think I'm pretty typical. For most of us, our worldly desires, worthy or otherwise, cloud the apocalyptic realities. We can't be living everyday as a response to ecological alarm bells. As even evangelicals waiting in rapture for the Millennium profess: Prepare for the apocalypse, but live your life.

I have no illusions about this ostrich attitude. Forgetting about the realities of peak oil is not helpful, only necessary as a coping strategy. Equally necessary is lifting our heads out of the compelling sands of our lives and taking a look at the approach of doom. For this clear, heartless, rational vision, however, we need more than the tragedy of doom and forgetting. To face the realities of the future, we need more than reason. We need hope.

This need for hope is why the peak oil apocalypse is special. It portends an apocalypse in the precise religious and etymological sense of the word, that is, as a revelation. Peak oil reveals to us exactly what, as environmentalists, we most want: a world without oil. Instead of preventing global warming or preventing pollution or preventing the depletion of aquifers (etc. etc.), the peak oil apocalypse is a positive vision. It gives us, as inevitable and irrefutable, a world without oil. Amen.

Okay, so there's that transition period of war, famine, and global anarchy between now and then; our way of life will be destroyed, most of us will die, yaddah yaddah yaddah. Or maybe not. There are other, more gradual scenarios. As unlikely as it sounds, we may actually generate leadership that manages an orderly transition to the post-oil economy. We can work toward that goal. Solidify the grassroots! Ride your bike! Go solar! Eat slow and local! Exercise your entrepreneurial energy for innovative change. Support the CEC's Fossil Free by '33 initiative! Keep your eyes on the prize: A world without oil.

More specifically, peak oil heralds a world in which local, communal bonds will develop. Even James Howard Kunstler's Long Emergency allows for the hope of more human closeness. Bill McKibben says that, even as physical life gets harder, we'll be happier.

If I look at the politcal and economic situation rationally, I see no reason to believe that we can create an orderly transition to a post-oil economy. But hope isn't about reason. It's about faith.

Keep the faith! World without oil! Hallelujah!
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