A message to the nearly converted

For The Oil Drum

June 12, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

[The film ‘In Transition’ is available for viewing on-line for the next 72 hours. See end of article below. -DS]

I was recently asked to give a talk at “The Generation Green Tent” during the Summer Arts and Music Festival at the Benbow Lake State Recreation Area. Here’s the text and supporting images for that talk.

Thanks for coming to my presentation. I am going to say some challenging things today. I don’t know if you are going to be validated or view me as a heretic. In any case, if you are taking notes I am going to have eight main points to cover. Here it goes!

My wife is a physician and has a Masters in Public Health, and so I am going to start with an analogy inspired by her profession that I believe all of us can follow. A very telling study was done on the health of Native Americans on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. The Mexican population was quite fit, while the U.S. population had high rates of obesity and associated diseases, such as diabetes. I am going to make some judgments about the society that produced this discrepancy, and perhaps we can primarily assign the blame for the illnesses of these people on their sick environment. However, I don’t want to absolve individuals of all responsibility for their predicament because that is a disempowering thing to do.

Overcoming the obesity crisis of humanity requires paying off our ecological debt. This means accepting certain job losses and developing job gains in other areas. See full article for discussion.

What I am going to argue is that you are all capable, powerful individuals and that you are responsible for making great changes…

Point 1. This is the first point of my talk. I want everybody to view the grim environmental statistics as multiple “organ failures” approaching for human civilization…

Point 2. The second point I want everybody to get is this: The cause of environmental decay is a kind of obesity crisis of humanity. We humans are taking more than we should from the planet, getting fat in the process, and leaving our trash behind…

Point 3. This brings me to my third main point: It is well past the time for us to admit that we are a bit off our rockers too. Our society is obviously in a state of collective cognitive dissonance…

Point 4. Problems with the environment or natural resources are problems with the economy because human economic systems are a subset of planetary ecological systems. Environmental issues should be the main topics on page 1 of the business section of your local newspaper—assuming you still have one…

Point 5. Your zone of control is you and your family. Start the changes there, taking it one step at a time. Over a year this will mean changing your life, but it will happen at a reasonable pace, and it will be a healthy and responsible way to live…

Point 6. Sustainability is not a lifestyle option of the few, it is a necessary change for everyone if we want a decent future on this planet. This is logically true because anything unsustainable must end, and our demonstrably unsustainable old habits are coming to and end, whether we want them to or not…

Point 7. We are social animals and need each other. There is no separate peace. Build community based on your personal strength and example…

Point 8. My final point is this. Find ways to widen the circle of change to include governments, businesses and institutions at all levels…

Full article including details of each point and a pdf version at The Oil Drum here

This story from Jason’s talk is especially compelling:

Five years ago, I was a newbie soccer mom. I enrolled my little boys in soccer and started hauling them around town to practices and games. Along the soccer field at the appointed time was a regular line-up of huge, gas-guzzling SUVs and mini-vans.

After the children spilled out onto the field, the parents would idle on the sidelines sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups, or drinking Pepsi from plastic bottles. They would talk about their family trips to Costa Rica, or Mexico, or Europe, or Disneyland. They would rave about the new soccer equipment they had purchased and share their exploits at the mall.

At half time, the parents would dole out dozens of plastic juice bottles to the little soccer players. They would dispense Albertson cookies from plastic boxes and slices of cake from thick plastic domes, slap the goodies on paper plates, and stuff plastic forks into little reaching hands. Within five minutes, the trash cans exploded with paper, plastic and Styrofoam. No one seemed to give any thought to the waste. This was the soccer life. Practices three times a week, two games on the weekend, and heaps upon heaps of trash.

There came a point, however, when I could no longer look my children in the eyes with out thinking about climate crisis and the tipping point and my role in it all. Yes, there were benefits to soccer, but really, in light of the world ahead, is soccer the skill that our kids need most? And how do we reconcile the enormous carbon pollution in today’s parenting? How can we love our children and yet contribute to the demise of their world? That’s not love. That’s denial.

We gave up the soccer life.

At about this time, Mayor Kitty Piercy made a carbon challenge to the residents of Eugene in which she asked them to do two new things a month to reduce carbon. We made this a family challenge. At first we did things like ride the bus, or have a no-drive day once a week. The next month we’d come up with two new things, and the next month two more things.

Within a year, our front lawn had become a mini-orchard and vegetable garden, there was bulk food stored in our garage, we were riding our bicycles nearly everywhere, we had eliminated almost all food packaging, nearly all of our fruits and vegetables came from local sources, we made our own bread and chicken soup and granola bars every week, we rarely entered a grocery store, we raised chickens and built a coop, we gave up plastic and air travel, we spent our summers berry picking and backpacking, and we spent the long autumn days canning, freezing, and drying the harvest we had gleaned from our own garden and local farms. Our family enterprise became completely devoted to self-sufficiency, home food production, and skills-building in farming, food preservation, wild plant identification, and the like.

These days, our kids dash home from school eager to get started on planting, or raising seedlings, or canning tomatoes, or drying pears. They hop on their bicycles and ride through the neighborhood, giving away extra lettuce, tomatoes and berries from our garden. Their little acts of sharing build community. Neighbors drop in with gifts for our kids – like an old tub to wash carrots in, a blueberry bush, a jar of pie filling, pumpkin seeds, and a recipe for granola bars.

My children have become self-appointed ambassadors for this urban homestead lifestyle by talking about it to our neighbors and their friends, and using it as the subject for school writing assignments and projects. Our family dinner conversation is often filled with new insights into raising vegetables or canning foods, or the latest ways to keep slugs out of the spinach. We also have discussions about how fast the world is changing, and how we will prepare for it, embrace it, and learn new ways — or old ways. Days upon days go by without using the car, and we really don’t even notice it because we are so occupied at home, working side by side to produce our own food — all of which is part of a family journey towards more self-sufficiency, carbon reduction, and sustainability.

At some point along the way, I noticed that Mayor Kitty Piercy’s carbon challenge had evolved into a new – and infinitely richer – way of life for us. The challenge of two carbon-reducing initiatives a month had grown into a family enterprise, a source of joy and pride, a learning experience, a family identity, and a well-spring of self-esteem and responsibility for our children. Perhaps most important, it had become a shared statement of purpose, a moral fabric for family life – a daily expression of the trust covenant shared with our children. My husband often comes in from the garden and says, “It’s a wonderful life.” And I have to agree. I invite you to embrace this new world ahead — with courage, passion, and a sense of adventure — and join in the Great Family Turning.
Jason is host of the local KZYX program, Reality Show, Monday mornings at 9 am.

See also Small Business Ideas for Smaller Times

… and the film ‘In Transition’ from Transition Culture UK is available for viewing, for the next 72 hours