[NOTE: This series spins off from a recent series of posts in which I’ve discussed the need for all of us to move in a new direction as we anticipate the challenges to be confronted as a result of declining oil production in the years to come. The impact will be felt by all of us in one degree or another (a separate series, which began here and was re-established more recently here, addresses some of the day-to-day impacts.) It’s time to turn our attention to what the New Direction might be….]

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“Clearly, we are entering into a prolonged period of profound change, an era of “unintended consequences.” The changes that are coming our way will profoundly alter not only how we live, but even how we conceive of ourselves, how we think about the world, and how we see the future. And not only will we have to learn to cope with severe disruption to our conception of ourselves and the world, but we will also need to forge a new vision of the world that we can live by. Where will that vision come from?” [1]

Well, at the risk of excessive and perhaps even off-the-chart arrogance, I’m thinking that someone has to start the broader discussion, so why not me, now? Before we can provide answers and solutions, we must first understand what is at stake and at least begin the dialogue. Since someone has to take the first step, I’m volunteering.

To that end, I thought it might make sense to provide a template for where I envision going with this discussion about Peak Oil and our future. I won’t pretend that every answer is the solution, but we have to begin somewhere….

“[I]n the tradition of Albert Einstein amongst others … it frequently is not the answer but the question that poses the deepest insight.” [2]

So here are my table-setters:

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

What do you want for yourself, now and in the days to come?

What kind of life are you looking forward to living, whether you are a recent graduate about to enter the workforce, an established professional, or are now in your later years?

What kind of community do you want to live in?

What kind of environment do you truly believe is most conducive to a life of opportunity and hoped-for prosperity?

Will you choose to fear change, or welcome it as an opportunity for you to play a greater part in using it for your own benefit as well as for others—in whatever manner offers the most meaning for you?

Do you want to feel as though you have a voice in what your life can and will be, or is being entirely at the mercy of others a better way to live?

Do you still harbor at least a bit of hope for better days to come?

What do you want for your children and grandchildren?

What answers will we provide for them in years to come when they are mired in the difficulties and challenges brought about by an ever- declining supply of fossil fuels and are wondering why we were so short-sighted and narrow-minded when we had so many opportunities to do more?

Choices….Opportunities….

I hope to provide some answers or at least some ideas for consideration, opening the door to the dialogue we must engage in soon. Others are more than welcome to join in. The lengthy, complex, and at times contentious discussions must begin.

The problems will not solve themselves. The scope and breadth of the impact which declining oil production will have on all of us necessitates that as many of us as possible become involved in whatever manner we feel most comfortable. We each have a voice and a contribution to offer. There is little doubt that achieving some semblance of national consensus on where we go, how we get there, and what we each and all must do is highly idealistic and in the moment, seemingly impossible to achieve and attain, but it is where we must eventually be.

Educating ourselves is step one, as I’ve previously noted (here).

“You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem”
— attributed to Eldridge Cleaver, among others

“The standard response is that people are busy, and I get that. But as Isaac Chotiner persuasively argued a while back, ‘[W]hen you live in a democracy, there are very few good excuses for not having minimal knowledge about what is going on in the world….Voters can choose to be ignorant or disinterested, but that choice is fundamentally their own.’” [3]

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, but the perpetual human predicament is that the answer soon poses its own problems.” (Sydney J. Harris)

It’s easy to see that both variations of the theme apply. There are no clear-cut solutions to challenges of this magnitude that will not create a not-always-beneficial domino effect across the industrial and political landscapes. But ignoring it all is no solution at all. Corny as it may be, we are the change, but spouting the slogan and doing nothing about it avails us little.

More importantly, we must move beyond just an awareness of key facts and considerations on these crucial topics and take it all one step further by understanding the philosophy behind the issues and proposals. Just as essential, we must then understand the (sound-bite free) consequences—the real ones … the ones based on facts, the ones that will affect you and your significant other and your children and your family and neighbors and community. As this series evolves, I’ll soon discuss ideas about exactly how we can become more involved and develop the skills we need to participate.

We can either choose to make our contribution—whatever it may be (no rules about that)—or we instead accept that others are going to make decisions for us—decisions they may or may not be qualified to make; decisions which they may or may not make with our best interests at heart. There’s a lot of that going around these days….

But as I have noted, that part of the process will only carry us so far if our leaders don’t meet us on that path by being honest with us, and there are too many indications that that is not the case. To that end, I then discussed in a 4-part series (first one here) the importance of sound, ethical, honest leadership … a likelihood which seems to recede from possibility a bit more each day.

The recent near-shutdown of our government highlights the intense and acrimonious partisanship which sadly dominates our public and political discourse. Can anyone confess to being happy with this? Are we—should we—be content to let the loudest (and too often, the most narrow-minded partisans) speak for us and thus dictate public policy which impacts the great majority of us far more than it does the Warren Buffetts and the Bill Gates and the Koch brothers of this world? Have we indeed become completely powerless in the face of the moneyed interests which too often and in too many ways dictate how “our” elected officials act? Is nonsense like Senator Jon Kyl’s recent, intentional lying about Planned Parenthood’s involvement in abortion practice so as to bolster (?!) his position what we must now meekly accept? Have “leaders” become that arrogant and uncaring about us? Is there any integrity left?

Isn’t there still a place for your viewpoint? Do you still want that opportunity?

Let’s give leaders our best so that their efforts merit the highest levels of respect and cooperation. While we’re at it, let’s be clearer about which values really matter the most. Can we be more inclusive than we now demonstrate? The more of us working together for the same purposes, sharing the same objectives and values, with same ends and purposes and aspirations to guide our efforts, the better off we’ll all be! Smaller groups sharing more limited and narrow-minded perspectives and values are creating only more strife. Given the challenges we’ll soon be facing, that’s not our highest and best strategy. (The more intent one is on preserving one’s perspective and viewpoint against all contrary opinions, no matter how valid they may be, the more likely that conflict is the only outcome. Is that really the best strategy?)

Are we so unwilling and insecure and frightened by what we are now dealing with that we simply cannot bring ourselves to admit that others may have better ideas and more knowledge and truth and facts? Are we instead willing to risk perpetual discord no matter what harm that causes us and others? Are we willing to decline the needed efforts and expertise of others because their personal lifestyle choices or nationalities or private religious beliefs or reasoned but contradictory political philosophies may not mesh neatly with our own? Seriously? At what point do we come to realize that narrow-minded ignorance is not the best face for us to put forth on the world stage?

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

We need a better vision to guide us. And for those looking for reasons why a smaller role for government is what’s called for, I’ll save you the time and tell you this is not the place to be. As the main theme of this series expands in the months to come, I’ll discuss in greater detail why the libertarian/conservative-inspired vision of small government is completely inappropriate a strategy to pursue in light of the challenges we face. (How a bigger role for a better government with honest leadership takes shape will determine whether this ideology is valuable and a necessary pursuit.) Let’s begin with all that needs to be done, and then decide what role the various players will be required to fulfill.

Once I resume this series*, I’ll be discussing a variety of issues pertinent to the Peak Oil challenges we’ll soon be facing. The basic premise as I move forward from that point will be a simple one: local/regional efforts, production, and governance will become critically important—both necessitating and providing opportunities for greater involvement on our parts—but federal guidelines, contribution, and vision must provide the framework for those efforts.

The policies and guidelines supporting those objectives will require a focus on such policies and principles as smart growth, more transportation options, and more research and implementation of alternative energy strategies—while educating ourselves and others of the great changes that will and must take place across all levels of industry, production, commerce, and lifestyles. To that end, there will be a great deal of discussion on greater citizen involvement, energy and industrial policies, the political/partisan elements which too often hinder and harm much more than they assist, and a more detailed role for local governments.

I hope you’ll find the offerings and discussions meaningful, if not provocative and helpful as a starting point for what we all need to do.

We’re so much better than what we’re demonstrating. We need to show it, because we are going to need to be better in the years to come.

“The point is that the way we live together now, the way we govern ourselves, the way we arrange our physical spaces and our commerce, the way we do economics and measure prosperity—all these have to be changed in creative ways if we want to achieve the goal of sustainable prosperity. All these changes require … wait for it … innovation. Innovations in the way we think, interact, and structure our lives require just as much imagination, intelligence, persistence, and funding as innovations in technology.” [4]

Crisis, or opportunity?

* I expect the next post in this series will be published on May 26. Meanwhile, enjoy the intervening posts, as part of my accompanying series about the impact of Peak Oil. I’ll continue to offer similar posts every now and then in the months to come. (I’m taking this detour because I will be away most of next week—along with my wife and others—attending and celebrating my lovely daughter’s college graduation in New Orleans.)

Sources:

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-26/evolution-transition-us; The evolution of Transition in the U.S. Published by Transition Times on Fri, 11/26/2010 [Original article: http://transition-times.com/blog/2010/11/26/the-evolution-of-transition-in-the-u-s/ by Michael Brownlee]
[2] http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/4/4/mobilitys-diminishing-returns.html; Mobility’s Diminishing Returns by Charles Marohn – April 4, 2011
[3] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_03/028551.php; PONDERING THE ‘HOW DUMB ARE WE?’ QUESTION by Steve Benen – March 21, 2011 [original quote, here: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/76367/notes-the-average-voter]
[4] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/51627; Why Bill Gates is wrong by Grist – 02/17/2010