[Sixth in a series]
Back in November, Naomi Klein offered a fascinating and thought-provoking essay in Nation magazine entitled “Capitalism vs. the Climate” in which she discussed the transformative changes needed if we are to successfully (not a guarantee) and thoroughly address the challenges of our warming planet. Her insights and observations can easily be adapted to the similar considerations and challenges Peak Oil will extend to us as well. Taken together, the confluence of these looming impositions on our once-cozy ways of life mandate responses far more expansive than a policy here or a tweak there. Ms. Klein offers us all a well-reasoned approach for both how and why.
Every Monday (and for one more week), I’ll take advantage of her arguably controversial yet well-reasoned assessments to elaborate and extend the thought process as it applies to Peak Oil. This is the sixth installment of the discussion inspired by Ms. Klein’s essay [Links to Parts 1 – 5 below].
[* Any quotes following are taken from Ms. Klein’s essay in Nation unless noted otherwise.]
The biggest and most difficult changes will have to be in world view and values. The present commitment to individualistic competition for affluent-consumer ‘living standards’ and endless increases in wealth must be replaced by a strong desire to live simply, cooperatively, and self-sufficiently, and by concern for the common good. 
It has been another of my main themes that small changes here and there, every now and then, by a few of us when we can spare the time, are not the optimal strategies for us to pursue in the face of Peak Oil’s looming challenges to our well-being and our industrialized society (with all the attendant benefits we currently enjoy). Change is coming….The sooner the majority of us recognize and accept that fact, enabling us to then prepare intelligently for what we’ll all adapt to, the better our chances of creating a rewarding future for us all.
And as I have noted in the most recent posts in this series, others better credentialed than me have stated with more than a bit of urgency that we will need an entirely new and different economic and industrial system to not only provide us with the opportunities and the means to continue growth, we will need such systems to function at all. As with most great undertakings, the saying is easier than the doing.
The media and the government understandably see the preservation of the status quo as good, and anything threatening it as bad. But if we adopt that outlook, we condemn ourselves to a future of endless bad news. In order to make our way through the decades of transition ahead, it’s important that we adopt a longer view, and devote much less effort to preserving a beguiling veneer of normalcy. The more of us who have a long view, the better. Without it, people (including world leaders) will get scared or unrealistically, giddily optimistic and do foolish things. 
The responsibility rests with all of us. Ceding that to others clearly possessing their own agenda (or worse, serving masters who clearly have different agendas which do not allow for concerns about the community at large), is no longer acceptable—if it ever was. While speaking specifically to the issue of climate change denial, Naomi Klein’s observations apply with equal force to Peak Oil and the opposition mounted against that reality:
Heartland’s campaign against climate science grew out of fear about the policies that the science would require. ‘When we look at this issue, we say, This is a recipe for massive increase in government….Before we take this step, let’s take another look at the science. So conservative and libertarian groups, I think, stopped and said, Let’s not simply accept this as an article of faith; let’s actually do our own research.’ This is a crucial point to understand: it is not opposition to the scientific facts of climate change that drives denialists but rather opposition to the real-world implications of those facts.
… ideas about minimal government, no matter how demonstrably at war with reality, remain so profitable to the world’s billionaires that they are kept fed and clothed in think tanks by the likes of Charles and David Koch, and ExxonMobil….
The deniers are doing more than protecting their cultural worldview—they are protecting powerful interests that stand to gain from muddying the waters of the climate debate.
As President Obama noted recently:
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them – that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans. 
We need to come to a decision—soon—about whether or not this system which clearly favors so few at the continuing expense of so many must be allowed to continue in its present form. On the near-horizon are critical, complex, consequence-laden assessments to be made about what kind of a society we choose to be going forward and in the kind of nation we choose to occupy. And it is not because there must be a declared winner in the idiotic partisan war we’ve been engaged in with increasing fervor since we elected a Socialist-Martian-Kenyan-tax-loving-America-hating-whatever-the-hell-‘Charming’-Newt Gingrich-is-calling-him-this-week President.
As much fun as it has been to paint the other side delusional and unpatriotic (but only when we want to be nice; and yes, I’m guilty, too), we’ve accomplished absolutely nothing beyond a near-paralyzed state of governance and deeply-embedded animosity to the “other side” who are clearly intent on destroying all that our side holds near and dear.
The decisions to be made are not limited to the kind of culture we’ll adopt or which political ideology triumphs. To take but one popular source of never-ending contention, banning gay marriage so that those satanic, heterosexual-marriage-destroying and choosing-to-be-gay-for-the-hell-of-it sickos no longer have the opportunity to destroy this entire country by encapsulating us (apparently) in some kind of destructive force fields which will then presumably cause every heterosexual marriage to spontaneously combust (whew!) … should be shelved. And that’s but one of too many other equally idiotic distractions that do nothing but play to irrational fears of the clueless. Policy by ignorant, red meat sound bites ought to be trashed once and for all. We’re better than that … or at least we should be, by now.
We’ve got more important things to worry about than whether or not Bill and Dave’s marriage to each other will end civilization as we know it. (Here’s a clue for the clueless: it won’t. People loving for one another and committing themselves a permanent relationship has rarely led to the downfall of nations, and it won’t now either. Perhaps the more-than-once married heteros who fight that fight might instead spend a bit of time in introspection … or at the very least familiarize themselves with the term “hypocrite.”)
The reasons why we need to start making adult decisions about our very serious adult problems are much more pronounced:
For decades, our best science has suggested that staying on our present growth-based path to global development implies catastrophe for billions of people and undermines the possibility of maintaining a complex global civilization. Yet there is scant evidence that national governments, the United Nations, or other official international organizations have begun seriously to contemplate the implications for humanity of the scientists’ warnings, let alone articulate the kind of policy responses the science evokes. The modern world remains mired in a swamp of cognitive dissonance and collective denial seemingly dedicated to maintaining the status quo. We appear, in philosopher Martin Heidegger’s words, to be ‘in flight from thinking.’ 
Now might be a good time to try something else. We all have skin in this game, and since the consequences that spill out across the landscape once we really start having to deal with the impact of Peak Oil in our day-to-day lives are going to affect just about each and every one of us, we need to join in the debate. And as I have been urging throughout, that means we all need to become better educated about the facts and the risks. Relying on the feel-good pablum dispensed by those with interests at odds with our own is another tactic we should toss into the trash heap.
NO ONE wants to even think about, let alone plan for and then step into an entirely new lifestyle where the fundamental tenets of capitalism, growth, and profit-making are subsumed to something much less “appealing.” Who among us wants to spend the rest of our days living in a society which, after all of our technological achievements and progress, resembles something much more like a life on a little house on the prairie, circa 1756? That existence and the sacrifices which might be be necessary as we transition to a world powered by some other less efficient and less plentiful sources of energy are as foreign to us as adaptation to life on the outer moons of Jupiter.
But the question which will confront us all soon enough requires some hard choices and levels of involvement and change few of us are prepared to even think about, let alone act on. Do we want to survive and carry on with new definitions of success and contentment and prosperity as our guides, or do we continue to drive the profit-and-all-the-gadgets-we-can-muster bus over a cliff?
What to do?
I’ll have some final thoughts on this series in an upcoming post.
Links to Parts 1 – 5 of this series:
 http://ssis.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/TSWmain.html; WE MUST MOVE TO THE SIMPLER WAY: AN OUTLINE OF THE GLOBAL SITUATION, THE SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY, AND THE TRANSITION TO IT by Ted Trainer, Faculty of Arts, University of N.S.W. – 10.22.09
 http://www.postcarbon.org/beguiling_veneer; A Beguiling Veneer of Normalcy by Richard Heinberg · 04.23.09
 http://robertreich.org/post/13852130536; The Most Important Speech of His Presidency by Robert Reich – 12.06.11
 http://sspp.proquest.com/archives/vol6iss2/1001-012.rees.html; Rees W. 2010. What’s blocking sustainability? Human nature, cognition, and denial. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 6(2):13-25. Published online Oct 14, 2010.