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Blue Sky Day

More doing, less talking

A year and a half ago, I stopped writing and started changing.  I moved to the heart of a smaller community, right next to an Amtrak station, I started learning more about gardening, I made some wonderful new friends, I had twin girls (!), I started conserving more not because I had a choice to do the right thing but because I had no choice but to be thrifty, I am taking a beekeeping class.

And I am realizing that this civilization thing is really just like walking – a controlled fall.  You have to put one foot in front of the other. 🙂

One day, I’ll have pictures of my doings.  For now, I’m too busy to write!  And too busy to worry. (much)

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Meaningful design as a pathway to sustainability

In response the The Oil Drum conversation on “Beliefs at a turning point?” allow me to cross-pollinate with a few things I’ve learned as a user-experience designer (and I don’t speak for all user-experience designers – I’m still a fairly new one. Many crazy-smart people in the design and human computer interaction world are way ahead of me on this – I invite the experienced ones to point me to better sources or correct this thought train):

Belief systems are very hard to change.  Many people in America, if not outright thrust towards sustainability, may move towards a more sustainable lifestyle on their own but for different reasons that arise from their beliefs.  Many religions store food or don’t use cars now.  Members of some political groups want independence, so they grow their own chickens.  Members of other political groups want equality, so they teach everybody to grow chickens.  Environmentalists find sustainable solutions because it’s better for the environment.  Peak oil-ists find sustainable solutions because they know they had better learn how to deal without oil now.  People who have lost their jobs use less energy and grow more of their own food (hopefully) because of the reality of their economic condition.  So many people are moving towards sustainability but from a different set of circumstances or beliefs.

So who do you really want to influence first?  Who are the worst offenders?  Whose belief systems don’t point toward sustainability?  And whose lot in life necessitates an un-sustainable solution in order to put food on the table, be happy, or survive?

For now, while the economy still has legs (and perhaps even when it doesn’t have legs), any person, company, group or government who designs/sells/creates anything needs a new way forward, “one that is innovative, meaningful, sustainable, and profitable.”  I think many people could find this on their own in the face of adversity – I’m learning not to underestimate the power of human creativity.

For those who feel like getting a jump on things, perhaps it isn’t a question of changing belief, but of changing behavior by creating meaningful, sustainable communities, experiences and designs.  When sustainable solutions are designed for use and access and meaning, perhaps then you can get buy-in from the people.

Nathan Shedroff , author of “Design is the Problem” introduces many ideas about making meaningful experiences, a meaning-filled development process, and other tools that we already have in the following presentations:

Rethinking the Consumption Compulsion: http://www.nathan.com/thoughts/RethinkingConsumption.pdf

Meaningful Innovation: Interaction and Service Design: http://www.nathan.com/thoughts/IXDA2010.pdf

(I went to a dinner with him and some other usability folks during UPA 2009 – he’s inspiring, peaceful and humble, has traveled the world sitting with tribal people, worked for huge companies on design problems, and is teaching sustainable design.  Many of his students go through their own ‘end of suburbia moment’ when they first start taking his courses.)

This is clearly not the only answer and is only a small part of the puzzle. But a lot of little, manageable changes could add up to big changes, and changes that are meaningful could be adopted in good and interesting places, right?

So, where can you start?  Do you have data to identify whose behavior (and what behavior) should be changed?  What sustainable, meaningful, useful solutions can be implemented now? What do the other phases look like? What is the objective?

And when do you start?  Does it pay to even think about it with economic predictions like this looming? I don’t think it can hurt.  I plan to get out of debt and prepare my life for the possibility of things going very wrong – not doing so would be like saying “I think dieting is a terrible idea.”  But after that, I will personally feel more fulfilled if I am finding or creating meaning in my life and in the lives of others.

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‘All at once, the world can overwhelm you’

When I find myself feeling overwhelmed, I find companionship in Jack Johnson’s music.  I admire that he has synthesized the things that trouble him and the attention his talent brings him into a good cause, http://allatonce.org/.

Here’s a poignant excerpt from his recent interview with Mother Earth News:

MJ: (On the title of his latest album) I know there’s a commitment to change and activism in there, but also enjoying yourself and letting loose.

JJ: It was tricky, you know, trying to pick a title, and something that would refer to maybe some lyrics and the way we’re thinking of using all of our resources all at once. And the song on the album is called “All at Once,” and it touches on a lot of the fears that people have right now, the ideas of all these different things that are going on in the world. With that song, it kind of starts out at three o’clock in the morning and the lyrics that I wrote, where the first line is [singing] “All at once the world can overwhelm me. There’s almost nothing that you could tell me to ease my mind.” Sometimes the lack of sleep—I get to this point where I’ll get really anxious about things and nervous, and that’s the feeling the song starts out with. And then it turns around and turns into more of this major key where it’s, [singing] “I wanna take the preconceived stuff from underneath your feet. And we can shake it off, instead we’ll plants some seeds. We’ll watch ’em as they grow.” Sometimes I feel like there’s hope. You know, sometimes I have a lot of hope. Sometimes I have despair. It was meant to be uplifting. Even though we’re up against a lot of these huge challenges that sometimes we feel like we can’t actually overcome them…Then, other times we feel like we have to solve it. I think the ‘all at once’ reference for us, we were thinking of it as trying to use all of our resources at once, just trying to use all of this attention I have on myself to do something really good, which is to use money for nonprofit groups that are focusing on things specific to their areas that they know in their city better than anyone.

Regarding the oil spill and plastic in the ocean, he essentially says that getting others to care about something they can’t see starts by showing them the beauty of the natural world. 

MJ:The ocean is obviously a big part of who you are, what you sing about, but the ocean is largely something that’s invisible to the public in terms of what we’re doing to it environmentally, they don’t see the garbage gyre, or the marine life and the changes in the ecosystem under the surface, say, when there’s a horrendous oil spill. So how do you get people to care about something they don’t see?

JJ: Well, I think it depends. Getting adults to see it. That’s one topic. And then with kids, I think it’s really important to actually not show them—in a way—some of that stuff, because I think that what’s going to happen at an early age is, you start showing the kids the problems—it’s almost like they start becoming desensitized because they’re so used to it. I think it’s really important with kids just to show them the beauty of nature and teach them a profound respect for nature, to get them outside and have any significant experiences, and then at a certain age, once they, you know, when they reach high school and they start to do reports and things like that, then it’s important to see these things and see what humans—what our effects are on these natural beauty.

Go to the east shore of any of the Hawaiian Islands, and that’s a pretty big lesson on how much plastic is ending up in the ocean. Basically, the Hawaiian Islands act as a filter out in the middle of the Pacific. It’s basically a long pile of plastic along the shores. We go to the east side to surf a lot. And when you get over there, it’s just always so shocking to see piles of plastic along the beach. And it’s really sad to see. I think that’s something you can’t really avoid.

I know that when I step away from the computer and get out of my townhouse, I feel like the fat people in Wall-E stepping off of the spaceship onto Earth again.  By stepping outside or away from the BlackBerry and the news and the computer, I find solace, peace, joy, and a connection to nature and the people (and pets) who are with me.

Makes me wonder what’s so bad about being human. (See the NY Times Article on Singularity entitled “Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday.”)

Happy 7th Anniversary to my husband today.  I promise to step away from the computer more often and take more long walks with you. 🙂

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Thoughts on the purpose of this blog…

I’m trying to refine the purpose and target audience of my blog. As a user experience professional in real life, I try to figure out what people really need from a web site, design something that I think works, see how they use it and what trips them up, refine my solution accordingly, and repeat the process as often as needed.

In the case of my blog, I have to include myself as a test subject – what did I really need when I was learning about energy, economic, and environmental issues?

I was desperate for pictures and stories of how people were responding. Also, as someone who first flips to the ‘success stories’ in any fitness magazine, I needed inspiration. I also needed like-minded people to talk to, examples from history showing how people had lived without all that we have now, and proof that people could respond creatively to adversity. I didn’t realize it, but I also needed a spiritual connection or way to be grateful and present in the moment.

I think I want to focus on the following things:
– How I break out of the funk caused by all-night peak oil reading binges.
– Photos and stories of my progress – what I am capable of doing now (junk food filled shelves and all).
– The stories about creative personal and community responses to energy issues, consumptive lifestyles, environmental issues and economic hardships that inspire me.

I see this as my public service project and don’t intend to make money off of the blog. I’m blessed enough with a good job. It does my soul good to snap out of my nesting and feel like I’m doing something for the greater good. Right now, I feel an obligation to just share the things that inspire me to prepare and talk about the feelings that I have to face.

If you feel that any other topics would be helpful to you, let me know.  If it’s not something I’m interested in writing about, I’ll point you to people who are writing about it.

Fears keep you from change. Fear of failure, self doubt, anxiety. Take a deep breath & stand up to them.

~Hanns-Oskar Porr

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Coming out of the prep closet

I laughed so hard when I saw Peak Oil Hausfrau’s ‘10 Ways to Identify a Closet Prepper

I’m frequently guilty of #7: Sends you articles published by The Oil Drum, Energy Bulletin, or Life After the Oil Crash , “FYI.”

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When life gives you lemons… (and ‘panic’ isn’t the answer)

The peak oil and Transition movements are up in arms, and rightly so, about their marginalization in the U.S. main stream media. As Erik Lindberg of Transition Milwaukee points out in his excellent response to the story, a serious NY Times article about peak oil would have brought out the arsenal of experts “in the context of the likely and impeding peak and decline of world oil production.”

Yes, maybe the NY Times article only entertained the masses for a day with “a personal interest story about a vaguely kooky and self-deprecating “doomer” who’s latest “obsession” has mainly managed, it appears, to annoy her co-workers and alienate her husband.”

That’s not my whole story, doggonnit. The paper painted what they wanted and threw out the rest. Maybe I was marginalized and the most important things I said may have been left on the cutting room floor.

But it could have been worse – some of the more damaging things said could have also been left on the cutting room floor.

And where were the facts and why didn’t they use them?

I feel that if the whole story about peak oil AND renewable energy’s ability to replace oil, with facts and only the facts, came out tomorrow in the U.S. from an authority like the President or the respected main stream media, our ancient lizard brains that kept us out of the jaws of saber tooth tigers would say ‘oh no, we’re screwed! Panic!’. I would like to be wrong about that – the people deserve to know the truth. But I experienced this panic firsthand.

Are our lives in danger tomorrow because of peak oil? I would guess that the official panic button is only saved for imminent emergencies lest the third time the authorities cry ‘Wolf’, no one listens and people are seriously hurt.

Take a look at the not-so-publicized US Military Joint Commission Report’s first paragraph about energy on p26:

To meet even the conservative growth rates posited in the economics section, global energy
production would need to rise by 1.3% per year. By the 2030s, demand is estimated to be nearly 50%
greater than today. To meet that demand, even assuming more effective conservation measures, the
world would need to add roughly the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s current energy production every
seven years.

Panic! Or quick, hope that clean energy and smart people will save us! Oh, it won’t? Panic and be angry!

Facts are cold and lifeless and they don’t give a shi-poopy about you or your family or your job. They freak people out and cause knee-jerk reactions. They crash markets and stir the urge to horde and speculate. The greedy turn them into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And other greedy people won’t tell the truth anyway about how much oil we really have, so the facts about the exact amount of oil we have and exactly when we might run out of it are all mixed up in a human mess of emotion.

The Transition Movement does an amazing job of making the facts that we do know accessible, of telling the story, and of providing a positive vision.

I didn’t have the Transition Movement when I started this journey. I had scary facts and scary books. When a mother or anyone who would step in front of an oncoming bus for a child catches wind of possible collapses or ‘die outs’, she in her state of panic will dig relentlessly until she figures out how to save her family.

If you don’t stop with just the facts and go on to help this mother through the panic and anger and if she then starts to sit quietly, observing her own ego, questioning reality and making connections, she will be a force of nature. I was ultimately lucky enough to have several (Rob C., Carolyn, and Andre) of those people come into my life.

If you want to reach those amazing but busy mothers and you are the main stream media, you need stories – real stories, messy stories, inspiring, relate-able stories. Maybe a story about a mother who saw a presentation about Peak Oil that said that if all of that clean energy were brought online asap (which is what we mothers have all been hoping for, right?) it would never, ever equal the amount of energy the world needs and gets from oil. And with out oil, our entire way of life is a mirage. And on top of that, the use of oil and coal is killing the planet.

This mother who had recently moved to a new, expensive city and was renting until they decided where to live, this mother of a beautiful, sweet 4 year-old boy who just wanted more time with her, a back yard and a dog, stayed up late every night for a year sifting through endless stories so that she could do what was best for her family and not make a stupid buying decision with such a large amount of money for what would evidently be the only house they would ever have. But most of those stories never seemed to give her an actionable plan. And as for a house, there were too many variables and uncertainties to figure out what would weather the coming storm. And she still couldn’t find a real story in the mainstream media to prove that this was all true.

In between bouts of inspiration, denial and depression, her solutions alternated between saving humanity herself, heading to the hills with her family or having faith in humanity and community. She wasn’t a scientist or economist and was usually too exhausted to remember the exact facts that people were demanding of her when they wondered why she was so worried, and she couldn’t point to any stories from mainstream newspapers, so after a year she ultimately kept her mouth shut about every amazing new thing she was learning or experiencing because it was less painful than looking crazy.

And then one day, she decided to take a class with other people who had been experiencing the very same thing, and her feelings were validated! She addressed her grief and anxiety! She started learning how to garden anyway without the yard of her dreams and started blogging about it. Her tentative courage to speak up was encouraged! She stopped worrying about losing her job or looking crazy and started talking to her neighbors and co-workers about how she felt, and they finally had real conversations!

And amazingly, she was featured on the home page of the New York Times! And even though it was a short and silly story, she wrote a response, spilling the entire contents of her skeleton closest onto the internet, and she sent it to everyone she knew in what she felt was a potentially colossal act of stupidity but hey, the cat was out of the bag. Her friends called her an amazing person and the new activists she met thanked her for setting aside her fears to speak up. And her husband, her dear sweet husband who agreed with her crazy plans all along because he loved her finally started to research and question the facts for himself.

But most importantly, what started for her as a self-centered prepping for peak oil – she wanted to maintain a lifestyle of comfort, and maybe if that wasn’t possible, just save her family – has changed into something entirely different and more unselfish. Virginia Woolf says it best:

“One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them.”

— Virginia Woolf

Once that story is told, you had better support it with rock hard indisputable evidence that this woman isn’t, after all, crazy.

It’s too bad that story wasn’t told because I only had the presence of mind now, in this crucible of attention, to tell it. And it’s a darn shame that the evidence never surfaced.


I’m glad the Transition Movement is fighting the ‘doomer’ label that was so carelessly dropped near their name in a newspaper read by millions. I represented the average American reacting to all of the available peak oil literature. It wasn’t a pretty process. It still isn’t. I still don’t have time between a full-time job and a commute to attend the transition meetings that are 45 minutes from me, much less try to start a group in my town. I can’t just change my life overnight and neither can the rest of America. But I am inspired to do more every day because I know that large communities of really smart people exist who don’t think I’m crazy for being scared about peak oil, climate change, and everything we’re doing to slowly but surely destroy ourselves. I’m taking Sharon Astyk’s ‘Adapting in Place’ class and am working on a real plan. (No, that wasn’t my stockpile of food! That was just my latest trip to CostCo, sheesh.)

And I don’t think the story was a total loss, I think it was a spark. I think it was a lesson. And I think it was an opportunity for you smart (and funny) people like the Transition movement and Sharon (Thank you for pointing out that I am not threatening!) to respond and set us all straight.

Read: New York Times on Peak Oil…and the Problem of History

Any maybe everyone in the community should take a moment to read Tim Ferriss’ 7 Great Principles for Dealing with Haters

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Could the mainstreaming of the peak oil problem stirring the transformation of human consciousness?

More than just change, I feel that the mainstreaming of the peak oil problem (see the Peak Oil Primer) is stirring what Eckhart Tolle calls the flowering of human consciousness.  

Donangelo ‘The Spiritual Adventurer’ says this (and so many great things!) in ‘All You Need to Know’:

#6. When we identify ourselves as consciousness, all else becomes input – all our instincts, emotions, thoughts, fantasies, physical sensations. Consciousness can thus evaluate the input without becoming captive to it. A natural space is created between the desire and decision to act, so that we can act mindfully and from the heart in view of our values. In time, this process becomes automatic.

By speaking up about my fears over peak oil, I only dared to dream that it would send up a spark of consciousness, that we could collectively release our grip on fantasies of endless growth or apocalypse and move forward together, hand in hard-working hand, towards a positive vision of a future that doesn’t involve continuous growth.

But do I seriously think that NY Times article about prepping for peak oil sparked this consciousness? Eh, hard to tell since it was just a short human interest story. Though the NY Times has incredible readership and it was, at one point, the fifth most popular story, it would be wishful thinking on my part to hope that the article made a huge difference. But because of my appearance in it, I have found some cool new people, learned new things, and have felt encouraged to keep talking. Others say they are encouraged to speak up, too, and that’s amazing. The spark, the ‘speaking with consciousness,’ is what matters. How dare I trivialize the amazing connections I’ve made – yes, I think the article made a difference. “No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.” — Ts’ai Ken T’an

I have Carolyn and Andre to thank for the courage to tell my story. Let’s stand together with courage now and change the world through storytelling.

So what’s up with the coming-out of peak oil? What I think is happening is this: Many of us are now realizing, with horror, that an oil well exists in the deepest part of the ocean because a)we need oil to fuel our lifestyles and b)there must not be much more easy oil to be had. And an even more troublesome realization: it doesn’t even seem possible to quit the oil addiction cold turkey. Our lifestyles are fashioned in such a way that oil is woven throughout every waking minute in countless unseen ways.

But as with any addiction, acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step, and many of us didn’t know that our problem was hurting others until we felt the pain of the oil spill in the gulf.

Even though many of us don’t live in the gulf, we feel the pain of this oil spill because the Gulf is part of our collective memory – I have so many happy visions of the days spent in those beach towns and on those barrier islands with friends and family, don’t you?

Collective tragedy as a pathway to change
It took an oil spill and tragedy in the San Francisco Bay in 1971 for John Francis, a leader of the environmental movement, to radically change his life.  From the Yes! Magazine article about walking away from oil:

I tell my students, “If you are moved to such a degree that you feel the pain, and that you can feel the tears running down your face, then you’re looking at an opportunity to make a change, to make a difference in the world.”

Each of us has to have that moment when we know that we have to do something.

In this pain, we can find our opportunity to change.

It is sad that it took a tragedy of this magnitude but I’m seeing the flowering of human consciousness happen because of it.

Mainstream media opens the gateway to positive change
Thank you, writers and editors in mainstream media, for helping humanity to move forward in a positive direction.  Keep flirting if you must, but you should really go out to dinner with this topic and get to know your feelings about it like these writers did.

Boston Globe: Rethinking our oil-drenched lifestyles by Joanna Weiss

LIKE MANY people, I spent a good portion of last week looking at pictures of oil-drenched birds and marveling at the chutzpah of BP. The company’s ads are contrite on the surface but brazen underneath, filled with images of pristine beaches and industrious volunteers, suggesting that soon, all will be well in the Gulf of Mexico so offshore drilling can start again. Just buck up, America, and have faith! Stiff upper lip and all that.

Pity the birds; hate the company. But I couldn’t help but wonder how much I should hate myself, too. My life, after all, is one giant petroleum glut, from the diapers and diaper rash ointment for my son to the toothpaste in my bathroom to the Lycra in my jeans. Oil gets me to work and back, puts food on my plate, gets pumped into the tank in my basement every winter. Imagining a world without it is next to impossible.

But there are some people who are trying.

Newsweek: Boycott BP?  Don’t bother by Sharon Begley

BP and the 32 other operators of deepwater wells in the gulf are there not because they find it technologically interesting to see how deep they can drill, or because their roustabouts like the view from the rigs. They’re drilling because of America’s—and the world’s—insatiable lust for oil. The U.S. consumes 800 million gallons of petroleum per week, according to the Energy Information Agency. The only way to make this the last oil spill in the gulf is to make oil obsolete.

Huffington Post (huge readership = mainstream to me): Limit our oil consumption, drive less by Craig K. Comstock

Can we find a response to the peak of global oil production (and to increasing demand from Asia) other than economic depression in the U.S.?

Building lifeboats, finding tribes – what about everybody else?

I can’t look into the eyes of a suffering person or creature, feel their pain, and say “see ya, you’re on your own” because I believe that we are all connected, we pay it forward, our good deeds will come back to us in unexpected ways. My greatest hope against hope is not that we have to build lifeboats but that those of us who have awakened can help humanity collectively evolve, even those who do not know that they need to be helped.

Changing everything quickly seems complex and, well, impossible. Maybe lifeboats and tribes are meant to be the spark.

Tim Ferris says “It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.

“It’s critical in social media, as in life, to have a clear objective and not to lose sight of that,” Ferriss says. He argues that if your objective is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people or to change the world in some small way (be it through a product or service), you only need to pick your first 1,000 fans — and carefully. “As long as you’re accomplishing your objectives, that 1,000 will lead to a cascading effect,” Ferriss explains. “The 10 million that don’t get it don’t matter.”

For collapse-aware people seeking a community, here are some ideas:

Transition Towns USA – Providing inspiration, encouragement, support, networking, and training for Transition Initiatives across the United States.

CollapseNet – Just launched today by Michale Rupport.  Building lifeboats so that we are advocates of the ultimate survivors, those who have not been born yet.

What ideas do you have? How about launching this green real estate model ASAP?

Why breaking through our fantasies of apocalypse and facing the reality of collapse matters
Excerpt from Alex Steffen’s essay “Night, Hoover Dam.” Alex is the founder of Worldchanging.org and author of Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century

And sitting there by the slack and dirty water, I had one of those moments of scorching self-vision. I realized that I’d been hiding underneath the skirts of the apocalypse for decades now. I’d daydreamed disasters as a way of not wanting too much, not caring too much; keeping safe from the fear too much knowledge of current events tends to tattoo on your brain.

But real apocalypses are sordid, banal, insane. If things do come unraveled, they present not a golden opportunity for lone wolves and well-armed geeks, but a reality of babies with diarrhea, of bugs and weird weather and dust everywhere, of never enough to eat, of famine and starving, hollow-eyed people, of drunken soldiers full of boredom and self-hate, of random murder and rape and wars which accomplish nothing, of many fine things lost for no reason and nothing of any value gained. And survivalists, if they actually manage to avoid becoming the prey of larger groups, sitting bitter and cold and hungry and paranoid, watching their supplies run low and wishing they had a clean bed and some friends. Of all the lies we tell ourselves, this is the biggest: that there is any world worth living in that involves the breakdown of society.

I sat there and felt foolish. Another boat went droning by in the distance. First light was breaking to the East. And, whatever happened, I decided, planning for failure was no longer an option. I still couldn’t tell you what success looked like, but I knew then that I was long past childhood, and done with thinking like a twelve year-old boy. I wanted to look the future square in the face, and not look away, ever again.

A breeze was picking up. Dawn was not far off now.

Night, Hoover Dam

My friends, it’s time to come out of our ego houses and into the collective consciousness.

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Reponse the the Peak Oil story in the New York Times

Me on the home page of the NY TimesHi all, I’m Jennifer Wilkerson of Oakton, VA! And boy am I ever humbled to have been featured in the New York Times story ‘Imagining life without oil, and being ready.’ I took a class from an amazing spiritual teacher along with people who are doing great things in the world. I’m just a hard-working citizen who is on a journey of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. I have a long way to go. I still have stacks of paper towels and packaged food in my kitchen – I’m not ‘no impact woman’ (yet), but I am trying to do more today than I did yesterday to become a good citizen of the Earth.

Why do I prepare for this? Because to me, it means being a good citizen.
I would rather be prepared than not – for the same everyday reasons of uncertainty about the future I have a spare tire and renters insurance. If I could predict the future, I would be very wealthy. I only know that the people who have predicted collapse have also predicted the things that are currently happening in the economy, so I think I’ll listen to them.

I worry about people who will become afraid and allow themselves to be taken advantage of by buying, for example, a survival capsule of seeds that wouldn’t be viable anyway after so many years. (The best way to keep a line of heirloom vegetables going is to actually grow them year after year.) Likewise, to keep a skill alive, even if it is never needed, we need to pass it on to our children before the knowledge is lost.

This is why I chose to learn gardening. I don’t expect to produce enough food on my deck to feed a family of four – what I’m doing is logging experience. When should I start seedlings? What’s eating my eggplants? How can I avoid using pesticides? I read about it for long enough – but by actually doing something, even a little something, I’m learning much faster. And at the end of all this learning, what then? Do I sit and wait for the world to collapse with my canned goods tucked away in the basement? I hope not!

I need to ensure that I have well fed neighbors! If people in my community also have some skills of self-sufficiency, they will be less afraid and hopefully less likely to react irrationally to any ‘rebalancing’ that could happen now that ‘the party’s over’, as the IMF puts it. Once we have the basics of food, shelter and safety under control, we would be free to focus on the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I don’t hope for collapse. I hope for the best – I hope we transition off of fossil fuel by getting radically local. I hope I gain some muscles from working in the garden. I hope I snack on tomatoes instead of packaged candy bars. I hope I can be part of a greater web of local resilience. And I hope I can make a difference in the lives of others and in the preservation of our planet’s gifts because we are all connected.

We have always seen ‘boom in doom’ I feel like Andre’s classes at Post Peak Living are taught in the spirit of helping people to become resilient – FEMA and the CDC say all the time that we should be prepared for emergencies but many of us, including myself, are not prepared for anything other than a three day disruption of food, water and power. If many natural or economic calamities happen at once, I feel like the government and our emergency response systems could be overwhelmed and I am doubtful that the government could ‘bail me out.’ While I would be grateful for their assistance if they could help me, I would feel like a better citizen and more empowered if I could take care of my own needs (put on my own oxygen mask first) so that I could turn around and help my neighbors. What Andre, Carolyn, and others are teaching is resilience, community, compassion and respect for the forces that are greater than us. It is a labor of love for them and I wish them all the best success.

What I really want people to know is that they are not crazy or delusional for worrying about peak oil, climate change, or economic collapse. These are very real fears and you must process and understand these fears before you do anything else. It is important to work with a practitioner, group or church who can validate your fears, not dismiss them as ‘generalized anxiety.’ I am pretty sure that I experienced ‘existential depression’ after learning about peak oil and I feel like a mainstream therapist would have put me on ‘happy pills’ without acknowledging my fears as being valid or real and I would have never had the opportunity, like I did with Carolyn, to address my grief. I feel that her book Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse is so important because it doesn’t trivialize my awareness-related anxiety. You may have a hard time with this book if you haven’t been initiated into the idea of collapse. (I wish we could call it ‘rebalancing’ instead of ‘collapse’!) Check out the books and links in my sidebar for a balanced set of information.

I think that people who are unaware of peak oil will not understand what’s happening to them over the coming years. They will or are experiencing their own personal financial collapse. They will see gas prices rise and then fall due to lower demand, only to rise again, and so on. I saw a story in the Washington Post over a year ago about a couple where the man killed his wife and then committed suicide because they were losing their house. I cried for them because I felt both helpless to do anything for them and guilty for having a good career. I wished so greatly that they knew it was ok to feel so much grief, and I wished that there were a place for them to go. I had visions of setting up an organic farm for people like them – it would have had sustainable housing and teachers to show them new skills like permaculture so that they could be with nature, start a new livelihood, and feel safe, empowered and peaceful. I want to do good things for people, communities and our planet, but first I have to deal with my own feelings of shame, fear, and sadness so that I don’t burn out as I did last year. The people who are doing the hard work of environmental and economic clean-up, social work and sustainable design are, I feel, at risk for burning out or being very depressed if they do not find tools for dealing with their emotions.

I also need to find people like me who are more aware of the state of the world. I censor my words all the time partially because I feel others will label me a ‘doomer’, though that’s been taken care of thanks to the Times. 🙂 I originally didn’t want to talk to the Times because I have such a great fear now of others seeing me as insane for thinking that I need to prepare for collapse. But I decided that Carolyn’s work is too important for my own fears and my own ego to stand in the way. I find it hard not to care about fitting in with the norms prescribed to my by society, but as a result of this class I have realized how self-centered my thinking can be and I am learning to let go so that I can do the work that needs to be done, so that I can discover my true purpose, and so that I can be fully open to uncertainty.

By taking Carolyn’s class, I found a way to free my mind from worry and replace it with compassion and action. I was suddenly able to look at my whole life and see what I had been ignoring because I was so absorbed with worry about collapse. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I wasn’t taking care of my health. I wasn’t paying off enough debt or saving enough money. I wasn’t being ‘present’ with my family because my thoughts were occupied with worry.

Now I’m actually working on my garden, losing weight, spending time with my family, and getting out in the community. I’m going to an Urban Farming Summit on Friday!

What started it all: worrying about where to buy a house
A lot of my worry was stemming from deciding where to live. Our main criteria is that we only buy a house we can afford on one income in the event that one of us loses a job. When I first read the peak oil and ecological collapse literature last March, my knee jerk reaction was to set up a farm in the country where there was plenty of water. I rationalized that I could set up a non-profit farm to help others reskill and learn permaculture, then sell the food at local farmers markets.

Not only did I not have enough money to buy a farm in Northern Virginia, I also don’t know how to farm. So this was a bit of a fantasy that was dispelled by my personal economic conditions and by Joel Salatin’s book You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise. While I probably ‘could’ farm, I would be doing it by myself while my husband worked and I couldn’t be sure that, 20 years from now, my son would want to stay near the farm to help. I decided I would be happy with a little garden, and have since decided that I would even be ok signing up for a CSA. (I do really want to learn how to garden, though, because it makes me happy.)

Last summer I visited a local Virginia eco-village. We could afford a plot in this community (we were unsure how we would afford to build a house, though), and was it ever beautiful! The people are so nice. When I visited, I only heard birds, no highway or air-conditioner hum. The houses were LEED certified with passive solar designs and solar hot water systems. The new straw bale house they’re building had a grey water system that was the first of its kind in this state. They plan to build a community house and hire an organic farmer. It was just a beautiful, peaceful place to visit. We decided against living there because I would have to take a 2 hour train ride to work, and my husband’s career is now so far from this place that it would be a 3 hour commute each way.

I have to say that my dear, dear husband has been the most patient man through all of this. Yes, there were many times at the dinner table when he was tired of hearing the latest news about peak oil, climate change or economic collapse – most people do. But when I said I wanted a farm, he said ‘let’s do it.’ When I said I wanted to live in a Yurt, he thought it sounded like a cool idea. When I said I didn’t want to buy a typical box of a house in the exurbs just to cash in on the tax credit, he understood. But I’ve had to do a heck of a lot of talking about these issues to get my family to understand because the cognitive dissonance is just too great. Ultimately, we both just want our family to be together and safe and he just wants me to be happy, and for that I am blessed.

For now, we have renewed our lease on a townhouse near Vienna, VA. It’s not off the grid and I would be worried about the price of heating and cooling the place in the future, but for now, it’s a good deal. We pay much less in rent than what we would have to pay if we had bought the place. We’re in an excellent school system in a strong community with bountiful sidewalks, bike trails and farmer’s markets. We’re not far from a Metro stop. I have a tiny farm on my deck and in my courtyard. My neighbors are very nice people.

If I won a million dollars, we would buy a few acres close to where we live now and build a passive house or buy and retrofit an existing house. I would set up a teaching market garden so that others can learn new skills. Since winning the lottery is unlikely (especially since I don’t play), I’m playing a waiting game to see what happens with the housing market.

I would love to see Community Solution’s Agraria idea take off: If it were in a town like Vienna, VA, I would move into one of these places in a heartbeat!

I am lucky and humbled to work for an international company with sound finances and a history of changing course or innovating when needed. With as much as I’ve learned, I haven’t been spooked away from this company. In fact, working here has made me more aware of global issues and has made me a better person! I am surrounded by compassionate people and the company has an honest commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

I am frustrated by my complete lack of time to do anything other than commute, work, and sleep. Of course I would rather spend the day with my son, garden and bike around town and meet other transition groups than have a long commute and sit in a cube like I do now, but I have debt to pay off and a low-carbon lifestyle to save for, so if I have to work right now, this is a great place to be working and I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn and grow with my co-workers.

My plan for the coming year is to keep learning how to grow veggies, get in shape, get rid of the stuff in our house that we don’t need, pay off debt, keep learning new skills like mad (starting with Sharon Astyk‘s Adapting in Place class), stop buying stuff that has a lot of embodied energy or uses energy when possible, get involved in my community, and relax into the flow of whatever comes next.


I have a feeling that my boat
Has struck, down there in the depths,
Against a great thing.
And nothing happens!
Nothing, silence, waves
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
And we are standing now, quietly, in the new life?

— Juan Ramon Jimenez

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Townhouse Gardening Update: from grow light to the great outdoors

Grow light and beyond

Ok, time for something happier.

Tomato Planting:

Last weekend, I finished planting my little hardened-off seedlings outside! Here are some photos.

My tomatoes fell over under the grow light and grew in a n “L” shape. I saw this as a ‘fail’ on my part until I tried to plant them in the grow boxes – they were too tall for me to plant straight up and down and still have part of the stem in the ground. But if I planted them sideways, it worked out nicely! It’s almost as if nature planned for them to fall over and send more roots into the ground.

tomato stem planted sideways in Earth Box

Pushing dirt over the sideways-planted tomato

Here are all six Earth Boxes full of heirloom tomatoes. I still have to put up the trellis systems for some of them.

Six Earth Boxes on my deck

I haven’t had to water them all week! I bought them because they’re self-watering (just pour water down the tube that feeds into the base) and they’re durable.

My only complaint is this: I’ll have to figure out how, why and what to use for the dolomite and fertilizer next year. I don’t plant to spend money on six refill kits if I can do it myself for less.

Here are Earth Boxes and staking systems on Amazon.com:

Here are some articles about making your own self-watering containers:

I also planted some cucumbers and pear tomatoes in window box planters hanging off of the deck.
lemon cucumbers in window planter

You deserve to see reality: This is what it all looked like directly after planting all of those boxes. I’m soaked. Who knew deck farming could be so messy?
One tired deck farmer

Beans and Cucumbers:

I turned over the soil in my raised bed to find oodles of worms, yay!
Me digging up my raised bed

I companion planted bush beans and cucumbers in my raised bed.
row of beans

I’m going to stretch a net from the bottom of the raised bed to the top of the fence for the cucumbers to climb. Eggplants, more tomatoes, and herbs will be planted to the sides this weekend.
Raised bed, view from the deck

Crookneck Squash
The squash isn’t really loving the dirt leftover from the clematis vine – too much drainage. To do: mix in 2/3rds soil and save the rest of this peat-like stuff for something else.
Crookneck squash in planter

French Heirloom Peas:
There are enough on my pea tee-pee for a veggie stir-fry!
Pea tee-pee

Just got it, hooray!

What’s next for the grow lights:
I’m still growing some herbs and a few cucumbers that I plan to donate to my son’s school veggie garden. After that? Kitchen grow-light salad!
kitchen grow lights

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Oil Spill: 5 constructive ways to deal with your outrage

Some day the earth shall weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice if you will help her or let her die, and if she dies, you too shall die.

John Hollow Horn, Lakota Shaman, 1932
(Quote from Carolyn Baker’s daily news digest today.)

See photos of the oil spill:
Oil reaches Louisiana shores: the big picture

We did this. This oil is on our hands, too. And by us, I mean anyone on the earth who is living an over-consumptive middle-or upper-middle class lifestyle, we who aspire to look rich but go in debt to do so. I know this lifestyle firsthand because we’re a recovering wannabe-glittering-rich baby-has-only-the-best duel income family who will finally be out of credit card debt in a few months, I hope. We had the fortunate good timing of learning about peak oil last year and stopped short of buying a honking big SUV and a McMansion in the exurbs (all on credit.) We’re making do with an old Honda Civic and Accord and now I shop at thrift stores, but more on that in another post.

We, the wannabe-glittering-rich, had to have that oil for what? So we could cart our butts to the nearest big-box retail store where we could buy stuff that doesn’t ultimately make us happy anyway. It took fossil fuel energy to produce this stuff, oil to truck it to the store, coal to keep the lights on, and bigger houses burning coal to keep it air-conditioned. And for what? To be tossed out or donated away? My garage is full of this garbage right now and I can’t tell you how unhappy it makes me. Even the process of planning to sell it is exhausting. But I’m learning to see, I’m climbing out of denial and complacency, and I’m doing a little more each day to slowly (very slowly!) get my family un-hooked from fossil fuel and consumerism. I wish I were moving much faster.

The oil keeps our food supply chain going, too. We truck in our organic food from thousands of miles away instead of bothering to get up off of the recliner and get our hands a little dirty or bike down to the farmer’s market. Shame on us. I’m guilty of all of it, too. What fuels the tractors, or do you buy food from an Amish farmer? How do you think that petroleum-based fertilizer is made? In a solar powered factory? Ha, no! Have solar panels on your roof? What do you think we burn to get the raw materials for solar panels out of the ground? Coal! And how do you think those solar panels are shipped to us? Oil!

So don’t be angry at the oil companies or the government or the people who have no idea how to properly lay a boom. We have only our lifestyles to blame.

Do this instead:

I agree with Asher Miller – Yes, you should be angry that BP got away with this b.s., that their employees were goofing off in bars instead of learning how to properly lay a boom.

Once you’ve exhausted your outrage at the idiocy of it all and are ready to move on, here are five constructive outlets:

  1. Be sad. Experience your grief. This is incredibly depressing and we all need a period of mourning. Need some help shedding a tear? Go look at picture #38. Mourn the poor souls who have been making a happy living near the gulf. Mourn the days that you will not be spending with that white sand between your toes and for the future generations who may not be able to do the same. And please, mourn for the poor creatures. Mourn the pelicans and the flounders and the ghost crabs. They didn’t need recliners or cars or toys or exotic fruit. They only needed the ocean, a marsh, an ecosystem, and we destroyed it.

    by Robert Louis Stevenson

    Under the wide and starry sky,
    Dig the grave and let me lie;
    Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.

    This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
    Here he lies where he longed to be;
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

    But no, this is the poem for the happy end to a life well-lived. Perhaps this one is more relevant:
    from Joanna Macy

    We hear you, fellow-creatures. We know we are wrecking the world and we are afraid. What we have unleashed has such momentum now; we don’t know how to turn it around. Don’t leave us alone; we need your help. You need us too for your own survival. Are there powers there you can share with us?

    (I was first introduce to this, and Joanna Macy, in chapter 19 of Sacred Demise.)

  2. Wake up. Learn what’s going on around you. Read about the issues on Post Carbon Institute’s site. Check out my links in the sidebar. We’re on the down-slope of the oil age anyway – you may as well get off of it.
  3. Now that you’ve scared the crap out of yourself, find support amongst friends, in a group or with an eco-psychologist. When I found out that my life wouldn’t play out in a period of continuous growth, that everything I thought I knew was going to be changing, I freaking panicked. I got depressed. My husband thought I had lost the last of my marbles. For those of us who have been in a daily routine of work-eat-sleep, this is tough material to digest. Start with Carolyn Baker’s book Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse.
  4. Find a new way forward. Take steps every day to get fossil fuel out of your life because volatility is going to be the new norm for the price of fuel (and everything that depends upon it). Find or start a Transition Movement near you. Replace ‘oil-soaked’ food with local, organic, in-season choices. Learn how to grow something. Figure out how to get yourself around with less gas, and coal-powered electric cars are not the answer – have you seen the mountaintops in West Virginia? Take a look at Community Solution’s Smart Jitney idea. You can partially do this now with carpools. When thinking about where to live, find a small, walkable town to live in or live near public transportation if you can. If you need to have a face-to-face work meeting but don’t actually need to shake hands, try a Telepresence meeting instead of flying or driving a long distance.

    Take the future into your own hands and stop waiting for a hero to arrive.

    “I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. Then I realized, I am somebody.”

    — Source Unknown

  5. Take some classes from people who understand what’s going on. Here are a few:
    Carolyn’s class: Navigating the Coming Chaos of Unprecedented Transitions: be guided though the process of denial, soul-sickness and stages of grief that we’re all experiencing over the loss of our habitats, the faltering of our economy, the depletion of our natural resources and the shattering of every idea upon which we’ve built our McCastles in the air. I just finished this class and it was a transformational experience.
    – Other classes I plan to take from Post Peak Living include the Un-Crash Course and Sustainable Post-Peak Livelihoods.
    – I’m hopefully taking an Adapting in Place class from Sharon Astyk – fingers crossed that there are still openings. Getting off the grid right now really isn’t financially feasible for us – I need to know what I can do where I am, and I’m betting some of you do as well.
    – I signed up for an Urban Gardening summit. I really want to be involved in urban/suburban gardening initiatives and want to know more about what’s going on.
    – But first, I need to take lots of organic gardening and food preservation classes! Our community has some great ones – I took a class on building a cold frame last year. But I also have a full-time job and a family, so I’m learning as I go and am pestering my gardening friends for advice. I’ll post what I’ve learned (usually the hard way) on my site.

We don’t need to blame others or shame ourselves, we need to empower ourselves and our communities. Trying to get myself off of fossil fuel is something that I can get pretty far with on my own, and I could get even farther if I banded with a group of like-minded citizens. It won’t be easy. It’ll take time. But we have to get started now or we’ll destroy everything good that is left on this earth as we engage in ever-more risky behavior to extract the remaining fossil fuels. It’s time to redefine ‘the good life.’ My husband and I used to think it meant a designer house in the ‘burbs with a BMW or two in the driveway. But to pull off that kind of lifestyles, we would work and commute so much that we’d have little time to actually enjoy the house or the cars. We would be happier, I think, with a yurt, a garden, a bike, and time spent together as a family.

I’m leaving you with some moving videos and a poem. It’s time to remake the way in which we live upon this Earth. We can do it, but we have to open our eyes and our hearts first.

Carolyn Baker, The Thread:

What Uncertainty Brings Us:

Joanna Macy at Bioneers 2009 from Defend theCommons on Vimeo.

My heart is moved by all I cannot save.
So much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those who,
age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

from Adrienne Rich, through Joanna Macy’s Bowl of Tears practice

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