Consciousness and the New World Order

In the previous post on Chaos, Havoc, and the American Abyss, we began a discussion about the work of Peter Pogany, and how it relates to the situation we now find ourselves in with the pending Trump administration here in the U.S.

A recent post in The Guardian by George Monbiot starkly outlines the seriousness of some of the crises we’re currently facing: The 13 Impossible Crises that Humanity Now Faces (hat tip to The Chrysalis). “One of the peculiarities of this complex, multiheaded crisis,” Monbiot writes,  “is that there appears to be no “other side” on to which we might emerge.”

Recall that in our previous post we discussed how deep infrastructure issues such as resource depletion and climate change impose eventual limits to growth, which then disrupt economies built upon heavy environmental resource extraction and financed by debt. And remember Pogany’s statement that “a stagnating economy is civil discontent waiting to happen – especially at a time when government spending must be curbed.” And also that the coming chaos might eventually, as a chaotic transition, lead to a much healthier organization of society.

What will it take? “It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined by the Swiss thinker, Jean Gebser (1905-1973).”

And what does that mean?  To unpack this, let’s survey chapter 5 of his book, Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century!

A concise dictionary definition of ‘consciousness’ is “the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world.” Consciousness, according to Pogany, is made up of active and passive components, that together contain the information necessary to deal with the issues that the “physical-social-cultural-economic-environment presents for the individual.”

“Consciousness,” Pogany says, “is best visualized as a continuous spectrum that stretches from intensely active components, engaged when dealing with a crisis in the family, at the workplace, or in the environs otherwise dilineated; to the body’s biological processes, which remain passive unless attention is explicitly drawn to them (e.g., in the doctor’s office).”

A point that Pogany is eager to emphasize is that “individual consciousness is inseparable from its socieeconomic substratum.”  This means that we come to common understandings about the “rules of the game” – cultural ideas about ways of living that we tend to take as given, real, and true. “What people living under a stable global system consider ‘true assertions’ about history, society, and the economy presupposes a scaffolding of the conceptual universe  that the mind tends to conflate with the laws and regularities of the natural world.”

“We are complex products of a world order.” Philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Husserl have all spent a lot of time making this clear, not to mention “the psycholinguists, the existentialists, the structuralists and the postmoderns.” And yet mainstream economics does not recognize this fact.

The stable global system, or world order, that we currently live in takes as a given that growth dependent economics is the only possible way forward. Everything is built around this arrangement, and the shared expectation is that we must find ways to keep it going. Margaret Thatcher’s TINA principle is invoked – “There Is No Alternative!” Never mind the fact that numerous heterodox economists have proposed alternatives, and never mind the fact that there are system feedback signals everywhere telling us that the growth dependent economy is exacerbating so many of  the world’s most intractable problems. The feedback signals are not yet strong enough to overcome the current global system’s self-defense mechanisms. In his 2006 book Rethinking the World, Pogany called these signals “A siren that shrieks too late, then causes a brawl at the fire station” (p. 187).

In my 2015 paper, Patterns for Navigating the World in Energy Descent (available here and here), I wrote:

“[Our growth oriented economic arrangement] is one more “myth of the given” that should not be taken for granted. Edgar Morin referred to “development” as:

The master word…upon which all the popular ideologies of the second half of this [20th] century converged…development is a reductionistic conception which holds that economic growth is the necessary and sufficient condition for all social, psychological, and moral developments. This techno-economic conception ignores the human problems of identity, community, solidarity, and culture… In any case, we must reject the underdeveloped concept of development that made techno-industrial growth the panacea of all anthroposocial development and renounce the mythological idea of an irresistible progress extending to infinity (Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millenium, Morin, 1999, pp. 59-63).

Addressing this “myth of the given,” Pogany pokes fun at his own profession:

Historically, geocapital [matter ready to be used to feed cultural evolution] has registered a net increase; additions and expansions more than offset exhaustions and reductions. This long-lasting successful experience led to the culturally ingrained confidence in the possibility of its eternal continuation. Economic growth theory keeps “deriving” the same conclusion over and over again: Optimally maintained economic expansion can continue forever. Translated from evolutionary scales to our own, this is analogous to “Since I wake up every morning I must be immortal” (Rethinking the World, 2006, p. 118).”

The problem is, this “economic growth theory” has become something our entire society is built upon and is dependent upon, and has become ingrained into our collective structure of consciousness.  Pogany believed that the challenge to develop a sustainable world system is so great that it will require a major transformation of individual consciousness structures; and yet, the average individual would be incapable of becoming so transformed as long as current socioeconomic conditions prevail. So, the current system is holding up our personal transformation, and our lack of personal transformation is holding up the transformation of the system. “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Pogany introduces the reader to the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser, and his outline of five “patterns, structures, or mutations” of consciousness. According to Gebser, we’re currently at the tail end (the deficient stage) of the fourth structure, the mental-rational structure, and are facing the chaotic transition that we hope will lead us to the fifth “integral” structure of consciousness.

We will take a closer look at Gebser’s five structures of consciousness in our next post.  And for a preview of some of the other points we’ll eventually get to, check out The Trump Agenda is a Dead End over at The Chrysalis.

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Creative Navigation of Energy Descent: Opportunities for Spiritual and Social Transformation

This blog has been quiet for a little while, as I’ve been busy trying to do some non-blog writing.

I’ve been invited to present a paper at the upcoming Integral Theory Conference in the San Francisco Bay area (July 17-19, ITC), so I’ve been working away at that paper for a while. For a sneak peak on the topic I’ll be presenting on there, check out my presentation in Bellingham, WA on May 21 (see below).  At the conference I get 20 minutes to present.  Here, speaking at the local Bellingham outpost of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (BIONS), I get 1 1/2 hours.
The original title I proposed for my paper was “Patterns for Navigating Transitions in a Descending Energy World.” I’m using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics(TM) to address the issue of what David Holmgren calls “Energy Descent,” i.e energy depletion, or “peak oil” – and its association with the idea of limits to growth. And its relationship to integral theory.  The paper has turned out to be a bigger project than originally envisioned, and will likely become a multi-part project.
The blurb for my presentation in Bellingham on May 21, 2015 is below.  For a good introduction to the Integral Theory Conference, check out Jeremy Johnson’s post on The Unthinkable Present.

May 2015 Event

CREATIVE NAVIGATION of ENERGY DESCENT:

Opportunities for Spiritual & Social Transformation

David MacLeod

We will explore the world in crisis and chaos as an opportunity for social and spiritual transformation as we form stronger connections to the earth’s natural patterns and to each other.

This presentation will consider appropriate responses to current concerns about resource depletion, climate change, and the unsustainability of current economic structures; all of which are leading some to argue that we are entering a new era signaled by the end of economic growth and declining fossil fuel energy.

We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we redefine “growth” to refer to our human potential rather than to our GDP? Perhaps we can learn to expand our consciousness and increase cooperative behaviors as we ride the wave down the peak oil curve.

This presentation will be supported by a new systems thinking tool called PatternDynamics™. Inspired by Permaculture’s emphasis on natural patterns and principles, PatternDynamics combines the patterns of nature with the power of language. The result is a tool which helps us understand and communicate ways of supporting resilience. We will learn some of the dynamic patterns that could assist us in creatively navigating our way through an energy descending world.

David_MacLeodDAVID MACLEOD is a member of the PatternDynamics™ Community of Practice and is committed to community resilience as a co-initiator of Transition Whatcom. He was named an “Environmental Hero” by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, and appointed to a city and county Energy Resource Scarcity/Peak Oil Task Force. He has contributed articles to Resilience.org, Integral Leadership Review, and Beams & Struts. David has been invited to present an academic paper on the topic of tonight’s discussion at the Integral Theory Conference this July in the San Francisco Bay area. David holds a BMus degree from Western Washington University, a Level II (b) accreditation in PatternDynamics™, and a Permaculture Design Certificate. He blogs at https://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/.

This month’s event is co-sponsored by Transition Whatcom! http://transitionwhatcom.ning.com/

THURSDAY, MAY 21ST

7-9PM (Doors open at 6:30)

Fairhaven Branch Bellingham Library

Fireside Room (Under Steps)         

$5-10 Donation   (No one will be turned away)

Visit the BIONS Facebook page where you can also list your programs and get updates on BIONS events.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bellingham-Institute-of-Noetic-Sciences-Community/343430979582

IONS Websitenoetic.org
All views presented are not necessarily those of IONS or of the BIONS Team.

 

Richard Heinberg on “Our Renewable Future”

Today I would like to bring your attention to a recent essay by Richard Heinberg that has been received to high acclaim over at the Resilience.org. Resilience is a website operated by the Post Carbon Institute, for which Heinberg is a senior analyst. Heinberg has been writing about energy for 12 years, and is the author of books such as Cloning the Buddha: The Moral Impact of Biotechnology; The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies; Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World; Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines; Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis; The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality.

In his latest essay, Our Renewable Future, Heinberg demonstrates that he is what I would call an energy realist. He does not demonize the fossil fuel industry, but he clearly lays out the formidable challenges we face as the climate crisis worsens and as easy access to these fuels continues to recede.  Nor does he communicate as would a lobbyist for the renewable energy industry, hyping the benefits and downplaying the problems in this field.

Instead, Heinberg approaches the problems from multiple perspectives and honestly conveys his own biases, and encourages us to broaden our thinking:

I consider myself a renewable energy advocate: after all, I work for an organization called Post Carbon Institute. I have no interest in discouraging the energy transition—quite the contrary. But I’ve concluded that many of us, like Koningstein and Fork, have been asking the wrong questions of renewables. We’ve been demanding that they continue to power a growth-based consumer economy that is inherently unsustainable for a variety of reasons (the most obvious one being that we live on a small planet with finite resources). The fact that renewables can’t do that shouldn’t actually be surprising.

What are the right questions? The first, already noted, is: What kind of society can up-to-date renewable energy sources power? The second, which is just as important: How do we go about becoming that sort of society?

As we’ll see, once we begin to frame the picture this way, it turns out to be anything but bleak.

I believe this to be an extremely important essay, and the embedded links provide even more depth, providing a great resource for essential 21st century energy literacy.

– David

Our Renewable Future

Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy

(7000 words, about 25 minutes reading time)

Folks who pay attention to energy and climate issues are regularly treated to two competing depictions of society’s energy options.* On one hand, the fossil fuel industry claims that its products deliver unique economic benefits, and that giving up coal, oil, and natural gas in favor of renewable energy sources like solar and wind will entail sacrifice and suffering (this gives a flavor of their argument). Saving the climate may not be worth the trouble, they say, unless we can find affordable ways to capture and sequester carbon as we continue burning fossil fuels.

On the other hand, at least some renewable energy proponents tell us there is plenty of wind and sun, the fuel is free, and the only thing standing between us and a climate-protected world of plentiful, sustainable, “green” energy, jobs, and economic growth is the political clout of the coal, oil, and gas industries (here is a taste of that line of thought).

Which message is right? Will our energy future be fueled by fossils (with or without carbon capture technology), or powered by abundant, renewable wind and sunlight? Does the truth lie somewhere between these extremes—that is, does an “all of the above” energy future await us? Or is our energy destiny located in a Terra Incognita that neither fossil fuel promoters nor renewable energy advocates talk much about? As maddening as it may be, the latter conclusion may be the one best supported by the facts.

If that uncharted land had a motto, it might be, “How we use energy is as important as how we get it.”…

Read the full essay here.

The 2014 Whatcom Skillshare Faire!

Whatcom Skillshare Faire

Photos below from Day 1 of this year’s Skillshare Faire, held just north of Bellingham, in Ferndale Washington. Come on out for Day 2 tomorrow (Aug. 24, 2014), beginning with the Northwest Permaculture Convergence Annual Meeting from 9:30 to 11:30, and various skillsharings from 11 am to 4pm, including (just to name a few): Dowsing, Homeopathic Survival Skills, Seed Cleaning and Processing, Soapmaking, Winter Food Storage Techniques, How to Make a Rain Barrel, Backyard Chickens, Swashbuckling for Kids, The Alternative Economy, Appropriate Use of Hand Tools (scythes and more), Bike Maintenance, Raising Rabbits, Commercial Uses of Hemp, Making Buckskin, Sun Dials, Aquaponic Gardening, and Spinning and Combing Wool.

See WhatcomSkillshareFaire.org for more info.

And then extend the learning with the Permaculture Living and Learning Seminars at Inspiration Farm!
Monday, Aug. 25th: 12pm until dusk: Extended farm tour, potluck and tele-vision and music around the fire.
Tuesday, Aug. 26: 10am to 5pm: Choose from 8 different workshops (including yours truly on PatternDynamics)!
Get all the info at Inspirationfarm.com

 

HPIM2499HPIM2502HPIM2504HPIM2505HPIM2508HPIM2509HPIM2511

 

A Transition Whatcom Invitation: Share, Learn, Teach, and Converge

Transition Whatcom, in northwest Washington state (Bellingham and surrounds), has a unique series of events coming up in August, and we welcome participation from all friends in the region (and beyond).

photo by C. Mauricio

Skillshare Faire, 2012

The 3rd Annual Whatcom Skillshare Faire (Aug. 23-24) is a fun, family oriented festival about teaching and learning all kinds of useful & practical resilience skills. Our August-sunny Faire this year will have two days of family-friendly Workshops and Demonstrations, plus a great lineup of local Musical Talent, tasty local Food Offerings and the ever-popular local brewery Beer Garden and Fermentation Station. Watch the promo video here, and see the Peak Moment TV episode filmed at last year’s Faire here.

photo by C. Mauricio

Skillshare Faire, 2012

This year we are pleased that the Northwest Permaculture Convergence is occurring within and alongside our Skillshare Faire!  The Convergence will have its own tent, which will host the permaculture workshops and demos at the Skillshare, and will hold its annual meeting on Sunday the 24th at the Faire.

photo by D. MacLeod

Feet in communion at Inspiration Farm PDC

For those who are ready for the full-meal-deal of permaculture, we invite you to attend the Permaculture Design Certificate course at Inspiration Farm (just north of Bellingham), running August 17 – 29th. This course is being designed around, and will include at no extra charge, participation at the Skillshare Faire and Convergence! [Registration deadline for this PDC is coming up soon on July 15!]  Watch the Peak Moment TV episodes filmed at Inspiration Farm here.

More details below for each of these offerings:


PDCGroup1) Permaculture Design Certification course at Inspiration Farm!
Be part of the solution!
Learn a skill set for uncertain times
Registration for the PDC will close on the 15th of July so don’t delay, sign up today!
Extensive 72 hour Curriculum Includes: Design Methodologies ~ Site Mapping ~ Ethics ~ Design Principles and Goals ~ Pattern Recognition ~ Natural Cycles and Processes ~ Plant Identification ~ Wild crafting ~ Micro climate ~ Tropical and Dry land Farming ~ Indigenous Land Management ~ Natural Building ~ Forest Gardening ~ Mushroom Growing ~ Myco-Remediation ~ Renewable Energy ~ Passive and Active Solar Design ~ Soil Ecology ~ Compost Systems ~ Aquaculture ~ Animals in the Landscape ~ Plant Propagation ~ Slow Food ~ Urban Permaculture Strategies ~ Graywater Harvesting ~ Emergency Preparation ~ Appropriate Technology ~ Seed Saving ~ Nursery Set-up ~ Food Preservation ~ Local Economics ~ Currency and Community Structures ~ Non-Violent Communication ~ Pattern Dynamics…
Featured instructors Include:
Brian Kerkvliet, Co-steward of Inspiration Farm and Permaculture Research Institute Certified permaculture designer
Sarah Sullivan, co-founder of Hawaii SEED and director of the award winning school garden and scratch kitchen program
David MacLeod, from Transition Whatcom, and the first individual outside of Australia certified to lead PatternDynamics workshops, recognizing, integrating, and balancing natural patterns that show up in human systems.
With special guest presenters,
Doug Bullock, Washington’s premier permaculture designer and teacher,
Larry Dobson, Northern Light Research and Development,
Alex Winstead from Cascadia Mushrooms,
and more nationally recognized and local experts to be announced.
Courses held at Inspiration Farm an established 12 ac. Permaculture / Biodynamic farm setting! Enrollment includes free camping space and prepared wholesome beyond organic farm meals.
Paul Wheaton, of Permies.com, has named Inspiration Farm as the premier Permaculture Farm of the Pacific Northwest. You can learn much more in the Cascadia Forum at Permies.com here.

*BONUS!  This PDC includes free admission and participation with the Whatcom Skillshare Faire/Northwest Permaculture Convergence happening in nearby Ferndale, WA on Aug. 23 and 24!*
Class meets 9am to 5pm Additional Hands-On Farm Opportunities throughout the course. Evening Permaculture and Eco-Films
Space is limited- first 10 students- $1295; regular tuition- $1395
Registration will close on the 15th of July so don’t delay, sign up today.
Some work-trade positions and payment plans available.
A great way to fund your PDC course fee and support the global work of Permaculture! We The Trees is a crowd funded stacking of functions, a win -win-win!

Attending a PDC is one of the best investments in future abundance you can make.For more info. and registration: Visit inspirationfarm.com or Call 360-398-7061

See also the informative forum discussion at Permies.com here and view the Peak Moment TV episodes filmed at Inspiration Farm here!

Whatcom Skillshare Faire2) Whatcom Skillshare Faire! August 23rd & 24 – Two days with camping!
“Share your skills – Trade your wares”The Whatcom SkillShare Faire – a fun festival about teaching and learning all kinds of useful & practical resilience skills. Years ago, lots of people knew how to repair & sharpen tools, make a braided rug, raise chickens, make soap, build a fence, make simple toys, & much more.
The goal of SkillShare is to help revive those skills, showcase some new ones, and provide a place where all of us can come learn from people more experienced in these crafts and trades.
Our August-sunny Faire this year will have two days of family-friendly Workshops and Demonstrations, plus a great lineup of local Musical Talent, tasty local Food Offerings and the ever-popular local brewery Beer Garden and Fermentation Station.Lots more information at our website! http://whatcomskillsharefaire. org
(Camping scheduled through Hovander Park – see our website for details)

Do you have a skill to share? Register at http://whatcomskillsharefaire. org/share-your-skills/Volunteers have a great time at the Faire. To volunteer at the Skillshare:http:// whatcomskillsharefaire.org/ volunteer/


nwpc3)
The Northwest Permaculture Convergence Board is happy to announce a new partnership (umbrellad-er-ship) for the 2014 season.
We encourage all our members to attend the Whatcom Skillshare Faire happening August 23-24 outside of Bellingham. We will have a ‘Permaculture’ area of the fair and on Sunday morning will hold our annual meeting there.
The Skillshare is a project of Transition Whatcom, and the worldwide Transition movement began with a Permaculture course! (toot toot)
Registration happens through the Faire and we are able to offer a discounted meal plan for members (see northwestpermaculture.org for more detail).
Also, we are looking for several hardy volunteers to help with setup and breakdown of our area on Friday and Sunday evening. If interested in that, please send an email to volunteer@nwpermaculture.org.
For many reasons, we are tickled with this partnership. Not the least of these reasons being that many wonderful permaculture events are happening this summer!
See you at the Skillshare!
Or, if you’re a woman, see you at the West Coast Women’s Permaculture Gathering happening this year in Washington.
Or, if you’d like to converge with the whole western hemisphere, see you at the North American Convergence (link)

David Holmgren 2011 Interview: Strategies for the Transition

The peak oil blogosphere is currently awash with responses to David Holmgren’s latest essay Crash on Demand (which I wrote about here on December 17th).  The distortion of his views seems to be increasing with each post, in my view.

In my reply to Dimitry Orlov, I wrote:

No one seems to be noticing that he [Holmgren] did not propose a new approach at all. He is still advocating for the same approach he’s written about for the last 30 years: reduce consumption and be domestically responsible. I don’t agree with the huge shift in [Holmgren’s] position that Albert  [Bates] has put on his chart. The only difference is that this time he has associated his suggested strategies with the idea that if enough people put them into practice, it just might tip the already fragile global finance system over the edge. I think he’s throwing this idea out there primarily to attract what he calls “the disillusioned social and political activists who are just starting to recognize Permaculture as a potentially effective pathway for social change.”

Stay tuned – I’ll have more to say very soon, as I’m preparing  a new post on the subject.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share an interview with Holmgren that took place in 2011.  Below the video are my notes…I call them “notes” rather than a transcript, because they are not 100% verbatum.

Interview of David Holmgren by Luke Miller Callahan at Groaction.com.

The Upcoming Transition Away From a Fossil Fuel Based Society: David Holmgren Talks Strategy

2011 GroAction Interview with Luke Miller Callahan
http://groaction.com/discover/3110/david-holmgren-interview-permaculture-principles/

How Do You Spend Your Time?

1/3 time spent on home based self-reliance and local community
1/3 time spent speaking and teaching
1/3 time spent on research, especially “over the horizon” research on the world we are moving into.
Enjoys the balance of doing hands on work and conveying the big picture of where we’re heading in the world to people, to empower them to do things with their hands.

Empowering People to Do the Small, Local, Bottom Up Actions

I think that, while the big political movement stuff is always going to be in some ways more exciting – and there’s certainly some exciting aspects of that emerging in the world now around the notion of demanding that someone do something, I don’t think those things really help change the structure much, unless people are also making the changes themselves.  Because the changes people make themselves are double insurance – they are insurance against dysfunctional or anti-social behavior by elites (and there’s certainly plenty of evidence for that), but they’re also the way we model the world that we’re actually wanting to be, because in a lot of ways it’s a matter of being able to crawl before you walk. The sort of world we’re trying to construct, I think it’s actually impossible to construct that top-down. It has to actually be rebuilt bottom up, in parallel with the crumbling system. And then as those models become more real, it’s possible to get some degree of top-down reform/support for those things. But if they don’t actually exist, if we don’t have the working, living solutions, then it’s very hard for policymakers to say “Yes, we’ll have more of that, and less of that.” They can’t actually create the things we need. The things we need are all very small, localized, particular, and large scale systems just can’t do that.

Do the systems in place now need to come down?

Things develop in parallel to a fair degree and there’s an ambiguity between how much needs to be rebuilt from scratch, and how much is a matter of reform. The old debate between reform or revolution. Permaculture comes from the premise that you’ve got to design from first principles. A whole lot of the ground design principles built into our society, which have been functional in the past, aren’t functional in the future, and you can’t necessarily just modify them beyond certain limits. Example: material growth is very much built into the foundations of the system we’ve got. In regards to climate change, we know that a proven strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to contract the economy, but no one ever discusses it as a serious strategy. That tells us how deeply committed our system is to perpetual growth. So it’s hard to know at what point that could actually be part of a serious discussion at the levels of policy. I suspect it’s not really possible. There’s always got to be this fabrication – oh yes, we’re going to reduce our impact on the environment by all sorts of means, but we’re not going to question growth…even when the evidence is that that growth is not occurring…

Faith in People

It doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless for the possibility of positive things coming out of a national level or an international level.  But the assumption is, that because those are big and powerful systems, and because we need positive change very fast, that that is the predominant place we have to have faith in. I think the reverse is true. The predominant place we have to have faith in is for the ability of people, as like fast moving intelligent new life forms, like the early mammals replacing the dinosaurs. That humans individually and collectively without rigid institutional structures can think on their feet, and can incorporate both the long term vision stuff that we associate with big institutions and long term planning – that humans are actually capable of that… We’re capable of responding to the immediate environment around us in ways that institutions can never be capable of, but we’re also capable of some of those things that we associate with institutional capacity – the long term wisdom and ability to understand complexity. And maybe that’s part of the inheritance of the modern world, because people in the past didn’t necessarily  have that on an individual basis. But it is possible now if people want to look and learn for humans as individuals and communities and families to have virtually the intelligence that we previously associated with institutions and societies.

Crisis as an Opportunity

Any system that has rigidity in its structure around past, proven ways of doing things is obviously reluctant to change out of those patterns. It takes a big shock break that apart. We know that occurs in nature, we know that occurs in our own lives, the way a health crisis can trigger a reorganization of our lives, and we can see that happening in society around us… The crisis becomes an opportunity to leverage the system in certain ways…Interest in things like Permaculture is counter-cyclical to the economy…focus changes to family, connection to nature, basic needs…It’s not that they run and change, but they turn their heads in a different direction.

Effects of Peak Oil

Of course, crises can unfold in different ways. You mentioned peak oil. A lot of peak oil researchers tended to think that that would come through astronomical prices for oil. Recent evidence suggests the current economy can’t cope with oil prices much higher than they are now, because it produces recession if not depression. Rather than seeing astronomical oil prices – which is imaginable in a world structured very differently from ours – our current economy depends on oil being very cheap. It is quite surprising the way that comes about. People think energy and food will become more expensive, and therefore those things won’t be available…What’s often missed is that long before there’s no food in the supermarket, all of the discretionary, luxury, service parts of the economy have contracted back, and energy and food are still available, because you’ve gotten rid of all the other stuff. When things contract, you dispense with the luxuries, the extras. And of course, that’s what most of our economy is.

…Although the strategies of people growing their own food are important, they’re not important in the way that some simple survivalist motivation that might drive some people to do that. They’re really around a reconnection around a more frugal, simple way of living where you can provide for some of your own needs and reserve the money you have for the things you can’t produce yourself. Historically, people growing their own veggies is one of the things people can do for themselves. Beyond food, it’s about having some skill that you can trade with some other person. Whereas a lot of people have skills that can only be bought by a large institution like a bank or a corporation or government department…Whereas, if you know how to fix cars – and that might be counter-intuitive, because you think there are going to be less cars driving around – that might be true, but there might be more old cars that need to be repaired, rather than new cars that don’t need repair. So skills as a mechanic is a tradable skill for self-reliance, maybe almost as much as being able to grow food and have a surplus to provide for others.

Retrofitting the Suburbs for Sustainability

There is an assumption that modern life is about movement from one place to another each day, and that it is a completely natural experience…and that to be a member of society, that’s what you have to do. Whereas, a normal society operating with limited energy will have most things done where people live.  Some people will move each day, but a much, much smaller proportion. What that really means is that the places where people are living, and especially in our car based societies with their extensive suburbs – that is, these spread out areas of suburban development and small towns – that’s where we have to re-create the economic activity so that we don’t need to move, rather than the notion that we just need efficient forms of transport. Efficient forms of public transport would be lovely to have, but we are moving into the crisis so fast that a lot of what we’ll have to do is adapt in place of where we are.

I’ve been for many years an advocate of the idea that the suburbs, rather coming to an end, as suggested in the pioneering peak oil movie “The End of Suburbia,” is a place that is adaptable (in a counter-intuitive way) to a low energy future. This is partly because of an accident of history – certainly not  to do with sensible planning and forethought, but I don’t think the prognosis for suburbia are as bad as people suggest; on the contrary, the idea that dense urban cities are more efficient, is, I think, questionable, if not dangerous in a world of serious energy descent.

What Will the Transition to Self-Sufficient Suburbs Look Like?

It will happen at a number of levels. Firstly, because it can be started incrementally, you can start with one household garden within the limits or under the radar of regulations and social censure from neighbors – without having to get the whole of society to agree. When you’re in a multi-story apartment, there’s a very limited number of things you can do until everyone in that apartment or whoever owns it agrees.  So the piecemeal nature of suburbia allows models to develop ahead of when society understands it needs to do this…Secondly, the level of space that exists give a lot of opportunities to start productive activities…Thirdly, shared households and having boarders can create economies of scale in the household economy…

The Biggest Barriers to Retrofitting the Suburbs

A lot of people have moved beyond the obvious barriers, such as pride of individual ownership, and always wanting the better and bigger for themselves. But other barriers remain:

1)      The degree of disconnection between neighbors and the regulatory structure of sharing households, mother-in-law apartments, etc.

2)      The sense of privacy and psycho-social aspects of sharing housing. We are uncomfortable in exercising power – what if I have to ask my tenant to leave?

Indebtedness

In a counter-intuitive way, the loss of asset-values is actually what is needed to bring the values of real estate down to where it’s possible for people to actually live in those places without enormous debt. Some of that, of course, is tragedy for current owners, but might actually be opportunities for others who currently don’t own. In a world where houses might end up at 20% of their past values, then people might be able to contemplate very frugal living with minimal income to support being a…[?]

Suburbia is not just going to disappear overnight…it’s going to be sitting there, and somethings going to be done with it, people are going to be living there some way or other. We’re not going to transform our cities overnight, we’re going to transform our behavior overnight.

Agriculture

The current industrial food supply will not be abandoned soon. To build the parallel system, the backyard garden agriculture to provide a part of people’s food needs is the breeding ground for a new generation of farmers – that is one of its prime functions, where a small percentage of people learn to become quite good at it, and start to do it commercially, and then the open space in our cities starts to become converted into urban agriculture. Managed animals will be used in urban areas for landscape management and dairy products. There is a big opportunity in the tree crop realm – much more of our diet could come from tree crops rather than field crops.

Preparing Society

What we need most is examples of surviving and thriving doing these things, so that other people can see that those people are doing well. And those people need to be organized enough so that they can pass on something of value – “here are some seeds, here’s a garden fork.” Being able to offer what is needed to replicate the success. You can’t get replication unless you have lots of local, working examples. They need to be local examples – nature changes from one place to another very, very fast – you can’t just download all the standardized information off the internet as a global set of information.

The Transition Movement and the Permablitz

The Transition movement is very much founded and based on Permaculture design principles, and is an attempt to do this in a more organized way. There’s been a lot of criticisms about the weakness of those efforts compared with the scale of the problem, but it also has been more than an attempt to actually bring these issues beyond arm-chair discussions to active engagement in the community.

The Permablitz idea started locally, and this concept has spread around the world informally, and locally more formally with funding… The positive, “get in and do it” stuff is one of the strongest motivators for a lot of people, rather than “The Grand Plan.”

Energy Descent Action Planning

But I think there’s also been efforts, and I’ve been involved myself locally, with the idea that’s come through Transition, with the idea of what’s called the Energy Descent Action Plan, or Energy Descent Action Planning, where we could do this in a slightly less chaotic and more planned way. But, my comment on that is that what that requires is a very, very different sort of thinking than what is characterized as local government or community planning in the past. Not just because the things we need to do are different, but because we have to give up that idea that we can lay it all out as a plan, and we have the resources and the budgeting and then we will just implement it. It’s much more chaotic than that.

We’ve suggested there are three broad levels in the process. The first is what we call the No Regrets Actions.  Things like “why don’t we plan a garden?”  Good idea anyway, not a big investment or cost or difficulty, and maybe really useful.

Then there is the Long Term Investment Actions. It might be putting photovoltaics on the roofs or planting food trees in the public streets. Something that does involve more substantial investment and a deferred benefit in the future mostly.

Third, the Responding to Crisis Actions. The opportunities that come from chaotic and unpredictable change, whether natural disasters, financial disruptions, or shortages of oil – whatever it is, those things that break the system.

Chaotic Change

Environmental activists have been very polite and not pointing out when natural disasters are immediately happening (“well, this is what climate change looks like”). Big disasters are also an opportunity to leverage change in the way people see things. That’s when people do change. Most people don’t change when things are just trickling along, getting slowly a bit more difficult.

It’s about society reading signs around it that it needs to change, and that change is coming. We have all sorts of interpretations about why that might be. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to believe in climate change or peak oil to start to behave sensibly, to look after their own interests and the interests of their children and grandchildren.  An understanding of peak oil and climate change certainly helps to understand the complexities that are unraveling in the world, but I’ve argued quite strongly that it doesn’t really matter whether these crises are caused by geological climatic realities, or whether they’re caused by evil actors, or whether they’re caused by a God who is punishing us for our sins. It all means we’ve actually got to change what we’re doing.

So I’m sort of ambivalent about that issue of the first thing is to hammer into people that they’ve got to accept a particular explanation of what’s going on in the world. I don’t think that is necessary.

You Say You Want a Revolution

Naomi Klein’s recent article posted at New Statesman has been generating a bit of a buzz. The title is “Why Science is Telling All of Us to Revolt and Change Our Lives.” She begins with a story discussing a presentation by complex systems researcher Brad Werner, who  “is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability.”

Klein writes further:

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

I’m no expert, but as someone interested in systems theory, I find it a bit odd that there is only one dynamic mentioned that appears to offer hope.  Renowned systems thinker Donella Meadows identified at least 12 leverage points, or places to intervene in systems, and PatternDynamics™ founder Tim Winton has identified 56 patterns in systems that all need to be balanced and integrated if we want to achieve a sustainable system.  [I’m studying PatternDynamics now – Join me January 26th for a workshop in Bellingham, WA]

Transition U.S. blogger Joanne Poyourow, in her response to the Klein article (Revolt and Change Our Lives), points out that systems thinker Joanna Macy has outlined 3 Dimensions of The Great Turning.

Macy’s first is Stopping action, stopping further destruction, which is all that Klein talks about or labels as “appropriate.” Stopping action is noisy campaigning, it is Julia Butterfly Hill sitting in old-growth trees, it is Tim DeChristopher bidding on land parcels, it is the activists who lie down in front of the pipeline trucks.

…Macy’s second type of action is Creating New Structures, creating that which will be in place to replace the old. Sound familiar? To those of us working with different facets of the international Transition movement it sure does. This is the “change our lives” part of the equation. It’s a much quieter type of action, in that it doesn’t necessarily mean noisy crowds with plackards out on the streets, and it doesn’t necessarily grab the notice of the news cameras. But it’s no less of a revolution. And it’s happening all around you right now.

Which brings me to Macy’s third type of action to help further The Great Turning: Change in Consciousness. Joanna Macy describes this as changing the stories we tell each other, our cultural stories, our inner stories. Redefining who we are, and how humanity fits into the cycles of this small planet. Within the international Transition movement, this is addressed as “inner transition.” Changing our inner selves, our inner paradigm, our ways of relating to each other is another huge part of creating the world we want to live in.

macy-3pillars

Rob Hopkins also mentions the Klein article, in his own excellent post on Austerity (Imagination: Antidote to the Plague of Austerity).

I don’t agree with Klein and Werner’s analysis that “resistance” should be only taken to refer to the same tools that oppositional politics has always used. For me, Werner’s “certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture” needs to be viewed more broadly…And that’s where Transition comes in, with its core focus on imagination and the telling of different stories.

……In order to be able to create something, first we have to imagine it.  That applies as much to the supper you’ll cook when you get home tonight as to social change.  While there is much that Transition initiatives can, and are, doing to respond to austerity, it is the holding of spaces where people, their political representatives and others, can come together to imagine the kind of future they want to see, and modelling this in practical ways, which may be one of the most powerful things we can do in these difficult times.  It could prove to be, as the world seemingly steps from arguing that climate change isn’t a problem to arguing that it’s too late to do anything about it, missing out that vital piece in the middle, you know, the doing something about it bit, that the “poverty of life without dreams” may turn out in the long run to be the wickedest form of poverty.

Hopkins’ thinking is reminiscent of thoughts expressed by David Holmgren (also a systems thinker) in late 2011 (David Holmgren Talks Strategy):

I think that, while the big political movement stuff is always going to be in some ways more exciting – and there’s certainly some exciting aspects of that emerging in the world now around the notion of demanding that someone do something, I don’t think those things really help change the structure much, unless people are also making the changes themselves.  Because the changes people make themselves are double insurance – they are insurance against dysfunctional or anti-social behavior by elites (and there’s certainly plenty of evidence for that), but they’re also the way we model the world that we’re actually wanting to be, because in a lot of ways it’s a matter of being able to crawl before you walk. The sort of world we’re trying to construct, I think it’s actually impossible to construct that top-down. It has to actually be rebuilt bottom up, in parallel with the crumbling system. And then as those models become more real, it’s possible to get some degree of top-down reform/support for those things. But if they don’t actually exist, if we don’t have the working, living solutions, then it’s very hard for policymakers to say “Yes, we’ll have more of that, and less of that.” They can’t actually create the things we need. The things we need are all very small, localized, particular, and large scale systems just can’t do that.

thenextamericanrevolution

I’m saving the best for last. If we say we want a revolution, who better to check in with than someone who’s been at the forefront, and working on revolution for over 7 decades? Her name is Grace Lee Boggs, and she published a book last year called The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century (read the review by WWU’s Molly Lawrence).

As an activist for over seventy years, and involved in movements including the civil rights movement, labor movement, women’s movement, Black Power movement, Asian American movement, anti-war movement, and environmental justice movement, Boggs has some wisdom to share.

Over these many years, her keen mind has continued to think about “how to bring about radical social change,” which has become all the more urgent, because, as she says, “I cannot recall any previous period when the issues were so basic, so interconnected, and so demanding of everyone.”  “What is going to motivate us,” she asks, “to start caring for our biosphere instead of using our mastery of technology to increase the volume and speed at which we are making our planet uninhabitable…?”

Interestingly, she believes that, though they were effective in the late 1960s, “it becomes clearer every day that organizing or joining massive protests and demanding new policies fail to sufficiently  address the crisis we face.”  She tells us that we need to “come out of our culturally defined identities,” and she claims that mass protests “do not change the cultural images or the symbols that play such a pivotal role in molding us into who we are. “

Boggs also makes a crucial distinction between rebellion and revolution.  Rebels see themselves as victims and do not go beyond protesting injustices.  Revolutionaries go beyond anger, protest, and opposition, and instead concentrate on involving people on a grassroots level with assuming responsibility for creating the values and infrastructures needed for a new society.

What does Boggs recommend on a practical level?  Working from the ground up to transform individuals and to rebuild community. This revolutionary sounds very much like Hopkins, Holmgren, and Poyourow:  Living radically differently by rejecting consumerism and the ideas around unending economic growth.  It can begin with simple actions such as “planting community gardens, recycling waste, rehabbing houses ,… and organizing neighborhood festivals.”  It can then develop into “a solidarity economy whose foundation is the production and exchange of goods and services that our communities  really need.  It’s about “remaking this nation block by block, brick by brick,” pledging to look after not only ourselves but also each other.

Fortunately, there are many working on various pieces of this puzzle we call “sustainability.” Are we doing enough, fast enough to avert crisis? No. That’s why we need all hands on deck. Stopping Actions, Creating New Structures, and Changing Consciousness are all significant.

In terms of changing consciousness, the theme Boggs returns to over and over in her book is that “these are the times to grow our souls.” It’s easy to neglect this important element. In Bellingham there are two upcoming events that address this work of inner transition from two perspectives:

1. Rabbi Michael Lerner: The Spiritual Transformation and Healing of the World: Building a Spiritually Progressive Political Party. On Thursday, November 14th at 7:00 pm, Rabbi Michael Lerner, “the most prophetic public speaker and intellectual of our time” according to professor and author, Cornel West, will share his vision on how to build a spiritually progressive political movement so we can move American politics from a perspective that hurts the poor and middle-class and undermines the rights and protections won by women, gays and minorities, toward a perspective that builds love, generosity and corporate environmental and social responsibility. More info.

2. The Holy Universe: A New Story of Creation For The Heart, Soul, and Spirit breathes life into the cold, mechanistic worldview of the Universe, transforming our physical history into a living story—and provides us with powerful insights into navigating the global ecological, social, and spiritual crises now facing our world, and provocatively argues the crises we face today just might be the best thing that ever happened to humanity. Author David Christopher 
will be here in person to present.
November 21st, 7pm at the Fairhaven Library, presented by the Bellingham Institute of Noetic Science.

Related Article:
JoAnna Macy On the Three Pillars of the Great Turning