Thursday, August 27, 2009
honey, peak oil means recycling our own urine
I’ve made the joke several times that losing my salaried job was really the only way I could take up full time farming and stay married. Its one thing to come home and say, “Honey I quit my job and I’m going to become a farmer.” It’s quite another to come home and say, “Honey I got laid off but don’t worry, I’ve got another job in mind- farming!” Sharon Astyk has written a really great piece for those of you who have partners that are giving farming a go. You can read it here.
In a broader sense though making changes in our lives in response to a changing world means making those changes in the context of family and friends. I was talking to a recent high school graduate who understands the way the world is changing in a way that seems to escape most of the rest of American. Listening to her talk I found myself jealous of her freedom. She doesn’t have the commitments or responsibilities that many of us older folks have. She isn’t married, no kids, no mortgage, not even a dog. She has deferred college entrance for a year to spend time working on the sorts of projects that I think will come to the forefront of American life during the next decade in response to resources depletion, energy descent and climate change. And because of her situation she can throw herself into them head first. She can leap without looking.
For many of us it is the fear of change that holds us back but for those of us who live with the responsibilities and commitments of existing relationships like marriage or fatherhood, the fear of change is amplified by the concern of meeting the needs of our family and friends.
And I’m not just talking here about physical and fiscal needs although that is a concern. I’m dealing with those two in a serious way. My transition into farming isn’t exactly paying the bills at the moment. There is a learning curve involved with any new career. This isn’t exclusive to those of us who are making a radical career change with the post-peak carbon era in mind. All across the US, people are being laid off and coming up with all sorts of more conventional ideas about how to make money to support their families. But when new lifestyle ideas wander a certain distance off the beaten path, they invite skepticism or even criticism from family and friends. This can add a degree of stress to family life and social circles. You should see the reactions I get at dinner parties when I mention the fact that I’m a farmer. ;-)
I’m not one to spend an enormous amount of time concerning myself with the way others perceive me but still I admit to struggling at times with the choices I’m making; especially when the skepticism and criticism comes from those I love and trust. My wife is both very supportive and generally skeptical of wild ideas. Her support tends to quiet her skepticism but at times even she asks me how all this is going to turn out. “Will we be ok,” she’ll ask to which I can’t promise an answer. I don’t know what will happen any more than anybody else who hasn’t got a crystal ball. I believe that because I have a greater awareness of the big picture problems we’re facing I am better equipped to navigate the coming changes in the way of life here in the United States but awareness is no guarantee of success and so I have to say, “I hope so.”
Uncertainty seems to compel people to cling even tighter to that with which they are familiar. This makes change more difficult. It also means that coming to grips with need for change in my own mind isn’t enough to sail smoothly in a new direction. The idea that change is necessary and possible must be shared by those who inhabit the ships of our lives and are by default bound in the direction in which we are headed as a family. It isn’t easy to foster that idea or even a greater awareness of the problems we face in those I love but having made a few mistakes I thought I’d share them that others might avoid making them or perhaps mike make them less badly.
1. Go easy on gloom and doom. I remember announcing to my wife several years ago, having come to an understanding of peak oil, that I had discovered the world as we knew it was coming to an end. Not a smart move. What I was begin to understand concerning resource depletion was in fact important but I could have shared the news in a more, um, easily digestible way. I could have gone out to eat with my wife and told her about my concern with our unsustainable use of oil as a part of our overall dinner conversation. I could have asked if she wanted to watch a documentary like “The End of Suburbia” or given her a copy of the book _The Party’s Over_. The same is true of extended family and friends. Try not to overwhelm them on the first try.
2. Ask for feedback. Unless your crystal ball is firing on all cylinders it might just be possible that your partner/family/friends might have insights or ideas that could be useful. Even if you are in fact way ahead in terms of coming to grips with these changes or making plans for the future it will help to get buy-in from your family and friends if you fully include them in the evaluation and decision making processes. Decrees will not work.
3. Pay attention to what’s important to others. My wife was fully supportive of my intention to stop driving and start riding a bike. She was very supportive. It turned out that I could have made her very happy by in return investing in a new deck for our home. She wasn’t suggesting it from the standpoint of being able to spend more time outdoors in our warm climate when the house gets hot or making our home an even more enjoyable place that might reduce the need to go somewhere for a vacation. These are reasonable strategies even through the lens of response to energy descent and economic hardship. But investing in something that was important to her might have helped her to feel included in the decision-making process about how we shape our home. (By the way the deck goes in this winter)
4. Don’t turn to destructive coping devices. There was a period of time when I drank too much because I felt overwhelmed about what’s going on in the world. This isn’t a problem for me now but turning to an escape mechanism like alcohol will only make the situation worse. Trust me.
5. Have some fun. Ultimately many of the changes associated with resource depletion, energy descent and climate change will lead to a healthier, happier world. I’m not rosy-eyed enough to think that the transition won’t be difficult at times or that the future will be nothing but bliss but there advantages to a lifestyle of lower energy use. Share these positive aspects of change by painting an encouraging picture about what lies ahead. You’re much more likely to get the people you love to head with you in that direction.