Posts tagged with Social Change

Dealing with Collapse: Why Reaching out to Young People Is So Important

Reaching out to young people is especially critical at this time. With mounting psycho-social stress attributed to an increasingly uncertain future, young people are going to need support grappling with the social effects of the coming collapse. (If this statement seems strong, click the link for context)

The world is rife with uncertainty about our fate on the planet. Declining ecosystems and biodiversity, a quickly destabilizing climate and an end to the cheap energy we're currently addicted to leaves a lot to question. With all this going on, I think it's more important than ever to have elders that can guide young people through this initiation into adulthood - towards fully realizing the world with eyes wide open.

As for myself, I had my personal awakening to this information on my own, when I was 22 - circa 2005. My parents weren't aware of much of this information. My friends were not that political at the time. None of it was taught in school and the mainstream media was still promoting the fantasy-notion that the status quo can just keep rolling along, into a sunset of infinite growth and record-breaking profits.

It was strange to wake up to this world of understanding relatively on my own. My early companions were books like Ishmael, Culture Jam, and The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. There was no one in my community that was there to say, "Yes I understand what you're going through. I had my own moment of insight and it was difficult to come to terms with. You feel like everything you were told as a kid was a bill of lies. American democracy, the free-enterprise system, our heroic national history, the ideal of the American dream - where anybody can make it rich if you just try hard enough - all of these cultural memes - together what Kalle Lasn calls "Brand America" appear to have been a sham."

"I hear you. It's a tough pill to swallow, and certainly it must be frustrating to realize you were born into this crazy world. That the world had gone mad long before you were even born. I felt the same thing, but I want to reassure you: a far more joyous and beautiful meaning to the world awaits on the other side of this difficulty. And with so many mass illusions being shattered by the economic collapse and all the other challenges we're facing, everything is now on the table. The world may be crazy, but this is an amazing opportunity, too. We have the potential to completely rethink and redesign virtually every facet of modern life. What kind of paradigm we transition to in the next generation is entirely up to our own imaginations and creativity."

I want to tell the kids growing up today this message. I would have loved to have been told this when I was young, to have some guidance that seemed trustworthy. As more people wake up and abandon the "just go to school, get a job and make lots of money" mantra, we are left without any real sense of an alternative path. What does a young kid do when she realizes that the map she's been given by her parents and school teachers to navigate this world is almost entirely out-dated?

We need new maps to help us navigate the transition, and we need to make these maps available to people of all ages, at a community level as well as a purely informational level.

On an informational level, it has been Films For Action's goal to create this map on our website, divided into the 42 general subjects that we believe are essential to building a society that is just, sustainable and socially fulfilling. As people dive into these sections we believe that a personal and collectively-shared map will begin to reveal itself, where all the dots will start connecting and we'll find the strength and confidence in our life's direction. We'll have a new map to navigate the transition from "Empire to Earth Community," as David Korten puts it.

At a community level, we need to build relationships that support each other during these challenging times, both informally and in our educational institutions. We need each other to "carry the light for each other," as my friend Michael Weil puts it. We need to support the people who are going through this transformation right now, and to be a light to the people who are still asleep, dreaming the old American dream.

More formally, we need to engage with our local schools and colleges. Amazingly, as eco-literacy advocate David Orr writes, "we are still educating the young as if there were no planetary emergency." Schools by and large continue to prepare students for the status quo jobs and market conditions that existed in the 1950s. We need schools that are preparing students for the world that is actually going to exist when they get out of school, not the fantasy world of infinite growth and business-as-usual that is currently being presented. 

I was inspired by my friend Brady Karlin's idea to create "transition" mentoring associations, where college students mentor high school students, high school students mentor Jr. High students, and so on down the ages - enabling young kids to have slightly older peers that support them, while allowing the older generation to get a sense of their own confidence and autonomy - their worth as someone who has something important to teach as well as to learn.

They would embody the transition movement in that these mentoring relationships would focus on helping each other navigate the challenges our society faces, learning the skills that will be essential in a low-carbon world. Ultimately, we need to bring the lexicon and understandings of the transition movement into the curriculum of every class room and department in higher and lower education.

Being the creative research labs of our society, our educational centers have a critical role to play in cultivating a brain trust of creative young minds that are approaching their careers and life path with a firm understanding of the challenges and opportunities they'll have to create a new world.



Raising Awareness: Why We Shouldn’t Take It For Granted

A dangerous thing can occur when you start learning about what's really going on in the world. The problems start to seem so complex, and you're just one person, doubts begin to creep in. You sincerely want to help change the world, but from all this knowledge you start to believe that the world is too out of control and too big to change, so you end up not doing anything.

What aspiring change-agents can easily forget is that there is a large amount of meaningful groundwork that still needs to be laid. Many conscious people may take it for granted, but there is still a lot of important information people aren't aware of yet. Some of it may seem quite basic from our perspective. A friend recently admitted, "I take for granted that the mainstream media implicitly neglects serious philosophical concerns about the crises we collectively face, as a species, as a unified human family. I apologize for my demeanor in assuming this was common knowledge."

Yeah. It's good to remember. All of us at one point in time were not aware of all the knowledge we're aware of now. All of us were asleep at one point too, to put it generally, and remembering this builds our own empathy and humility when getting into discussions with people. It also helps us remember how important this first step is in the process of building the mass-movement necessary to realize our idealistic dreams.

Just imagine what would happen if an entire city had seen The Corporation. Just imagine what would be possible if everyone in the country was aware of how unhealthy the mainstream media was for our health and started turning to independent sources in droves.

It really does start with getting informed, and there's lots of subject matter to cover. Our country has to come to terms with the true history of the United States. It has to learn about basic ecology. It needs to understand the basic truths about peak oil, the monetary system, the Federal Reserve, the truth about capitalism and governments. Our society needs a new story to belong to. The old story of empire and dominion over the earth has to be looked at in the full light of day - all of our ambient cultural stories and values that we take for granted and which remain invisible must become visible. And all of this knowledge and introspection, questioning, and discovery is essential for a cultural transformation that addresses root causes. This knowledge is vitally necessary. Taken together, this knowledge, which is documented throughout the 700 videos on the Films For Action website, will lay the foundation on which the next paradigm will be built, post empire.

After becoming familiar with these understandings over the years, it may be easy to internalize, accept, and then be occasionally shocked at how crazy our culture still is. Lots of 'givens' that activists take for granted still need to go mainstream.

That's where you come in. Don't complain about the mainstream media failing to inform people. Become the media. Become a walking, talking distro of quality information that your friends can trust. Who needs FOX and CNN, after all, when you've got your friends?

Host film screenings, forward articles and videos, buy and burn copies of documentaries to give to your elected officials and school faculty, promote Films For Action and other independent media. Get the information out in to your community and you will be laying the foundation for a local movement for mass societal, environmental and economic change.

All you have to do (the first easy thing) is plant the seeds. The community (as the seeds grow) will help with watering, weeding, expanding the garden, harvesting and so on. Social change is a social effort, after all, and you won't be doing this alone. I've often said, why struggle working on these issues with a small group of 10 to 15, when we could be working with a collaboration of 15,000? If we lay the foundation, recruit an army of "culture gardeners," things are going to start happening organically, both organized and spontaneously, all across the cities where we live.

People that are new to this culture of creative activism often ask me, "Yea, I'm on board. I get it. But what can I do?" If we've been involved in this work for some time, part of our responsibility is to offer people tangible ways they can plug in. But the second thing we have to convey is: no one can answer this question but you. Everyone is an expert on their own life. What's your passion? You are the best one to decide the best use of your time and efforts. No one is going to know better than you what your unique gifts and skills are.

And hey, if it takes you some time to figure this out. That's okay. Simmer on it for a minute. Let it stew. While you're figuring things out you can always continue disseminating information. I spent about two years learning about this jigsaw puzzle called changing the world before I figured out a path of action that I could really commit myself to. Of all the issues I could work on, I decided that the problem of the media was the number one bottleneck impeding the progress of every other issue. Focus on education and raising awareness. Break this bottleneck and the rest will follow.

A lot of people knock raising awareness as being too abstract. But when you consider it as a strategic first step in the larger picture, taken concurrently with other actions, I don't think we can underestimate its significance.



Peak Oil: The Real Story Behind the BP Oil Disaster

You wouldn't know it from the mainstream media's coverage of the BP oil spill, but the 184 million gallons of oil that are now devastating the Gulf region is only a part of a much larger problem. Corporate greed and corrupt government oversight played their roles in the disaster, but so far little attention has been given to why the hell oil companies are drilling miles below the ocean surface for oil in the first place.

It’s now well known how technically unsafe and inherently risky drilling for oil is so far under the ocean surface. And while energy companies may be greedy, and they may be shortsighted, they certainly wouldn’t expose themselves to undue financial risk unless they had no other choice. Sadly, as BP, the Pentagon, and all the other energy companies know, they’re taking these risks because all the cheap, easy-to-get oil has already been drilled or is being drilled. The low-hanging fruit has been picked, and as long as our civilization remains addicted to petroleum, oil companies are going to continue to drill in more dangerous and environmentally hazardous locations to give us our fix. In this respect, the BP disaster represents only the beginning of what a post-Peak Oil world is going to bring.

Since I stopped getting my news from mainstream outlets several years ago, I feel like I’m living in some sort of twilight zone. Peak Oil – what it is, what it means, and why we can’t ignore it – were all questions and discussions that went mainstream in the alternative press back in 2005. That’s why it’s amazing to me that five years later the mainstream press still hasn’t initiated a national dialog on the subject, and many people still remain either uninformed or misinformed.

Now, granted: a serious national discussion of the issue would almost certainly crash the financial markets and drive us into a global depression, but how long can the mainstream media dunk its head into the sand while the signs that we need to urgently address this issue keep smacking us in the face (and washing up on the shore of the Gulf Coast)?

After the $148 price spike of 2008 destroyed demand and sent oil below $100 a barrel again, we’ve been lulled back into a false sense of security. We’ve entered what the International Energy Agency calls the “undulating plateau” of peak oil – a multi-year period where oil prices spike as demand collides with declining supply, then the price goes down as demand is destroyed. Subsequently, as the economy recovers, demand increases and smacks back into declining supply, which sends the price of oil even higher the next time. We’re now in that relatively comforting dip where the price of gas and other petroleum products remains relatively affordable.

We can expect that the next major price spike will come within the next two years, fueled likely not by our own economy recovering, but from rising demand from China and India, among other developing nations.

So for the next two years we have a rather unique opportunity. The next price spike is likely going to make the financial collapse of 2008 feel like the “good old days.” Over the medium term, the continued instability of financial markets, along with the instability of our own finances is going to make it increasingly difficult to prepare for and transition into an oil independent way of life. Since we need fossil fuel energy to build the solar panels and wind turbines and smart electric grids, it makes a whole lot of rational sense to invest in this infrastructure while oil is less expensive. Will we even be able to afford the transition to a “green” economy when oil is $200 to $300 a barrel? Many energy experts have their doubts.

I have to wonder how many people recognize the significance that our choices will have over the next five years on this planet. Many climate scientists have predicted that by 2015 we may hit a series of “tipping points,” where rising global temperatures will trigger enough glacial melting to release further CO2 into the air, causing accelerated glacial melting, and the problem will permanently tip out of our control. That’s only five years away.

I know, I know. Our whole civilization is like the college student that waits till the night before his mid-term paper is due to start writing it. We all love to procrastinate, and maybe, like the college student, we perform better under the pressure of a hard deadline. But let me tell you: that paper is due tomorrow. The deadline is here. It’s time to pull an all-nighter, drink some double espresso lattes and get to work. If we don’t, and we wait for the next spike in energy prices to get our butts moving, we may jeopardize our ability to address global warming with the stability and financial resources necessary to avoid an even greater environmental catastrophe.

Ah man, it’s so annoying right? It’s like hearing your mom tell you it’s time to clean up your room. Well, here’s the good news. The solution for both peak oil and global warming is the same thing: reducing and then eliminating our use of fossil fuels. The more our society transitions to renewable sources of energy, the less we'll emit global warming causing CO2 emissions, and the less we'll be sucker punched by expensive fossil fuel costs.

Ultimately, a post-carbon society is inevitable. Whether that future looks remotely desirable to us depends on what we do now. The sooner businesses, private citizens, and elected officials stop futzing with little tweaks to the status quo, and get serious about the big picture at the end of the road, the better off we'll be. These distractions include ethanol, nuclear power, "clean coal," tar sands, oil shale, hydrogen, Cap & Trade, more efficient cars, and many of the other single-fix responses being proposed by industry and government currently. Many of these approaches may actually exacerbate our problems.

I'll give two examples. The first is with the Alberta tar sands that skeptics often tout as a reason why peak oil is bunk. They claim that there are massive repositories of oil capable of fueling the world's energy needs for the next 100 years. The problem is, on top of the devastating environmental, climate, and human health consequences of using this oil, on an engineering level, this oil is mixed in with thick encrusted sand and rock, making it incredibly energy intensive to process. As a recent report by Environmental Defence Canada found, when you do an energy ROI audit, you find that mining and processing the tar sands requires more energy to produce it than what you get to use. 

As the EDC writes, "It is estimated that by 2012 the Tar Sands will use as much gas as is needed to heat all the homes in Canada ... Using huge amounts of relatively clean burning natural gas in order to produce dirty and carbon heavy oil is what commentators have dubbed "reverse alchemy" -- the equivalent of turning gold into lead."

The second example is cars. Though it may help in the short-term, we don't need more efficient cars; we need radically redesigned cities that are not dependent on cars to get us everywhere. We need radically re-localized food and product economies that do not require the importation of food and resources from thousands of miles away. 

The city and suburban infrastructure necessary to support the speedy movement of our cars, trucks and semis requires an immense overall supply of energy and resources to build and maintain. Not only that, but we forget oil is not just in the energy we put in our gas tanks. A car's tires are made from oil. Asphalt is made from oil. All the resins and plastics that go into cars are made from oil. And there are currently 800 million cars in the world that were built on this paradigm of cheap energy. Can we honestly expect to build another 800 million electric cars, with all of it's massive supporting infrastructure, with the remaining expensive oil we have left? It's just not going to happen. That's why trading out the gas tank with batteries and going on our way is not going to cut it. We've got to go back to the basics. We need to rethink our whole system.

Solutions that take into account a “whole-systems” approach do exist. In fact, the more I’ve looked, the more I’ve discovered sustainable and innovative ideas that are already being implemented in places all over the world. A resident of Oakland, California, Richard Register presents an inspiring vision of what a post-carbon, ecologically healthy city might look like in his book, “Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature.”

Similar to New Urbanism, the places where people live would be built in close proximity to a mixed combination of work, shopping, food, and recreational spaces, allowing for easy use of bicycle or mass-transit to get where ever you need to go. The city’s economy would be re-localized, from organic food production to basic goods and services. Decentralized wind, solar, and geothermal energy systems would provide energy to a net-metered grid, while advanced efficiencies in building design would reduce energy demand by over seventy percent. Long distance travel would be accommodated by high-speed rail or boat, and electric cars borrowed through community car-share programs would be used for medium distance trips. Urban food gardens and plants would be integrated throughout multiple floors of buildings, in back and front yards of people's homes all over the city, and streams would weave through public centers and parks. 

Finding an abundance of ideas for how to create more sustainable cities is not the problem. What we need is a national discussion at all levels of society, and at all levels of our communities, so we can start to talk about how we're going to address peak oil here at the local level. How are we going to get from here to there?

We need to get our schools involved. We need to get our city and planning commissioners involved. Businesses, elected officials, and private citizens all need to come to the table and get to work.

Now, at the end of most problem-themed articles I've read, specifically ones dealing with global warming, I've noticed a curious trend. After spending most of the time talking about the problem, the one paragraph at the end devoted to "things you can do" usually centers solely around personal suggestions: Change your lights to compact fluorescents. Turn down the thermostat. Bike more. Buy less, and try to buy used more than new.

These are all things we should be doing to cut down on our own energy use, but I wonder why it always stops there. Presumably it's because American's are too lazy to expect they'd be willing to do anything more ambitious. I want to prove this assumption wrong.

Great change has never been inspired by small requests. If it seems like people in America haven't been doing much lately to address global warming, it's because not much has been asked of them. Most of the time, our leaders simply ask us to shop or make sure our tires are inflated properly. I think if we do start to expect and ask more of each other, though, we'll be surprised by the results. As Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R, Md) has said, "There is no exhilaration like meeting and overcoming a big problem... and I think that Americans could be exhilarated by the challenge."

So there it is. We're facing some pretty unprecedented challenges. The time for just making small, personal changes is over. As I heard Alex Steffen say recently, "Don't just be the change. Mass-produce it."

Tim Hjersted Lawrence, KS Copy Left/CC