Friday, January 23, 2009

Inauguration Day

Tuesday at 12:00 noon EST, the world changed. The polar shift was completed. As fate would have it, the moment was marked, not with an oath of office, but with soaring strains of music.

The critical mass was reached last November, evidenced by the majority vote. And now it is done and needs only be played out. Not that we won’t each have our role to play -- Obama made that evident in his inaugural speech. The polar shift was not accomplished by one man but by us all. And together we go forward.

If I were to write a description of the perfect person to be elected President, it would look exactly like Obama. Even the color of his skin and his family story are perfect. Such a man does not come our way by accident. He will go down in history among the greats. Even if we fail in this grand experiment, and I no longer think we will, he will be listed with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandella, Mahatma Ghandi, and the like. I know this not from what he will do but from who he is. Of course, he will be forced to make compromises. He will have to prioritize. He will make mistakes. But who he is as a man will not change. Even if the unthinkable occurs and he is brought down by an assassin, the moment has been done and cannot be undone. In death, he would be even larger than in life. The poles have shifted and they will not shift back.

Love live President Obama!!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Polar Shift

I've just read two books about the future and where we are headed. Both authors agree that the way we are currently living is unsustainable and that we must either redesign the way we live on earth or earth will do it for us in a less than pleasant manner. Both authors are optimistic about a better life ahead if we make the right choices in the here and now, but the two visions of where we might be headed are quite different.

Rob Hopkins, in his book, The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, espouses a return to locality. In his vision, small, self-reliant villages provide much of their own food in ubiquitous gardens. Children are taught life skills in small, local schools. Governing is done locally. Commerce and trade still exist, but consumerism is an excess of the past that we are better off without. Thomas Friedman in Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why we need a green revolution -- and how it can renew America envisions more of a Jetson-like future – high tech has improved efficiency and we have learned to live better with less thanks to ubiquitous micro chips that manage our energy for us. We have eliminated waste by instituting cradle to cradle manufacturing, but we are still essentially consumers. Just smart consumers. And instead of more local, we have become even more global.

So who is right? Given that nothing ever turns out quite as one imagines, my guess is that reality will look significantly different from either. That leaves the question, how do we design for the future when the future is so uncertain? Enter the polar shift.

Edgar Cayce, the sleeping prophet, predicted a polar shift for the time frame in which we now find ourselves. This has always, to my knowledge, been interpreted literally – that the magnetic poles of the earth would shift as they have done in the past. That’s how I interpreted it, too -- until I got the latest newsletter from Hank Wesselman. In it, he quotes a Hawaiian elder who says that now is the time for us to move our anchors from the negative pole to the positive pole. A polar shift!

What does that look like? It looks like a shift from fear and hatred to hope and love. It looks like a shift from wasteful exploitation to no-waste cooperation. It looks like a shift from individualism to community, from disconnect to connection. It looks like a shift from the world according to Bush to the world according to Obama. The details will work themselves out. It is the shift itself that requires our attention.

How do I apply that insight to my own life? By connecting my hara line. By acting out of love and hope. By revering life and the living planet on which we live. By finding the calm center when storms of panic churn. By communicating steadfast joy in the beauty of each new day, in each breath, in each loving gesture. It is one of those internal shifts that is not obvious to the external world. It is a change in perception, better known as a miracle. I can plant watermelon seeds with fear in my heart or I can plant with hope and the faith that we are entering a brighter, better tomorrow.

I know the comparison is cliché, but I can think of nothing as apt as the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly to describe the process. In the larval stage, the one we have just left, the caterpillar is voracious. It consumes and as it consumes, it destroys. I keep picturing Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar and the way it grows bigger and fatter with every passing day. At last the critter is sated. He spins his cocoon and inside the cocoon, miracles are happening. His body is broken down and reformed into something new. When at last he emerges, he has become a beautiful, winged creature whose bright flights take him from flower to flower, sipping nectar and spreading pollen. He is no longer destructive but constructive.

We have just entered the cocoon. The next step is the breaking down of who we are that we might be made anew. It may be painful at times, but it is necessary to the metamorphosis we are about to undergo. I, for one, embrace the opportunity and give thanks that I am alive to see it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Power of the People

Look around you. Is there anything you can see or touch that wasn’t brought to you courtesy of cheap, abundant oil? I started to add, ‘other than air,’ but then realized that even the very composition of the air we breathe has been altered by cheap, abundant oil. In the 'developed' world, everything, every thing in our lives is connected to oil. Everything.

So what happens when oil is no longer cheap and abundant? What happens when oil becomes expensive and increasingly scarce? What happens when you wait in line for hours at the gas station only to find that the pumps have run dry and the next shipment may arrive in a few days, or it may not? What happens when the trucks that supply the grocery store shelves are stranded en route waiting for gas to become available? What happens when the price of everything starts to sky rocket and pay checks and pension checks, if you are lucky enough to be getting either, stagnate? What happens to your coal-fired power plant when the equipment that mines the coal and the vehicles that transport the coal are unable to operate due to a gas shortage? What happens to your water supply when the electric pumps that suck the water from its source and deliver it to your home are working only intermittently? What happens to your toilet when the pumps that suck the sewage from the pipes and deliver it to the sewage treatment plant are working only intermittently?

What happens to an agri-business that relies upon gas engines to run the equipment, petro-chemicals for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and a transportation system to get produce to market? What happens to commerce when airplanes are grounded, awaiting fuel supplies, and cargo ships sit idle in port? What happens to the economy when businesses close right and left?

What happens when Americans start starving to death and guns are more numerous than people? What happens when hospitals close their doors and epidemics break out amongst an ill-fed populace? What happens to your personal safety when you dial 911 and are told that the police/fire/ambulance cannot respond to your call right now, try again tomorrow? What happens to national security when oil-starved nations square off in a struggle to get the supplies they need to keep their populations from dying?

It can’t happen here? Ah, the American hubris. We are magically immune to the trials and tribulations many in the world have already endured. Are currently enduring. Look at the refugee camps in the world’s ‘hot spots.’ Look at what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. Look at the future of America if we stay on our current path.

Oh, but the scientists will save us, the same ones whose warnings we have been ignoring for years. They will come up with all these cool inventions. We will switch to alternative fuels. We will build solar arrays and wind farms and nuclear power plants. Good idea. Should have done that twenty years ago. Doing it during an oil shortage is not only going to be more expensive, but progress will be much slower. Maybe, if we act fast enough, we will keep our power grid up and going. Maybe we will convert to electric cars just in the nick of time. Maybe we will even find a way to keep our big trucks on the road, delivering food to all the Wal*marts. But have you ever heard of an electric air plane? Or a plug-in fighter jet? Are there enough sail boats in the world to keep the shelves at ToysRUs stocked with plastic robots made in China? And what about all the plastics themselves? Made from petro-chemicals. And the green revolution that feeds an over-populated world – based on petro-chemicals.

Is there no hope? Yes and no. We are in for a rough ride. By all signs, we are already at peak oil. Demand is down now, thanks to a depressed economy, but cheaper oil prices and economic stimulus may change all that. Even if demand stays depressed, the supply is already beginning to taper off. Eventually, supply and demand will cross paths and all hell will break loose. There is hope, but it resides more in individual action than in anything that governments or the market place can do. It resides in the power of the people to adapt.

So dig up your lawn and plant a survival garden. Start collecting rain water in barrels or cisterns. Make yourself a solar oven and consider getting chickens. Anything you can do to become more self-reliant, do it. Anything you can do to make your home more energy efficient, do it. Anything you can do to decrease your carbon footprint, do it. If there is anything you can do to make yourself stronger and healthier, do it. If you need elective surgery, get it now. And make friends with your neighbors . . . you will need each other in the years to come.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Surviving the Transition

A few thoughts on surviving the transition from a cheap energy, oil-based economy in a temperate climate to an energy-deprived economy in a hostile climate --

I really thought I had a few years to get my personal act together, but at least for those of us in the U.S., I think this year will be it -- our economy is in such a decline that selling a house and moving elsewhere is extremely difficult and likely to get more so as the year goes by. So I'm digging in and trying to figure out how to make it work on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm starting to learn about raising chickens and rabbits and trying to figure out how to grow fruits and vegetables in pure sand and salt air. For a city girl, that's a lot of learning! We do have a long growing season that's getting even longer, plentiful sunshine and plentiful, if sporadic, rainfall. We have fresh fish, wild foods, and great neighbors. I'm hoping to convince my husband that putting in cisterns and a water collection system would be a good idea, and I'm looking for ways to live without power if need be -- by creating a solar oven, for instance. (I like the version with the black pot inside a clear glass container -- alleviates the need for plastic bags.)

And the good news is that peak oil may do what human will has failed to do --reduce fossil fuel emissions. Ironically, the financial collapse and current dip in oil prices may have also steered us away from the more destructive alternatives -- tar sands and oil shale. It seems to be happening quite fast now -- all of it. I am pessimistic that we will be able to get alternatives up and going in time and quantity to maintain our current standard of living. I am optimistic that the inevitable long-term energy crisis will be a catalyst for fundamental change -- change that has the potential for a better quality of life in the long run. We may have passed too many tipping points already, but just in case we haven't . . .

I think by this time next year, all but a few diehards will have seen the writing on the wall.