“Being Help” and “Needing Help” (revised)

The first blog post is usually the toughest, especially when you are trying to write about something that has no existing ‘experts.’
I’m a psychologist, I’m not a geologist, financial expert, political analyst or economist.
Yet, my worldview was dramatically changed when I learned about Peak Oil and began to read about all the related issues. Before learning about Peak Oil, my specialization was sex and couples therapy. I saw the world through the eyes of a middle-class US citizen. Electricity came from light switches. Oil was brought by a truck or pumped from a service station. I bought my food at the supermarket, albeit an organic food market, and my water was from my tap or in bottles. The value of my house kept going up, as did the taxes. I felt secure with a middle-class income, a home, and a healthy daughter that just finished college and was happy in a new job.
Then I learned about Peak Oil.
After that, I could no longer see the world in the same way. I realized that psychotherapy, while helpful to people in a ‘normal’ world, could easily become destructive to those with a PO view of the world. I call it “psychological terrorism.”
I realized how electricity was intimately dependent upon gas or other fuels. As the price of gasoline began to rise, I was well aware of theories that told me what caused it and what it meant to our economy. I learned that food didn’t come from the supermarket, but instead from agribusiness farms that required fossil fuels for fertilizers, farming equipment, trucks, cold storage, heat and utilities. I began to take on new worries. I worried about chemical companies buying up seed companies and taking out patents on common food seed. I learned how agribusiness treats animals, and how this enables us to eat so cheaply and at what environmental and ethical cost. I learned about the severity of our water shortage and water itself became a more precious commodity to me. I saw debt, any debt, including my mortgage, as a threat to my future financial independence. I saw my spending habits and lifestyle for what it was: wasteful, thoughtless, excessive and leaving a huge environmental ‘footprint.’
As I looked around, I began to see the world with a ‘before and after Peak Oil’ view. I would say to myself “We won’t have that around anymore after Peak Oil.” The more I looked around, the more things I realized would go, like plastics or bananas. The more I looked into becoming more self-sufficient, the more awe I felt. How ‘easy I had it.’ I realized how ignorant I was about skills that were commonplace in my grandmother’s era. At times I became overwhelmed at the amount of information I don’t possess. I got dizzy trying to figure out what I needed to know, what I needed to store, and what would continue to be available to me for a long time to come.
I watched myself go through a wide range of emotions. I went through periods of denial, and attempted to find believable critics. My commitment to changing my life would wane. I would work diligently on a permaculture project, and watch my spending carefully, then “forget” and go out to dinner or buy something useless. I’d feel hopeful and elated, followed by feelings of depression and worry. I’d become busy and determined, only to find myself overwhelmed and frozen later in the week.
My actions seemed ‘irrational’ to the pre-Peak Oil mental health professional in me, and looked ‘crazy’ to those who were unaware, disinterested, or rejected the concept of PO. But not to the Peak Oil Shrink in me. I wasn’t insane. I was trying to come to grips with a future cultural transformation that was to be so dramatic, so overwhelming, it disturbed my equilibrium and challenged my very sense of reality.
Reactions of Others
It was normal for me to want to talk about what I learned to those I cared about. But how? How do you tell those you love that their entire world view will soon be overturned? No one likes to hear bad news, but this news was catastrophic.
I decided that I would talk to them calmly, share only bits of information, and based on their responses, decide whether or not to keep the conversation going. Some friends instantly understood the concept, and were eager to read more about Peak Oil. They were in the minority. Others were willing to be supportive of me, but had no intention of doing anything differently themselves. Still others refused to even discuss the issue with me once I introduced it. The more urgently I wanted to share, the more rejecting they became.
I searched the Peak Oil sites and the internet to find out more about the kind of feelings and reactions I was having. I found people talking about their own individual reactions to learning about Peak Oil. I’d read: “Ya, I know, I went through the same thing when I first heard…” and I’d think, “Yes, I felt that way, too” but none of my colleagues were talking about it. No one was saying “That’s a normal reaction to learning about Peak Oil” because nobody knew what a normal reaction was.
In fact, as a psychologist, I know what my Pre-Peak Oil reaction might have been if a client began to describe ‘the end of the world as we know it’ and all the action they were taking to mitigate the impact. Several diagnostic categories would fit neatly. I’d ask about their family life, and how they were getting along at work. I’d want to learn what led them to this dreary view of their future.
But I was convinced that reactions to Peak Oil weren’t ‘diagnostic indicators,’ but I had nothing to back up my beliefs. So I started a website called “Peak Oil Blues” and invited people to write to me and tell me their “Peak Oil awakening” stories. I counseled and supported those in active transition. And I learned a great deal about the nuances of these emotional reactions are, how they can be destructive to our mental wellbeing, and how to work through them to move people on to constructive action. I worked in a world of paradoxes: grim realism and a haunting surrealism; a future vision of miserable despair and life-saving promise.
That is what this book is about.
I now believe that there is a way to begin to understand the emotional impact of Peak Oil and to share that knowledge with others to help them move forward. I believe that there are different reactions to learning about this depletion, depending on your age and life circumstances. A twenty year old college student in an urban area is going to react differently than a 60 year old Mid-West farmer who has been expecting it for some time. Someone making minimum wage is going to react differently than the professional with a substantial 401k and a large house in the suburbs. But there are also predictable patterns, ‘fuzzy sets’ that aren’t rigid categories , that a person falls into as they come to grips with this phantasmagorical tale of cultural change based on one three-letter word: Oil.

There are generalizations that can be made about people at different:

  • stages of Peak Oil awareness,
  • life stages,
  • economic circumstances,
  • gender,
  • professions,
  • living environments,
  • parental status

… to name a few.

I wrote a story for a contest about the future without fossil fuels that was published at www.beyondpeak.com, and won second place. You can read it here:

http://www.beyondpeak.com/scenarios/grandnana.html.

The point of my story was to suggest that there were constructive actions that could be taken today to put oneself in the best circumstances to weather the upcoming ‘storm.’ These actions required community building and using the skills each of us have toward mutually beneficial action. This blog, and www.peakoilblues.com is my contribution.

I’ve tried to gather up people who I feel are eloquent speakers of their own experiences and invited them to share their own thoughts, opinions, reactions, and emotions as they live in these ‘interesting times.’ If you also have something to contribute, join us. Together, we can help each other move forward toward a future we want to live in.

Kathy McMahon

************************

Kathy McMahon, Psy.D. is an adjunct professor, a clinical psychologist, certified sex therapist, trainer, and a newbie chicken farmer in Massachusetts.

Believing that the ‘personal IS political,’ she thinks a lot about the elements of emotionally preparing for a post-fossil fuel age. Despite being pessimistic about the future of cheap energy she’s very hopeful about the power of small groups of people creating a simpler but more meaningful life together, while simultaneously annoying each other in the process. She has been quoted as saying “If I can’t dance, I don’t want the Armageddon.”

Dr. McMahon can be heard on Global Public Media being interviewed by Jason Bradford on The Reality Report. Click here for the download link to listen. (length is 48 minutes)

 

You can also hear her interviewed by KMO at the C-Realm Podcast, about the emotional reactions people have to Peak Oil in an episode entitled “Cui Bono.”
She speaks about the practical steps people can take to move in the direction of independence and preparedness. on the in a later C-Realm Podcast.

About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

Comments

  1. Did your world really change when you learned about peak oil? It was probably your view of the world that changed. Did you struggle as you had adjusted to the reality of leaving with less oil. Your blog is based on an interesting idea, good luck. I think the strongest feeling will be loss. Modern civilisation promised so much, but will likely take everything in its wake.

  2. lswamppuppy says:

    Kathy, I have also experienced much of what you have written here. I am also a psychologist – actually an MSW, with a PhD in clinical psyche. I teach social work to undergraduates.

    I discovered the peak oil issue about a year ago. I think that my main emotional experience involved question the value of humanity, although I didn’t really udnerstand this at first. This was a feeling (perspective) that I had never had before. As a social work professor I always taught and truly believed in values like “every human being has worth”, (human worth in the most basic and abstract sense), but after understanding peak oil, these deepest values really came under question. On the one hand it was as if my whole life had been false – lived in a false space – created in the brief historical moment of cheap energy. This was as if everything around me, the whole cultural context of my life and all the related meanings and experiences were bogus, just a porduct of the oil rush. I also began to see humanity as akind of plague on the planet. So, I really got into what I’ll call a nihlistic funk. This was very psychologically disruptive. It was also accompanied by a big sadness and definitely fear.

    Well, OK. So, I lived with that for quite a while and my attitude did change – though I’m still capable of slipping into the funk.

    I started trying to figure out what to do. So, my wife and I have developed this program to reduce energy consumption big time. Started our own big garden this summer. Committed to eating 50% out of the garden (so far so good). We won’t really accomplish this though for another three years or so. We have to learn to store vegitables and save seeds. We put in a wood stove – high efficiency. Got barrels going to collect water form the roof – all sorts of projects. I stopped taking the car to school and started walking. Its a three year program to really get our energy use down.

    We think this is also good in regard to global warming. It’s also a moral issue. If you accept that oil is driving the war in the middle east, then, stopping with one’s personal consumption becomes a statement for peace – even though its not enough to have a real effect. I’m referring here to a sort of personal moral integrity sort of thing.

    OK, but, you know, there’s still a feeling of “you do what you can” but will it ever be enough? You also can’t really predict what will happen. Will we have a soft landing. Will things get really nasty. How will people react to continuously rising prices? Well, one fantasy is that we are learning some skills here – like gardening (not easy) that we could teach to others when the times comes. So, that brings up another issue

    I’m of the view that this is pretty sick culture to start with. It’s disconnected from the earth, a sense of real community and real culture – and that all of this actually produces or at least contributes to what we have come to call psychopathology. Things like anxiety and depression – to the degree that they are environmentally conditioned. (just an opinion)

    So, I’m actually in a state now where I’m sort of hopful. I think that peak oil will eventually create a closer sense of community and a stronger connection to the earth. This would be very good thing in book. But, holy cow, it appears that we have quite a transition, more than a little fraught with possible disasters. How do with live in such times? this seems to me to be the question. There’s definitely an understandable tendency to move into denial as a defense – also all the distractions of the culture (TV, Movies, whatever). Who can just sit in the unresolved tension of it.

    Just a few thoughts. Good luck with the blog.

    Oh, here’s something interesting. Here’s an MSNBC article and responses from readers. I couldn’t put it down – the responses. You can’t generalize to the larger population from this (of course), but its still extremely interesting reading for those of us who are trying to understand the psyche/sociology of all of this

    Article:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14515702/

    Interesting responses:

    http://boards.live.com/MSNBCboards/thread.aspx?BoardID=472&ThreadID=64256&BoardsParam=Page%3D1

  3. Did my world really change when I learned about peak oil? It is a more complicated question than it first appears. Obviously, nothing changed immediately in the world around me. And clearly my view of the world changed. What’s the difference? We could say that one is “external” and one is the “perception” of that external. However, cognitive psychology, and a lot of neuroscientists believes that our brains are so central to our world, that even our eyes don’t do the “seeing.” Therefore, with “eyes” that are broken, we can now reprogram our brains to “see.” I’m probably messing up the explanation at bit here, but the fact remains that the more we learn about the brain, the weirder our understanding of what is “out there” becomes.

    I also believe that change happens instantly in people, even if it might take a while to ‘play out’ the effects of those changes. Our cognition “turns against” our husband or wife, and from then on, they can’t do anything right (even when they do…) As if there are ‘invisible elastic bands’ that attach people to each other (See: Dogs who know when their owners are coming home). Marital spouses share dreams. We suddenly feel a shutter and learn later that a loved one died at that moment. While these isolated incidents can all be rationalized away, (except the dog, who was scientifically tested, and really DID know when their owner was coming home…) we have these connections with each other, even if the skill is atrophied.

    Therefore, did my world change, or just my view of it? I don’t think those distinctions are crisp and clear. If I am needed to construct a view of my reality, then when my reality changes, so does my world. It may, however, take a while for things to look differently.

    If you shoot me, I will bleed. That is a cause and effect that exists beyond my perception of it. However, it is also true that our perception changes the very nature of the thing being watched. What a culture calls “real” makes it so, as we create a group hallucination, if you will, and act accordingly. Perceptions are contagious. World views are too.

    Personally, I’m waiting for the 100th monkey. You teach 99 monkeys to, say, wash their dirty fruit, and 99 monkeys know how to do it. However, teach the 100th monkey, and suddenly they all do. Did the world change or was it only the monkey’s perception of the world?

  4. Auntiegrav says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you are enabling addiction. Not addiction to oil, but addictions to disaster. We all love to rubberneck the peak oil news, but it isn’t what it appears to be. The consequence of peak oil isn’t going to be a lack of energy. It is economic collapse, and then oil is going to be much, much cheaper than it is now. Fortunately, the preparations are much the same: learn to live without debt, grow your own food, live without an expensive vehicle if you don’t need it. Buy less, buy local, create communities that can ignore the central planning which will be a big part of the future.
    The peak will come, the plateau will come, the economy will go away. The end of the economy is when the market realizes that government reactions and corporate behavior just don’t want sustainable living, they want growth. The depend on the perception of perpetual growth. A rumor of a peaking stock market is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look at the housing market now; it’s heading for a huge economic mess because people don’t believe in the System’s ability to keep things flowing, and because they don’t see any ‘lesser’ people moving up to buy the used houses. That’s because globalization has ‘competed’ the jobs away that fed the lower housing market and banks, which fed the upper class housing markets. GM used to have an auto plan for everyone to start cheap and move up all the way to the Cadillac. That’s gone, too. Gone through the costs of doing business in a world of exploitation rather than usefulness. There is one way to evaluate everything Life does: What is the Net Creativity? All life has this one purpose: to create more than it uses up in resources. As humans, we have the advantage that we can establish a Net Creativity over generations, over families, over communities, or as a species because we can (supposedly) think through to the consequences of our actions. We need more than simple sustainability. There has to be a Net gain to the universe, or we will go extinct through stagnation. This doesn’t mean we have to compete like the tooth and claw natural environment: it means exactly the opposite. We need to learn to cooperate on all levels in order to truly have purpose. The reason the Net is so important is that we have seen what net consumption has done for the oil-based society. We are on the cusp of something great if we can live through it and educate enough people. Whether we come up with alternative sources of energy or not, the same mentality must apply in the long term of thousands of years.

  5. Hello Kathy,
    What you wrote on May 12 had a resonance with me. I gradually discovered P O over a period of years, but the realization of the interconnected impact of it finally fell on me about a year ago. I could identify many of the same reactions that you have, the world seems surreal now, people too busy to be bothered to think about how fragile our situation is. Now I read everything I can get my hands on, trying to understand the situation better.
    I seek out articles on Geo politics, economics, engineering, magic elixer solutions, doom and gloom scenarios, all things I cannot effect in my daily life. I look for pro and con arguments. I’m obsessed.
    It affects my work, and my social life. I am constantly distracted from my daily work tasks. Nothing at work seems very urget or important now. I worry about what to say to aquaintances, so as not to frighten or alienate them. It’s like I know a grand and dangerous secret.

    I label in my mind “Oil age thinking” and “beyond oil age thinking”, to sort out what might work for the future.
    We have three grown children, both of us have professional jobs, own our home, have 401K accounts, everything that should signify security. Yet after my realization about a year ago about PO, I know this is all an illusion.

    I have been struggling for the last year trying to reorder my life, so far all my efforts feel like way too little and insignificant. My brother thinks I crazy, and recommends I read novels and forget about PO. My wife nods and is sympathic, but never askes questions, I don’t know if she understands, and is afraid to know more, or if she is humoring me, but doesn’t really believe it. Yet she doesn’t dig for herself, to try and find out more independently.

    But I won’t let this go, this is too important. Being in the building and engineering field, I feel that everything has a practical, physical solution, however this is so large, so interconnected through generations, I think the primary key to success is in building a like minded community. I hope with family, but if not, so be it. Community is a soft and fuzzy idea, something alien to a “hands on” type of guy, but I can learn. Time to enhance my reputation with my extended family, to present a unlevel world view in a level headed manner.
    wish me luck
    DGBD

  6. Xavier Lambsbottle says:

    Its nice to know there is intelligent life out there. PO is definately the biggest bummer of ALL time, dying is a lot easier than putting it all together to survive. Our family is preparing to produce all our own food and energy (solar) and it isn’t easy. Fortunately for us, we live in a very isolated area and our turf is defensable. When things start to go really bad, social order may disintergrate and the killing will begin. We expect an 80% dieoff by the time it is all over, but that maybe ten years away. In 2017 a very large chunk of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet will break off and slide into the sea producing an 8 foot sea level rise, which will mark the real beginning of the end of civilization. Life has been very easy, now it will get very hard. Most people won’t make it, do not fear death, its just the next step and really quite wonderful. There is no Heaven or Hell, just the Cosmos and you will be able to explore it all.

    In the mean time, preparing to survive is a lot of fun. We harvested a small crop of Tritacale and ground the seeds for flour and made pancakes. It was delicious, no commercial pancakes ever again! Good luck everyone, don’t be depressed, live your life the best you can, and we will see you on the ‘otherside’.

  7. Good luck, DGBD,

    Yes, the profession that one chooses to go into does impact one’s worldview. You write: “Being in the building and engineering field, I feel that everything has a practical, physical solution…” I’m glad to have you on my lifeboat.

    We have been lured into a belief in the notion of ‘security,’ and that ‘security’ itself is a desired state. We pay our police department and fire departments and ‘Homeland Security’ to keep us ‘safe’ from crime and fires. We put money away for retirement so we can ‘safely’ enter into old age. We take steps to guard ourselves from potential threats, fears, anxieties. Then, when a loved one walks out in front of a bus, or a snow storm leaves us stranded on the highway, or we realize that our ‘safe’ lifestyle has had massive impact on our earth that will come back and bite us in the butt, we cry out “We aren’t safe and secure anymore.” The problem with that thinking is: we never were. In all of life, the concept of ‘safety’ exists on a continuum. We can keep our children “safe” by locking them in a room and starring at them for hours. They will remain “safer” in that condition, than, say, if we teach them to ride a bike. Therefore, the degree of ‘safety’ itself is a trade off that involves weighing the degree of freedom to act, explore, learn verses the risk of having unpleasant things happen when you do.

    Some of the best, most life-impacting changes in my clients’ lives have come when they have felt most vulnerable and “unsafe.” When the world begins to shake beneath their feet, when spouses prove unfaithful, when fortunes are lost or friends turn their backs, my clients come in wanting to return to the ‘safety’ and ‘predictability’ of their former life. They are sometimes surprised to learn that not only is that impossible, but that is undesirable. We all are ‘Playing Ball on Running Water’ to quote the title of a David K. Reynolds’ book by the same name. If you dig your feet down deeply into the sand as you are out on the ocean, you are going to get knocked over by the next wave, guaranteed. If, instead, you touch down lightly, willing to bob with the changes, you can continue to play your game successfully.

    Some people have a lifetime of experience. Others live the same year over and over again, attempting to ‘freeze’ all that was useful and good. One of them looks for a greater sense of security that allows them to stay the same while they play. The other enjoys playing ball in the waves, learning to bob and weave, being a part of the experience itself.

    We say in family therapy that a problem is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results. We do it, it doesn’t work, and we do more of it. We are convinced that the NEXT article, the NEXT chatroom discussion, the NEXT book will give us a new and different ideal. The obsession is the skip in the record, your mind hoping for a different answer to the same question.

    It isn’t the reading of the books that is the problem. It is the hope that our anxiety will be relieved if we “only” find an answer. My truth is that there are many “answers.” There are no “experts” with “inside tips” that will save you from your feelings. They exist first in your mind, and then in your stomach, your shoulders, your neck or your legs. You can notice how your thoughts impact your body, and you can focus on those feelings, instead of the thoughts themselves.

    My advice is to forget about a “grand scheme” that will give you a pathway to follow. Focus on the kind of world you want to live in, right now. You are a practical man, so look around you and ask yourself if you are being used in the best possible way, given what you know. If community building seems like a good idea (people live longer, happier lives in productive communities, studies show) then go build yours. Join a group in your town. Help build a community center with solar panels. I have no idea how helpful you can be, what a delight you will be in the company of others. But whatever you do, do not dig your feet down deeper into the sand and expect that will keep you safe. You have focused on this problem intensively with your logic. Now approach it with your heart, gut, yearnings, and passions.

    And keep me informed…

  8. Hi Xavier,

    I hear that 80% figure tossed around a lot. I wonder how we can be so sure that it is 80% instead of 95% or 70%? Are we basing this on the assumption that the world continues as it is? It is curious to me that that same 80/20 is a rather famous formula in many business models, as in “20% of the effort will produce 80% of the results.” (The Parato Principle) A fascinating book (the cheaper, easier to understand one directed to the ‘lay’ public) called ‘Sperm Wars’ by Robin Baker, suggests that our own biological capacity to reproduce is intimately connected to our external perceptions of reality. In the “professional” text, he has a map of world population based on not the number of children members of a particular continent produce, but the number of grandchildren. Those of us who are unlikely to successfully have our children survive to produce their own children will tend to reproduce many more children. He implies a kind of “wisdom in the body” that is beyond our conscious intention or plans and is linked to larger cultural realities. It is an eye-opener to realize that while some countries have families that produce many children, there are dramatic similarities in the number of grandchildren worldwide. If you were a religious person, you might argue that who we impregnate or are impregnated by is too important a decision to leave to a mere mortals’ neocortical functioning. It is a complex and fascinating argument, and a well-written and entertaining read for people who are looking for something different to pick up.

    Because I am a psychologist, and not really here to debate population estimate dieoffs, I would ask you to examine your motivations for believing this particular statistic (whether or not it is true) and to ask whether you would work hard to make sure that figure is adjusted downward. There is a ‘dark side’ that PO brings out in all of us. A reaction that for some borders on sadism. We can say we are just “reporting the facts,” but our emotional reactions to doing so, and our motivations can vary. Our spiritual reassurance that there is ‘life on the other side of the tunnel’ can ring hollow, because those who read it get a different message, and aren’t at all reassured. When we imagine that our life situation allows us to survive, we can be a bit more smug about predicting disaster for the “rest of them.” (Also see Bliss’s article on intentional communities in Pages.)

  9. YellowGreen says:

    I’m someone who knows Psychologists well. I have been a patient for years and am Bi-polar. So you can imagine my family’s reaction when I discussed Global Warming. No one would attend “The Inconvenient Truth” screening with me. I suffered alone morning the losses to come. My Wife finally viewed the movie and we were a team again. I felt horrible for removing here innocence. But more was to come. I had stumbled across Peak Oil. I could instantly see this was an issue of epic scale. Again my wife followed and we both mourned for the deaths of billions of people.

    My family moved to Florida a few years ago (USA). I’m in my mid 30′s and we have a small business. We have just sold our home and are going to rent while we purchase land (debt free) in a “safer” state. We both grew up in the country and intend to grow as much of our own food as soon as possible. My business is now floundering. My depression is cycling daily. It is difficult to not be totally consumed. Everything I look at I think “that will be under water” or “this house will be a worthless shack”. I feel like Sara Connor in “Terminator II”. She knows that the world will be destroyed and spends all her time preparing for the day.

    If one good thing has happened for me is that I see my “illness” as a manifestation of the oil era. If I focus on the smaller menial tasks that aren’t set by a clock, I am basically well. Without having to make important presentations and support a ridiculous life style, I feel like I will be much healthier mentally. I also realize that my loved ones could die today in an accident so I’m doing my best to enjoy every moment.

    Good luck and thank you.

  10. YellowGreen,

    You bring up an interesting point here when you say, “If I focus on the smaller, menial tasks that aren’t set by a clock, I am basically well. Without having to make important presentations and support a ridiculous life style, I feel like I will be much healthier mentally.”

    One of the most influential thinkers in personality theory over the last 40 years is Theodore Millon. He speaks eloquently about how the culture itself promotes problematic behavioral disorders. My profession has tried to sort out those psychiatric problems they label “biological,” (in which they have medication that impacts them, sometimes dramatically) from those that appear more “emotional.”

    Some insurance companies in the USA have tried to make a distinction between these the basis of whether or not they will be paid for as “illnesses.” The truth is, in dramatically crippling diagnosis, such as schizophrenia, researchers have found that, even when taking their medications faithfully, the behaviors of those around them either increase or decrease the person’s symptoms. While our “mothers” didn’t “cause” schizophrenia, she can help or hurt us cope with the illness. We can also teach clients to observe and impact their own cognitive coping skills. I was told a powerful story recently of a client who learned to recognize his delusions (he was schizophrenic) and managed adequately so as not to destroy his everyday functioning. For example, if, while riding a bus, his auditory hallucinations get too intense and focused on one particular person, he ‘talks to himself’ (silently) to calm himself down by reminding himself that it is a delusion and nothing more. If that isn’t effective, he gets off at the next stop and takes the next bus.

    Labeling someone ‘mentally ill’ is a powerful modern-day curse. As one former patient used to say, “I tell people I’m crazy, I’m not stupid.” And yet, particular sets of behaviors, that we label “crazy” in today’s culture, are prized in some measure. One author, John D. Gartner suggests that the USA was created by those with “manic” features. It’s called “The Hypomanic Edge-The link between (a little) Craziness and (a lot of) Success in America.” Stories told of the amazing influence of bi-polar clients abound in my field. One woman, a poor black woman on welfare, “bought” her psychiatrist a luxury car for his New York City practice. Somehow, despite her tattered appearance, she managed to talk her way into taking the car for a test-drive.

    A common “cure” for many illnesses before the age of pharmaceuticals, was to ‘rest in the country’ for those who could afford it. And, it is an eye-opener to learn that dominant mental “conditions” have changed over the ages. Cultural demands produce particular affects on a population in one particular era. Some ‘traumatic’ conditions affect some of us in a crippling way, while leaving others apparently unchanged.

    Psychologists were particularly fascinated with Monks in Tibet after the Chinese occupation. Even after being horribly tortured, these monks didn’t show the PTSD we all expected them to have. That particular way of viewing the world, or the meaning of events, or pattern of thought (among other possibilities) wasn’t a part of their consciousness. One monk, in an interview, was asked “Aren’t you angry because of what was done to you?” His reply speaks to a particular point of view. Paraphrasing here, he said, “What happened to us was bad. Why would I spend more time being angry? There has already been too much time spent living through that event.” There appears to be a radical focus on consciousness on the present. Their training teaches them particular skill-sets that help them keep that focus.

    I’d like to draw your attention to the word “menial” in your comment. The definition is as follows: Menial: 1. Relating to or involving work that requires little skill or training, is not interesting, and confers low social status on the person doing it. 2. Suitable, typical of, or relating to a servant or servants. Thinkers in both Eastern and Western philosophical traditions have both pointed to the value of “menial” work in the attainment of higher consciousness. Henry James, I am told, would have his students empty and fill containers with small items over and over again with high levels of attention. The phrase “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water,” speaks to the concept that what you do has little connection to how you ARE.

    We’ll all have to reflect on that word in the future, as our hundreds of ‘fossil fuel servants’ have created a framework that labels many of the tasks our grandparents did as “menial.” I recall, in an age when the majority of workers in Europe needed to do the ‘menial’ task of farming, “suntans” were something to be avoided, and “pale skin” conferred status. Now, as indoor office work keeps so many of us out of the sun, the reverse is true: suntans are a symbol of status (even if they are sprayed on…) because it also implies ‘leisure’ and freedom from engaging in “menial tasks.”

    I’d like to also point out a profession like “childcare worker” that our culture pays lip service to as “important work” but actually has traditionally been the domain of servants in previous generations and involves work many of us would label ‘menial.’ It is poorly paid in the USA, and as a result, is a job with high turnover. Many have tried honorably to raise the status of childcare workers by describing the educational developmental milestones children reach and calling for greater education and training. The “menial” task of playing with a child in a sandbox lacks status. However, with training, discussing the importance of fine-motor development, creative imagination to the development of cognitive intelligence and verbal skills–now we can see the work as more “important.” And yet, isn’t there value in the pleasure we can attain playing intently in a sandbox with children?

    While cultural values are inherently ephemeral, we are still shaped strongly by them, and it is in our genetic make-up not to want to be ‘alienated’ from the people we love around us. One of the shocks experienced by those entering the Peak Oil movement is the grief people face as they become increasingly alienated from their own culture. We want to be considered successful, and as Matt Savinar talked about so touchingly in one of his articles, we all like having external elements of success (like being included in Fortune Magazine) to point to and say, “See, you can relate to this! I am not that weird! I am a success!” For those of us who have “made it” in this culture, becoming doctors, lawyers, psychologists, successful computer or business people, we both want to still be honored by our culture, even if we can no longer accept the direction it’s going in. We are both a part of it, and yet we try to stand apart from it.

    It is so tempting, as we now begin to reject the “status” that we have fought so hard to obtain, to fight for status in “the PO movement” itself. We claim our superiority by highlighting our current lifestyle, our “seniority” in having “gotten it” so long ago, our Google rank, or in being dismissive of the questions asked by “newbies.” We can engage in ‘turf wars,’ believing that our work is more relevant or essential, smarter, funnier, or more informed than someone else’s. We can notice all of these feelings, recognize them as normal human responses, and keep them in check. We can grab our fire extinguishers of compassion and put out the flaming. We can model compassion, generosity of spirit, patience and respect. We can forgive ourselves and each other for not “getting this reality” sooner, while we honor all the hard work of those who have come before us.

    The process of adapting to a new and pervasive view of reality, not just about fossil fuels, but also climate change and the nature of our economic systems, is both an external and internal one. We not only make lifestyle changes, we also notice the way our own labeling of experience starts to change.

    We start sharing this view with others, because it becomes truly “part of us.” We pick up some lumber, and find that the guy doing the ‘menial’ job of loading it for us is an organic farmer who couldn’t make enough money at it. We now, with a new view of our world, encourage him to “keep the faith” because we will need him soon enough again. He seems a bit shocked at how confident we are about his bright future. We might never mention PO or climate change, or the tanking of the US dollar, but something in our attitude, our tone, our confidence contributes to a shift in his own thinking. He puts in a larger crop next year, and finds a place to market it. We “valued” him as a logical consequence of our own changed worldview.

    We can learn to pay attention to how we label our alternative view of the world as it develops. We can ask ourselves what we mean by “menial” or “convenient” or “a wasted effort.” We can recognize and honor the ways in which we have embraced our previous thinking of what defines “important work” or “status,” and appreciate why others still do, while no longer accepting those definitions ourselves, or the dominant culture’s negative opinion of us.

    We accept that this is where we are right now; warts, vanities, diagnosis and all, and we go on from here. We notice what kind of thinking helps us, and which hurts us. And our priorities shift. What we value and discard as having little usefulness shifts as well.

    Let’s all be a bit more gentle with ourselves and each other as we’re stumbling through.

    Thanks for your post, Yellow Green. It was very helpful to me, personally, to reflect on the issues you raised.

  11. Auntiegrav,

    Hum. Enabling “addiction to disaster.” I was curious about what that might mean, and turned to Wikipedia:

    ENABLING:
    “Enabling is doing for someone things that they could, and should be doing themselves. Simply, enabling creates a[n] atmosphere in which the alcoholic [or in this case, Peak Oil reactor] can comfortably continue his unacceptable behavior.”

    ADDICTION:
    “Many people, both psychology professionals and laypersons, now feel that there should be accommodation made to include psychological dependency on such things as gambling, food, sex, pornography, computers, work, exercise, cutting, and shopping / spending. However, these are things or tasks which, when used or performed, cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and hence, do not fit into the traditional view of addiction. Symptoms mimicking withdrawal may occur with abatement of such behaviors; however, it is said by those who adhere to a traditionalist view that these withdrawal-like symptoms are not strictly reflective of an addiction, but rather of a behavioral disorder… the contemporary view, the trend is to acknowledge the possibility that the hypothalmus creates peptides in the brain that equal and/or exceed the effect of externally applied chemicals (alcohol, nicotine etc.) when addictive activities take place. For example, when an addicted gambler or shopper is satisfying their craving, chemicals called endorphins are produced and released within the brain, reinforcing the individual’s positive associations with their behavior.”

    DISASTER:
    Technically, according to Wikipedia, Peak Oil falls under the category “End of civilization.” “Oil runs out before an economically viable replacement is devised, leading to global chaos.”

    So, the question is, am I, through this blog, creating an atmosphere in which the reader can comfortably continue his/her unacceptable behavior? And what does the Peak Oiler crave, that releases endorphins in the brain, causing positive associations with that behavior?

    I considered the possibility, and I decided that you are actually speaking about panic or compulsive and obsessive behaviors, frequently confused with “addiction” (see: http://www.peakoilblues.com/reactions.php). Returning to Wikipedia:

    “Panic is the primal urge to run and hide in the face of imminent disaster. It is a sudden fear which dominates or replaces thinking and often affects groups of people or animals. Panics typically occur in disaster situations, or violent situations (such as robbery, home invasion, a shooting rampage, etc.) which may endanger the overall health of the affected group. Humans are also vulnerable to panic and it is often considered infectious, in the sense one person’s panic may easily spread to other people nearby and soon the entire group acts irrationally, but people also have the ability to prevent and/or control their own and other’s panic by disciplined thinking or training (such as disaster drills). Panic is usually understood to mean active, but senseless behaviour (e.g. trying to flee in a random direction or suddenly attacking others without consideration), while hysteria often carries a more passive notion (as in crying uncontrollably).”

    Am I encouraging “active, but senseless behavior”? No, in fact, I’m asking people to try to develop a perspective on the intense fear that often accompanies learning about peak oil, especially the “fight or flight” (“geographic solutions”) feelings that happen. I agree that one can examine and discipline one’s thinking, and channel it into productive action.

    “Obsessions are defined by:

    1. Recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress.
    2. The thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems.
    3. The person attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action.
    4. The person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind.”

    Section two seems to fit many of the people who have written in: they have intense worries about real-life problems, not imaginary ones. Some have tried to rid themselves of an image of a fossil-depleted world, and focus on more “pleasant” thoughts, but returned to the issue again and again. Often, their repetitive fears were reduced when they began to take constructive action.

    “Compulsions are defined by:

    1. Repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.”

    I’ve been impressed by the creativity and diversity of reactions to peak oil, and they seem neither repetitive or rigid, when viewed as a whole.

    “2. The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent or are clearly excessive.”

    Here, one could argue about whether any set of behaviors about an uncertain chain of events leading to an “end of civilization” is “clearly excessive.” One reader has collected 500 books. If she uses the books to start a community library, is this excessive? Another has stored 1200 pounds of salt. With a hankering for meat and no refrigeration, salt is a handy thing to have around.

    “In addition to these criteria, at some point during the course of the disorder, the sufferer must realize that his/her obsessions or compulsions are unreasonable or excessive. Moreover, the obsessions or compulsions must be time consuming (taking up more than one hour per day), cause distress, or cause impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning (Quick Reference from DSM-IV-TR, 2000). OCD often causes feelings similar to that of depression.”

    Again, I would argue that depending on your view of the future, spending only one hour a day in preparation is insane. However, if it is spent in any number of activities such as gardening, winemaking, financial planning, etc, it is called a ‘hobby’ or ‘common sense.’

    I don’t doubt that some people are frozen, immobilized, or panicked when they learn about peak oil. They often spend a great deal of time researching it, and learning as much as they can about every area. Over some period of time (at least according to the respondents so far) the panic fades and is replaced with a considered perspective about how Peak Oil will impact their lives, and what they plan to do about it. I applaud their progression, and hope I’m enabling them to stop worrying whether they are “going crazy,” a fear I’ve heard a number of times. I wouldn’t argue that those worrying about PO are more or less “crazy” than the general population. It’s probably a similar distribution, but I can’t say at this point. Maybe after thousands of letters, I’ll have a stronger sense.

    I’ve created a place for people to share with each other what their emotional reactions to learning about PO are, and I’m collecting these stories not as an end in itself, but to point out that learning about PO is a PROCESS, and so are the reactions people have. I’ve also personally, been inspired by the stories of many contributors, their dedication, creativity, planning and execution of constructive, not destructive actions. There are many places for people to network with others about peak oil, on the net. So far, no other psychologist, that I know of, volunteers their time to give feedback to the contributors who write in about their responses to Peak Oil. If encouraging that kind of dialogue is “enabling peak oil addiction to disaster,” I’m guilty.

  12. howdy,
    glad to see the mental health profession if finally getting around to this.(it’s a start!)
    prior to 9-11, one of my hobbies was to read all the crazy conspiracy theories on the net. from alien greys to templars to jfk etc.
    very entertaining.i found a considerable amount of wheat among the chaff. i knew the economy was a tinder-dry house of cards, for instance.PO i left for later consideration.
    until our ‘response’ to 9-11 led us into iraq. i asked myself,’why would they do that?’ i put a bunch of stick pins on amap of the world,red for u.s. mil.,blue for oil, white for dope, etc. and it hit me. end game.
    i’ve been obsessed ever since. the surreal quality of the world for the past 6 years has been made worse by the willful denial and ignorance of almost everyone i know.my wife and mom are on board, after patient presentation of the facts. besides them, i know noone who even considers as possible an end to our life o’ reilly.
    i’ve always been the heritic, the partier, the wildman… and now i’m the lone ant in a world full of grasshoppers.
    i figure we’re( my bunch)as ready as we’ll ever be. i just wish we could get started. get the ‘transition’ over with.
    thanks for your site. i’ve been looking for this aproach for a while,
    much luck.
    amfortas.

  13. Howdy right back at you!

    I can’t really say that the “profession” is getting around to this, but at least a few of us are trying to bring awareness to the issue. You aren’t alone, and it always surprises me just how many people are on board, how many more in the last 8 months. Clearly, you put two and two together, and came up with your own conclusions. If you have a moment, maybe you could share with us what kind of steps you’ve taken since you made those connections.

    Why do you want to “get this party started” as they say? Have you taken care of all of your own preparations at this point?

  14. howdy,again,
    no. i don’t think we can ever be completely ready.i forsee such a dramatic change, it’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality. complete change of lifestyle. the uncertainty! will we be sedentary farmers or hunter-gatherers?
    will those who snicker today come around expecting to use my foresight?
    what will the gooberment do?
    i vaccilate between dismissing and obsessing these and other worries.
    we live in ranch country. when i’ve heard of folks spraying diesel on mesquite trees(sadly, a common controll method) i’ve mentioned the food value of mesqite beans and that perhaps diesel is not the most wholesome thing to spray around. to no avail. i must be one of them commie tree huggers who wants to give all our private property to the un.(!)
    when hurricane rita hit houston,350miles away, my town was out of gas and food in 2 days. i made mention of what would befall our way of life if the trucks quit running for more than a week.and perhaps some of us should at least talk about th implications of even a mild systems-crash.
    to no avail.
    i’ve since become a hermit. collecting books and 1830′s technology. old maps (i look for names like ‘salt-branch’) i’ve tried to learn about the great depression and the dissolution of rome. wild foods and amish and primitive ways of doing things.
    i am confident that me and mine can survive. i’ve even been writing what’s in my head down in case i don’t make it.
    it’s the frustration of watching my countrimen march blithely off the cliff.
    maddening, the petty concerns about new cars and shopping as pastime. one can only brace for the wave for so long. i’ve resolved to try to enjoy myself. sit out here in my wilderness with my pipe and a homebrew and watch it all fall down. societal collapse as spectator sport.
    thanks for the forum, amfortas.

  15. Kathy McMahon,

    Action is one way to handle the stress. My action was to form a caucus. I invite you and others to join our caucus.

    Joining the ROE caucuses

    We have started a Running on Empty (ROE) caucus of Washington State Democrats . We have also started a national ROE caucus. The goal of this caucus is to bring more emphasis by our Party to the coming end of cheap oil and natural gas which will result in an extreme disaster.

    To become a member of our caucus we require some more information from you. If you agree or basically agree with the following statements and you are a Democrat, then we will accept you into our caucus.

    We request you comment on our below listed platform statements.

    1. There are no sustainable energy sources that will rescue us at our current population levels.

    2. Population reduction must be a part of any plan to rationally deal with peak oil (the end of cheap oil, natural gas, and coal), atmospheric destabilization, biological/species decline, and natural resource depletion.

    3. Absent immediate attention to peak oil, our government and/or political system have no chance whatsoever to react soon enough to help us.

    4. We need a US Constitutional amendment defining a corporation as not a natural person and therefore, the rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment do not apply.

    5. Whereas, We (the Democratic party) think, based on evidence accumulated since these two elections, that the last two Presidential elections were won by the Democratic Party candidate. In 2000, the US Supreme Court stole the election by stopping the recount and in both 2000 and 2004, the Republican Party stole the election by intentional misconduct and illegal acts, therefore be it resolve that the election laws need to be enforced.

    I came up with the idea of this caucus after reading the following books, The Party’s Over and Powerdown by Richard Heinberg, The Long Emergency by James Kunstler, and Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann.

    Cut and past onto a search engine to visit our websites:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RunningOnEmptyCaucusDemocratsUSA

    and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RunningOnEmptyDemocratCaucusWA

    HAPPINESS IS GETTING WHAT YOU NEED.

    EVERYONE NEEDS: Liberty, peace, health, sex, mind exercise, knowledge,
    personal associations, art and creativity, character and a sense of
    justice, and to be assertive (to be able to say “no” without feeling
    guilty. (this last phrase is my addition to Mortimer Adler’s definition of
    happiness).

    NO ONE NEEDS ARBITRARY POWER OVER OTHER PEOPLE.

    my N&V newsletters: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NewsViewsnolose
    my book (a draft) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SomeUnknownUSHistory/

  16. Barbara Spencer says:

    My parents taught us kids to always leave our campsite cleaner than we found it. Dad would say, “Police the area”, and that was our job in packing up.

    That lesson from childhood gets me through my fears today. I try to find something worthwhile to do, and leave it at that. If I felt completely helpless, I would go mad. So I do what I can.

    Fortunately I don’t have children to worry about. I am 55 years old, and I figure neither my dog nor I will be around for the worst of it, and if we are, neither one of us will survive long in trying times. There will be a culling of the herd, no doubt. So I am both terrified and sanguine…an odd mix.

    And in the meantime, I just try to leave my little corner of the world better than I found it. My strength will not be enough to preserve my body, but I will preserve what I can.

  17. Jess Koski says:

    Great conversation.
    I think there will soon be an upsurge in traffic here…as PO gains acceptance, and as a result of the nice video circulating which links to this blog.
    I do have two young kids, thus the issue takes on paramount importance. Thanks, and I’ll be back.

  18. Allen Currie says:

    Kathy McMahon

    I have just read your “Three types of doomers” and congratulate you. I suppose you would classify me as a “do-more doomer” however, I tend to think of it more as managing/preparing for change or the future. Change is a constant, so those of us who ‘get on’ in this world have become more adaptive than the average bear, whether that change be massive, (as doomers predict) or minor. Confront the 16th century man with the change humans routinely experience today, and he would be unable to cope. Any manager worth his salt constantly predicts the future and prepares for it, and this has been so since Solomon, “The prudent man sees the difficulties and dangers ahead and prepares for them; the fool goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (Prov. 22:3).

    I am afraid I am much less charitable with the deadbeat doomers than you are. There is a time for caution, and a time for courage. There is no time for only one or the other. These people who manage conflict by ignoring it will surely die in the coming times. As you say, for security purposes “Others live the same year over and over again, attempting to ‘freeze’ all that was useful and good.” I have already decided that since I feel they are doomed anyway, no matter what I do, I will not waste extremely limited resources trying to help them, charitable or otherwise.

    Then there are the philosopher doomers who are, to me, either the wisest or the stupidest. Those who identify problems and make no plans are educated fools. Then there are the ones who identify problems and make contingency plans. I like to think I am among that group.

    Given the number of calamities facing humanity today, I think that one cannot possibly prepare for every one in advance. You seem to be concentrating on energy. Fair enough. It alone is certainly enough to produce The End Of The World As We Know It. But we have the population question, super diseases, financial Armageddon, changing natural phenomena such as weather and sunspots, desertification of the earth, the list goes on. Are the boogie men under the bed going to get us before the monsters in the closet?

    Personally, I think the financial situation will likely be the trigger to set off a row of dominoes, but be that as it may be. I think one has to play out each scenario independently, and forecast the likely effects. I am confident that it will be a row of dominoes, with a self reinforcing bias. (If the population is decimated by disease, where will the tax monies come from to throw at a quick cure?) My mind at least, cannot handle all the permutations and combinations of all the possible interactions between elements of the list, only the most obvious.

    Following the obvious path of change for each of the scenarios, and comparing them, leads to identification of certain common problems. Once one has a common problem, then the tools to deal with that problem become obvious. One can then prepare by providing oneself with those tools. The plans for dealing with an atomic terrorist attack vary greatly from dealing with a super disease which again varies greatly from a financial Armageddon. However, in the end, they all lead to a breakdown of the social and technological structure. Basic hand tools are likely to be of considerable value. Whether one is fleeing an atomic attack, where one or a few locations are the epicenter of radioactive fallout, or fleeing disease which calls for limited or no contact with potential carriers requires different priorities and plans.

    I think of the current situation as being of the type where, when faced with certain death in five minutes, one spends 4 minutes planning and one minute executing. Thank you for your thoughts which added a dimension to mine. I hope I have done the same for you. If so, do not hesitate to mail me.

  19. VERY (!) interesting blog, congratulations!
    Shame I didnt found it earlier, my reaction was very similar and I felt hmm… LOST :) It is much better now, I hope we still have few years left so I can find a good place to settle and prepare myself.
    I find the “Stories” category very helpful – it gives people feeling that they are not alone with their problems, and that other have even bigger issues (“…then I’ve met man with no feet”).
    Good job with “defaulting” posts as well.

    Take care and all the best!

  20. Reflections on Peak Oil from an undeveloped world immigrant,
    I learned about Peak Oil (and all the other disasters: financial breakdown, climate change, resource depletion beyond oil – water, food, etc.) about five months ago.
    The first weeks I was numb and obsessive: I wanted to read more, know more. I watched videos and talked about the subject incessantly. I became frantic about buying things that we may need, checking things at home and de-cluttering to make space for food and other “survival” things we would need.
    For a few weeks, I couldn’t sleep well. I change all my routines and abandoned my studies. Nothing had the same meaning and I started asking about the worth of each decision and step made.
    I did many things, from stocking food erratically and without any strategy, to engaging in more volunteering projects. I started taking courses on emergency preparedness and disaster response and bought books on permaculture, disaster preparedness, urban gardening, peak oil and homesteading.
    I had already started to make order in our family finances, but now the debt became an obsession again. At the beginning, I was caring for every drop of water we used, and turning lights off around the house. Then I abandoned that a bit, although the use of water and energy was significantly reduced. I adopted “new” ways to deal with some routines: I built compost and then I bought a compost bin (more practical for our townhouse), also bought a clothing rack and started using it for small clothes (anything but big towels and blankets). I stopped watching TV, reduced the time I spent in the shower, bought a bicycle and started a garden in pots in my townhouse deck (they don’t allow me to do vegetable gardening in the actual soil, much less have chicken).
    My emotional reactions seem to be very similar to those of other people in blogs and books. My preparations, at least initially, may be the same, although less radical, in part for lack of family support and in part (mostly) for lack of money…I don’t have the option of moving to a farm or even to a house where I can garden and have livestock. I am too new in Canada and I have a huge debt, acquired just buying this townhouse made of sticks, with plastic pipes that may break in 5 more years, and which garden I pay but can’t use…
    People’s reaction and my strategy towards them is also similar: my husband listens but doesn’t take action and is becoming a bit irritated, telling me that if I continue with this monotony I’ll go crazy. Friends listen and tell me not to worry that much or ignore me, and I am scared of bringing up the subject with others…
    I am still trying to start a community garden, but have no idea of how many supporters, if any, I will have in this community. Things go really slow and I watch everybody as if I were an alien: that’s how I feel. I find myself thinking: “look at them, how they continue their lives, ignorant of what will happen”; or I read the news and think “they are not telling all the truth, they are trying to continue this facade”; sometimes I feel anger, sometimes fear or even panic, sometimes it just doesn’t matter anymore, and sometimes the paranoia comes back and I start stocking and buying again…
    I have abandoned my studies and don’t know whether it makes sense to continue, as they cost money and I’m pretty old (46) . However, I also know that if I want to continue working in my field, I will need a bachelor degree or it will be difficult to find another job when my current contract ends.
    But now things have slowed down a bit…I have become more “political” and read other type of news and blogs, however, I have also started to challenge the Peak Oil “movement” with a little of third-world immigrant critical thinking…
    Let me explain: I was born in a third-world country that had its own history of ups and downs. My childhood had probably the last “good times”. However, I didn’t have a TV or fancy things. My “gifts” for Christmas were clothes, no toys. My family had a small old car and I was used to public transportation and lots of walking. We used to have many blackouts and I lived in houses where there was no tap water: the water came from a well that we had to pump. Other houses where we lived (we rented and moved a lot) were old, European style and their pipes were always malfunctioning. We never had a drier or a washing machine until I was 10. We always had a vegetable garden of some sort and the grocery store didn’t have many exotic things.
    Then a coup d’état sent us to different places. I emigrated as a refugee to another “third world” country, but this time, this was an oil country (Venezuela). There, we had a small TV and a bigger house, we never starved but we had chickens and some vegetables in the backyard. Power outages are very common in Venezuela. You may be more than 24 hours without power and everybody continues their lives: go to work, pay the bills, complain, party, study…Water was scare as well: we may have a whole week without water: we were used to it and had plastic bins that we usually filled when the water was back, to save for the “dry” days…you become use to it.
    I visited Argentina (my home country) when the energy crisis was in its worst moment: cars were abandoned on the streets, nobody would care about thefts: who would steal a car if the gas was so expensive or inexistent? Elevators would work only twice a day for 30-60 minutes each. Grocery stores and shops wouldn’t label the products because prices may go from 10 to 1000 in one hour. The banks froze all the accounts and people couldn’t take their money (they allowed a small amount each month per person). People started to do barter: you exchanged services for goods and vice versa…
    I’m not saying that what’s coming is not bad. I’m saying that there are many people out there already living this or with fresh memories of living like this. And they survive.
    I am not dumb. I understand that what is coming is bigger as it will impact more people, more deeply, and there will be not come back to “normal” (or they may be, smalls “come backs” each time shorter, until the “normal” doesn’t come back anymore).
    But I am starting to think that those who decide to abandon everything and buy a farm, creating a “bunker” full of food and strange systems are not stopping to think on what may really happen.
    Things are not going to stop suddenly and for good. Systems will start to fail slowly and with hiccups: you may have more blackouts than expected and they will be longer. You may start experiencing scarcity of some goods: exotic foods, certain products, etc. Gas, electricity and water prices may raise and people will struggle. Jobs will become more and more instable and employers will continue (they have already started) taking advantage of immigrants, youth, women and anybody who is in real “need” and may accept a lower salary, no benefits, contracts that end without notice, no vacations, etc.
    Things have already started: I work with refugees and immigrants and I can tell: refugees now are not just persecution cases. There are refugees and immigrants who immigrate due to the effects of climate change, exploitation and corruption, wars, financial crises, countries where water, power, food and goods are scarce or too expensive and where human rights are violated because nobody cares.
    The “Peak Oil” is already here. It has been here for years. We are already in transition. It is just that for a part of the world, the party lasted longer and more people though they had earned the “right” to use and abuse of the resources, no matter how they were obtained or who was working so they could have them…
    I still remember my sense of wonder when I arrived to Canada: in Spring, in the small city of Oakville, Ontario, people would through furniture to the street: you walked and could see fridges, stoves, coaches, TVs, tables, toys, clothes…I couldn’t believe it! I used to wonder when visited the grocery store: tons and tons of FOOD, all kinds of exotic beverages and brands…I came from a country where you may not have milk for months or toilet paper for weeks. You can imagine my eyes.
    I quickly became part of this new “reality”. We bought a townhouse and a car. We bought furniture and books and beautiful things. We didn’t spend that much as others, but we became indebted as the rest. We rationalized: “we work hard, we studied hard, and we come from countries were things were tough, we ‘deserve’ all this”.
    Do we?
    My challenge now is to put together these two realities and see things in perspective: we are strong and resilient and we shouldn’t panic. After all, we have experienced this before and we survived. We even were happy.
    Another difference I feel I have when I read the comments from other people concerned about Peak Oil, is that I feel blessed and happy. These times are special times: humankind developed technologies and discovered things never imagined. We have created and build things; we have “grown” in sciences and humanities, arts and technology. That won’t be taken back. No matter what the future brings, what happened happened. So in a way I am thankful to have been born in these times: to have known Internet, being able to listen to music made before I was born thanks to the magic of a CD or my Ipod, to be able to check a book and have it in my hands in a week, to communicate with friends in Spain and Italy…to have been in an airplane many times, in trains and jeeps and have visited museums and watched great movies and so many other things!
    I can’t be angry at humankind because of science and technology or arts. I can’t be angry about music or the fight for human rights, the overcoming of slavery and discrimination and the birth of so many projects and groups.
    I feel blessed and thankful for having been exposed to both worlds and share what each other feel and think about (each other). This couldn’t have happened without cheap energy and technology.
    I am also aware of human history: we have experienced wars and famine, natural disasters and epidemics. Humans were never peaceful, loving and caring. These things develop when all needs are covered and it is easy to care for others than ourselves. I may not be right here, as there are many groups such as some aboriginals from Latin and North America, as well as some Asian cultures that have developed systems of profound caring for Nature and other beings in general. And none of these groups were particularly abundant. However, they were not starving either…
    Human beings don’t learn that much: they tend to repeat the same mistakes. The reason for this is that their lives are short and they tend to learn from own experience, not from books or other human beings. This means that no matter how much you teach children about how horrific the Nazis were, they won’t’ “feel” it real, it is just a vicarious feeling and may be challenged and changed…so things that have happened in the past may happen again.
    Human beings have another characteristic: they are very varied. You will find so many diverse ways of thinking about the same thing, you’ll find different feelings as well. Look out there and see religions, for example, and you will know there is no hope when a religion convinces people of killing their own daughters or shutting the doors to neighbours just because they don’t believe the same. Look at what people “want” and what they do when they have money to spend: some want a garden and a small house, but most want cars and clothes and toys and travels and houses and parties.
    There is no “hope”. Nobody will “save” us. We just exist, as animals and plants do. And each wants food and shelter and love or power and energy to continue living…human beings won’t change because of the long emergency. The world will change as it has always changed before. Trees won’t care, even if they die, as they have (apparently) no conscience. Dogs may care, cats won’t, they will just feel uncomfortable and may move to a better house, or may come back to hunting.
    So even when I love Nature profoundly, even when I love life and people and this world, I peacefully acknowledge that I don’t necessarily live in a time different from others, nor I have to panic about how bad things will turn out. I just happened to live 46 years of relative peace and abundance, and now things (as always have done) will change again. I may die in the struggle, I may starve. Or I may thrive and be able to help others to do so. But we will all dissolve and become again part of the trees and the soil and the animals, and the cycle will continue and evolve as usual, to who knows what new “being” or “thing”…
    Nobody really knows what we are. Not even those who swear they do: they just repeat as zombies what has been written centuries ago in their books by somebody smart or mischievous. There may be a plan or we merely may exist as a wonderful accident. Or we may be Nature’s conscience… nobody really knows. What is real is that we are part of this planet and depend on it and its systems to survive.
    We can prepare and learn as much as we can (and I will continue doing it and helping others do it), however, something is certain: no matter how prepared and stocked you are, if during an earthquake you are hit in the head by your roof, you may die. No emergency kit will save you. So prepare, yes, but also accept life and its cycles as they are.

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  1. [...] i zmian, które to wydarzenie spowoduje. Polecam zacząć lekturę od postu “wprowadzającego” (o tutaj), w którym Kathy opisuje swoje własne odczucia po “odkryciu” problemu Peak Oil. Poza tym [...]

  2. [...] begin to see the world in a whole new way.  Katherine McMahon is a clinical psychologist, and she explains how she felt upon learning about Peak Oil: As I looked around, I began to see the world with a ‘before and [...]

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