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,
- 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:
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, 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.