Has Peak Oil Newbie “Bought the Farm”?

farm with broken tractor

Dr. K.,
I only leaned about peak oil about a year ago. I’ve discussed it with my husband and family and at least my daughter and her husband have bought a small farm and are starting to re-calibrate.  My husband and I hope against hope to sell our home so we can be near them to help.  Is it too late for my husband and i to  make changes to compensate, or do you think there’s a chance that we can get there yet, as we’re a little late comers to the news?
Thanks Dr. K.

Late to the “Party”


Hi LthP,

I hope you and your family have moved to a farm because that is where and how you choose to live, not because you believe that this is the only survivable way to live…because I don’t think it necessarily is.

After living in a rural area for more than a decade, I can tell you that we’ve burned more fossil fuel here than when we lived in a more urban environment. And despite active attempts to rely on neighbors, we are very much dependent upon modern civilization.

At this point, I believe what Nicole Foss (of the Automatic Earth) says, which is that a financial impact will be felt before all others. Make sure you have a way of remaining financial viable, regardless of where you are, and that you are all out of debt. I would hate to see all of you lose your savings and investment in your land.

As far as selling your house, the market is dramatically different in different areas, so I can’t comment on that.

I think the best advice I can give you is to think twice, and move slowly. Most people need at least two years before the panic passes and they can make saner decisions for themselves and their loved one. Panic is not a good state to be in to make major decisions.

Let me know how it goes.

The Peak Shrink on Peak Moments TV: Seeking the Happy Story (part 1) – But What Do You Feel?

Published on May 2, 2013
We live in a culture that wants only the upbeat response, the story with the happy ending. We marginalize people who express anger or grief about the impossible predicament we’re in — societal and ecological collapse. Clinical psychologist Kathy “Peak Shrink” McMahon, uses empathy and humor to encourage people to really feel their emotions about having their worldview shattered. She responds to the myth that technology will save us, explains why politicians won’t talk about the predicament, and supports people to see what’s going on in spite of the cultural denial. Episode 233. [peakoilblues.com]

Read more about Peak Moments TV and an earlier interview with Dr. K and Janaia Donaldson here.

Climate Change Makes this Rural Dweller Nervous

Hi Peak Shrink,

I live here in Western Massachusetts, which as you know has seen a series of extreme weather events over the past few years: the ice storm of 2008 (power out here for 3+ days), Hurricane Irene, the tornado outbreak of June 2011, the October snowstorm of 2011 (power out here for 5+ days), and Hurricane Sandy (which thankfully didn’t wreak its worst here in MA, but had such an intense impact on the entire region inc. friends and family).  My home is in a rural area on a dirt road.  When the power goes out, we have no water or cooking ability, no internet, and only limited heating capacity.

Long story short:  ever since that string of extreme weather events, I’ve developed intense anxiety and preparedness-craziness when the weather report looks threatening.  I realize that weather news outlets like to attract and retain eyeballs for their advertisers/funders, but nonetheless, when I see “potential for strong to severe storms, can’t rule out a couple of isolated tornadoes”, or “potential ice accumulations/power outages,” my stress hormones spike, I hit Preparedness Overdrive (time to fill the tub and pitchers, check the batteries, cook the raw/frozen things, etc. etc.), with strong anxiety that feels like trauma residue but is also more than that, because it’s wrapped around climate despair.  It makes me miserable and drives my partner nuts.  I can lose whole days to it, glued to multiple online weather sites and Facebook reports from friends who are also stressed out, alternating with prepping my household.

I could get a prescription forAtivan, but I’d rather develop a deeper and more resilient way to defuse this weather anxiety (and channel the climate despair into more useful directions).  Because the weather is only going to get worse, and there’s work to do.

What do you think?

Dizzy on Dirt Road


Dear DoDR,

I’m not sure how long you’ve been going through this anxiety, but for most people, it usually lasts intensely 2 years, then it fades to periods of periodic upset.
Here’s what I’d suggest you do:
  1. You need to make the loss of power less of a big deal.  I would suggest several “practice run” week-ends where you intentionally shut off the electricity, and do what you would do if it actually happened.

  2.  If you own your home, switch over to gas cooking.  If you don’t own your home, get a camp stove and a few tanks of propane.

  3.  You also want to keep the right amount of water ON HAND for the number of people who live with you, and change it out every 3-6 months.  This should be just included as one of those “change of season” things you do.  I’d do it for 5 days, because that’s the worst we’ve seen it, to date.

  4.  Get inexpensive LED lighting you can stick on your wall, next to the outlets.  When you lose electricity, you hit them to turn them on, instead of the light. They don’t through a lot of light, just enough to see your way.  Got to bed at night and don’t stay up for those days.

  5. Have a list of how many batteries you need to power what, and try to keep that at a minimum.  Update the batteries when you change out the water.

  6.  Keep two kinds of food storage, long term and easy to prepare.  Get into the habit of using both kinds, but in a short-term storm, and your “prep week-ends” decide what will be your “comfort foods” and have them at the ready.  Try to make them easy to cook fast(er) foods, not stuff like brown rice that doesn’t store well anyway and takes a long time to cook.

In other words, DoDR, make readiness something that you have gotten used to, not something that spikes your anxiety.  Just because you panic, doesn’t mean you have nothing to feel anxious about.
I assume you have prep books, but “Just in Case” by Kathy Harrison is a good basic book that covers a lot of this, if you don’t.
The first time you drove a car you were probably anxious, but then you got over it, “used to” doing it.  Some of us are more prone to anxiety than others.  I would suggest you continue your “no electricity” week-ends until the thought of having black-outs leaves you “ho-hum.”
In this area of the country, it is just good common sense, and your “instincts” are good.  There is a lot to prepare for, but you just want to get rid of the panic, not the activity.
In the meanwhile, there are many good techniques you can try to learn to relax your nervous system.  Mindfulness is good.  Relaxation training works.  Music is popular as is exercise for people.  You mentioned in your email that you are seeing a therapist.  She or he can walk you though a number of them, until you find a technique that you like…then practice the heck out of it.  You are aiming for what Herbert Benson from Harvard University called “The Relaxation Response.”  Your body, when faced with stress (or a storm) goes into state of relaxation with little prompting, as a response TO THE STRESS.  Cool, huh?
Hope this helps.
Thanks for writing, and keep up the prep!
Peak Shrink
Climate change got you in a panic?  Share your strategies or your worries by writing me.

What is CISPA

We’ve gone black to protest CISPA

What is CISPA?

Under the guise of cyber-security, CISPA (the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) is a bill that would grant corporations the power to share our emails, Facebook messages, and other sensitive online data with the government – all without a warrant.

CISPA would kill online privacy as we know it – nullifying the laws that require big corporations to keep our information private from government agencies like the National Security Agency.

Those corporations wouldn’t have to notify you that they have done this and you wouldn’t be able to take legal action against them if they made a mistake when sharing your information.

While strong information security is critical to privacy and civil liberties, CISPA does almost nothing to prevent this.

All it does is give the government access to your information.

We beat CISPA last year when hundreds of thousands of Americans signed online petitions to let lawmakers know that our online privacy rights are not negotiable.

But this bill is back and politicians who want the government to be able to read your emails and see what you purchase online are hoping you won’t speak out this time.

Together we can beat CISPA again!

We will be back soon…


CISPA Blackout


Boston Marathon Bombing and Civil Liberties: “You messed with the wrong city…”

My daughter, a current Bostonian, who was about a quarter mile away from the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, and who lives 1.5 miles from the scene of today’s police shoot-out, sent me an article by Dennis Lehane in the NY Times, and a clip of the Colbert Report.  The message was the same in both of them: “You messed with the wrong city.”  I resonated with both the article and the clip, and I wanted to talk about how I believe Boston is going to react, long term,  in the face of acts of mass violence.

Lehane took pains to explain that the feeling “You messed with the wrong city” wasn’t macho sentiment, it was just fact.  We have no tolerance for this kind of “crap.”  Life is tough enough, without this on top of it.  It is a collective sentiment, and it didn’t at all surprise me that the city is in total lock down right now.

Instead, it made me feel homesick.

Bostonians don’t much care if they have to face massive imposition to restore a sense of “order” from “chaos.”  Living there, they have to re-impose order all the time. For example, we’d have to put chairs in our shoveled out parking spaces in Dorchester to have someplace to park our cars when we’d return home in the evening.  And we accepted the fact that, once in a while, we’d have to put up with “an idiot” who moved that “friggin’ chair,” in order to steal our parking space.

Bostonians in Dorchester will wait hours by the window, watching (patiently or not), for that person, (“that idiot” ), the one who moved said chair, to come back to that “friggin car.”  Then, even if they are a typically non-violent type, they dutifully get their coat, hat, and boots on, and scramble down three flights of stairs, to tell “that idiot” that moving that chair  was a very bad move on their part, and should not be repeated.  And it is said in a distinctly unfriendly tone.  Or more impactfully, a menacing tone.  Because some things are worth getting pissed about.

Locking down the city is no different.  If The Mayor has to knock on every friggin’ door and check under every single friggin’ bed, just do it.  When you are dealing with “an idiot,” you do what has to be done.

Why they did this crime is not the point. “Some idiot” thought it was a good idea to bomb the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and now Bostonians have to do whatever it takes, tolerate any inconvenience, to catch them.  Where city officials elsewhere would carefully weigh the “cost-benefit analysis,” take the pulse of the polis, The Mayor in Boston knows how we feel.

In Beantown, we say “Screw that, Mr. Mayor, just get it done.

Shooting The Bird.

When my brother learned of my plans to move from a perfectly safe Doomstead, back into the city, he gave me some sage advice: “You know when you’re driving here, you’re going to have to practice giving people ‘the finger’ instead of ‘the wave’.  I knew what he meant. When you live in Mayberry, you wave at people when you drive by. When you live in Boston, he’s reminding me that you have to keep “the idiots” in line by shooting them “the finger.”

New Yorkers’ honk, which to a Bostonian, is a crude and impersonal act, that will make them “an idiot,” in the mind of the average Bostonian. Why annoy everyone, just because of one idiot?

In Boston, we do it this way: We drive like a maniac for the opportunity to lock eyes with the offending driver, and then, only then, with contempt in our eyes, do we shoot them “the bird.”  It is personal.  It says: “I want you to know, that know, that you’re an idiot.”  Confrontational driving in Boston is defensive driving.  Almost a civic duty.

Bostonians don’t expect city officials to do magic.  But we do expect them to control “the idiots” when things get out of hand. We know that it just isn’t sensible to ask The Mayor to keep the snow plows from dumping snow in our driveways every time they pass. We accept the fact that we have to pay outrageous rents, and sit in endless traffic.  And we have to deal with draconian measures, however invasive, to deal with “idiots” who do “crazy” things.

Collectively we say: “Get it done, Mr. Mayor, then get on with it.”

Clang the Pans, Call the Landlord, and then get on with it.

I heard they “shut down” Boston today. I wasn’t the least bit disturbed by any potential infringement to civil liberties. I thought of it more like what used to happen to me in San Francisco, when the apartment had to be sprayed for a chronic infestation of cockroaches.

There comes a time, if you live in a row house in the Haight Asbury, that you have to clang a pan at night, before turning on the kitchen light, to spare yourself the sight of cockroaches darting to escape the brightness.

Then you know that it is time to call the landlord and invite them to come spray poison.

You know the cockroaches return a short time after the poison gets sprayed.  You have to live with them, and they with you.  But you don’t think it is wise to spray every single day to claim utter and total victory. We accepted that cockroaches come with living in a highly desirable location.  But there are limits as to what we will tolerate as a solution to these types of problems.

If, in a year from now, you want to inspect my handbag before I get on the Red Line each morning, “the people” and their elected officials are going to have “problems” with that, and The Mayor knows it.

We  don’t care what Homeland Security tells him to do. He’s The Mayor.  It is his city.  If he doesn’t want to be “an idiot,”  he’ll say “no” to putting up thousands of government surveillance cameras like they have in London (Boston has a lot fewer). Let private companies keep their’s, but don’t expect tax payers to fund the government doing it. Next thing you know, they’ll mail us traffic tickets, like they do in London, without even requiring a cop to eyeball us.  And  worse yet, for some of us, we won’t be able to get anyone to “fix” the ticket.

No thanks.  Keep those cameras out of Boston.

Which brings me to my final point: Every place that deals with acts of violence on a random or massive scale is going to deal with this outrage somewhat differently. I’d like to think “Now I know how Israeli’s must feel,”  but that’s just B.S.  I don’t.  And Israelis are going to deal with this kind of violence differently than the Afghan’s, who had US bombs dropped on them “in retaliation” for 9/11, but even people in the US, never mind Afghan peasants, don’t understand how those two are linked.

As someone who grew up in Boston, I heard a news reporter call the people enjoying the Boston Marathon “civilians,” and I got really angry. When you begin to refer to people as “civilians,” you split the world into two halves: “civilians” and “military,” and in doing so, imply a whole new way of life…a battle ground, instead of a city.  And battle grounds need surveillance. It’s a way of living, psychologically that I reject with every fiber of my being.

Bostonians aren’t “civilians,” and we should refuse to live in a war-zone. We should refuse to live with chronic surveillance as part of “normal life.” If you have cockroaches, you have to spray once in a while, but not every day. The risk to one’s health spraying all the time is worse than the cockroaches.  In the case of surveillance, it is psychological health and democratic health, but the point is still the same.

If you have to pull out strands of my hair to test for bomb debris, today, just do it.  If you have to close down the city, and fill it with bomb sniffing dogs, by all means.

Then get on with it.

But if your plan is to, from this day forward, infringe on my civil liberties “in case” some kid thinks terrifying a city tomorrow will prove something, you’re an idiot, and I would expect Bostonians to resist you, every step of the way.

Bostonians are people who anticipate a degree of hardship and injustice. They expect a certain level of inconvenience and trouble. And they realize that it isn’t possible for law enforcement to keep every kid, with an ax to grind, from creating terror and chaos.  And when some kid commits such a heinous act, it is very, very personal.

You messed with my city.

You put your car in my shoveled out parking space.

You Moved. My. Chair.

Therefore, you are “an idiot” (or, after 20 years of schooling, you learn to say “you are mentally ill”…) and you have to be dealt with.  And The Mayor will see to it that you are caught.

And when you ARE caught, let the rest of us just get on with it.  Let us grieve, mourn, heal, but don’t use it as an excuse to be “an idiot” and monitor our daily lives.

Because things in Beantown are so very, very personal.  And so is our desire to get on with life without infringement.


bomb squad


Mike Ruppert on the Third Date

 Hey Peak Shrink!

I read your help-letter from the lesbian couple looking to relocate.  My partner and I moved from Sacramento to Nevada County almost two years ago.  It was very scary but it was a wonderful choice.  We are super happy here.  I would love to be put in touch with the writer.  You can give her my email address.

The letter inspired me to write a blog about our story.
Feel free to post it to your website of refer it to other readers if you want.  :)

Hillary Hodge

My partner had “taken the red pill” and was hip to peak oil before I had been introduced to the concept. I knew intuitively that society could not continue down the path of rampant consumerism but I didn’t know the imminent danger. Even as a child I was a conservationist—turning off the water when I brushed my teeth, turning off lights when I left the room. As I got older I recycled, composted, sent money to various endangered animals and rode my bike to work. I even had a backyard garden in a major city, I was way ahead of the curve. But nothing prepared me for the reality of peak oil. My partner rented Collapse with Michael C. Ruppert for us to watch on our third date in July of 2010.

At the time we were living in Sacramento. After California’s Proposition 8, the voter initiative to ban marriage equality, had passed in California in 2008, Sacramento had somewhat become a hub for LGBTIQ activism. I belonged to several queer activist groups, many LGBTIQ-associated activity groups and was the Entertainment Manager for Sacramento’s Gay Pride. I had many interests but the majority of my friends were other queers. That’s one of the great things about being queer in a metropolitan area. It doesn’t matter what you are interested in—hiking, biking, reading, singing, riding motorcycles—there is likely an organized group of gays willing to get together for that purpose.

But life wasn’t all bike rides and book clubs. By the end of 2010, things were looking grim. I worked in social services and the agency was talking about mass lay-offs. My partner was commuting to her job in the Sierra Foothills an hour and a half each way and gas prices were nearly $5/gallon. Crime in downtown Sacramento had become the norm. There was no place to garden. I tried to get to know my neighbors but no one was interested in forming friendships. I felt isolated in a city of half a million people.

For many in the LGBTIQ community, the previous couple of years had been marked with episodes of depression and despair. The passing of Proposition 8 was devastating to people all over the country. For many in the gay community, especially for those under the age of 40, the passing of Prop 8 was the first experience in being viscerally aware of what it feels like to be a marginalized population. Between 2008 and 2010 I had lost three friends to suicide. The passing of Prop 8 gave license to gay bashers all over America to be more outward with their views. When I worked on the campaign to defeat Prop 8 I had been spat on, cursed at and chased. Once Prop 8 passed, nothing changed. I was frightened. I was scared for my friends, for our lives and for our mental health. The gay community was deeply important to me because the gay community was my ally.

But now I had a new problem on my hands: peak oil. And by the spring of 2011 my frustration had deepened. Like many people who have recently found out about peak oil, I felt like Cassandra of Greek mythology trying to get people to understand this very important issue and having almost no one take me seriously. My partner and I tried to bring our concerns up to our friends, to try and form a lifeboat network, but our friends were keen to “extend and pretend,” as James Howard Kunstler calls it.

In March of 2011 my partner and I started talking seriously about a change. We didn’t really want to give up city life. We loved walking to get coffee on Sunday mornings. I enjoyed running around Sacramento’s McKinley park. We took advantage of the city’s many book stores. We loved the great variety of fruit trees along Sacramento’s midtown streets. Sacramento was out home. But we wanted out of the city. We sat down and brainstormed what we really wanted, what was really important to us: local food, neighbors that talked to each other, skills sharing, community, family, organic farms, friendship. The list went on.

Then we did the math. If I were to be laid off and were getting unemployment benefits, we would break even if we moved closer to my partner’s work and saved on gas. So we did the thing that most peak oil veterans say not to do: we moved.

In May of 2011 I was laid-off and we moved to an organic farm in Nevada County. We helped take care of the crops and the chickens in exchange for living in a tiny cottage on the property. It was very hard work and an incredible learning experience.

When we interviewed for the new place I was incredibly nervous. Rural America isn’t exactly known for its gay-friendly atmosphere. When I answered the Craigslist ad, I had made sure that it was pretty clear that we were lesbians. I didn’t want there to be any surprises. But it turned out to be a non-issue.

It was pretty much a non-issue all over Nevada County. I had only had one incident where someone said something and he didn’t even say anything to me. He commented to our landlord that he was uncomfortable with gay people. That was it.

It was August before I met another queer person in Nevada County. PFLAG had a booth at the county fair. I knew that there was a chapter of PFLAG in Nevada County but I didn’t go out of my way to check it out because PFLAG stands for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.” I was a lesbian. Not a parent of one.

But by then it almost didn’t matter. I had found a community and that community didn’t care or didn’t notice that my partner and I were a couple of homos.

Almost a year ago we moved deeper into the foothills, to the other side of Nevada County. We now live in our own rental in a community of nine units on five acres of property. We have our own backyard mini-farm and share an organic garden. We are so glad we moved.

If you are a member of the LGBTIQ community and thinking of relocating because you want a community focused on localism, resiliency, and post-petroleum living, I say go for it! But before moving, try to become fully informed. Research nearby rural communities. Check to see if they have an organization like Nevada County’s APPLE, the Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy. Browse the Transition Town website for local transition towns. Once you’ve established that your prospective new community is preparing for a post-industrial world, check to see if they have any services or organizations for the LGBTIQ community. See if there is a county or town gay and lesbian facebook page. Try and contact someone in the area and start pen-palling. In states that have had a vote on the gay marriage issue, it is likely public record how each county voted. Here is a map of California’s 2004 Prop 8 vote: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-2008election-prop8prop22,0,333635.htmlstory

Relocating can be really hard. It took us about a year before we felt like we were really a part of the community. It can often be hard to break into the social scene in places with a small-town legacy. The best advice that I could give is to volunteer. Volunteer at the food bank, volunteer with local organizations, volunteer at the schools. I’ve found that most communities are like the gay community: if you embrace it, it will embrace you back.



Original article found here.

Post Peak Career? Forget Law, Consider Geology

In 2007, Byron King was chatting with Mr. Wang, a marine geologist from China, and what he learned knocked his socks off:

“[T]here are about 40,000 or 50,000 students studying geology in China today at the university level. Maybe more, but I do not want to give you a number that is too high.”

That’s about 25 times the students studying in the US (and about half the US graduates are foreign nationals).

For every geologist in the US, we have about 50-100 lawyers, King estimates.

What about the population difference?  China has 4 times our population, but 50 times the number of geologists.

First year salaries:

Lawyers: $38,118 – $91,256

Petroleum Geologists: $44,385 – $106,4367857167_s



And geologists get longer vacation times and better bonuses, too.

Educational Requirements

Sixty-three percent of geologist have B.A degrees.

Match that to a doctoral degree you’d need for law.


The US Bureau of labor statistics predicts a 21% increase in need for geologists, vs 10% for lawyers by 2020.  We have a lot of retiring petroleum geologists with an average number of years in the biz averaging 19.  And their pay went up 13% last year.  Faster salary increases were seen for women.

It’s also a great profession for single women looking for men.  It’s a field that’s 90% men.


And hate your boss?  According to Oil on My Shoes,

“Good geologists need virtually no supervision, once they are told what the objectives of the company are.”

Job Satisfaction

And the same site reports 0ne poll that found that geologists ranked #2 in job satisfaction out of all professions.

After meeting hundreds of geologists over the years, I can say that people who fall into geology naturally (as most do) are extremely satisfied with their profession.”

So what’s the education?

B.S. in Geology OR make up the following course load:  Physical Geology (4 hours), Historical Geology (4 hours), Mineralogy (4 hours), Optical Mineralogy (4 hours), Petrology (3 hours), Stratigraphy/Sedimentation (3 hours), Structural Geology (3 hours), Geology Field Camp (6-8 hours), General Chemistry (8 hours), Physics (8 hours), Computer Science or Statistics (3 hours), Calculus (6 hours), and a possible foreign language requirement.


In the future scramble for understanding our world, and locating the last remaining resources available to exploit, or impacting how companies approach this exploration, we’ll need those who understand geology.


See more here


Saying Goodbye to Tomorrow.



Today is the last day on Earth, according to some New Age interpretation of the Mayan calendar.

This belief has caused endless suffering and useless expensive purchases by people trying to “beat the clock” and find somewhere safe to spend their last few hours.  Cheap places have suddenly become outrageously expensive, because someone said “Hang out there!” during your final hours.

This story caused one young woman to take her life.

However, saying “Goodbye to Tomorrow” has a long history that goes beyond this moment in time.  Humans are famous for planning the end of not only their own anticipated deaths, but because that is just too commonplace, they have to anticipate the death of everyone and everything around them.

The End of the World.  Or more modestly put, The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI).

One psychologist got interested in one “Say Goodbye to Tomorrow” group, and actually hung out with them during their “final moments.”  He wanted to know how they cognitively justified it, when the end of the world failed to materialize.

He reported that great anticipation happened during the moments ticking up to “the end.”  Five minutes “after doomsday,” the euphoria of the group changed to anxiety.  After several hours, when the followers began to look doubtfully at their leader, he enthusiastically announced “We’ve done it!

In a twist of mental gymnastics, he proclaimed that given his followers’ prayers and preparations, they had successfully “stopped” the end!  But now he was in a bit of a dilemma:  If the whole raison d’etre of the group was the “end,” he needed another “end,” or what’s the point?

What I’m noticing is a disturbing trend that mimics this same pattern.  Saying “We’re screwed!” is a good start when you are trying to build enthusiasm, but not quite as good as “We’re screwed next Tuesday!”  When next Tuesday comes, and the “screwing” didn’t happen on cue, what do you do to maintain your credibility?

Again and again over the years, I’ve noticed that people have taken dramatic actions in anticipation of this or that “end.”  For some, it is the end of civilization.  For others, it is “goodbye to the global economic system.”  For still others, it is the end of the Earth as a livable planet.  For these intelligent, sincere individuals, their goal, despite their critics, isn’t making a fast buck.  Most of them make no or little money on their predictions.  They really believe in what they are predicting.  So, to live in congruency, they pack up, sell off, and move to some more “sustainable” or “safe” location, and try in earnest to live in keeping with their anticipated tomorrow.  They “do it anyway” as a friend of Sharon Astyk says.

But it causes some of them tremendous social hardship.

Nostalgia for the Present

For some, they start to miss their “old life,” that “yesterday” that they abandoned with conviction.  For most living in this “yesterday,” they weren’t nearly as wastefully as others.  They were already living lean, using a fraction of resources compared to the average person in Western Civilization.  And they, themselves, are products of this Civilization they’ve come to critique.  They are writers, intellectuals, scientists, and professionals. They often leave culturally rich environs to move to remote locations known for, well, known for nothing in particular that most people care very much about.  Let’s call that location “Rural Nowhere.”

Then they wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Rural Nowhere is not noted for great employment opportunities. They’ve often given up their jobs and their incomes as a matter of conviction and necessity.  No matter how long they anticipated their resources to last, as the months and years tick on, they see the bank accounts dwindling.  Some have sold their homes, bought an RV, and drove around believing the “end of oil” is upon us.  (Yes, I know…)

Plus, if they left an intellectually alive place for Rural Nowhere, they get lonely.  They get resentful.  They start to look back at all of their colleagues and neighbors, the “Sheeple,” that continue to rake in decent salaries and take in decent cinema, without driving a few hours.  They feel increasing disdain  and then increasing hostility.

If they confidently provided a timeline, their families begin to stare at them with their own impatient brand of “Sooooo?”  Few of us would move on the promise that “the end of tomorrow” will happen in 50 years.  Most of us drag our feet at dramatic lifestyle change if doom is expected in over 5 years.  So many are stuck with an accelerating Doomline, and a stubbornly “Todaylike” tomorrow.

What happens to your marriage, when you took her out to Rural Nowhere, and you have day after day of Todaylike tomorrows?  What happens when Tomorrow stubbornly refuses to leave?

The pressure is enormous.

As the clock continues to build, not only must Tomorrow be something that is going, it starts to mutate.  Despite the hardship, Today has got to go.

Evil Believers

It is one thing to be a Panglossian, who believes that nothing in the world could possibly go wrong.  Now, however, what about those who continue to believe in Tomorrow?  They are viewed in the worst possible light.  You want children? You’re pregnant?  Those bearing children become “breeders” who should be shunned.  You bought a new car, or iphone?  You are killing off the ecosystem.

3-E Hair Shirts

But caution is in order, because it is really very difficult to live purely, even in Rural Nowhere.  To resolve the hypocrisy, some proclaim “I won’t change, it is the corporations that need to change!” They say their contribution to Demise is hardly significant. So they go on living like they did yesterday, while predicting the end of tomorrow. The rest of us us still secretly driving to buy take-out, and are ashamed of ourselves or embarrassed when we’re “caught.”

We find ourselves lusting for that “really cool” gadget, then hating ourselves.  In an attempt to purify ourselves, no different than the saints who wore hair shirts or whipped themselves into trances to rid themselves of impure thoughts, these modern day Doomers also look for relief.

As if I haven’t created enough enemies in our community at this point, allow me to push forward.

 You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned…

Nudging Along the End of Today

If civilization is going to fall, and isn’t falling fast enough, it should now be nudged along.

The solution is also an old one.

A movement is gaining popularity whereby this nudging has taken on violent overtones.  The narrative is outlined in the starkest terms:  If you love the planet, there is only one recourse to those who are killing it.  You are either with us, or against us.  You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned.

Most often, of course, history has taught us that within these movements, there appears to be two classes of people:  The Leaders and the Followers.  The Leaders are often most valuable for continuing to do what they have been doing all along:  Thinking.  Writing.  Lecturing.  Pontificating.  They are justified in any eco-transgressions because, after all, they are the Leaders, and are attempting to gather more Followers to speed up The End of Tomorrow.

The Followers

The Followers also appear to be remarkably similar over the years.  They are usually much younger than the Leaders.  They have far fewer resources and often live lives much closer to “The End of Tomorrow” than the Leaders do.  They are often directly impacted by the worst parts of today, whether this is the crappy jobs during the rise of the industrial empire, or crippling student loans today.  But whether we are talking about the turn of the century or today, the role of the Followers are the same:  they are the handmaidens, the expendables.   They read the call to action and are ready to act.  They will engage in behaviors that cause them to either die or be put in cages for a very, very long time.


Sometimes we’ve learned, decades later, that the provocateurs were actually agents of the government who were seeking to discredit a popular movement that was gaining power.  They were “plants” who said: “We have to do this!” and yet, when everyone was imprisoned or dead, these “Leaders” safely vanished.  Popular movements become “unpopular” when associated with “senseless” acts violence.

Anyone who carefully studies human history will notice this trend.  And they will notice another mantra:  “Things have never been as bad as they are today.”  And usually they are right.  And dramatic actions are called for when we are talking about the End of the World.

They will also notice how slow the progress of change is, and how unpopular ideas seem to almost overnight, become popular ideas.  And despite how dire things are, no matter how bad today is, compared to all the badness of yesterday, remarkably, “today” continued to seamlessly flow into “tomorrow,” against all the odds.  And those who wrote the Doomline re-write the predictions, and no one seems particularly interested in the miscalculation.

Now I hate to have to be the one to write any of this.  What I’m saying is hardly revolutionary or new.  In fact, what I’m saying is easily what the most conservative endorsers of Today would say in response to social critics.  I’ve hardly been a cheerleader of Today, and don’t imagine Tomorrow will be swell, either.

But I care about young people, and I care about their passion and their enthusiasm.  And while I’m terrified of the future, too, I can’t imagine how violence that will mostly impact the poor and working classes will lead to a healthier planet.  I don’t see how spending decades of your life behind bars (“in a cage”) will somehow make the world a safer place for dying species.

And while most of these Thought Leaders proclaim how delighted they’d be to give their own lives for the future of a healthy planet, they live on.

They prep on.

They pontificate on.

And they tell us over and over that if we don’t “do something,” something increasingly dramatic as their Doomlines creep forward, we won’t have Tomorrow.

So for those who believe that Today is the last day on Earth I say:

”So long, it’s been good to know you.”

For the rest of us, let’s continue to work for change, with the utmost of care, and always anticipate that Tomorrow MIGHT come.

Grappling with the Inexplicable – A Psychologist Looks at Newtown CT

A Reason to Kill

It was a quiet afternoon, when the man walked in, holding a gun.

He was looking for his wife’s therapist.

He was angry, and was convinced that it was this therapist, not his wife’s own decision-making, that had led her to decide to divorce him.

By the time he was finished shooting, one therapist was dead, another shot and permanently blinded.

The man was a good shot. He was a police officer.

I began working with couples in that same clinic several years later.

There is a certain edge to a place that has experienced gross, unpredictable violence, even years earlier.

That agency was lucky in some ways, because it had some excuse, some explanation for why it happened. The shooter was a violent, angry husband. He came gunning for his wife’s therapist, although he never actually shot at her therapist. It didn’t matter. Once you walk into a place looking to kill, anyone becomes a target. I don’t know of a case where a person just leaves, unable to find their target. Once the decision to kill is made, the rage propels an outburst, a blood lust.

“I Can Talk Him Down”

Another colleague, a former teacher of mine, told us a teaching tale. He was doing crisis work, and a patient of his had a gun and was threatening people. My teacher was the patient’s therapist at the time. He was convinced that, being the therapist, he could “talk the man down.” After the first shot missed him, he changed his mind.

In this post, I would like to acknowledge the death of the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, who was murdered in Newtown, CT.  Like my former professor, perhaps she believed she could reach the person, and stop the violence.

I would also like to talk about a similar incident that killed a number of innocent children in Great Britain, and how, in our desperate need for a solution, any solution, we pick one, and convince ourselves that this is the right one. This will stop senseless acts. This will stop the insane, or those bordering on it, from doing insane things.


We can focus on a target, when none is presented to us. We need a target to focus our own terror, fury and grief.

Back in March of 1996, Great Britain targeted the legal ownership of handguns, after a former Scout leader fired his registered handgun in a gymnasium, killing 16 children and their teacher, before killing himself. Eleven other children and 3 adults were badly wounded. The gunman had enough ammo to kill everyone in the building. He was heading for a school assembly, but was misinformed about the time it began. Instead, he fired 105 rounds in three minutes into two buildings, from the four pistols he carried with him.

It remains the deadliest massacre in Great Britain.

They were five- and six-year olds.

The Community

It was unbelievable to so many people. Violence was expected to happen to children in urban areas, where assaults of all kinds are commonplace. It seems to be all but dismissed there, where we have an explanation. But Dunblane, Scotland was a prosperous community, far away from urban cares. Parents had a pact with their world. They chose the town because of its good schools. They sent their children to a “happy” and “safe” place, and no one doubted that they would return home safe at the end of each day.

The Age Group

Many can explain away violence of teens toward teens.  But so few can grasp why rage is directed at 5 year olds.

Parents who lose small children live in a persistent psychological torment.

Children at 5 and 6 years old begin to get a grip on the world in a way 3-4 year olds can’t. They tell stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. They have a clear sense of right and wrong, and the “rules.” They like school, and they like to please. Sometimes they tell “stories” of the way things “should” have happened, instead of the way they actually did. Adults call that “lying” but that word is too harsh for a 5 year old. It’s just a good story, with a “correct” ending. They also like a good joke or riddle. Five year olds develop greater empathy, prefer their own gender, and have best friends. They can begin to talk to themselves to calm down, but can also get easily upset when things aren’t “right” or are “not fair.” They begin to understand the concept of death and have many questions about it.

In a documentary about the Dunblane Massacre, there is a heartbreaking scene, where a father of one of these children talks about his delightful five year old, Sophie, who was taken from him 10 years earlier.

“She liked drawings, she liked videos, she liked going to parties and playing in the [garbled] pool…various things like that… she liked playing swimming, she was a bright, intelligent, talkative, friendly, girl, and a pleasure to be with.”

Sophie’s mother had died of cancer two and a half years earlier.  He knows it is unreasonable, but blames himself for Sophie’s death because he promised his wife he’d take care of Sophie after she was gone.

It is remarkable how much pain one individual can bear.

The Outcry

The town florist in Dunblane spoke of the continuous calls from people all over the world, people with no connection to the family or the town, ordering flowers with poems, quotes, words of support. They sent stuffed animals.  Then money.  We can’t bear our own grief, and want to show the bereaved that we feel pain, too.  We want to reach out and comfort ourselves and them.

At first, these gifts lined the streets. Then were transferred to the grave sites  Sophie’s father remembered the rustling of “cellophane flowers” he called them.

Flowers enclosed in cellophane…. it is an auditory memory that brings back that traumatic time whenever he hears it.

The Murderer

Sophie’s father asks a question that we all want the answer to:

“How does society deal with somebody who is on the margins, but has never committed a crime, that can actually be seen by the legal system, as a crime?”

The man who had done the shooting was murmured to have acted in sexually inappropriate ways with the children under his care. He wrote the Queen, protesting that people thought of him as a pervert. As a result, his business in this area of small towns began to falter, and then failed.

He was angry that he had been removed from contact with children.

However his other passion, hand guns, was still alive.

No one in the documentary could say the word “pedophile.” The best they could express was that the man took children into his van, and there were complaints against him to authorities, but “nothing was ever done.” Instead, he was shunned by the community.

We don’t know why he loaded his guns and went to kill children that morning. But we do know what happened afterward.

The Response

The lives of the families of those dead children were forever impacted. Their enormous grief mutated into rage, as they realized that the man who had killed their children practiced his aim, and carried his handguns legally. He had a firearms license for 19 years, and held memberships at three target shooting gun clubs in the area.  They took united action to give meaning to an otherwise senseless act.

The Snowdrop Campaign12979548_s

A campaign was begun, entitled The Snowdrop Campaign, after the only flower that bloomed in that part of Scotland in March. By July, over 700,000 signatures had been gathered. A united grief was mobilized. Within 24 months, the Campaign was successful: there was a complete ban on handguns in Great Britain (with a few areas like Northern Ireland exempted).

It was the tightest legislation on guns in the world.

The gymnasium was later torn down and replaced with a garden. Churches in the town put up stain glass windows with doves and snowflakes representing the dead and injured children. Ted Christopher added an additional verse to Bob Dylan’s song “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,”  with the siblings of the dead kindergarteners singing the refrain.

The island was now too small a place to allow those “on the margins” to have access to weapons. Anyone wanting to carry a gun was guilty, and look upon with hostility and scorn.

School Shooters

In the old days, three groups of people harmed others in elementary schools: unrequited lovers who killed the school maiden who rejected them; teachers or students who killed other teachers or students; or members of the school board. There were rare exceptions.

Today, the phenomenon is so common the perpetrators are given a name: “School Shooters.” Guns are used in the USA, but in China they have a phenomenon of School Stabbers. The accelerated rate of stabbings of elementary school mass stabbings in China since 2003 is remarkable. There were seven attacks on elementary school children in 2010 alone.

School Shooters are profiled by the FBI. One of my former supervisors is an expert on the phenomenon of school shootings. The typical profile is a kid who is “on the margins.” Often bullied, left out, angry. These are also sometimes kids that can achieve in other ways, but not socially.

Socially, they are miserable.

They don’t do the heinous act spontaneously. They acquire their weapons and carefully plan their attack.

If we could somehow outlaw social misery, we could probably solve a great many more social ills than School Shooters. In the meanwhile, another predictable result of these tragedies is a moral panic that settles in those of us who bear witness.

There will continue to be a lot of discussion about what causes such terrifying outbursts of violence against the helpless and innocent. It is so intolerable for us to believe that such unpredictability can exist in the world. Some will blame guns, some mental illness, or the lack of available mental health services. Others, because we are talking about a 20 year old, will blame his mother or her political beliefs about the future, claiming that she was a paranoid survivalist waiting for the end of civilization as we know it.  But we need to blame.  We need to explain.  We need to settle ourselves that if we know, if we understand, we can re-gain control.

But whatever reason we use to comfort ourselves, we need to have a reason. We need to be convinced that once we know why things went so wrong in such “right” places like Dunblane, Scotland or Newtown, CT, we can right the wrong, and we can rest easier.

I  honor you, my colleague, Mary Sherlach, and to all of those in grieving, may the memory of each of the dead be a blessing to you.