Fossil Fuels R Us–but we can change, and so can they!

I am in one of those periods where I feel quite inadequate to comment on the events that dash across the world and national stages with madcap intensity.

What was it Shakespeare said? Life’s but a shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….

And yet for those of us who are caught up in the moment, our hour upon the stage, what happens does matter, it does signify something—even if we can’t always tell what that something is.

The General and his lover

What does it mean that a much-decorated general, Director of the CIA, abruptly resigns after being investigated for adultery by the FBI?

Is this scandal really just about a simple affair with a younger woman, or do the General’s neocon tendencies, which had him presiding over the escalation of the disastrous war in Afghanistan and advocating open hostility with Iran, have anything to do with the alacrity with which President Obama accepted his resignation?

We’ll find out when the blockbuster film comes out, a couple of years from now!

Meanwhile, the drumbeats of war are booming in Israel/Palestine, right on cue after the American elections ground to their quadrennial conclusion.

Once again photos of bloody children pop up on our computer and TV screens.  Once again passionate voices on both sides of this eternal conflict are raised.  This is a pageant that has taken place so many times it has become predictable and stale, like the Christmas pageants that will soon take their places on local church stages throughout Christendom.

Scenes from Gaza, November 2012

Why can’t those people just get along? Americans wonder before flipping the channel.  Few of us are aware of the extent to which the Israeli/Palestinian conflict continues to be fueled and armed by the taxpayers of the United States.

This is our conflict; we are responsible.  But as long as we dispassionately wait for someone else to stop it, it will continue to grind on.

The same is true with so many issues, from climate change to income disparity.  It’s time to stop waiting for someone else to step in and solve the problems, make the changes for us.  We have to do it ourselves.

There are a few encouraging signs that this is beginning to happen.

The 350.0rg “Do the Math” tour with Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and many, many friends is making its historic way across the country, urging Americans to consider ways they can pressure the institutions with which they’re involved to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Scene from the Do the Math tour in New York City, 11/12

McKibben was talking about this last summer when I went to listen to him up at the top of Mount Greylock here in western Massachusetts, courtesy of Orion Magazine.  He invoked the successful divestiture movement of the international anti-apartheid struggle, which put enough pressure on the racist South African government that it eventually had to back down from its untenable position and begin working with the Black South Africans.

The sins of the fossil fuel companies are much bigger than those of the Boers: we’re not just talking about bigoted social policies in one country here, we’re talking about a mindset, policy brief and massive engineering effort that is inexorably endangering the entirety of human civilization on this planet, and indeed the well-being of all current life forms, perhaps excepting algae, bacteria and cockroaches.

And yet, it’s impossible to externalize the blame here, because the fossil fuel companies have only been trying to give us what we want: cheap and plentiful oil and gas.

It’s not their fault that we love their products so much we’re willing to do anything—including fight endless wars—to get it.

It’s incumbent on us to look inward and interrogate our own desires and dependencies in order to move forward.

Pressuring the fossil fuel companies to change is a good thing, as long as we’re willing to change with them.

Shifting to renewable energy is going to take a commitment from every player on the world stage today, from government leaders to manufacturers to the financial sector to ordinary consumers like you and me.

Let’s not allow the gloom of Shakespeare’s tragedies to engulf us and sap us of energy.  This play isn’t over yet and it doesn’t have to come to a bloody end.

Enough playing the handwringing Hamlet role!  Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work to solve our problems and write ourselves a better script.

Leave a comment


  1. leavergirl

     /  November 18, 2012

    So what’s your personal plan, Jennifer?

  2. I do not drive a car.

    I choose to live within walking and bicycling distance of necessary destinations. I use public surface transportation for travel outside my town. I choose work that does not require a commute.

    I choose to live where I use no fossil fuel to heat or cool my home.

    I raise as much food in my gardens as possible. The rest I buy from local markets.

    I don’t shop. I buy necessities at thrift stores and yard sales wherever possible. When I can’t find used what little I need, I buy at locally owned shops. I participate in our local free table. I share, lend and borrow.

    I put over half of my income in savings in a locally owned bank. No investments, no stocks, no bonds. I let my money work in my own community.

    I don’t look to the government for handouts, free money, incentives, oppressive regulations, imperialist intervention in other nations, solutions to my personal problems.

    I live the change I wish to see in the world.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  November 18, 2012

      You are leading the way, Michael! Way out in front of most of the people I know, but we’d better start catching up with you fast!

      • The important thing to realize is that I do not live a deprived life. My life is rich and full, without cellphones, without television, without advertising, without cars, without all the impedimenta of daily life of the majority of people in the developed world.

        Advertising creates desire, which begets consumerism, which begets a degraded natural world that sustains us all.

        If the majority of the people live as my wife and I do, corporate capitalism would collapse. As we say, we’re not good for THE Economy.


      • leavergirl

         /  November 18, 2012

        So Jennifer, what do you intend to do? I am trying to find out if you are all about speechifying or whether you actually do mean it… you know, about doing stuff. Now.

        I am not trying to poke you. I am in a similar place… and if you are honest with us rather than talk at us, our own “being the change” will be furthered. I sure could use that sort of a discussion in my own life. There is Michael, and well, there is the rest of us. Not even in the running… 😦

  3. Rather than questioning what others are doing, I concentrate on what I am doing. Only I can make the decisions about my life. I can’t make decisions for others.

    We all have the capacity to make decisions about our lives, each and every day, each and every moment. We consciously choose to live the lives we live, each and every day. We can choose to change the way we live, each and every day. The only thing holding us back, is our own unwillingness to make a decision.

    I have a finite amount of decisions left in my life. I strive to make each decision count.

  4. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  November 18, 2012

    Thank you for this reminder, Michael. Yes, our decisions count. Leavergirl, you are poking me and that’s OK. At the moment, I am speechifying and that is what I am DOING to try to respond to the crisis that we are living in slo-mo these days. Not enough, not nearly. But all I seem to be able to manage right now–

    • leavergirl

       /  November 19, 2012

      True, but poking you and me both. 😉 No, I don’t think speechifying is enough. For any of us. Only changed behavior counts… because only changed behavior gets results out in the world. Here, you and I… mostly talk. Angie and Michael, they are doing it. It’s begun to bug me, big time. Too much talk and too little doing, everywhere I look.

  5. One thing I find astonishing is that people attack you for efforts to reduce personal fossil fuel consumption. One of our neighbours ticked us off because he doesn’t like our “junkscaping”, ie. using discarded materials to build garden paths, fences, raised beds etc. Hmmm – i find ticky-tacky pretty yuk, but hey, I’d not comment.
    I am astonished at the vitriol and ridicule levelled at vegetarians, on line and in person, when to me it is such a no-brainer; the meat industry pumps out massive amounts of pollution, is sickeningly cruel, and it’s proven healthier for us to avoid eating the stuff (in spite of all the nonsense about our protein needs etc that has been pedalled for yonks).
    I was even abused by a sister for imposing my radical extremism on my kids, because we no longer fly to holiday destinations, grow food, and we try to purchase second-hand clothing and goods – which the girls actually revel in, as they experiment in “indie” fashion statements for less money, and because, at school, they have watched programs on the misery of Chinese manufacturing workers. The girls laughed at this criticism. As if they’d listen to their Mum, anyway!
    Michael, you are my new other hero!!! Good for you. And I adore your very simple objective; TO STRIVE TO MAKE EACH DECISION COUNT. That’s all we need do IMO. With an honest heart, simply choose the least damaging option available in our everyday living. But be gentle with ourselves when we succumb to the easier more damaging choices, and assess our progress in terms of a trend towards kinder living, rather than a fanatical dedication. Try not to judge others. Appreciate their positive efforts. Lastly, be understanding with less advantaged people – poor, sick and uneducated people need support to get on board.

    Man I sound like I’m angling for canonisation… :[

    Oh well. Cheers to you all!

  6. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  November 18, 2012

    Thanks so much for this comment, Angie! Your solid good sense and kindness always warms my heart and brings me hope. Yes, I do think we need to “be gentle with ourselves” and others,” because this is a long hard road we’re on and we cannot expect to be walking in anything remotely like lockstep or even syncopated rhythm. Even though I live in a fairly progressive corner of the world, still the pressure to conform to the consumer norm is staggering. I am grateful to all of you for these reminders that another world is possible…on a clear day, we can hear her breathing….

  7. Thanks Jennifer!
    There’s plenty to be hopeful about. Here’s an Aussie women’s initiative re climate change: – to help keep you cheerful.

    The US probably has similar, and with many, many more members? (Had a quick look but came upon One Million Moms…. Oh dear…poor conservatives are so damned scared of difference. Aren’t there more important things to spend one’s intellectual and emotional energy on, than other folks’ sex? Like, maybe, pulling together to avert global catastrophe? If only we could channel all the activities of hate and fear into passion for the future of the world. Sounds Pollyanna, but surely it’s a biological imperative, our desire for the success of the human species? We just need to align our tribal instincts for attack with our knowledge of the true threats. Start a campaign against “entitlement” for example, impassioned but not to the extent that it activates our lurking Thanatos…. and leads us down the path of DGR etc…
    …just musing. Better go back to work!

  8. leavergirl

     /  November 19, 2012

    That sounds ambitious, Angie. I was more responding to the words of this post, where Jenn says “It’s incumbent on us to look inward and interrogate our own desires and dependencies in order to move forward” and “pressuring the fossil fuel companies to change is a good thing, as long as we’re willing to change with them”, shifting to renewable energy.

    Now if she means it, surely she is giving some effort to how to apply this in her life? Now? What changes is she ready to make, or even is dreaming to make, to align with these words? Or are these words written mostly to further her career, meant for a book, and nothing will change…? This is hard to say, I am not happy saying it, I like Jennifer, but my entire time on this blog has been wondering if that is all the depth this blog has. Blow with the winds of greenish progressivism, make all the right noises, publish rather than perish, and then… then what?

    Now if you heard Jenn fulminating about the evils of big banks, yet showing no inclination to put her own money into a local bank, would that wash? I see ourselves, most of us, at this great impasse: are we gonna do it, or not? Rolling our sleeves up and going to work, like she says, means new ways of behaving. New ways of making those everyday choices Michael speaks of. It can start small, but please let’s do start! Something to show for all this torrent of words. (Yes, words are too “doing” after some fashion, but lacking material doing… shrug… if you have a broken water pipe in the kitchen, no amount of speeches nor putting verbal spells on the pipe will do the job. And we have lots of broken pipes among us and on this planet.)

    Jennifer chose an ambitious title for this blog. To be the change. Is it just a play of words, or is there real commitment behind it? This decaying system does not lack in wordniks. It lacks in alternative behaviors that lead away from the cliff.

    Now I’m gonna go and reflect on this in my own life.

    • leavergirl

       /  November 20, 2012

      So I reviewed stuff. It turns out that I have poured most of my energies in the last few years into learning far more about relationships and what makes them work, and what doesn’t. And I have been practicing new behaviors in this area. So perhaps I was too hard on myself above.

      I am slightly more resilient because of my top notch wood stove. I have explored some notable intentional communities. But I am no closer to living in the farming/permie way that I was before. Sigh. And since I intent to remain in rural situations, I may need to move to a country that provides rural public transport, which America mostly does not. Or join an IC that has a car coop.

      My ambition does not include getting off fossil fuels. IMO, frugalization does not work in the larger sense, because of the Jevons paradox. As long as it’s done to grow resilience, that’s cool, though, and I would like to be much farther along this road in another couple of years. I am also not a friend of speed, light and noise pollution and the like, so part of my dream is to simplify away from those things, and that means less reliance of engine-run machines, and the grid, and allying myself with others who prefer to live this way.

      My other aim is to “leave Babylon” and that means unplugging from the domination-based culture. I have busted my gut to figure out what I need to do, and to some extent, have been doing it. This is my big challenge in the years ahead, and something that I greatly look forward to. Actually, I greatly look forward to all the above. My dream is finally coming true! 🙂

      Thank you all for creating a discussion thread that kinda… blew me this way, toward this reevaluation.

  9. One thing I’ve learned over many years is that I do not have to change my location to change my life. I don’t have to move to the country to grow my own food, to simplify my life, to heat with passive solar, to collect firewood for a small efficient wood stove, to buy fresh produce from local growers, to participate in free table exchange, to meet and work with like-minded people.

    In fact, moving to a rural environment works against these changes. Rural living develops land that would otherwise be habitat for natural species. Rural living means being more than walking distance from markets and other necessities. Rural living means being farther away from like-minded people, family and friends, local and regional government, opportunities for local democracy.

    My wife and I have chosen to live in a mobile home park in a developed community on the coast of Central California. We grow our food on our mobile home lot, around our 1964, passive solar heated 800 square foot mobile home. Our home is surrounded by fruit trees, berry bushes, garden beds, container gardens and planters, compost piles, worm beds, firewood stacks, workshop, storage sheds. Our retro-fitted double pane windows face east and south, so we get good solar energy on all but the cloudiest and rainiest of days (such as today!)

    We carefully chose our part-time jobs to be within walking distance of home. We eschewed high-paying full-time jobs that would have entailed a motorized commute, even though we could have accomplished it by public transportation. We substituted simple living for demanding employment.

    We have lowered our standard of living and increased our quality of life.

    This doesn’t have to be accomplished all at once. Start small, plant food in containers, find out what grows well where you live. Get to know the resources within walking and bicycling distance from home. Make your home tight and efficient, get rid of unneeded extras, such as television, cell phones, kitchen gadgetry. Cook and eat simple whole foods. Create your own health insurance with good nutritious food, plenty of sleep and moderate regular exercise. Find a quiet cozy place in the public library. Find a local part-time job and start stuffing away extra money in a locally owned bank.

    After an easy start, you can get radical!

    Share, scrounge, glean, listen, learn.


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