Dreams of terror, dreams of peace

This morning my son came down to breakfast with a queasy look on his face.  “I had a dream that I killed a baby,” he said.  “I was shooting with a machine gun at these guys, and the baby was in the way.”

I hate the fact that this kind of violence, which kids are exposed to through the media constantly these days, creeps insidiously into their sleep, invading their dreams.

The subliminal violence is everywhere.   This same son, a 9th grader in a typical American public high school, is reading Lord of the Flies for English class and All Quiet on the Western Front for Social Studies.

Lord-of-the-Flies-1963-fi-007Lord of the Flies, you’ll remember, is about how a group of adolescent boys, turned loose on an island without any adult authority present, morph into “beasts” who bully, torture and kill one another.

All Quiet on the Western Front is about World War I, and my son’s teacher is sparing the class none of the gory details of that war; in fact, a whole section of the paper my son has to write about the book is supposed to enumerate all the challenges ordinary soldiers in that war faced, from freezing muddy trenches to disease to field amputations, rats and artillery fire.

Last month, this same teacher had the kids reading 1984 and spent a lot of class time talking about how the surveillance tactics and physical brutality in that book related to real-life episodes of torture and detention camps in the history of China and the Soviet Union.

In short, my son’s imaginative life lately has been saturated with violence, for which the peacefulness of our home is no match.  And he is one of the more sheltered boys growing up today; I do my best to keep him away from violent movies or military-style and gangster video games.  We don’t even have TV at home.

When dreams like this emerge at our breakfast table, they remind me that the apparent peacefulness of a small American town like mine is terribly fragile.

With every mass-murder shooting incident that occurs, the fine veil of civility frays just a little more.

The truth is that the United States has one of the most heavily armed civilian populations in the world.

It would not take much, in terms of social unrest, for those guns to come out and the “beastly” side of humanity to emerge, a la Lord of the Flies.

That’s what worries me when I contemplate climate change scenarios involving catastrophic storms like Haiyan that result in power outages, fuel and food shortages—which could happen here in the U.S. just as easily as anywhere else.

What we should be doing now, in the time we have left before climate change gets truly out of hand, is strengthening our bonds as communities.

Never mind the dysfunctionality of our Congress, the bashing and competitive trash-talking that too often passes for ordinary public discourse in America today.

On the local level, we can do better, and indeed we must.

Every community in America should be starting to plan for how it would respond to disruptions in power, fuel and food supplies.

We can’t rely on FEMA to ride in to the rescue.  We can’t afford to entrust our survival to the guys with the biggest guns in our area.

The Transition Town movement has it right in their focus on building strong, resilient communities and re-learning valuable pre-industrial skills.  But they need a greater sense of urgency.

My son’s dream is a warning that we ignore at our peril.  There is no time to waste.

California Black-out: Eco-terrorist Strike? Wake-up Call?

Last night, while all the pundits and news editors were focused on President Obama’s jobs speech to Congress, a small news item at the bottom of the page caught my eye: blackout in southern California.  1.4 million without power, from Arizona to Baja California, including San Diego and Tijuana. No explanation.

This morning, the blackout is still on, and there is still no explanation.

With a strange blend of fear and hope, I find myself wondering whether it could possibly be the result of a Deep Green Resistance strike.  According to the DGR website, the mission of the underground resistance movement is to “dismantle the strategic infrastructure of power” that has brought our planet to “the brink of complete biotic collapse.”

What could be more critical to the continued functioning of industrial civilization than electricity?

Really, folks, all of this dithering about tax cuts, monetary policy and jobs creation would instantly be totally beside the point if the energy that fuels our society were to sputter and die.  To say this is not to be alarmist, it’s simply to be real.

As anyone who has had to go through a power blackout of more than a few hours knows, we 20th-21st century Americans are uber-dependent on our electric juice.  We are so addicted that we no longer know how to live without it, in a literal sense: our food and water supplies are almost completely reliant on fossil fuel-based energy.

No gas, no ATMs, no refrigeration, no supermarkets, no water pumps, and for many of us, no heat in the winter, never mind AC in the summer.  Oh, and did I mention no internet?  No video games?  No email, voice mail or cell service?

Science fiction has tried to imagine what the collapse of civilization as we know it would look like.  We have all seen films like The Day After Tomorrow, or read books like Margaret Atwood’s chilling Handmaid’s Tale.  Mostly, our imagination of this kind of future seems pretty grim.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just as there is already a guerilla movement bent on taking down industrial civilization, there is also an aboveground movement looking to put in place the building blocks for a new, sustainable civilization.  It’s called the Transition Town movement.  It started in the UK, and is now gathering steam in the US as well as around the world.

While the Deep Green Resistance folks seek an aggressive approach to dismantling what is, the Transition Town movement is more about working with what is to create something better.

It’s a bit tamer, but will be far more digestible to the majority of Americans.  It has a role for everyone, and a focus on the positive: on what can be done if we work together in the service of a strong vision of positive change to a sustainable future.

There is no doubt that the climate crisis is upon us.  The signs are apparent on a daily basis.  Wildfires out of control in Texas; flooding in the Northeast; blackouts in California; droughts in the Midwest.

Fear, panic or depression will get us nowhere.  Anger is useless unless channelled into positive action.

The most important thing you can do to prepare for what’s coming is to strengthen your relationships with your local friends, neighbors and community.  We are going to need each other in the months and years ahead.  We’re going to need all the love, resilience and solidarity we can muster.

The time to start is now.



%d bloggers like this: