Archive for February, 2012

Changing the Frame of Fossil Fuel “Addiction”

Today’s musing: drop the frame that “We are addicted to fossil fuels.” First, we don’t free-base oil or inject it like heroin. We do so like the metaphor, to the point of overuse, as it seems so apt – we are addicted to the conveniences that fossil fuels bring. It also makes us sound to the common energy hog like environmental nut jobs. It’s like saying a meth addict is actually addicted to money, because that’s what enables him or her to procure the substance.

BP Deepwater Horizon Rig Explosion 2010

BP Deepwater Horizon Rig Explosion 2010

Instead, let’s hit close to home by messaging about our actual addictions. We like speed (not crank, although that’s a horrible epidemic; I refer here to pace of life, instant-on), convenience, and rapid mobility. And let’s face it, for anyone who’s downloaded an app on their phone or music from the Internet, we want it free. It doesn’t matter how much or little money we bring home; we just simply don’t want to pay for anything. We talk about horrific mining practices and brutal politics of digging up rare earth metals for our smartphones and laptops – and yet we’re perfectly comfortable owning and using those devices to blog about the injustice, with hardly a modicum of guilt. We’re impatient. We have some need we’re trying to fill, some perceived gaping hole in ourselves, and we need to fill that gap now – with whatever – information, food, stuff, events – all in pursuit of helping us feel connected.

We’re addicted to that pursuit. When we’re connected, in community, and have a sense of belonging, I posit that we aren’t out destroying the planet trying to one-up the juggernaut-consumer Joneses. When we reside in a strong sense of self, we don’t perceive a “gap” that needs to be “filled.” The antidote to our addictions, I believe, can be found in a strong, grounded personal practice of self-care and community connection. I haven’t solved anything here, or proposed any flash-of-lightning new concept. And to my average energy hog, I’ve switched from sounding like an environmental nut job to spiritual cuckoo.

The other side of the coin about my driving in a gas-burner to the intentional community potluck out in the country, off the grid including off a bus line, is one of alternatives and choices. In America, the car is king, and locomotion in the modern age is powered almost entirely by fractionally distilled petroleum products. I tried making homebrew biodiesel in a friend’s garage, until I got burned. I didn’t create the infrastructure, but those organizations that did set it up so easily for me to plug right in and be a consumer; all I need is some cash or, better yet, a credit card that lets me postpone the responsibility for awhile. Live in the moment! Be carefree! Live the highlife! It’s a lot of work to change the dominant paradigm, and even when I tried – going into debt to buy a decent diesel car, collecting used cooking oil from my neighborhood fryers – it wasn’t personally sustainable. Back to my seemingly tiny, individual universe, creating a system of environmentally friendly modes of transit is much, much bigger than one person. It takes a village, and in this case a whole culture, to turn the rudder of the ship.

We may be caught, I fear, in a bit of a downward spiral, because the fast-paced lifestyle driven by fossil fuel consumption and the easy access to energy that it provides is inherently unsustainable. That lifestyle drives us toward convenience, ways to manage our time that let us fit it all into our packed schedules, and those conveniences necessitate more fossil fueled energy. What if we slowed down for a few minutes, unpacked our schedules, and spent more time and energy with our families and communities? What would we be doing then? If we continue to use fossil-based energy in our activities, why? This kind of self-reflection becomes too painful and judgmental for most, so it’s one we gingerly gloss over in our pursuit to find more technological solutions.

So let’s drop the admonishment that we’re addicted to fossil fuels, because we aren’t – at least from one level of looking at the ecological problem. Fossil fuels certainly enable our addictions, compulsions, desires, and wants, because they provide us with ready access to experiences that are much bigger than we are, embodying much more energy than we can fathom in our individual realms of experience. Changing our energy sources does very little to change our underlying compulsions and motivations. Invoking a technological “solution” where the roots are psychological, social, and moral is, quite frankly, a cop-out. That’s an easy finger to point. If we really want to achieve balanced sustainability, we have to face the sustainability of lifestyle choices and fundamental modern human behavior. Did I lose you already? If not, then you’re on an exciting journey and part of what I think is a silent yet enormous movement to radically shift the basic structure of our culture. This shift takes us out of the uncomfortable feeling of constant compression from an overly busy life, filled with stuff, things, and responsibilities, and into the ecstatic field of our divine birthright, to be at peace and in communion.

A CommUnity Circle

A CommUnity Circle

Deepwater Horizon photo from U.S. Coast Guard, appeared on Treehugger. Circle photo from Awakening Connections – Circle Gatherings.

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