Toward a realistic transition


Over the past year, Post Oil Solutions has expanded its understanding of what is necessary in order to better serve its mission of building sustainable communities. As a result, we’ve adopted a position of resilience and resistance which, as we’ll explain below, are variations on what it will take to forge a realistic transition to a post petroleum world.

Becoming resilient, and learning to adapt to climate change, is essential, and will remain so even if we were to turn off the carbon tap tomorrow. This is because of the phenomenon known as "climate lag."

Many of us accept the fact that climate change is real. What is not generally understood, however, is that it takes 30 to 40 years for greenhouse warming to catch up to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. This climate lag means that today we are experiencing the carbon pollution from concentrations of greenhouse gas discharged during the 1970s. Hence, the weather we have come to accept as the new normal is not the result of what we are spewing into the atmosphere today, but what we did decades ago.

Equally significant is that since 1985, we’ve emitted as many greenhouse gases as we did in the previous 236 years. This means that we’ve yet to experience the warming that this recent doubling of greenhouse gases will bring, though the scientific literature is increasingly filled with ominous portents and harbingers of the not too distant future.

Specifically, we are rapidly approaching a number of potential tipping points, one of which we wrote about last month: the melting of the Arctic ice, and the subsequent release of massive amounts of methane gas. The Arctic is recognized as the canary in the coal mine, and it has already warmed 2 degrees centigrade (3.6 Fahrenheit) since 1970, three times faster than the planet overall.

So it’s obvious that we need to continue building life rafts, creating self- and community-sufficient neighborhoods of people who increasingly learn how to take care of themselves and each other. These efforts are happening in many places right now, of course, and that is the good news.

However, we need to be more intentional about this. We can’t take community building for granted. Our episodic moments of spontaneous courage, compassion, and collaboration that we’ve demonstrated in the past is, unfortunately, not characteristic of our daily lives. Rather, it’s a hopeful sign of our potential capacity. To be realistic for the long haul, however, a practice of building resilient communities needs to become a more consistent part of how we live our lives every day. Only then can we create a viable transition. Adaptability, and sustainability -- the will to live -- must become our way of life today for the world of climate change that we’re now entering.

But as necessary as this is, it is not sufficient, by itself. We also have the matter of the political world we live in, the same world in which we’re trying to build these sustainable communities. For just as its essential that we become a generous and socially just people who can increasingly live successfully with each other, and without oil, so, too, must we address the contradictory pursuit of the last drop in the ground that is also taking place at the same time. That is, we have to engage Big Oil, and its political allies, to stop their reckless pursuit of profits before all other considerations. As the behavior of Big Oil so graphically illustrates, our present economic/political system has gone over the edge with its bottomless greed, and threatens to take us with it. Just as we need to build sustainable communities in order to survive, so, too, must we also engage with the world that renders unreal the possibility of such a habitable place to live in.

Either that, or the question of sustainable communities becomes very moot, indeed.

There’s an understandable reluctance, however, on the part of at least some who otherwise agree with what we’re calling for to becoming involved with politics. After all, we know from our daily experience with government and the corporate world, the workplace, school, and family, that politics is an ugly, brutal affair. Its one-up/one-down core relationship brings out the worst in people, as evidenced all too graphically by the state of the world we live in today.

Recognizing this, we understandably want no part of politics, to avoid becoming ensnared in that oppressive dynamic. We see that, rather than being the answer, politics is clearly the cause of our problems, and that we must transcend this ancient human practice, as a condition of our survival.

The issue before us, however, is not whether or not we should engage the political world because, realistically, we have no choice: our survival depends on doing so. Rather, the question is one of how to do this, effectively, skillfully, wholesomely, within the values of the sustainable world we wish to create.

Briefly, we must be creative, imaginative, and courageous, operating outside the box of adversarial relationships; stepping aside at times, going around, and letting go of, rather than confronting and taking head on; being open and transparent, while flying under the radar; avoid making ourselves available for abuse, and not responding in kind when we are; withdrawing our participation from relationships and arrangements that are killing us; and disarming, pacifying, and otherwise rendering harmless threats to our existence through non-violent direct actions.

Most of all, it means living the peaceful, sustainable lives we’ve always wanted for ourselves and the world, and now need to live more than ever.

Please join us at the Climate Change Café, Tuesday, March 25, 6:30 p.m., at Brooks Memorial Library on Main Street in Brattleboro.

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802-869-2141 and


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