Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reskilling the Peak Oil Conversation

Talk, they say, is cheap. But not not only does this leave my phone bill unexplained, it simply isn’t true. People pay to talk and they pay to listen, and even if money is not involved in the transaction, it takes considerable effort to do either of these things.

What’s worth talking about, though? That’s the real question.

Last weekend hurricane Irene deluged the East Coast of the United States with unimaginable amounts of rain in many places, the storm killing at least a couple dozen people, cutting off power to millions, turning roads into rivers and submerging cities under feet of water. Opening my Yahoo home page, this news competed with a story same size clickable picture of entertainer Beyoncé showing off her “baby bump” at a recent celebrity event.

Which is important? I get to choose.

As for me, I’d been following the Irene story since she was a nameless patch of clouds far beyond the horizon in the equatorial Atlantic. Yes, I know the weather is an old man’s sport, but there are likewise those who have been watching peak oil gather, organize, and strengthen as a force to contend with since it was also far beyond the horizon of public awareness.

What puzzles me is how even now, as the economic skies darken, the wind rises, and the surf of change gets rough and dangerous, those of us pointing out to sea and describing the nature and likely effects of the approaching storm are still competing head to head with stories about, for example, the lifestyle choices and fashions of rich people whom we not know.

Is peak oil an old man’s sport, too, or not to limit it is it just an unpleasant topic for people of any age or gender to irritate others with?  Or is it something more serious, like perhaps the duty of those who see a real danger to share what we can, when we can, however we can, and with whoever will listen?

My sense is, it falls into the latter category. But among those who haven’t missed a meal lately, and even among those who have missed, at least, a mortgage payment, the story still isn’t getting much traction. For a long time now, this has frustrated and perplexed me.

Granted, it’s hard to connect the dots between your son or daughter’s overseas tour in the US military, the price of gasoline, the budget brouhaha, and your recent pink slip. But there’s a reason for that. The problem, as I see it, is that far too many of us have ceded our responsibility as speakers. We’re letting the media be both the starting and ending point of too many conversations, when what’s needed is for us to make the leap into generating our own conversations in our own communities about things that really matter, peak oil among them.

And yes, many of these conversations will fall flat. At least here in the US, where the scope of public discourse has been almost entirely circumscribed by our willing complicity with corporate media, the very concept of peak oil seems outlandish and absurd. Even fairly intelligent people I’ve spoken with take the tautological position that if Peak Oil were real, more people would be talking about it, and since people aren’t talking about it, it must not be real.

That pretty much kills the conversation right there, but we must not give up.

The day before Irene arrived it was pleasant in North Carolina and the winds were picking up – nothing unusual. Then the storm came, as forecast, tracking very close to the path predicted by the weather geeks with their computer models. People died. Yet, and this is the real point here, human suffering and loss in general were undoubtedly less, and probably a lot less, simply because people had started talking about the storm beforehand. And when enough people start talking, talk leads to action.

This is why I’m encouraging those who tell me, for example, that they don’t know how to make goat cheese, or sew a quilt, plant a garden, or do any of the things people in the Transition movement commonly think of as “reskilling” to go ahead and display a Green Hand sign anyway. Particularly now, when for all my efforts there are just a few actual Green Hand signs posted on trees and fence posts in the world, what’s true is that the first and probably most important contribution your sign will make in your community is a conversation about its very significance.

That’s perfectly okay, because in the end talk isn’t cheap; it’s a priceless gift. Let’s share this gift with one another and put it to good use.

For more information on the Green Hand Reskilling Initiative, visit: http://greenhandsreskilling.weebly.com/

Have you posted a Green Hand sign? Please send a photo and/or story to 2greenhands@gmail.com so I can share it with others!

Anyone in SE Michigan who would like to host a Green Hand Sign Painting Workshop, please email Clifford at 2greenhands@gmail.com

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