Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 January 2010 18:06 )
The End Of An
Culture . . .
And so I moved into Church Street, Kensington, an attractive little flat at the top of the house, where I lived for four years. It was summer 1950. But before I left Denbigh Road I saw the end of an era, the death of a culture: television arrived. Before, when the men came back from work, the tea was already on the table, a fire was roaring, the radio emitted words or music softly in a corner, they washed and sat down at their places, with the woman, the child, and whoever else in the house could be inveigled downstairs. Food began emerging from the oven, dish after dish, tea was brewed, beer appeared, off went the jerseys or jackets, the men sat in their shirtsleeves, glistening with well-being. They all talked, they sang, they told what had happened in their day, they talked dirty—a ritual; they quarrelled, they shouted, they kissed and made up and went to bed at twelve or one, after six or so hours of energetic conviviality. I suppose that this level of emotional intensity was not usual in the households of Britain.
I was witnessing an extreme. And then, from one day to the next—but literally from one evening to the next—came the end of good times, for television had arrived and sat like a toad in the corner of the kitchen. Soon the big kitchen table had been pushed along the wall, chairs were installed in a semicircle and, on the chair arms, the swivelling supper trays. It was the end of an exuberant verbal culture.
from Doris Lessing’s The Road to London; found originally in the Summer ‘97 issue of Granta.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 January 2010 18:10 )
Interview with Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time.
HD: In your book Soul of a Citizen you refer to activists feeling discouraged since they don't often (or ever) see the results of their constant and diligant activism. You write about how the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) was getting totally frustrated days before Mario Savio came on the scene and ignited a massive movement. Should that inspire people to keep going or should we simply acknowledge despair as part of life and simply "get over it," as the new pop saying goes?
PL: How does one work in today's climate without a sense of immediate gratification? How does one work knowing that it will be for a future that may not be known in this lifetime?
This story (about the SDS) inspired me, because it reminded me that we never know when history will turn. Think of Mandela in South Africa, or the people fighting for freedom in Eastern Europe. We just don't know, but if we're silent, nothing will happen.
We all feel despair from time to time, but it helps to take a long view. Think of Hazel Wolf, the wonderful 101-year-old environmental activist I profile in Soul of a Citizen. She participated in all sorts of causes, many of which seemed like complete longshots. But she lived long enough to see so many of them come to fruition. In fact, as I point out, she might have ended up in the street if she and other labor activists hadn't pushed through one of the first public pension programs that became a model for Social Security. She built alliances between environmentalists and Native American tribes 20 years ago. Now they have an ongoing working relationship. When times are difficult, I think you need this sense of a longer view to be able to keep on.
HD: Numerous times throughout your book you refer to ordinary citizens who suddenly take on a cause with all the passion and commitment of someone who has been doing it for years. What have you found to be the main impetus for people getting involved in civic action? Is it a personal thing? A personal crisis? A calling from the depths?
PL: People have to feel the cause personally. Sometimes that means it affects them directly, or someone they know, like Virginia Ramirez whom I write about, who started a lifetime of activism after an old woman in her neighborhood needlessly died of the cold. But sometimes we act for someone we never knew. I write about another woman who got involved challenging the sweatshops of The Gap after seeing a video of a young woman who reminded her of her daughter. Or environmentalists who feel the destruction of woods or rivers they view as sacred. So you have to feel the story personally. It can't just be abstract information.
HD: In your studies of soulful activism, what has been the key elements on how activists sustain themselves through such bouts of utter despair, repression, oppression, depression? What should one look for (symptoms, signs, behaviors, etc.) so activist burnout doesn't win over? And what can we do about it? (Do you have a story to tell?)
PL: We have to keep touching on our roots, the stories that inspire us to act. Sometimes after a while, we forget what brought us in to begin with, and this makes activism harder.
We also need community. There's nothing worse than feeling alone, but if we have others, we can help each other through the journey. This also means being kind to each other, recognizing that we're fallible, valuing the contribution that each of us makes.
We need to act as wisely as we can and then release the results. And we need to set boundaries. As my friend Hazel says, "You can't do everything, but you can do what you can and then you can do some more. And you can do that your entire life."
HD: Do you see an increase in local civic activism now that we have a right-wing administration for the next four years?
PL: I hope there will be an increase. What worries me is that we'll spend the next four years angry but passive. Or retreat to such small local concerns that we allow terrible things to happen at the national level. We need to be more active than ever, reaching out to new people, getting them to think about critical issues, and making sure our outrage at this illegitimate and destructive administration is heard again and again, and heard publicly.
HD: Any new insights since you've come out with your book that you would like to share with us?
PL: Just the importance of bringing discussion of the most important issues into everyday life: our schools, our workplaces, our communities. We have to work with as many people as possible who share our concerns, which is why some of the new labor/environmental alliances are so hopeful.
HD: What has been the most inspiring story of soulful activism that you have come across, that actually helps sustain your activism?
PL: There are so many. A young woman in Atlanta who read my book said "I don't meet people like the ones you write about in my life." I said "Yes, but if you get involved and take a stand, you will." It's hard to choose between people like Hazel, or the wonderful woman in San Antonio, or my closest friend, a salmon fisherman, who creates great environmental alliances. They all inspire me.
Paul Loeb is the author of Soul of a Citizen. Check out his website for more wisdom about activism with a soul: www.soulofacitizen.org. [Also, see Suebob Davis' review of his book in this issue.]
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 January 2010 18:10 )
An Enlightened Mayor in California?
Larry Robinson, the Mayor of Sebastopol, speaks about
Peak Oil with David Room of the Global Public Media
The following is an edited excerpt from David Room’s (DR, of Global Public Media) interview with the mayor of Sebastopol, CA, Larry Robinson (LR), on August 26, 2005.
(DR): Thank you, Larry, for taking my call on such short notice. Peak Oil is an urgent issue; am I right about that?
(LR): This is a very urgent issue, and it’s not getting nearly enough attention in the media. But it’s going to catch up with us very soon.
(DR): Tell me about your responsibilities as mayor, in the context of Global Oil Peak.
(LR): Well, several things: one is to move our city to prepare for eventuality and for all the fallouts from it. Another is to use my office as a bully pulpit to educate the community and to write editorials in the newspapers. In September the city council will host a town hall meeting on the issue of Peak Oil. And the council will appoint a citizen’s commission to develop contingency plans that the city can adopt. I’m hoping that a number of local community groups will continue the discussion of how the community can prepare. What I’m trying to do as mayor is to shape our future development as a city to minimize the impact of skyrocketing energy cost. One of the things we’ve done is instituting a “Green Building Program” that requires much greater energy efficiency, both in construction and building use. We also have a “Solar Sebastopol Program” with the goal, within the next year, of generating a third of our electrical use from the rooftops within the city limit. Probably the most important thing we can do is encourage higher density development within our city limits. Urban and suburban sprawl are probably the most inefficient use both of land and resources, including water and energy. So the new development will mean higher building height, probably lower parking-space requirement in anticipation of less automobile use.
(DR): Ok, you mentioned that Sebastopol is two square miles; to what extent is it car- and freight-dependent? Are many products made locally?
(LR): We’re historically a farm market town. We have a population of 7,800 within the city limits and 30,000 in the greater Sebastopol area. With rich farm land, for the last 40 or 50 years our major export crop has been apples, but that has been transitioning to wine grapes, in particular, pinot noire. But there are also a lot of small organic truck farms in the area, growing fresh produce sold in our farmers’ market and the supermarket. One of the key things we’re going to be working with in preparation for Peak Oil is strengthening community support for our local agriculture. “Community Supported Agriculture” is growing in popularity. Local organic farmers offer subscriptions to for a certain fee per month for a box of fresh produce every week. The farmer has a guarantee that his crop is going to be bought and the consumer has a guarantee of fresh, wholesome, locally-produced foods. In line with that, two groups are working on developing a currency, with the city perhaps the major financial backer of the effort. That’s going to support our local economy by keeping the dollars circulating through the economy rather than moving out. We have some clothing manufacturing, timber production, local manufacture of electrical vehicles, tools manufacture. I think we do have the resources to convert a lot of these small firms to supply the kind of goods that people are used to importing. I think the time is coming when importing clothing, shoes, tools, and the basics of life is going to be a lot more expensive than producing it locally, and we’re going to do what we can to support a transition.
(DR): Have you gotten any backlash with the Peak Oil issue?
(LR): Well, you know, even the business leaders in this community are realizing that we need to shift to a much more sustainable way of living, that we’re all going to pay a high price if we don’t. In fact, the longer we wait to make that shift, the higher the price is going to be and the more suffering there’s going to be, so I think this issue will bring people together across the political spectrum. Sustainability is the slogan of this community, and we’re pretty much agreed that we want to make Sebastopol, as much as possible, a model of sustainable community.
(DR): How will Sebastopol run essential services: police, fire, garbage, etc., in an energy-scarce future? You’ve mentioned contingencies plans.
(LR): Well, we have put photovoltaic arrays on our fire department and our public works building. We’re going put them on our city well (we get all of our water from a deep aquifer), and we’re going to install them at the police department. We’re in negotiation with a private group to partner in a bio-diesel station here, for our fire trucks and public work vehicles do too, so as long as there are leftover grease and oil from restaurants, we can convert it to run our fleet. Our police force can ride bicycles as need be. We recently bought two hybrid vehicles for the department. We set a target of reducing our municipal green house gas emission by 30% between our base year of 2000, when we did the research, and 2008, and our vehicle use is the biggest part of that, so switching over all of our police vehicles to hybrids, or at least more efficient conventional gas engines, is going to be a high priority. As fuel gets more expensive, it may mean simply less driving, maybe more foot and bicycle patrols for the police if supplies are interrupted completely. Our waste water treatment facility is partially powered by methane that’s generated there, and we’re going to be installing photovoltaic there, as well.
(DR): You’ve done a lot of work in the last three or four years. Are there any other goals for local food production in the Sebastopol area, such as adding fruit and nut trees to your smart trees program?
(LR): Yes, we plan to look at that.
(DR): Do you have a strategy for slowly weaning Sebastopol from natural gas?
(LR): Most people use natural gas heater for heating their home or heating their water, we’ve actually, in a way moving toward greater dependence on natural gas by a wood smoke ordinance, trying to clean up the air and encouraging people to use natural gas rather than wood, but I don’t have a solution to that yet, and I’m open to any suggestions.
(DR): What do you say to people who’s advocate nuclear power as a response to Oil Peak?
(LR): I’ll say, first of all, let’s look at the cost of nuclear vs. wind and solar and point out that it is much more expensive if they consider disposal of the nuclear waste in a way that’s safe, and nobody’s got a satisfactory answer to that. The other consideration around nuclear, like coal and natural gas or any big generating facility, is that it’s centralized and somebody else is in control of our energy, whereas a photovoltaic system on your rooftop or a small wind generator or a community-owned generator put the power literally in people’s own hands. That’s both a much more democratic way and, I think, ultimately safer and more sustainable.
(DR): How can local government in other places learn more about what you’re doing and possibly follow some of the footsteps?
(LR): Well, I think, one thing people can do is contact their local officials, whether the mayor or council members or any supervisors and take some time to educate them about it. I certainly welcome phone calls or letters from other cities interested in what we’re doing. But in Northern California, most communities have already bought into the principal of “Smart Growth,” which has essentially the same principles for best preparation for Peak Oil. I would encourage young people beginning an education, to get as broad an education as possible, including the humanities, and also to learn things that aren’t taught in the Universities, such as how to build a house, fix a bicycle, do simple repairs, take care of your family’s health, grow your own food. Maybe even more important than individual survival is the survival of our cultural heritage, and we’re already at risk of losing that. In time of crisis, people have a tendency to withdraw into isolation. Some people talk about putting up a wall around our community to keep the starving hordes from the Bay Area from coming here, and I think that’s absolutely the wrong way. What we need to do is become even more inclusive and keep building stronger ties to other communities. This is essential to maintaining the best in our culture.
I would put my highest priority into developing strong community networks, our greatest resource: our friendship and our connections to other people, So I would put my career in second place to trusting relationships, with my neighbor, my community, my family.
(DR): I understand that Sonoma County and Sebastopol, in particular, have a high level of social cohesion.
(LR): Yes, that and our climate, soil, and water are our greatest resources. Yet, interestingly, with community cohesion we have political diversity. In Sebastopol we’re not all green and progressive, but even the traditional conservatives are part of a community; we see each other on the street, stop and visit, realize we’re dependent on each other. This is one of the reasons for the town hall meetings we’re doing: to let all the voices be heard so we can remember we’re all in it together.
(DR): Are there any words of encouragement for people preparing for an energy-constrained future that you’d like to leave us with?
(LR): Yes, I’ll leave you with a poem from Gary Snyder, called “For the Children.”
The rising hills, the slopes of statistics lie before us. The step climb of everything, going up, up, as we all go down. In the next century or the one beyond that, they say, are valleys, pastures. We can meet there in peace if we make it. To climb these coming crests one word to you, to you and your children: Stay together learn the flowers go light.
(DR): Fabulous. Thank you so much, Larry.
For the full interview go to www.globalpublicmedia.com/transcripts/481 for both print and audio. Also, Jason Bradford, founder of the Willits Economic Localization (WELL), speaks with Global Public Media’s David Room about climate change, peak oil, and how Willits is preparing for an energy-constrained future. He discusses how WELL got started, the efforts of the group, and their progress. For this interview (in audio and video) go to www.globalpublicmedia.com/interviews/434.