This past week, before leaving to attend the gathering of the Ecovillage Network of Canada at La Cité Écologique in Quebec, we were asked to speak at a forum hosted by Nashville Peace and Justice Center concerning hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, and nuclear power in Tennessee. This is a rough transcript of those remarks.
First I want to start with setting a context, because usually you begin with a problem statement. A lot of what we address at the Ecovillage Training Center and in our curricula for trainings and workshops are methodologies for a switch — a massive transition — from the past paradigm that is failing us now to something entirely new that has the potential for success — to make us successful as a species in partnership with all the other species on the planet.
To do that, you have to understand the need for a realistic framework to get us from where we are to where we are going, and to, in some sense, reverse engineer it, seeing where we want to be and then backcasting to see what steps are necessary to get us where we want to be within a reasonable time frame.
Phasing out of emissions from coal, oil and natural gas — particularly methane — is an enormous challenge. To change over the entire fossil fuel paradigm to a post-petroleum paradigm is an enormous challenge. You have to think about how such a transition is even possible. The current administration’s plan — the Obama/Boehner/Bachmann drill baby drill menu — is all about Canadian tar sands, a pipeline from Canada, the Marcella Shale, the Bakkan and various other plays, offshore deep wells and ways to accelerate the fossil end game. If that succeeds, it is essentially game over. There is no way we are going to take all that carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere in the timeframe that we need to. We’re going to get runaway warming, the methane clathrates bubbling up from the bottom of the oceans, and various other nightmare scenarios.
Nuclear power has been held out as a carbon-free alternative source of energy, but that is the same PR bull we have been handed since Our Friend The Atom was foisted upon innocent schoolchildren, and was also given to the Japanese schoolchildren, by the way. If you look at the entire nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear is black carbon dirtier than natural gas and not quite as dirty as coal. Coal is more radioactive than natural gas but not as radioactive as nuclear. All of them kill people in order to do what? Boil water. They kill unborn children in future generations, and expose them to horrible birth defects and cancers in order to brew coffee and dry hair.
We are all the victims of TVA’s efforts to feather its own nest at our expense. This goes back a century to the battle between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison for control of the electricity market in New York City. Westinghouse won, and what we got was energy that was ever more expensive every year, non-renewable, and unsafe at every turn. Those are the people who built the Fukushima nuclear plants, as well as the reactor that is getting flooded in Nebraska now. They are the mountaintop removal cabal.
The grid was created to suit itself, not the people it was supposed to serve. Edison wanted to charge people by the number of lights they had. Instead, George Westinghouse charged people by the kilowatt-hour and sold them the most inefficient lightbulbs he could make. And so it went for 100 years – they encouraged people to add more and more gadgets to their homes, and to buy appliances with planned obsolescence, and to then make you need a bigger house to store all that stuff. It was a sales campaign dressed up as labor saving, or civilized living. What we got was an unhappy, disastrously wasteful and soon-to-be-extinct culture. Coal, gas, and nuclear — they are part of that same paradigm. It is a huge conspiracy being foisted on us by the best government corporations could buy. It is all suicidally insane. TVA is clinically insane. What do you call someone who keeps doing the same thing over and over, never proving what they claim they are doing, getting the exact opposite result, but telling you this time the result will be different? I mean, other than a Republican? Clinically insane. That’s clinically insane.
And so, if you look at where are we now, we are right where Dennis and Dana Meadows said back in 1972 we would be in the Limits to Growth study. We are right at that spaghetti junction where all the lines converge with population and resources, food supply, energy, water and the rest. We’re at that point right now, in exactly the decade they predicted we would arrive here.
We have to somehow get through this collapsing passageway and into the next paradigm. And so what we do at the Ecovillage Training Center — what ecovillages around the world are all trying to do — is to provide models, transition pathways, to get us to that next step, to get us to where we are going. And some of that is food supply, some of that is energy, some is building materials and how we get our buildings, some of that is microeconomics, like complimentary currencies. Some of that is new methods of social networking and alternative education and midwifery and alternative health care and doing things in ways that we have known for hundreds of thousands of years and we need to get back to.
Show of hands: how many people here either saw the sunrise this morning or were up at that time? (some laughter, about 20% raise their hands). That’s pretty good. Your average audience – none. But in point of fact, that’s when the light came on. And you could get up and do chores and it was still cool for several hours. And we’re going to be here until after that light goes out tonight. We’ll be here after dark, and we will spend coal energy getting home, feeding our family, putting ourselves to bed, whatever, which we could do without all that dirty power if we just got up earlier.
So ecovillages are about that. They are trying to find ways that are relatively painless, in comparison to the kind of pain that civilization is about to experience — to lead the way, so that people can jump into these new models and start doing it for themselves and avoid the shock that comes of collapse. Because that is where this previous paradigm is heading us, and taking along a lot of other species, too.