Queer and Aware: A Gay Girl’s Peak Oil Story

My partner had “taken the red pill” and was hip to peak oil before I had been introduced to the concept. I knew intuitively that society could not continue down the path of rampant consumerism but I didn’t know the imminent danger. Even as a child I was a conservationist—turning off the water when I brushed my teeth, turning off lights when I left the room. As I got older I recycled, composted, sent money to various endangered animals and rode my bike to work. I even had a backyard garden in a major city, I was way ahead of the curve. But nothing prepared me for the reality of peak oil. My partner rented Collapse with Michael C. Ruppert for us to watch on our third date in July of 2010.

 

At the time we were living in Sacramento. After California’s Proposition 8, the voter initiative to ban marriage equality, had passed in California in 2008, Sacramento had somewhat become a hub for LGBTIQ activism. I belonged to several queer activist groups, many LGBTIQ-associated activity groups and was the Entertainment Manager for Sacramento’s Gay Pride. I had many interests but the majority of my friends were other queers. That’s one of the great things about being queer in a metropolitan area. It doesn’t matter what you are interested in—hiking, biking, reading, singing, riding motorcycles—there is likely an organized group of gays willing to get together for that purpose.

 

But life wasn’t all bike rides and book clubs. By the end of 2010, things were looking grim. I worked in social services and the agency was talking about mass lay-offs. My partner was commuting to her job in the Sierra Foothills an hour and a half each way and gas prices were nearly $5/gallon. Crime in downtown Sacramento had become the norm. There was no place to garden. I tried to get to know my neighbors but no one was interested in forming friendships. I felt isolated in a city of half a million people.

 

For many in the LGBTIQ community, the previous couple of years had been marked with episodes of depression and despair. The passing of Proposition 8 was devastating to people all over the country. For many in the gay community, especially for those under the age of 40, the passing of Prop 8 was the first experience in being viscerally aware of what it feels like to be a marginalized population. Between 2008 and 2010 I had lost three friends to suicide. The passing of Prop 8 gave license to gay bashers all over America to be more outward with their views. When I worked on the campaign to defeat Prop 8 I had been spat on, cursed at and chased. Once Prop 8 passed, nothing changed. I was frightened. I was scared for my friends, for our lives and for our mental health. The gay community was deeply important to me because the gay community was my ally.

 

But now I had a new problem on my hands: peak oil. And by the spring of 2011 my frustration had deepened. Like many people who have recently found out about peak oil, I felt like Cassandra of Greek mythology trying to get people to understand this very important issue and having almost no one take me seriously. My partner and I tried to bring our concerns up to our friends, to try and form a lifeboat network, but our friends were keen to “extend and pretend,” as James Howard Kunstler calls it.

 

In March of 2011 my partner and I started talking seriously about a change. We didn’t really want to give up city life. We loved walking to get coffee on Sunday mornings. I enjoyed running around Sacramento’s McKinley park. We took advantage of the city’s many book stores. We loved the great variety of fruit trees along Sacramento’s midtown streets. Sacramento was out home. But we wanted out of the city. We sat down and brainstormed what we really wanted, what was really important to us: local food, neighbors that talked to each other, skills sharing, community, family, organic farms, friendship. The list went on.

 

Then we did the math. If I were to be laid off and were getting unemployment benefits, we would break even if we moved closer to my partner’s work and saved on gas. So we did the thing that most peak oil veterans say not to do: we moved.

In May of 2011 I was laid-off and we moved to an organic farm in Nevada County. We helped take care of the crops and the chickens in exchange for living in a tiny cottage on the property. It was very hard work and an incredible learning experience.

 

When we interviewed for the new place I was incredibly nervous. Rural America isn’t exactly known for its gay-friendly atmosphere. When I answered the Craigslist ad, I had made sure that it was pretty clear that we were lesbians. I didn’t want there to be any surprises. But it turned out to be a non-issue.

 

It was pretty much a non-issue all over Nevada County. I had only had one incident where someone said something and he didn’t even say anything to me. He commented to our landlord that he was uncomfortable with gay people. That was it.

 

It was August before I met another queer person in Nevada County. PFLAG had a booth at the county fair. I knew that there was a chapter of PFLAG in Nevada County but I didn’t go out of my way to check it out because PFLAG stands for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays”. I was a lesbian. Not a parent of one.

 

But by then it almost didn’t matter. I had found a community and that community didn’t care or didn’t notice that my partner and I were a couple of homos.

 

Almost a year ago we moved deeper into the foothills, to the other side of Nevada County. We now live in our own rental in a community of nine units on five acres of property. We have our own backyard mini-farm and share an organic garden. We are so glad we moved.

 

If you are a member of the LGBTIQ community and thinking of relocating because you want a community focused on localism, resiliency, and post-petroleum living, I say go for it! But before moving, try to become fully informed. Research nearby rural communities. Check to see if they have an organization like Nevada County’s APPLE, the Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy. Browse the Transition Town website for local transition towns. Once you’ve established that your prospective new community is preparing for a post-industrial world, check to see if they have any services or organizations for the LGBTIQ community. See if there is a county or town gay and lesbian facebook page. Try and contact someone in the area and start pen-palling. In states that have had a vote on the gay marriage issue, it is likely public record how each county voted. Here is a map of California’s 2004 Prop 8 vote: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-2008election-prop8prop22,0,333635.htmlstory

 

Relocating can be really hard. It took us about a year before we felt like we were really a part of the community. It can often be hard to break into the social scene in places with a small-town legacy. The best advice that I could give is to volunteer. Volunteer at the food bank, volunteer with local organizations, volunteer at the schools. I’ve found that most communities are like the gay community: if you embrace it, it will embrace you back.

Garbage Service

There are things that a person gives up when moving from a city to the country.  I grew up in, and have lived my life in, densely populated areas—up until a year ago.  The move to the country was on purpose.  I mostly knew what I was in for, that I would be giving up my walks to the local coffee shop, the ability to stop in at local friends’ houses and the quick and easy decisions about a dinner outing to a myriad of restaurants offering international cuisine.  I did not realize that I would be giving up garbage service.

 

When I owned my own home, we paid about $75 every other month to have a garbage truck come every Thursday and remove our trash.  When I was living in apartments, the trash service was built into the rent and there was a convenient dumpster out back for waste reception. 

 

When you live in a rural community, there is no garbage person.  One has to haul garbage to the nearest “transfer station,” known fondly to most city-dwellers as “the dump.” 

 

In some cities, like Sacramento for example, the city sponsors a “green waste” program whereby folks can pile up their grass clippings, leaf piles and tree-trimmings, and a tractor will come and scoop it off the street and turn it into mulch for city parks.  It is a fairly wonderful system.  But the service is fee-based and land-owners have to pay for green waste removal.  (As a benefit to waste management customers in the Sacramento area, they provide a free class on composting.  You can find more information here:   http://www.msa2.saccounty.net/wmr/Pages/default.aspx  If you are not in the Sacramento area, please check with your local waste-removal company for similar opportunities.) 

 

There is no such thing as “green waste” where I live in Nevada County,.  Most people take their green waste and turn it into their own mulch.  Larger cuttings get thrown into what is called a “burn pile.” 

 

I had never heard of a burn pile until I moved to the country.  It is an unfortunate solution to controlled land-clearing.  When tree clippings and other land waste cannot be turned into useful garden additives, they are piled together to be burned, like a bonfire, in the wet season.  The process is fairy petroleum intensive and pollutant-based, as most people use a few gallons of gasoline to get the pile going and many piles don’t strictly contain the authorized components.

 

When a person has to employ such drastic measures for waste elimination, or when a person has to pay per the bag for trash elimination, and is personally responsible for hauling the trash away or eliminating it, a person takes greater notice of the waste that is created.  At least, my partner and I have.  We have stopped disposing of food waste in our garbage under the kitchen sink and have made use of a backyard compost pile.  We recycle everything from cat food cans to salad-dressing bottles.  We hand-cut our clippings into mulch.  If we don’t separate the recyclables from the non-recyclables, we have to pay more at the dump.  If we don’t make use of biodegradable resources, they become bio-intensive waste products.  We are vigilant.

 

Last week, after two months of garbage-accumulation, we couldn’t take the mess on the side of the house anymore.  It was time for a trip to the transfer station.  We bundled up all the recyclables and stuffed our bags of trash into large, black garbage bags.   We had five large bags of recycling and two bags of trash.  It cost us a whole $5 to dispose of all of it.

 

So, by the calculations of my nominal math skills, we are spending about $2.50/month for trash disposal. 

 

In urban and suburban areas, trash disposal is optional.  No one has to have a monthly bill for trash service.  Perhaps, for many people, the convenience of weekly trash pick-up is worth the price one pays for it.  But in a world of scarce resources and lacking incomes, it might be a luxury folks are willing to forego.  In my experience, financially and otherwise, it is probably a luxury that is wise to give up.

 

It is easier to adhere to good habits and vigilance when those habits and vigilance are a part of a greater system.  There are still many people who don’t separate recyclables.  Even for those who do  make an effort to put cans and bottles into a recycling bin, they often don’t take the time to rinse out a glass bottle that once contained olive oil and place it into recycling—because it takes a few extra seconds to do so.  But if those few extra seconds meant a few extra cents, would more people pause for such an endeavor?  Probably. 

 

I would like to send this out as a challenge to home-owners and landlords: consider giving up your trash service for a more sustainable and waste-resistant endeavor.  Allow yourself the opportunity to really think about the quantity of waste that a household creates and give yourself a chance to divert some of that waste into system of re-use.  Find a way to use all of your yard clippings, either as mulch or as compost.  It could save a lot of money and it could help the earth.  It’s worth a shot.

Blue Christmas

Blue Christmas

I have never been a fan of Christmas. My parents divorced when I was five. Our last Christmas together was in 1985. The median household income was $23,618.00. A first class stamp cost $.20. A dozen eggs averaged $.80. A gallon of gas was $1.20. I’m not sure if my parents knew it was going to be our last Christmas together, and therefore spent the holidays trying to out-do each other, but, that year, I had gotten everything I had asked Santa for. Everything. I laugh at the faded pictures of us in our matching pajamas, crowded by hundreds of toys on the living room floor: cabbage patch kids, care bears, barbies, a playskool playhouse, a kitchen set filled with plastic food and a pretend coffee maker, a mickey mouse train set…the list goes on.

After that, my Christmases were spent at one parent’s house, breaking the heart of the other, and oscillating between the two every year after. It was a terrible precedent. I can’t remember a single gift I received from any year after 1985. Not even from last year. I quickly stopped believing in Santa and by the time I was 12, I had started writing poetry about how much I hated the holiday and everything I knew it stood for.

For many people, Christmas is a special time of year. The wallets come out for charity. Parents try to spoil their kids. Some take time to acknowledge Jesus Christ and his message of peace. (After all, it is called Christmas.)

I’m not a Christian. But I like what Jesus had to say. One of my favorite bumper stickers is: “Obama is not a brown-skinned, anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare- you’re thinking of Jesus.” I think we’d all be better off if more people who claim to follow the teachings of Christ actually did so. The hypocrisy of Christmas appalls me. (I know there are Christians who teach peace and model charity. My best friends Julie and Jovi and my mother are examples. I’m saddened that they are not a majority.)

Every year, like seasonal clockwork, Thanksgiving ends and I am plummeted into a sense of darkness until the Christmas season is over. It’s so bad that it makes me wish Leonard Cohen would convert and put out a Christmas album.

My partner and I were at the Roseville Galleria Mall last night. Her boss, in a very sweet gesture of gratitude, for her hard work and thoughtful dedication to her job, bought her an iPad and presented it to her yesterday afternoon. (He’s not a Christian either so I can’t call it a Christmas bonus.) We are certainly grateful. But, honestly, we have never wanted or needed an iPad. (Just so you get an idea about how far from the iPad spectrum we fall, we have been saving our money to buy a flock of sheep this spring.) When she told me about the gift, it was so unexpected that I almost fell off my chair. And, less than an hour later, she dropped it and it shattered into smithereens. We were both devastated and dumbfounded—not because we suddenly needed the iPad because it was in our possession, or because, now that we had one, we were fantasizing about Smurfville, but because it really was a beyond-generous gift and we didn’t want to disappoint the gift-giver. We went to the mall and bought a replacement.

As someone who follows the peak oil movement, believes the economic downturn is permanent, believes that technology can’t save us and as someone who is gainfully unemployed, the purchase seemed so silly. My partner’s birthday is next week and I had planned to find her a nice pair of boots and shears for sheep hoof-care. The fact that we were spending money on another trinket of supposedly-life-improving technology was mind-blowing.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

While the purchase seemed frivolous and incongruent with my values, the iPad really wasn’t the problem. I hope to use its powers for good and utilize its technology to write and post more often. As such, I feel like, for now, the gift has real value. When I told my friends about the gift, most people were blown away by our new-found treasure. But the whole mall and gifting experience has really opened my eyes to how far out of the mainstream my life has become. I’m so far out of the main stream that I don’t think anyone in my life knows how to relate to me anymore. It is a very lonely feeling.

I get that there is a psychological element to gift-giving. I understand that people to do it to bring joy to their loved ones and to show appreciation. But what if, for every gift we gave, the gift came with all the pain that went into making it? The pain of the earth after stripping its resources. The pain of oppressive labor. The pain of the social consequences. So many of the gifts we give to our loved ones come from a background of disreputable and grimy exploitation.

We moved up here to the farm almost eight months ago. I left a good-paying, (albeit insolvent,) job in social services with benefits to seek a more sustainable life. We moved away from our friends and family in Sacramento because we understand that, with the coming changes, the lack of assistance programs, budget cuts to basic services such as law enforcement and the increasing costs of food, cities will become unsafe. My partner and I are both highly-educated and critical thinkers and the writing seemed to be on the wall.

Now that we have been here for a while and have extensively lost contact with those close to us, and now that we are entering the biggest shopping season of the year, I find that I am doubting our position. Everyone else seems to be so happy with their day jobs and assorted purchases, surrounded by mounds of store-bought junk, television shows and cushy furniture.

My partner and I went and hung out with old friends while we awaited our appointment at the Apple Store at the mall. They are progressive people with progressive values. They have a six-year-old son and a son in college. I’ve know them both for twelve years. He is a song-writer and a manager of a corporate coffee store. She is a banker at a credit union. We talked about Christmas. Their 6-year-old hopes for a video game from Santa. She hopes for reduced hours at work after the New Year and more time to spend with her 6-year-old while he is little. Her husband didn’t say what he hopes for. The visit reminded me how much I don’t have in common with the average American.

Liberalism seemed simpler not just a year ago. Values were opinions that could be expressed over a glass of Chianti and a consensus could be reached by the time dinner was over. It used to be that we could all agree on social issues. Gays should have equal access to marriage. Women should have access to safe and legal choices about their reproductive health. Education is a human right. Access to health care is a social justice issue, especially for the socially-disenfranchised. World-wide hunger is an atrocity, especially when compared to the abundance and obesity in this nation. The death penalty is corrupt because it is used against people of color more so than against whites. Free speech is a constitutionally protected entitlement and sacred. These seemed to be simple values, Christian values even, and easily agreed upon.

Something has changed in my psyche, and seemingly on a national level of late, that has brought me to conclude that these issues, the issues of upmost importance, issues pertaining to social justice, are no longer as simple as we once thought. As I see it, these issues boil down to socio-economic corporatism and the chains within that corporatism that bind us. Our politicians are in bed with big business and work for corporate executives instead of the American people. Because the vast majority of our elected officials have demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to do the right thing, it is no longer enough to go to the ballot box and hope for the best. We must vote with our dollars. This truth is alienating, especially at Christmas time.

We can no longer simply fight for social issues from a social principal. We have to fight against corporate greed to have our voices heard and justice realized. We have to fight against the very institutions that are supposed to protect us and improve our lives. Our values are tied up in a monetized system that uses the system to dismantle those values. Allowing gays to marry would give gays access to survival and inheritance rights, rights which they don’t currently have under DOMA and various state laws, a phenomenon that now contributes to unequal taxation and a disenfranchisement that serves to bolster banks and contributes confiscated property to the big banks’ benefit. Continuing to allow women to have access to birth control or abortions, furthers the notion that women should have access to equal opportunities in family planning that help them to plan for careers and upward mobility that they otherwise might not have access to. Education in this country has been defunded by traditional means (taxes) while corporations get tax breaks and use private money to subsidize public colleges and manipulate access and the scope of education. Health care is dominated by profitability, disenfranchising the most uncared-for populations of this country, such as the elderly and mentally ill, while zombifying the rightfully-enraged with prescriptions for medications like Prozac and Lithium and increasing the profit margin of companies like Upjohn and Pfizer. Industrialized farming gets subsidies from the government to make food that is less-nutritious while those subsidies simultaneously put small, organic, family-run farms out of business. Black men and women are put to death on subjective evidence against them, while white executives at institutions like coal-mining companies willfully ignore federal regulations and kill people while executing illegal and dangerous working conditions but face no jail time. Corporate donations have become a federally-protected version of free-speech and financial regulations are ignored while those protesting the discrepancy, with permanent markers and poster board, are violently pepper-sprayed or hit in the head by tear-gas cannons. The people of this country are, in short, fucked.

And the whole Christmas shopping season, which props-up these lawless corporations, putting them in the “black,” under the guise of gratitude and selflessness, only serves to further the disenfranchisement of marginalized populations in this country. When we put money into the hat of our corporate churches and lobbying charities, we lessen the chance that our child will be able to marry if he is gay because those institutions use our money to fund anti-equality initiatives. When we allow state and federal regulations to diminish access to reproductive healthcare, we weaken the possibility for women to have enough power to make decisions on behalf of other women and with the entire gender spectrum in mind. When we acquiesce to educational budget cuts, we allow corporations to command the terms of education, making the education weak and biased. When we skip a public option in health care reform, we make way for corporations to dictate the needs of our health in a way that remains profitable to those in power and results in the detriment of public health. When we feed our children genetically-modified food from factory farms, we burden and toture animals while simultaneously lessening our future generation’s chances to have a long and healthy life. When we allow our brothers and sisters of color to be put to death while congruently ignoring white-collar crimes, often of of greater magnitude, and the history of socio-economic disenfranchisement that puts people of color at great risk in society, we further the legacy of slavery and white-supremacy in this country. When we forfeit our rights to free speech by allowing a police state to dictate the terms of our constitution, we sacrifice any possibility for our country’s salvation.

We did not sign up for this. Our forefathers didn’t intend for this. And it certainly isn’t the meaning of Christmas.

The desire to protest Christmas has been immortalized by Dickens’ Scrooge and Seuss’ Grinch. Neither character paint a rosy picture of Christmas protest. Alas, literary references to Christmas protest have been dominated by villains. No wonder I feel like an asshole. But maybe it’s time we switch our consciousness. Maybe it’s time that we start seeing the Christmas grab-bag for what it is: derogatory and detrimental. And for those of us, who are declining to participate in its madness, well good for us. But sad for us as well.

It is 2011. The median income in the US is $26,364.00. A first class stamp costs $.44. The average cost of a dozen eggs is about $2.00. A gallon of gas costs, on average, $3.50. Barring the underlying social issues, these numbers indicate that we are facing a critical disconnect in this country.

While I see the whole Christmas shopping tradition as just another way to contribute to the demise of social values, most of the people around me are failing to see it that way. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most people would compare me to Scrooge or the Grinch. Let’s face it: my liberal guilt and social input ruins the traditions of Christmas. Many people, my friends included, have embraced the acquisition of store-bought goods as a way to show their love for others and prop-up a dying economy, truly believing that this gesture is one that is beneficial. The fact that I find the whole institution to be corrosive and mordant makes me the anomaly, a humbug and quite frankly, very lonely.

If you’re inspired to join me in skipping Christmas this year, it won’t make you popular. But there are those that would proclaim that Christ, the man for whom Christmas is coined, was crucified for his own unpopular messages, messages of hope, charity and peace. He had the right idea. And maybe, just maybe, we could get back to that. And maybe, just maybe we could save Christmas, and the rest of us while we are at it.

In 1985, my parents used the shopping element of Christmas to fortify one final memory and set a precedent. For me, that attempt ruined Christmas for the rest of my life. In 2011, many around me are doing the same thing and with the same result. We cannot transplant the message of Christ with a message of consumerism and expect peace to follow. On the contrary, by perpetuating the status quo and extending the reaches of corporate America, we are ruining the true spirit of Christmas for everyone and for generations to come.

Who the hell are these “Occupy” people?

I’ve been running around on the farm up here in the California foothills for the past few weeks trying to get the fall happenings in order.  The broccoli needed to be planted. The tomatoes needed to be canned.  The pumpkin patch needed weeding. The newly-planted garlic needed mulching. 

On top of the regular farm chores, I’ve had all my other adult responsibilities to handle. I had to go to the post office, pay bills, do the grocery shopping, go to the laundermat and drop off the recycling.  The house is a mess. The cats need litter. The floor needs to be vacuumed.  The toilet needs to be scrubbed. I’m busy.

I try and keep up on the local, national and world happenings and of course have been wondering what’s up with this whole “Occupy” movement. I’ve read blogs and articles. I’ve watched news stories and self-published videos. I’ve seen the pictures.  It’s inspiring. But I keep thinking, “Who the hell are these people?”

I finally got to cleaning off my desk today.  I set aside the bills not due yet. I looked through my seed catalogue and circled a few things.  I thumbed through my alumni magazine from UC Davis.  And then I found it.  I found the picture of the starry-eyed girl with the frizzy red hair, in her Greek sandals, holding her high school diploma. And I found my answer.  I figured it out.

Those people, those hippie-progressive-idealists standing in front of big banks holding signs, believing in change and marching for it? They’re me.

They are me. They are the me ten years ago.  They are the me before I lost my house, before I lost my job.  They are the me before we went down to one family car and paid off the piles of credit card debt with my father’s life insurance money after he died.  They are the me that had the out-of-control student loans, the me working for the trucking company getting coffee.  They are that woman, just out of collage, not able to find a job.

And damn it. They are me today.  They have bills they can’t pay, dreams that they know won’t be realized and fears that they hate to disclose.  I mean, I even wrote a blog applauding their efforts because I understood the predicament.

But I see things more clearly now.
And yet, I, too, am part of the population that sees the point these occupiers have to make but haven’t gotten my ass down to Main Street (more or less Wall Street) to join in the fray.

Already the corporate news media is trying to paint these people as crazy leftist communists with nothing better to do than cause a ruckus. 

I know that the people suffering in this country at the hands of corporate corruption are not crazy.

And now I see many fellow bloggers, people who share my values, starting to to take the stance of holier-than-thou.  I read a blog from energybulletin.net today, a place I can usually count on for enlightened points of view, whose author openly admitted to not having time to visit her local “Occupy” protest but whom was able to paint the protesters as unfocused kids, pandering to corporate interests and took the time to give them the bullet points about what they should be doing.

I agreed with the values.  I agreed with the advice to bow out of the corporatacracy, to halt “business as usual,” to stop wars, to buy local, sustainable food and to establish a new world order of compassion, environmentalism, sharing and inclusion.  But the blanketing is over-reaching and unfair. And the assumption that these occupiers have no idea what they are doing is ridiculous.

It is unfair to assume that if someone shows up to a protest in a three-piece suit or a name-brand sweater that they are mis-guided and ignorant.  I have grandma’s quilt but I also have the name brand sleeping bag because I bought it a decade ago and it seems a waste to toss it.  I buy local but I also buy corporate-created cat litter because, as much as I try to reason with my very sweet siamese, she would rather shit on the bathroom floor than on corn cob recycling.  I live on a farm. We are organic and sustainable. But we still put gas in the car to take the figs and eggs to the local co-op. 

There are very, very few people who have made the complete transition to living off the land with a zero carbon footprint.  I do not support corporate America but I cannot say that my hands are completely clean.  And anyone who has enough electronic access to the outside world to know that the “Occupy” movement is happening cannot claim that they do either.

Maybe you feel like anti-consumerism is second nature.  Maybe you’ve been recycling since the 1980′s.  Maybe you’ve been involved in a local transition movement to help get your community off of petroleum reliance.  Maybe you grow your own food. And maybe you’ve been doing all of the above for so long that you want to stick your tongue out at these “johnny-come-latelies” and tell them all about your values and what they’ve been missing.

But if you do that then you are shunning people who are trying to embrace incredible values, people who have taken the time and who have the gall to get out and be loud about what so many of us have been writing about and talking about to each other for too long. 

All the inner circles who have been talking to themselves about local food, resource wars, corporate corruption and peak oil just had the doors blown off of their private Tuesday-night conference room at the local Unitarian church and are out in the streets making a fuss about it and getting national coverage.  I hope they never shut up.

I hope these kids and so-called corporate lackeys stand there on Wall Street and all across this nation holding their signs, doing their homework and drinking their locally-grown organic tea until we see revolution in this country. Real revolution. And I hope we never look back.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have protest to get to.

Fleeing to the Hills

With my back to the snow in Grass Valley, I dream of spring and peruse the Seed Savers Exchange website for heirloom seeds with titles like, “Eva Purple Ball Tomato” and “Burgess Buttercup Squash.” It’s a little late in the season but I’m not worried. I’m a gardener by default because I’m an eater at heart. I love food and spring doesn’t seem to be arriving in a timely manner this year. The seasons have shifted a bit and, while the equinox has passed, winter is still upon us. We have had nothing but rain for days in Sacramento and the foothills have had a pummeling of snow uncharacteristically late and low. The one weekend where we saw no rainfall was too early to plant, and the brief episodes of sunlight since have been, for me, filled either with an office job or errands. So I’ll be picking the last of my tomatoes in October.

Tomorrow my partner and I are meeting with a couple who own an organic farm in Nevada County, California. They are looking for care-takers to live on the farm and help out in exchange for food and board. The farm is on 10 acres and the couple has experience keeping bees. It’s exactly what we had envisioned and we are hoping it will be a good fit. The possibility has me dreaming of food and hoping the cat will enjoy her new rural life.

I fear our friends see our choice to move to a farm in the foothills as rash, escapist or as a form of avoidance. We are very fortunate that it happens to make sense for our family situation because my partner works in the area and has commuted from Sacramento for too long now. But it is also the perverbial “fleeing to the hills.” For me, it is about communing with the earth and it just so happens that there is not a lot of earth in downtown Sacramento. Further, it is important to me to find a community that shares my values, sees this moment in time as urgent and is taking steps toward food production, community outreach and neighborhood safety.

Like Michael C. Ruppert of www.collapsenet.com, I see the current situation in urban areas as dire and about to get worse. Specifically for Sacramento and many other counties, July is looking bleak. With the budget cuts to social services that are set to take effect July 1, many people who have been relying on the system to get by will face a terrible reality. Some will have to choose between things like gas to get to work or food for their children. Unfortunately, those types of choices turn honest people into thieves.

My fear of civil unrest is secondary to my desire to remove myself from dependence on fossil fuel and the aspiration to align myself with the earth and its bounty. Farming, using biodynamic principles and the permaculture model can create a symbiotic relationship with the earth that mankind, modern agriculture and industrial society has destroyed. Morally and spiritually, I feel that we must repair our relationship with the earth and I am looking for a life that will serve that purpose. I don’t yet know if the farmers we are meeting with tomorrow hold such a progressive vision but we may be able to help each other in that way. All new experiences and connections teach. I am excited to learn.

I think we can all agree that the world seems to be changing at a must faster rate than any of us could have imagined. The days seem to spin faster as resources become scarcer and scarcer. We are doing more work for less money, if we can find work at all. Benefits, breaks and workplace safety are compromised if present. News of disaster, war and revolution take turns littering the front pages of newspaper and websites. Still, none of us have stopped hoping for the health and safety of our loved ones; we all want the same things. This ever-changing present moment on earth may very well be our opportunity to work towards a sustainable, livable future. But we have to make collective choices about what we want that future to look like. Maybe we don’t build any more nuclear power plants. Maybe we fund farms and classrooms instead of bombs. Maybe we turn in our 9-5 work day and start a fall-summer work-year.

Life changes are stressful and life on a farm is not a picnic. My small frame is unafraid of hard work but that’s exactly what it will be: hard. I may be a gardener but I’m new to farming. I’m not going to lie. I’m frankly nerve-wracked. This step is a transitional moment in a journey that lasts a lifetime. And many more transitional moments are promised. Taking time to slow down, to plant things and to live by the seasons couldn’t be a bad idea. So here goes.

Making a Realistic Transition

I, like many, am still having a very difficult time wrapping my head around all of this. The events of the past week and a half have been overwhelming. I already knew that the mass media rarely reports facts. One of the things I’ve been able to substantially conclude from what I’ve learned these past days, is that our media is only able to report on comparisons. I was 6-years-old during the Chernobyl disaster and having the mass media tell me “This is just like Chernobyl” or “This is nothing like Chernobyl” means nothing to me. Having the media tell me that the USS Ronald Regan Air Craft Carrier’s crew was exposed to one month’s worth of radiation in an hour, means nothing to me. Could we actually get some real information here? But what really could I have expected from an institution that has spilled more ink about Brad and Angelina than on anything actually newsworthy? I’m still young. And I guess I really thought people and institutions would come around, that in the event of a tangible, visible catastrophe, those in charge and those dominating could be counted on to communicate essential information in an orderly manner. That is just not so.

If we wanted to know how people would react in a real, severe disaster, something of an epic world calamity, this week has shown us. With the exception of a small group of thoughtful people, I am not impressed. My friend Julie says that “America has bystander-disease” pointing out that, in any situation, Americans will just sit of the sidelines gaping. I applaud the heroes of the Red Cross, those workers left behind at Fukushima Power Plant and the military personnel who are directly involved with aid and action. There are people engaged in the Japan disaster who are taking charge and showing great strength. I do not want anyone to think their courageous action goes unnoticed. That being said, it is clear that there is no real leadership in our country or in others. Those that are in a position of power feel no obligation to reason with their countrymen or provide real information that may be useful. Those that have the sense and drive to lead, are not in positions of power. It is clear that local, small, community-concentrated groups of people will be the governance of the future and that the future is here.

In my steps for disaster/collapse preparedness, I’ve had to prioritize. I don’t have large sums of money stored anywhere so, with each paycheck, I’ve had to pick a few necessities to add to my stockpile. Food and water were the obvious priority. As the news about Japan simmers down a bit, and I am able to take a deep breath, what I’ve come to conclude is that, though I am much more prepared than most, I am still very unprepared. On my list of things to prepare for, “nuclear fall-out” was not on my top ten. The recent events once again reminded me how fast the world can change.

I’ve held on to my desk job in lieu of something more sustainable because it has been comfortable. Or, more specifically, the monetary reward twice per month is comforting. Still, each day when I arrive to my cubicle, something beneath the surface nags at me. And it’s not the spoiled-American angst that is captured in movies like “Office Space.” I’ve worked in social services for a private non-profit and have known for some time now that the job isn’t viable. It’s not that the job isn’t a lovely concept. Helping single mothers with child care is aligned with my feminist principles and my thoughts on child welfare. It’s that the service comes from a place of complete unsustainability. In most situations, the child care being paid for costs more than the mother will ever make in an employment position and the money paid out for the service will never be paid back in tax dollars. There are proven tax and social benefits down the line but borrowing from the future is exactly what got us in this mess in the first place. And truthfully, that mess is unraveling quickly as our agency faces more and more budget cuts and lay-offs.

In her book “Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse,” Carolyn Baker notes, “A thorough understanding of collapse means that life cannot go on as it has in the past; business as usual is over.” I have, for months, held onto my day job like a security blanket. I have been pushing paperwork when I could have been making connections, educating myself, planting a garden or just generally working towards something sustainable. The events of Japan, their surprise and resulting sense of immediacy has pushed me to embark on a new journey. I have volunteered to be a part of the next round of lay-offs at my agency so that I can start being present in making a realistic transition.

For me, that transition requires a move. I live in a densely populated area where people are many but resources are few. Additionally, I want to get back to the land as a part of my daily life and stay as fossil-fuel free as possible. My partner and I are looking into a cooperative-farm living situation. We are looking to participate in life with a community we are accountable to and that is accountable to us. I hope to subvert the monetary paradigm by dealing more in trade than in cash. More disaster is bound to come. More calamity is down the road. But there is safety in community and there is promise in sustainability. I’m working for that.

State of the Union

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has said on more than one occasion that the American people are the most entertained and the least informed in the world. Listening to the mainstream media on Tuesday, leading up to the State of the Union address, I had a hard time figuring out if the story was about the State of the Union planned for the evening or the recent Oscar nominations. The airwaves were all aflutter with who was going with whom and who was bringing the popcorn. At one point my smart phone notified me that the minority speaker rejected the advances of some republican’s across-the-aisle reaching. First of all, gross. Secondly, I don’t care. I don’t care who Lieberman sits next to and whether or not McCain brought Goobers.

I’m all for the new the clamoring towards bipartisanship and launching a kindness revolution. I’m for talking with and getting along with neighbors. I’m for fostering community and building friendship. I am not for trying to reason with someone’s whose stance on climate change is Genesis 8. I am not for an energy policy launched by someone who has been blowing corporate oil for the past few decades. And I am not for the fanfare and party hats as our elected officials tell us that they will continue the path down the current paradigm—but they will do it holding hands.

Many parts of the speech made my stomach drop like riding a rickety rollercoaster at a state fair. If we think about international relations with any measure of social responsibility, our foreign policy is atrocious. The president’s mention of Tunisia’s recent upheaval, characterizing it as a great step for democracy and indicating that we’re supportive, was obnoxious. If we look at Iraq as an example, Americans know that we don’t get involved in other nations’ so-called democracy unless that nation happens to have oil reserves.

The Unites States of America built an embassy in Iraq larger than Vatican City but neither the Iraqi people nor the American people reaped any benefits from our nations’ conflict. The Iraqi people traded a dictatorship for a police state. The American people watched their sons, daughters and tax dollars go off to war and what returned, if it returned at all, came back forever changed. Ascertaining that we can conclude success in Iraq is ridiculous unless success is measured by how high we can stack dead bodies. The fact that we are finally leaving the sovereign nation we invaded almost ten years ago, so that the people there can fend for themselves and attempt to rebuild their toppled cities is not a cause for celebration. The whole debacle has been a terrible tragedy on any moral level.

But perhaps more glaring about the State of the Union address was not what was revered but what was glossed-over. The mention of Afghanistan hardly got two sentences. The organization Rethink Afghanistan published that, “During the time it took President Obama to give [the] State of the Union address, the U.S. spent another $13,764,244 in Afghanistan, according to the National Priorities Project’s Cost of War counter.” Even if our nation has no morals whatsoever, really doesn’t care about the human cost of war and has no regard for anything but the bottom line, Afghanistan is still a ridiculous endeavor. To reiterate the words of poet Jovi Radtke, “If we think about the war in purely economic terms, America has a credit card bill the size of Afghanistan.” Obama talked a lot about investing in America’s future. By anyone’s standards, building bombs and shooting Afghanis aren’t good investment decisions.

When it comes to foreign wars, our pockets seem to be bottomless. When it comes to investing in our own people, money suddenly becomes scarce. When Obama proposed that we freeze domestic spending, many people felt as though the buzz word in that sentence was “spending” and, perhaps, fiscal conservatives felt that this might be a good idea. I’m not a mathematician and even I can tell you that the way America has been borrowing against the future, with its massive deficit and outlandish spending, is not a viable approach to fiscal soundness. We have to cut back and I know that. But the buzz word was “domestic” Put another way, continuing to burn through hard-earned American money in Afghanistan is fine but money that goes back to the United States should be enforced with a mandatory stasis for the next four years, especially at a time when a record number of people are approaching retirement age and a record number of people are being born. It’s like someone sitting down to do their household budget and deciding to cancel the cable and the phone but still paying for the next-door neighbor’s dog food.

Sadly, all commentary about the economy, and how our money should be spent, is useless. The money doesn’t exist. It has been spent already. Nicole Foss, co-editor of The Automatic Earth (http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/), explains in her economic lectures that, for the last century, we have been spending what is essentially a global inheritance. The incredible amount of energy returned from oil production is from a source of sunlight and ancient fossils steeping for millions of years. We came across the incredible inheritance, divided it (usually by force) amongst the perceived more-deserving nations and we blew our wad in a little over a century. Many people still believe that we can continue the rape of the earth and that the economy will continue to grow the way it has for the last few decades. I am not the first person to point out: on a finite planet, there is no such thing as infinite growth.

Still, when I finally think that Peak Oil has hit the mainstream, and that the inevitable attrition and restructuring of how we use energy will start to develop with some level of common sense, an elected official or some other important decision-maker opens their mouth and gives me a delusion-check. Let’s pretend for a minute that there are enough resources and enough energy to build a completely new energy infrastructure and move into clean energy resources such as wind or solar. Even if this were true, Obama said himself that China has the largest solar research facility in the world. Even if there were resources to start a revolution toward sustainability, we are not heading in that direction. Our president gave us cute little allegories about people like the Allen brothers who turned their Michigan furniture shop into a solar shingle factory. Obama failed to mention that solar panel manufacturing companies in the US are being bought out by Chinese companies left and right and that our government has no real foundation to implement a plan for any sort of energy transition that might help us more from our dependency on oil to something more sustainable.

It has become more and more clear that the earth’s resources are finite, that growth is not perpetual and that the rate of our use of the earth’s resources are depleting them so quickly that we will face very serious consequences. Our elected officials could be truthful about this fact, reason with the American people and start a serious plan for the coming transition. Instead, they are maintaining the status quo and continuing down the harmful path that put us in this position in the first place. Rather than expressing the reality of our dire energy situation, Obama just furthered the infinite-growth fallacy and remarked, “We can have economic growth and use more energy while transitioning to ‘clean’ sources like nuclear and clean coal.” I think Richard Heinburg’s dissertation on said remark via facebook summed up my thoughts exactly: “Not.”

The Gift of a New Year

The holidays can be very stressful. I’m often horror-struck with the American traditions of gluttonous face-stuffing and meaningless gift-giving. With the exception of a piece of durable warm clothing and a child’s toy, gifts from my home this year were hand-made or gently used. At a time of year full of “I wants” and “Gimmies-gimmies,” I tried my best not to add to the circulation of stuff and present people with things they’d find meaning in or just completely useful.

I tried to enjoy the holidays to the fullest extent this year- to really take in the twinkling lights and enjoy the holiday traffic because we’re not far from a world where those lights will be too expensive to run and gas will cost too much to make the three-hour drive from Sacramento to San Jose. I was delighted that my 8-year-old niece wanted gardening tools and got them for Christmas and that her dad borrowed my copy of the book “Food Not Lawns” by H. C. Flores. I thought a lot about the tree worshipping by both secular and non-secular folks this time of year and I hope people embrace the practice outdoors and year round. As we enjoyed tamales and the laughter of our families around us, I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer the abundance of Christmas will last.

One of my best friends called me just before the Christmas holiday to tell me that she was really starting to get depressed because she didn’t get yet another job she had applied for. The agency she wanted the job with had posted the opening on Tuesday and by Thursday listed the position as “filled.” The U.S. bureau of labor statics lists that, as of October 2010, the jobless rate in Sacramento is at 12.5%, which is not adjusted for seasonal work. Since Sacramento is the doughnut hole in the middle of agricultural land, seasonal joblessness matters to the area quite a bit. Additionally, Sacramento is the capital of California and many of the viable jobs depend on election cycles. The last election cycle closed in November. Taking into account the current lack of agricultural and political employers, my best educated guess would put Sacramento’s jobless rate at closer to 16% or 17% and, like all other unemployment statistics in this country, that number doesn’t include people who are under employed and can’t feed themselves or their families on their current salary. The fact of the matter is that many folks are already living like Bob Cratchit in a world resembling a Dickens novel.

I think that part of the reason that Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has been so timeless is because the holidays really do make people reflect on the past, present and future. When we talk about gas prices, resources, the climate, the economy, the collapse of industrial society, etc., we talk about those things as though they are a future predicament. When we put gas in our cars to drive to Aunt Ellen’s on Christmas Eve and shrug thinking next year we’ll have more money, we’re fooling ourselves. As James Howard Kunstler outlines in his book, “The Long Emergency,” we are living in the collapse of industrial society. It’s happening now. When we buy people a bunch of crap they don’t need, we are contributing to the speed of the collapse of industrial society by sucking up what’s left of the earth’s resources. And when we see our friends, family, ourselves struggle with joblessness, we are feeling the pains as the collapse is happening. Yet so many of us are still living with the ghost of Christmas future.

We are embarking on a new year. This particular time of year seems to be riddled with people who are setting up unreal expectations of themselves for the sake of setting goals. A lot of those goals have to do with vanity, some with money and still others might work toward some other level of responsibility. Here’s my unsolicited advice: Do not set goals or place your hopes and dreams on the economy turning around. The economy is not going to turn around. Further, do not set goals as though we will be back to walking, candlelight and growing our own food this time next year. We are living in a revolution and it is a process. If you’re waiting for congress or the president to stand up and tell you the truth, that the world of absolute abundance and infinite growth was a lie, and that we are on the path of the greatest economic downturn in human history, they aren’t going to. They’re going to tell you exactly what they’ve been telling you all along, that’s it’s going to be okay, that everything is going to be okay. Economically, we will be worse-off next year than we were this year so if you are setting your standards based on market up-swings and corporate hiring, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Perhaps this year, instead of losing 10 pounds, we can all set broader goals: Make loving choices, work to build bridges in your community and be present in the present moment. If you are hoping to make adjustments in your personal appearance, do so because you want to work towards a healthier body. Eat local and in-season foods. If you hope to exercise more, honor the parks in your community. If you have to join a gym, pick something local and cooperative or non-profit. (If you’re a Sacramentan, try the Yoga Seed at 14th and E.) Know your neighbors and reach out to those in your community who need more help than you do. Support local efforts and be in attendance in your community. Experience the gift of right now and bear witness to it. Tomorrow may not be better than today. Tomorrow may never come. So take the gift of this moment and live it.