November 13, 2010
Remember that old TV show, Mission Impossible? It always opened with the self-destructing tape recorder and the voice that said, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it …” Well, this week, your mission, should you choose to accept it (and you really should,) is to read, “Tipping Point: Near-Term Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production” http://www.theoildrum.com/files/Tipping%20Point.pdf, a study published by Feasta and The Risk/Resilience Network, with lead author David Korowicz. It’s heavy reading, but it explains, as well as anything I’ve read elsewhere, the complexity of the global system that has emerged to enmesh us all and why peak oil will cause its collapse.
We Americans held a mid-term Congressional election on November 2. In watching the returns, reading the reactions to the election and other news over the past week and especially after reading Tipping Point, I remembered something that happened between my son and me when he was five.
I was a harried single parent working full time nights and going to school in the mornings at the local university while trying to keep house, study, raise him and find some time to sleep. I usually spent the few days off when we were actually home together cleaning, doing laundry and putting up a few meals for the week ahead. Mostly to keep him out from under foot, I would say to him, “Honey, go clean your room.”
As most parents know, a five-year-old’s room is a complex system full of clothes, toys, books, drawings, half-finished kindergarten projects, occasionally, half-finished snacks and other moving parts – all tending toward entropy. He would rush off to move a few things around and come back to declare, “I cleaned my room, Mom.”
On one such day, when we’d repeated this cycle three times and – as parents say – he had stomped on my last nerve, I lost it. I pointed to the room and yelled, “Look at this mess. I told you to clean your room. What is wrong with you?”
He burst into tears and yelled back at me, “I’m five, Mom; I don’t know how to clean my room.”
For my son and me, the solution was relatively simple. Over the next few months, we cleaned the room together, step by step, until he did know how to clean the room and could do it on his own. Unfortunately, in the complex, interdependent, global system of finance and commerce that has evolved over the last 150 years of the oil age, we are all – world leaders and world followers alike – five years old with no clue as to how to clean our room.
World leaders can confer and plot and tinker. They can even declare war and hurl bombs and missiles at each other. We followers can march and yell, “Look at this mess. I told you to clean your room. What’s wrong with you?” We can even throw the bums out and send a new batch of five-year-olds in to the hallowed halls of power and insist that, this time, they do it “our way”. None of it will really do much good. The next batch will do exactly what the old batch did – move a few things around and proudly declare, “We’ve cleaned our room, Mom.” Not even the smartest guys in the room, who really believe they created it and they can control it, have a clue as to how the whole complex, non-linear, bifurcating, fractalizing, oil-dependent system works, let alone how to save it as energy supplies diminish and the system begins to contract. It has become a real-life mission impossible.
So, what do we clueless, orphaned five-year-olds do as our world begins to collapse? We do what I have suggested on this blog, what others far smarter than I have suggested for far longer than I have, what Dr. Korowicz suggests at the end of Tipping points. We stop shouting and pouting and pointing fingers at each other and, in whatever time we have remaining, start building resilience into our own lives and then, work together with friends and neighbors to build it into our communities. Many of us may not survive collapse, but for the sake of our children, we have to try.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it …