Emanicipating our Energy Slaves

The quote below stopped me in my tracks a few days back, a slap in the face to me and anyone that wishfully perpetuates the ideal of business as usual on the right hand side of the global Petroleum Production curve. It was extracted from a post provocatively entitled “I’m Looking for a Petition that says “I Demand Less!” The quote is from The Upside of Down by Thomas Homer Dixon:

Three large spoonfuls of crude oil contain about the same amount of energy as eight hours of human manual labor. When we fill our car with gas, we’re pouring into the tank the energy equivalent of about two years of human manual labor.

Based on the mental travels that arose from on this paragraph (paradoxically while driving in heavy traffic on I-81 amidst the roaring 18-wheelers of our precarious modern just-in-time commerce) I am polishing an essay for the Floyd Press column next week, tentatively titled “Freeing Our Energy Slaves”, and this emancipation will not be a great victory.

But it can free us in some beneficial ways if we acknowledge our own weakness and dependence on each other in the absence of those “energy workers” in our machinery. The column decidedly won’t be one of my cozy, avuncular front porch rambles. It attempts to spray some visible paint on that invisible elephant in all our rooms–or our driveways, to be more precise.

And the solution–or at least the outcome–of the coming decades of transition are not likely to be mitigated greatly by gradual degrees of creeping green-ness, though there are some who would like us to use the word to mean “business as usual without the guilt”. More, from a piece called Eco-Judo: The Corporate Co-option of Green from a new blog, People’s Green.

First, hijack terms like “eco” and “green” and re-cast them with the pall of Shirley Temple cuteness.  Don’t block the punch – deflect it.  In fact, if anything, make “green” as trendy as possible.  Just be sure, while you do, to soften green, fetishize green, and finally co-opt green under the umbrella of orthodox consumerism.

Sell “green cars,” but keep those drivers driving.  Make fads of “organic” pomegranites, but downplay their 7,000-mile refrigerated voyage.  Mass-produce “green second homes”, but don’t let on that in reality there’s no such thing.  Remind consumers that “the American way of life” is as indelibly a part of us as air – and just as essential to our survival.  Assure us that the best kind of environmentalist – and by far the hippest – is the “Lazy Environmentalist“, who shows how easy it is “to bring our lifestyles into balance with nature” with a few swift and stylish consumer choices.

Second, meanwhile, marginalize the “extremists,” namely, those green-minded folk not content with repackaged consumerism – those who demand bone-deep changes in that sacrosanct “American way of life.”  Such “radical environmentalists” will be thrown by their own momentum – through a few swift and stylish moves of corporate eco-Judo — post haste to the national blacklist alongside Terrorists and the French.

Remember, after all, what Bush had to say about Terrorists (or was it about radical environmentalists? No matter): “They want us to stop flying and they want us to stop buying, but this great nation will not be intimidated by the evildoers.”

I suggest you give the short video linked below a look and some thought. Breaking our addiction to oil, freeing our energy slaves in their liquid movement from deep earth ultimately into the soil and sky is both inevitable and necessary. Generations from now–maybe, just maybe–we’ll look back and sing “free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I know what you mean, Fred. I wince when I read about a couple (with no children) building a 3600 sq. ft. “green home” (or larger, in some cases). It seems that in our culture we consider it a birthright to consume whatever quantity of the world’s resources that we are capable of paying for (or financing). For some of us, it’s a constant battle between our intuitive knowledge of what’s fair and just and the constant bombardment of advertising telling us the kind of life we “deserve”. I have to confess that I don’t always make the best choices. It’s a day-by-day struggle.