Movie review: Escape from Suburbia-Beyond the American Dream

This review is by Mick Winter (, the author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse ( This is a review of Escape from Suburbia-Beyond the American Dream (95 minute DVD).

"Sit, be still, and listen
for you are drunk and we are at the edge of the roof."
- Rumi, Sufi mystic

Thus begins "Escape from Suburbia", a film that suggests ways to start sobering up and moving back from the roof's edge.

"Escape" comes from Gregory Greene, the director who in 2004 brought us "The End of Suburbia", which has likely been seen at least once by every card-carrying Peak Oilist. Instead of focusing on the dire situation, as did "End", "Escape" focuses on possible courses of action. Whether or not any of those actions fit your needs is up to you.

(much more under the fold.)

While the film discusses (and pretty much shoots down) alternative fuel sources, it mainly focuses on people responding to Peak Oil in various ways. One way is demonstrated by an Oregon couple that decides to move to an intentional community in Canada. For us city folks this seems a little puzzling, since it looks like their Oregon home is already off in the wilderness and quite sustainable and self-sufficient. We're assured, however, that they're actually in the Portland suburbs and subject to the future problems of a large metropolitan area. That's particularly interesting since there are many people in the United States who are considering moving to Portland because they think it is one of the places best able to deal with Peak Oil.

Another response comes from a couple in New York City. They recognize that Manhattan is hardly the "green" community (everybody uses public transit and walks to all services) it's cracked up to be but rather a dense urban area incapable of sustaining itself without food, energy, transportation and other aid from the outside. And they know it's time for them to leave the city. But where? (And leave Manhattan?!)

A third response is demonstrated by a single mother in Toronto who believes that rather than escape, we have to change where we are. ("Stay where you are, dig in, and make it better.") She works to do what she can to make her city more Peak Oil-aware and prepared to deal with energy shortage.

The film intersperses the stories of these people with the usual talking heads (Kunstler, Heinberg, Simmons, Ruppert, and with others trying to change their lives to deal with Peak Oil. Two historical items are worth comment. Television footage from 1973 shows U.S. President Richard Nixon (Yes, him. And, yes, he was a Republican) calling for the U.S. to be energy-independent by 1980. The other is when one of the film's commentators mentions that among U.S. President Ronald Reagan's first executive actions after taking office in January 1981 was removing the hot water solar panels from the White House West Wing roof that had been installed in 1979 by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. It's a great story. Alas, the reality is that the panels were not removed until 1986 when they were taken down to fix a leak in the roof and never re-installed. Such is the credibility of historical myth.

The theme of the movie is of course escape, and it shows some of those escape possibilities quite clearly. Escape can be an excellent decision for some individuals and families. However, it is, as Vice-President Dick Cheney said about energy conservation, an admirable personal choice but not a policy. The United States has a huge percentage of its population currently living in suburbs and cities that are not likely to do well with Peak Oil. Escape is not an option for all, or even most, of its people.

To the movie's credit, it captures this dilemma. At Peak Oil discussion groups and conferences in Canada and the United States, participants recognize that changes have to be made at all levels, from changes in our personal day-to-day living up to dramatic changes in our national and international economic policies. And commentators like Canada's Guy Dauncey point out that the key is to transform suburbia itself.

The latter part of the film shows two possible scenarios for the future. In Southern California, an exciting grassroots project has changed the lives of hundreds of people in South Central Los Angeles. Ever since 1992, a community garden has grown and thrived—the South Central Community Farm. More than 350 families tend their vegetables and herbs and enjoy the socializing environment of this 14-acre garden set in one of Los Angeles' lowest-income areas. The garden brings together people of all ages, mostly Latino, to a safe, healthful and bountiful green oasis in the middle of asphalt and warehouses. It is what sustainability advocates throughout the country have been espousing for years, and it has thrived in L.A. for more than 12 years. It gives one hope.

Then, with the blessing of its City Council, the City of the Angels sells out its people as it sells the property back to the original owner at a price no higher than he had sold it for 12 years previously. Despite protests, legal challenges and star-studded demonstrations, the community gardeners are evicted, the farm is torn down, and the land is bulldozed. It sits there still. Barren and unused. At a time when cities all over the country—and the world—are encouraging community gardens, one of the most successful is destroyed. That is one direction for the country.

Up the coast in Northern California, something different is happening. In the small town of Willits, a little more than two hours north of San Francisco, a grassroots effort has brought together all segments of the community into a cooperative effort to transform their town and deal with Peak Oil.

Environmentalists, city hall, the chamber of commerce, the local bank and newspaper, school board, law enforcement, and the general citizenry have come together with the goal of making their town energy and food self-sufficient. It's a remarkable example of an entire community working together to cope with the future.

Willits gives a taste of what might happen if community, business, and local government work together. South Central Community Farm gives an example of what happens if government not only doesn't support, but stomps on, community efforts.

Escape from Suburbia shows the dilemma facing many people (in effect, flight or fight) and the anxiety and depression they feel about Peak Oil. It also shows the need and value of taking action. As Guy Dauncey says, "Action encourages optimism". "Escape" shows everyday people who are optimistic because they are taking action. We all need that optimism but we will experience it as a society only when we are acting as a society. Let's hope that the final film in this trilogy is titled "Transforming Suburbia" because transforming society is now our most important goal.

"Come to the edge"
"We can't, we will fall!"
"Come to the edge"
'We can't, we're afraid!'
"Come to the edge'
And they came
And he pushed them
And they flew

Guillaume Appollinaire, French poet
(from the end of the film)

Mick Winter ( is the author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse (

I've not seen "Escape," but this review makes me want to see it.

The key points I take from this review are:

1. Not everyone can leave the cities or the suburbs. the cities and suburbs must also be transformed. I think of "Continuously Productive Urban Landscapes" and various "Lawns to Gardens" efforts as a start.

2. Action is the best medicine. We can learn all we want to about the problems of PO and GW, but until we are taking action, we are still getting sicker, not getting better.

Often my own actions seem insignificant to me, but they are what I can do. If I don't do anything, I'm stuc. If I take action, I may have a small positive effect, may help my kids or someone else to have a better life or make even more change, and may learn to take even more effective action in the future.

I hope we can keep these two ideas in mind as we talk with others and work for change.


I beg to differ with you. Your actions are not insignificant, but actually more useful than my actions for the future. I'm working on redeveloping old oil production so as to ease the transition from fossil fuel, while you have set up a localised business not dependent on fossil fuel.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not vounteering to give up high material rewards. But I'd like you to know that I appreciate your efforts to change and your willingness to share the results, its gracious and generous and gives me hope for humanity. Bob Ebersole

Thanks, Bob! Isn't it funny how being just one person I feel relatively small and insignificant. Being small is humbling, and maybe that's OK. But I guess being small does not equal being insignificant.

That gives me something to ponder.

I appreciate all of the efforts and willingness to tell stories of experiences from folks who have a great deal of diversity in terms of the matter of energy.

Admiral Rickover was right:

"Possession of surplus energy is, of course, a requisite for any kind of civilization, for if man possesses merely the energy of his own muscles, he must expend all his strength - mental and physical - to obtain the bare necessities of life."


"Certainly no one likes taxes, but we must become reconciled to larger taxes in the larger America of tomorrow.

I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants - those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age. Our greatest responsibility, as parents and as citizens, is to give America's youngsters the best possible education. We need the best teachers and enough of them to prepare our young people for a future immeasurably more complex than the present, and calling for ever larger numbers of competent and highly trained men and women. This means that we must not delay building more schools, colleges, and playgrounds. It means that we must reconcile ourselves to continuing higher taxes to build up and maintain at decent salaries a greatly enlarged corps of much better trained teachers, even at the cost of denying ourselves such momentary pleasures as buying a bigger new car, or a TV set, or household gadget. We should find - I believe - that these small self-denials would be far more than offset by the benefits they would buy for tomorrow's America. We might even - if we wanted - give a break to these youngsters by cutting fuel and metal consumption a little here and there so as to provide a safer margin for the necessary adjustments which eventually must be made in a world without fossil fuels.

One final thought I should like to leave with you. High-energy consumption has always been a prerequisite of political power. The tendency is for political power to be concentrated in an ever-smaller number of countries. Ultimately, the nation which control - the largest energy resources will become dominant. If we give thought to the problem of energy resources, if we act wisely and in time to conserve what we have and prepare well for necessary future changes, we shall insure this dominant position for our own country."

Sorry -- got carried away re-reading that 1957 speech from here:

At any rate -- thanks for the encouragement!

And, I do not need the USA to "dominate" but I do think we ought at least to help prepare the world for a very different future. Rickover mentions paying higher taxes, cutting consumption of key resources, and carefully husbanding what we have for the future -- what novel ideas!

You are small and insignificant. Whatever you are doing, there is a 99.999% chance it's not going to have any effect on anybody beyond yourself and perhaps a handfull of people close to you. This is true for you, for me, for Bob, and probably just about everybody reading this.

What's so wrong with acknowledging this reality?

FWIW, I think Americans' (almost) universal access to personal use of the car has conveyed upon them an inflated sense of their own power and ability to affect change. This goes as much for activsts and other people trying to "make things better" as it does for those with less noble intentions.

I haven't come up with an elegant way to explain this so here goes: when you spend the bulk of your life able to get in a big machine and go pretty much wherever you want, whenever you want, something occurs in the primal part(s) of the brain that conveys up upon the person a belief that they are able to affect events much more than they really are.

Call it a psychological effect of the car culture. What's funny is even people who are working to end/reform the car culture seem to have been affeced by this. Like just about everybody else in NA, they generally spent plenty of time during their formative years (ages 16-to-25) in a car by themselves. Even if they are carless now, all those years with personal use of a car imprinted the primal part(s) of the brain with certain beliefs about oneself. It's at a primal level so it's likely to go unnotcied.

Whatever you are doing, there is a 99.999% chance it's not going to have any effect on anybody beyond yourself and perhaps a handful of people close to you

I know, as a fact, that actions I have taken in the past, unrelated to Peak Oil, have changed people's lives for the better and that these changes have rippled beyond that.

However, my focus is not so much on "I" but on other people and our mutual relationships (a cultural focus I find stronger in New Orleans).

I have learned in my years to seek leverage points, and my presence here on TOD is a deliberate choice after surveying other Peak Oil sites. This has lead to other opportunities and the ability to start a meme.

Last week was a breakthrough on a related front. The Millennium Institute ran my scenario on their T21 model and came up with very positive results, which will be presented Wednesday at ASPO-Houston.

I am VERY well aware that "I" can do almost nothing, but my relationships and joint efforts can affect change.

At the Millennium Institute I meet Hans Herren, who now works there. Read the link below and tell me that no one can make a difference.

Best Hopes,


Remarkably, what Alan appears to be doing is old fashioned campaigning - reaching out to people and building working networks of individuals who have an interest in the solution he is presenting. Modern campaigning does not do this. Instead it relies on Madison Avenue and the mechanics of advertising rather than the mechanics of engagement. Engagement amongst politicians today is solely reserved for those who are peers to the politician and thus "deserving" of engagement. The rest of us get hucksterism with Madison Avenue glitz. This is partly due purely to population - Hillary Clinton cannot effectively engage 300 million people so she has to use the advertising route (as do all the rest of them as well). So a modern politician prioritizes time and reserves "engagement" for those that the politician believes deserve it. Interestingly, this also is most frequently either those who can get that politician re-elected or another politician of the same rank or higher, so the entire scenario becomes a closed loop, largely immune to external thinking.

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett
Into the Grey Zone

Its funny how all those mighty combustion engine cars need a little electric motor to start them :)

What's wrong with acknowledging this reality is that the reality is wrong.

We all have an effect. There is a 100% chance that what we're doing is having an effect on the system. Just not the effect we want when we want it.

"There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view." -- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

A large effect you can have is lack of response to system stimulus.

It is only from one perspective that the researchers control the experiment. From another perspective, the mice are in control, as they are holding the researchers in the experiment.

So what happens when the mice (that's us) ignore the stimulus? The stimulus is repeated, causing other mice to become over-stimulated, and again failing to respond.

Fighting or attacking the stimulus is a well-understood response, for which there are other stimuli to try to get you back into the maze searching for your piece of cheese.

Most people have no idea what to do when there is no response. Think, Matt, how frustrated you get when you tell someone, "hey, HFCS is killing you", and you get back a blank stare. No response. And what does that do to you? You go home and fervently post about it. The guy at the store has already forgotten you.

Who was stimulated, and who responded?

His small, insignificant, little nothing action changed the course of your life for the next several hours, didn't it?

Just because you didn't notice the effect, didn't mean it didn't happen. This isn't quantum mechanics. This is the real world.


Significance, leaving a mark, is a human ego delusion. The people that I emulate most aren't concerned with how they appear to others, while many true monsters are obsessed with their image to others.
Albert Einstein was a clerk when he had his revalations that totally transformed the 20th Century, I doubt seriously that he dreamed of the transformative power of the atom and how glorious his life would become when he wrote his papers and got them published. Instead, he abandoned himself to his mathematical revalations and worked and thought.

George W. Bush won't admit that Iraq is an unwinable disaster and that thousands of people have died because of his concern for his legacy, his significance.

Of course these are extreme examples, thats the face of history, records of extreme examples

Good points, Bob.

And while I don't disagree with the Chimp, I guess the notion of smallness and significance can get confused in odd ways.

The best way for me to understand significance remains mysterious. It has to do with living in a good way, or living authentically in the best way one can, without too much despair over outcomes I cannot control in any rationalistic way.

I just forget that sometimes, what with all the angst and anxiety over peak oil, climate change, intentional ignorance, war, and other violence going on.

I agree with Chimp that our experience of life with cars has affected our sense of self-importance in the same way that perhaps some royalty, emperors, CEO's, and other "Big Players" were/are given to an outrageous sense of self importance.

Living authentically matters a great deal to me. I fall short of my own sense of ideals, but love, peace, joy, sharing with a small group of loved ones, and positive engagement in the larger community matter to me even if we go out with a poof and a sputter shortly.

Escape from Suburbia may have its shortcomings, but it may also serve as just the right existential provocation to help some people rediscover humane living, which involves survival, but a whole lot more as well.

Survival is not forever anyway...we all gotta go sometime, and so do all species, it seems.

Mere survival is not all it might be cracked up to be. Even so, I do want to keep on surviving so that I can have more opportunities to really live.

Not discounting even more mystical possibilities that may or may not helpfully inform the discussion of the significance of the human being as highlighted by the Long Emergency as we know it.


Both Alan and Matt are right about significance. the sum total of good exists in the world because billions of people have chosen to live good lives and do so on an ongoing basis. The chimp is right in that our individal choices are unlikely to have meaning to more than a few people, and also about our grandiosity. But that makes each individual choice even more significant, because people respond to example a lot but not to exhortation

I think the point is don't overexagerate either our importance or insignificance, neither is true. Bob Ebersole

Significance, leaving a mark, is a human ego delusion.

How many wrong ideas are packed into that statement? Who are the people who have left as their mark this terrible meme?

The people that I emulate most aren't concerned with how they appear to others

So for you significance and appearance are the same thing? Why are you emulating people? Certainly because they left their mark! They were significant! Why were they significant? Often because they were less deluded than their contemporaries. Does being less deluded mean they didn't have "egos"? Not that likely, since the very concept of "ego" is of recent vintage - a mistranslation of Freud, actually, who just used the German word for "I." So when you say "The people I emulate" that's all Freud ever meant by "ego" - what we mean when we say "I." And frankly, if you think you don't mean anything when you say "I," that's delusional, schizophrenic even.

What we need - urgently - is different styles of living. Popular styles can transform at mercurial rates. There's been a noted lack of significant stylistic leadership since the sixties ended. Part of what's holding us back from style is the "anti-style" movement based in the meme of "having no ego." Almost all significant public style leaders have strong senses of self. That coming through is in large part what makes their styles so attractive and emulable. The source of successful style is in part in emulation, but in equally important part in centering in the originality of your own self. In that way the self, the "I," is the key to real social progress.

The widespread belief that it's not is the reason there's been so little social progress over the last few decades.

There is no reason to equate sustainability with autarky on the county-municpality level, as I see very often. The trucking industry uses 10-15% of our fuel, and while some of that demand will be destroyed in the nearterm with $3, $4, $5/gallon oil... that percentage will never go much farther below where it is now. It's a high value use - all of our service industry not in range of a mass transit system (a majority of our economy) will have quit their jobs due to commuting costs before we stop shipping goods + produce across state lines.

Our cities will never be able to take care of themselves on food grown within city limits, on rain that fell within city limits. It will never have a reasonable quality of life living on the microprocessors, cars, furniture, and razorblades that are [probably not] manufactured within city limits.

The situation is similar to the often presented sentiment that small towns will be easier to live in than survivalist compounds - but all that most small towns produce is food. Is consuming food alone and producing everything else yourself, 19th century pioneer style, your idea of civilization?

I won't be seeing the film for at least another month, in keeping with the (refreshingly realistic) wishes of the producers - I hope there's still interest enough for torrent distribution. I dunno whether that request has anything to do with its lack of presence now, or whether it's just a result of charging $40 per DVD. I liked The End Of Suburbia quite a bit, though I had just read Kunstler's Geography of Nowhere, of which the film seemed almost like an unembellished chapter or two.

"The trucking industry uses 10-15% of our fuel, and while some of that demand will be destroyed in the nearterm with $3, $4, $5/gallon oil... that percentage will never go much farther below where it is now."

Not only that, but the fraction will increase. Heavy trucks are close to as efficient as they can get. Cars and SUVs have a long way to go and could double their efficiency without causing too much pain. 'Just in time' delivery and the horrible state of the railroads means that they aren't going to be meaningful competition for all but the cheapest, bulkiest goods.

"Our cities will never be able to take care of themselves on food grown within city limits, on rain that fell within city limits. It will never have a reasonable quality of life living on the microprocessors, cars, furniture, and razorblades that are [probably not] manufactured within city limits."

I'm sure a localized economy will have some shipping being done, and even a small amount of very specialized intercontinental shipping.

Most things will probably be done on a regional level (NYC, Long Island, SW Connecticut, and NE New Jersey would constitute a region). You get most of the efficiencies of scale while incurrung tiny transport costs. A market of 20 or 30 million people could certainly support a razor blade factory, a car factory (though, in my opinion, we should ditch the car), and multiple furniture factories processing local wood (which we have adequate amounts of around NYC, though it would have to be used sparingly for structural uses and not exported).

High-end microprocessors and circuits are a good example of something that is best made in only a few locations in the world. The capital equipment is massive (billions of US$) and the products are tiny (a few grams, plus a few more for adequate packaging - assuming the chips are shipped to local assembly plants to be made into circuit boards and then electronic goods).

Just moving to regional shipping instead of halfway around the world will save about 90% of the shipping energy (200 miles by truck vs. 2,000 miles by truck + 10,000 miles by ship).

Heavy trucks are far from as efficient as they could get - they are as efficient as it is painless to make them, without sacrificing safety, much money, easy access for repairs, and modularity. I could easily see a long, sealed, aerodynamically optimized road train driven entirely using an accumulator (either electric or hydraulic) doing 8 containers at once cross-country for twice the fuel cost that one currently uses. If we desired it to be so, and our highways had the room, it would be so. Anything you can do to make a train perform at high speed with less drag, you can do to a truck and cut its drag, if you want to. Especially given that we have honeycombed metal/composite materials that can function quite well compared to corrugated steel at a tenth the weight and 10x the cost.

Re: Rail - it is passenger rail that is deformed in this country. Our lightly regulated, lowspeed, privately owned freight rail industry is considered the most prolific in the world. But the country grew up around the interstates - all commercial, residential, and even much of our industrial space hasn't taken rail into account when considering where to build for at least half a century. As a result, the ability of rail to serve it is limited.

The movie is another effort to warn those who are not peak aware of the oncoming "long emergency".

This movie will of course make some people aware, but in many cases it will be preaching to the choir. I still think it is an important work. It is important because it gives some hope and direction to those in small cities and towns about how to ready themselves or the post peak era.

The reality is that while there may be towns like wllits ca that are as a community aware and active, the great majority of cities are not.

Those who are peak aware who live in large or medium cities like Toronto, cities with the majority of people or governments that are not preparing will be dragged down by the economic collapse. Rome went from over a million people to less than 10k in a few years when the food and water stopped coming. Petra simply faded away for the same reason. Civilizations collapse, two of the major reasons are climate change, like the greenland norse, and resource depletion vis a vis population like easter island, among others what we are facing is both,

Climate change in a future with abundant energy is one thing but combine that future with an economy and society dependent on cheap oil when that oil starts to fade away is not going to be pretty,

Suburbia in america will start to wither away first slow then it will be a torrent, the decay will begin with a few homes being foreclosed at a time, then people will not put money into their homes. food will get more expensive, because of transit costs, lack of fertilizer, higher grain costs. Sure some will plant gardens and can food and community gardens are great but without city water they will dry up if the amount of water i used to keep my garden alive here in the ohio river valley this summer is any indication. also will a neighbor with starving children hesitate to take it? bust your ass to keep fed and the local thug will take it just as it is ripe. There will be no mercy. The government will be no help, just ask the people in NOLA.

Where will all of the suburbanites go? It will not be pretty. 300 million people and not enough food grown locally and none being trucked in, do the math.

Anyone have a good recipe for "Long Pig"?

You might ask Fannie Flagg:

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Anyone have a good recipe for "Long Pig"?

Same as short pig. Stockpile BBQ sauce!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Fly, little escapee! After all, gravity is just a theory ...

We just got back from a trip to our nearest grocery store in Jollyville. Albertson's is leaving the Austin market because competition from mega-discount chains such as Costco has rendered them unable to remain in business. Remember that walkability calculation website? Well this particular Albertson's was the nearest store to me. It may have been walkable if a long walk (~2 miles or so). Once the absence of that store is noted by Google Maps my walkability index will drop to approximately 0.0.

We bought about $400 worth of non-perishables and wine and stuff to get the 25% discount. But it gives me a little premonition of a future life on a much simpler diet.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Fly, little escapee! After all, gravity is just a theory

since you mention it, I thought that final bit of poetry was more realistic-sounding without the last line:

"Come to the edge"
"We can't, we will fall!"
"Come to the edge"
'We can't, we're afraid!'
"Come to the edge'
And they came
And he pushed them

the end.


PS: the DVD is $40?

Maybe it is just my perception in hindsight, but it seems like in the past, the American people were more willing to do things together. Maybe it was the Great Depression or WWII that caused that to happen. All I know is that I feel that we need to get the spirit of working together back in all of us. There may be very few problems that we can not solve together, but I think there are many more problems that can defeat us all when we are separated from one another.

Whether it be energy, health care, housing, education, the environment or any other issue, we usually do things best on a large scale together. Ever since we were divided by the lower taxes and less government crowd, we have gone downhill. I am not saying big government and higher taxes are better. All I am saying is we need to work together if we are going to get anything major done in this country. If that requires a bit more government and some taxes, then so be it. But let us get on the move soon, before it is too late.

According to Robert Putnam, your hindsight is correct.

CalGuy -- if anyone is to make it through the bottleneck of the next 30 years or so, then we will need to regain some sense of collective identity.

Either we all escape from suburbia by transforming it, or there is little chance that civilization will survive.

There is a very good chance that our actions over the next 30 years or so will determine whether or not our species goes extinct along with many others we are destroying.

This is not the guesswork, it is the considered opinion of scientists who really consider it likely that we will create the Eremozoic Era -- the Age of Loneliness -- on this planet.

Imagine a climate so hostile that perhaps a few tiny tribes scrabble out a meager existence here and there, and then one by one are decimated by disease, hunger, lack of water.

That is exactly the future we are headed for.

I believe that we will learn to survive through cooperation or we will not survive at all. Maybe that is an evolutionary leap for us make, but I think it is time to do so or die off.

I vote for life -- not so much as a rational choice, but because it makes a kind of intuitive sense to me.

Admiral Rickover -- see link in comment above -- had a strong sense of the need to cooperate and (gasp!) even sacrifice a bit for the betterment of those to follow us on this planet. Where did that sense care for the future generations go?

"Where did that sense care for the future generations go?"

I have no doubt that you have it. I know that I do, too and conclude that there is no shortage of this caring here at TOD. I think it's actually also 'out there'.. maybe in remission in US civic life, maybe painfully rusty and dusted over, but I don't doubt that it is here.

Reminds me of the Sting song about "If the Russians love their children too.." Well of course they did and do, and I think the question was posed exactly because it was intrinsically ridiculous, even if the actions of the US and USSR would have convinced anyone that it was actually a cogent challenge, 'cause neither side seemed to be working with the future in mind.. And of course they weren't (I won't say WE.. it wasn't my actions) their long-term thinking was completely occluded by near-term fear and resentment, as ours has been by the Soma-drug of Cheap Energy Slaves, cheap fat and sugar, cheap entertainment.. etc.. but it's not gone, and there are actually awake people out there. I don't think it'll take a majority, either. I think there's usually about 10% of the people that do the heavy lifting.. most others will follow the tide.. but they don't create it or choose its direction.

Ahh, too late in the day for gravitas..

I want to toss in my appreciation for your sharing the tales of your wheels and your work. It's definitely like a little rabbit's foot I can keep with my little pile of 'hopeful signs' .. by sharing it, you've multiplied it into countless readers' imaginations!

"The only things you can take to Heaven are the things that you gave away."

Bob Fiske

"I have no doubt that you have it. I know that I do, too and conclude that there is no shortage of this caring here at TOD. I think it's actually also 'out there'.. maybe in remission in US civic life, maybe painfully rusty and dusted over, but I don't doubt that it is here."

No doubt about that this is not the problem.
The problem is that there is in regards to peak oil and its close cousin grain shortage, (caused by diverting grain for fuel, droughts, farms disappearing under suburbs, not to mention the future shortages of fuel affecting both the growth and transportation of crops)
This is a global problem and that there has been little in the way of our so called leaders preparing the country or doing anything about peak oil and the grain crises.

The only reason there was an admission of change of policy on climate change was that it was so obvious that it could no longer be ignored, however that took the destruction of nola to accomplish.

For years the powers that be held those who put forward the theory (now proven) of global warming to be irrational kooks.
This is the angle now being used as regard to peak oil and the accompanying grain shortage.

The situation has to be looked at through this prism. The example of WWII is on point, the us to some extent helped out the brits, but for the most part the us was lethargic before pearl harbor, and yes after that we came together however before that the country was divided regards our involvement. And at that time we had FDR now we have GWB

The problem is two pronged as regards to peak oil, first the need is for a global effort, and second there is a need for leadership, neither is happening as long as the powers that be tell everyone that we are going to be fine that there is a temporary shortage of oil and that we can drill our way to prosperity, then the community effort that we all wish for will not materialize. The need is for leadership to talk, I have tried many times to make people po aware and I have gotten nowhere.

The fact is that the community action needed will not come until the people are peak oil aware, People will not sacrifice if they think there is no need to do so.

Once they can no longer hide the truth of the energy and resources and the food crises at that point we will be past peak and maybe even past the plateau, then the available options will have so eroded that the civic response even if we all pull together will be to little to late.

there is no mention of PO in the current crop of political office holders and those running for POTUS. The reason for this is that either they do not believe in it or they do not know of it in which case they are so out of it they will be of no help in spreading the word, or they do not wish to mention it in fear of losing the election in which case nothing will be don until 2009 at the earliest.

Thanks Bob -- after a sleepless night I've got a full day's work ahead.

Sometimes the combination of anxiety and sorrow are more than a bit overwhelming.

However, there is yard work to be done, children to care for, and an elderly client who is counting on my help today!

I stumble along. Sometimes I think we all do our share of just managing to stumble along. It is a wonder that we can do so and occasionally have time to really ask questions about it all.

And the rain just keeps on coming down here in Minnesota -- hot, muggy, and stormy for many days lately ..... hmmmm ....

Our human willingness to cooperate is what's gotten us into this mess in the first place. It is the essence of capitalism and democracy.

We are fast losing our democratic tendencies when I hear people call for our very own Cesar Chavez in the USA.

What we need is to borrow the idea of Colossus (from the Forbin Project).

Debt is the biggest difference between now and 1942.
Our debt will stifle cooperation.
The vast majority will fight and try and hang on as long as they can, if it means being selfish then so be it.
The thinking will be FYJIAR.
It's like two drowning people, you can save yourself if you can swim but if you try and save the other person then you both could go under.
Maybe the poor with nothing to lose could begin to cooperate first, then the middle class as they lose what they have and become poor as well.
By then it will be too late.

It is best to dig the well before you are thirsty.

I'm a tiny bit disappointed in our portrayal in this film, although I understand the budget and time constraints that Greg was working under.

The film left the impression that we had joined O.U.R. EcoVillage, but we never had that intention, rather, we worked at O.U.R. the following summer (2006), and Greg filmed us when we went to meet with Brandy (also shown in the film) in preparation for that summer.

We are in the process of creating a sustainable intentional community on an island in Southwest British Columbia, and have started a small demonstration Permaculture farm. (You can learn more at the link below.) Greg knew of our plans, but was unable to fly back out to film us at our "real" landing site.

Mick Winter expresses surprise that we left Portland, since it is attracting many "peakers." That was more a vote of "no confidence" in the future of the United States than any specific problem with the Portland area. If you're stuck in the US, Portland is probably as good as it gets for a city of that size.

More importantly, Canada better supports simple living than the US. We live comfortably on about $12,000 a year, producing much of our own energy and food and running small businesses that let us enjoy "luxuries" like computers and digital cameras on pre-tax dollars. In the US, a third of our taxable income would go to health insurance, or we'd go without. And as "Sicko" shows, insurance itself is not all it's cracked up to be.

These things aside, I'm quite happy with the film, and honored to have been a part of it. If our path appeals to you, please contact us via our website below. There is also lots of information (including schematics and design notes) about our vegetable-oil-powered vehicle, Veggie Van Gogh, at it's website.

:::: Jan Steinman, Communication Steward, EcoReality ::::

There's 3-to-4 videos/books out this year about "suburban expatriates" who decided to flee the 'burbs or cities after finding out about Peak Oil or other unfolding eco-catastrophe. Of the ones I've perused there seems to be some pretty consistent themes:

#1) The people "escaping" tend to be 50 years old or older.

#2) They finance their "escape" by selling their overpiced suburban homes. (Or other artificially inflated assets.)

#3) Those that managed to escape without have a large asset base to finance the escape never seem to have children.

#4) There's the obligatory biodiesel vehicle or hybrid on display, inevitably touted as "an example of sustainability!" Of course, TODers know biodiesel is not the least bit sustainable and in many ways worse than fossil fuels. The folks could have figured this out by doing a few google searches for articles about biodiesel but I guess that's too much to ask. So hooking the vehicle up to BD and proclaiming it "sustainable" represents a pretty gi-normous blindspot in their thinking about our predicament and the future. Which leads me to the 800 pound blindspot in the living room:

#5) There's rarely, if ever, any discussion of how they plan on defending their newly purchased prime piece of farmland from the unwashed masses once once things really tank. If there is any discussion of this it's usually quickly dismissed with a quote from Ghandi or something. Y

The unspoken (and unintentional) message within these tomes is that everybody back in the the 'burbs or cities can just rot and die. Now it's probably true: people stuck in the 'burbs or cities are going to rot and die. But a significant enough number will likely make their way out to the ex-patriates farmland. Then the real fun starts.

(I haven't seen Escape from Suburbia yet so the degree to whcih these themes are present, if at all, in this film I don't know.)

Not to be cynical or anything . . .

I also think it's probably too late to "escape." Most of us are stuck where we are at this point. 99/100 people considering/planning an escape are going to need the financial system to remain stable for at least another 5-to-10 years if not longer. But that's looking pretty unlikely right now.

I took a trip back in June and was concerned there would be bank runs and chaos while I was away. Some would say my fears were unfounded. Well 2 months later we've got bank runs that could have been (and may well still be) much more widespread. So I don't think my fears were unfounded or illogical at all.

You make some good points, Chimp.

However, I still know that this does not just all boil down to survivalism.

My response to living in the strange days of what may be the Last Long Emergency of our little species is to live as deeply and authentically as possible.

If one is not actively engaged in caring for the very young and the very old -- or has not been able to do so -- then it is easy to see this as being about "survival of the fittest."

There is a way in which that kind of thinking leads to death in a more direct and rapid way than almost any other response to our shared predicament than I can think of.

I'm not sure where you are coming from, but it seems to me that you are at times tracking in the direction of this kind of survivalism which in a way is simply shaking one's fist in a big rage over this mess we are in, and which ultimately does not ensure anyone's survival.

We are all absolutely vulnerable, every day.

So we take measures for safety and food and water supply, but to worry too much about whether I or my tribe survives the Big Bad Bottleneck seems a bit like missing the whole point.

This is hard to communicate about in some ways, so maybe I'm not coming through very well. We may be saying the same kinds of things from very different states of mind right now.

I am learning to sometimes revel in the precarity that is the human predicament.

Let me add two additional traits to Chimp's list:

6)They don't have useful skill-sets.

I've lived in the boondocks for a long, long time and have seen lots of new people move in over the years. Essentailly, none of them know how to do squat. When TSHTF, they will probably be forced to move back where they came from.

7)They don't have tools (no doubt because they don't know how to use tools). By this I don't mean stuff like gardening tools but rather, wrenches, hand saws, jacks and on and on.

While this may be true in general, I would like to suggest a way to deal with this situation.

I am 38 and have two kids, but otherwise meet many of the criteria on the list above.

However, because I took the time and effort, I am gaining competence in skills I was never, ever taught as a child, in college prep. high school in the suburbs, in undergrad, in graduate school...etc.

But, people can tell that I am earnest. I study hard and learn quickly. When I don't know something or am unsure I admit it and lead people throw the sorts of questions I have that will help me solve a problem or find an answer. That's how get folks who do know stuff to teach me.

Many folks are happy to share when they see students with these qualities. When I was a teacher it was very enjoyable to have good students. I think we need to be extremely tolerant of the novice or we will not have a next generation. (Might be fine if it goes that way, or inevitable...)

I am now a small-time vegetable farmer and trying to get into small grain farming. My farm is still new, but had a great start. Three experience organic veggie farmers visited and admired the quality of our produce. If it wasn't for experienced people with nice attitudes and their advice and encouragement I couldn't have done this.

Got about 500 lbs of potatoes to sort, more still in the ground, and cover crops to put in, plus it might rain this week so why am I even bothering with TOD?

Hi Jason,

Well, I'll be 69 in December and we chose not to have kids 47 years ago.

Here's what I'd like to see WELL and other similar groups do and that is go back to the future.

I started 7th grade in 1950. My school district required that all boys take shop and girls take home economics in 7th, 8th and 9th grade. 7th and 8th was mostly just simple stuff using jig saws. But in 9th grade (which required busing the kids to the "shop" school), kids had to take basic drafting and got to use big equipment like band saws, planers, joiners, etc. and build the project that they drafted.

My 10-12 HS had 2,500 students. It had a 2,500 seat professional theater with plush seats plus a "little theater" with 800 seats. Heck, the senior english room had oak wainscoating and a sandstone fireplace (functional but never lit.) But, what I'm leading up to is that although the majority of kids went to college, it had a huge shop and home ecomonics program. There were 7 math teachers, 11 science teachers but there were also 12 shop teachers (many of whom had MA's) and 9 home economics teachers. A kid could major in shop. And, this wasn't where "bad" kids were dumped. A kid could come out a full-fledged auto mechanic, electrican or machinist. I took electrical shop in 10th grade so I could learn how to wire houses even though I was college bound.

Now, I don't know what Willits is like today but I worked as a substitute teacher there for a number of years at the alternative HS and the main HS. What I would like to see happen is for schools to reinstitute these kinds of mandatory basic skills programs. In fact, I would like to see them hugely expanded. Further, I wouldn't divide them by sex but rather require boys and girls to take the same classes.

I said my piece on TOD here, interstingly in response to a post by you and Aniya:


I concur. Shop classes, home econ, etc....all about gone by the time I got out of Jr. High. Need to come back.

There is more interest again in basic trade skills, though not many teachers for schools to recruit. The former shop teacher, Larry, is a neighbor of mine, and current city councilman. I know the high school principal, Gordon, pretty well. Keep trying to engage the high school ag program, but new teachers come each year, and I haven't met the current one but want to.

All in all, I do believe the vast majority of "smart kids" are expected to get good grades in the college prep courses, go to a nice university and never come back to the small town, but instead get those high wage, high skill jobs of the 21st century that will make the California economy one of the greatest in the world...or so says my other friend Arnold. Until that attitude softens it is tough to sell physical labor based work as long as the light switch still behaves and those Safeway trucks keep showing up every day.

Cheap energy devalues manual labor everytime and given our internalized preference to take the easy route (itself a conservation strategy of sorts) leads to our decision to prefer technology over human power. This is manifested culturally. My shop class offerings at my suburban DC mega-high school (circa 1992) were targeted at the non-college bound and there was a clear disdain by the college-bound majority for the basement-bound classrooms...

Now to the harder issue of escape from suburbia. I truly believe there is a functional set of solutions out of there that will yield us 75-80% of our current standard of living but consume far fewer resources. What is lacking is the political will to change (and an economic system that can carry it out.) The political will is obvious--our leaders have to WANT change or the best that can happen is incremental change on the edges by the marginalized, paranoid or ultra-prepared. I also live in the same county as Jason and am much closer to that "political" leadership and governance in general. My take on this area is that we are barely further along than Los Angeles in terms of official preperation. Locally our county is entertaining decisions that could positively or negatively affect the county for a generation without even a basic understanding of what the REAL problems are. What is different here than other places is our ability to add a "Green" hue to our generally conventional "solutions". MORE, much more could be done, but until the leadership changes (and this I speak from city council level on up to the US President) efforts will be limited to the fine work by WELL and other localizers here and beyond.

I have worked for the government in a few places now and met local and national politicians. I remain unimpressed.

My take on this area is that we are barely further along than Los Angeles in terms of official preperation.


I saw some video where some prominent Peak Oil Figure who shall remain nameless said "Willits is already half-way off the grid." Yeah right . . . (I don't remember who said it, and it doesn't really matter anyway.)

My parents, who live in Lake County, happened to pass through Willits recently and said they saw not one solar panel or garden. This means one of two things:

Possibility #1: Willits is indeed "half way off the grid" but has wisely chosen to conceal their preparations.

Possibility #2: Willits is really not much more prepared than any other town, although they may be further along in terms of discussion/debate and perhaps some action on the fringes. If PO prep in Willits was as advanced as the hype in some parts of the PO 'sphere would have us believe, there would likely be some evidence of this out in the open.

I don't want to diminsh the efforts of WELL. I'm just not too thrilled with folks who would have me believe certain towns are "the place to ride out the collapse, look at all their preps!" when the preps are really a lot of talk with no real action except for a handfull of individuals such as Jason.

I've considered relocating to some of these towns based on said hype until I conducted further research and realized they really aren't prepped at all. (I don't dismiss the possibility of a future relocation though.)

Again, not to be cynical but . . .

Your possibility #2 comes pretty close to describing the situation.

Willits like most of the rest of the industrialized world is dependent on a continual stream of outside product coming in and waste going out to survive. All powered by petroleum, natural gas and at least 50% flow of non-renewable electricity. The town certainly does posess relative advantages, namely a small population base which is more aware than other locales, respectable amount of arable land and a halfway decent climate (though the precip is overabundant the wrong time of the year). But that hasnt translated into serious transfiguration of land use patterns/decisionmaking or led to a change in political leadership/direction. We are still hell-bent on perpetuating 20th century concepts in the face of real problems.

The city leadership has very limited opportunities to change direction, conventional obligations (county and state mandates) that it must follow and few sources of income it can leverage to make investments that will be practical in an energy-constrained world. It does not control the electrical grid (PG&E does that) nor affect the land use patterns surrounding the city (that's the county's responsibility).

Now the county could take more proactive measures in terms of land use and circulation planning--except that it does not. And even if it did something such as reworking agricultural rules to allow and encourage small scale and/or cooperative farming (which it declined to accept) there is no guarentee that a sufficient number of landowners would agree to to change. Circulationwise the county continues to defer to the primacy of the single occupant vehicle as the principle means of travel and plans accordingly.

And speaking of that, the state, namely Caltrans, continues to plan for an ever increasing volume of traffic on 101 by mindlessly focusing in on the WIllits Bypass, to the tune of a quarter billion dollars or so. Now they've backed off the four lane freeway around town in favor of a scaled back 2 lane version to save enough money that state pols that control the purse strings will be inclined to fund it, but still. When sky-high fuel costs and shortages cuts down on traffic volumes, what use will extra lanes be for?

Let's not even get into the abdication of leadership on the federal level...

Most county and state officials (like the general public) continue to cling to the belief somebody will figure something out, thus allowing us to keep on keeping on the status quo.

And until that changes, there is no escape from suburbia, though some of us may fare less worse than others.

I believe Michael Ruppert said that once, and it was caught on tape or in print.

I winced. I assume his comment comes from the fact that the water treatment plant is getting PVs, about an acre of them, so you could say that a big chunk of the "City Government Operations" are going on renewables. WELL was instrumental in focusing attention on the liabilities of having a water supply system based on a fossil-fueled grid.

In the big scheme, Unplanner is telling it like it is.

However, I am happy to be here, even still working at the fringes because at least we do have a recognized tension between current economic patterns and the emerging reality. Even if my work is at the margins, there is much more widespread acknowledgment that this is the way to go. But the insiders don't even know how to turn the ship around. City staff and councilors are really stumped it appears, and they run into inanity when trying to unplanner explains.

By the way, there are community gardens but you have to know where to look...and there aren't many. Come up for a tour sometime Chimpy. I have my own fermented plum wine in the cellar that I'll share. You can even pitch a tent in my front or back yard if you want ;)

Great post. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope to have a similar story.

Lets look at the situation from historical point of view. Whenever a civilization rise, it do so because of excess of energy available due to surplus from farming, that enable higher number of people to live in cities, to mine metals, to run industries, to power govt administrative work force and military, the rise of middle class.

On the other side, whenever an empire fell, be it Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greek, Romans, Chinese, Indians, Mayans, whatever, unless replaced by an even powerful civilization with higher energy surplus, the middle class falls to lower class, retreat slow or fast from cities back to farm, in doing so, therefore, weakening the govt administrative and military work force. A noble class thus rise, fewer in number, but very rich, intelligent and power hungry, who effectively divide formal countries and empires into smaller sovereign states, though the nominal name of state can exist for long time.

The civilization rise up again only when an excess of energy is available. Given that once fossil fuels are used they are not going to be available again for hundreds of millions of years, given that the excessive use of metals in 19th and 20th century leaving little behind in ores, given that the intensive destruction of farm land by poisoning through chemicals, mining, erosion and global warming, its almost certain that we humans will never ever be able to make a civilization that advance, powerful and knowledgeable as today. The best we can establish in next few centuries is likely to be a civilization much weaker and poorer than even 15th century japan.

Excellent post. This is pretty much how I see it.

People are prone to being optimistic. They even discount their own previous experience when predicting the future, thinking it will be different - better - this time. (Hence the phenomenon of second marriages. ;-)

The best way to avoid this bias toward optimism is to look at other people's experience - and ignore the little voice that says, "But I'm different!" In the case of peak oil, that means looking at the previous civilizations. Did any support the Internet or light rail based on solar power alone? Then why think we'll be able to?

I think 15th century Japan is actually a pretty good model to strive for.

Not that I expect it to happen, but I think that's the model to strive for.

This is an old (2005) post from a Tamilian (Indian) in a blog.
Apart from being a place of religious activity, the temples had a big socio-economic role to play. They doubled up with roles like, public meeting place, centre of education, the granary, the community centre in the communitist society. [A perfected form of communism and socialism which existed in India, much before the other two came.] So does the feasts of Car festival, Float festival were community events more than religious ones.

But before that, building of such huge temples also was a part of shrewd economic strategy.
The 8th to 12th centuries AD, were the time when most of these temples were believed to be built.

The demography of the the tamil nadu represented concentration of population along the cauvery delta, and some scattered around the palar, pennar, vaiga and thamiraparani, and the chief occupation being agriculture.
This means that the people of the region were employed from the aani[mid june], when the tiling of the land started, to aadi, when the sowing happened [the aadi pathinettu, or aadi perukku, is when the Tamil rivers are full, with the south west monsoons setting over their western ghat chatchment areas.]. After the weeding and other crop bringing measures, the harvesting happens by Jan [Thai pongal time].

Now, from thai to aani, the 6 months period, the whole population is going to be unemployed. This is when the administration had the challenge of utilizing the man power and providing employment. When people in rest of the world were mainly into attacking neighbours for providing employment and boosting the domestic economy [even for the latest armed conflict which we witnessed, this was told as one of the reasons].

The administration did the following.
1. Heavy taxing in the harvest months.
2. Compulsory community employment in the dry months with wages from the collected taxes.
3. Highly subsidised food during the sowing/nursing months.

This model of society was highly effective with everybody have defined roles to play. Interdependence of the elements of the community and balance in the society was maintained.

Now, for the compulsory community employment, the main activity was building temples, followed by building dams/bridges, business with neighbouring societies, strengthening of the armoury, compulsory education to qualify oneself for his role in the society and sports activities.

This is how the construction of temples had maintained the balance in the society and kept the people active. There was no devils workshop there.

Did we ever think, we have so many temples standing through all tough times, but we do not find royal palaces/forts/castles anywhere around, even 1 palace to 100 temples,?? So, were the administrators so self less?? Was temple and society a higher priority than building their own palaces??


marguerite manteau-rao

I am reading this thread, and as usual, with most climate crisis discussions, I am left with a myriad of contradictory feelings and thoughts. Overwhelmed and frustrated are the two dominant feelings. I am feeling overwhelmed by the number of actors involved, the complexity of the problem, the number of unknowns. I am feeling frustrated, by the lack of leadership, the amount of talk, in contrast to little action, and mostly my own wandering. Six months ago, I started writing a blog chronicling my journey as a Green Girl Wannabe , a zen meditation of sort, with a feminist twist. I have come up with a number of insights, some of which I would like to bring to this discussion:

1)Robert Reich, in his new book 'Supercapitalism' brings up the notion of the divided mind. The capitalist consumer has taken over the (green) citizen. I feel that one very much, as I am constantly seized with consumerist urges, and almost powerless to act upon my good intentions as a green citizen wannabe.

2)Robert Reich also mentioned this second point in one of his talks on NPR. I had touched upon the same thing before in my blog. There is the problem of, I may be willing to extend myself and make personal sacrifices to lighten my load on the planet, but how do I know that the rest of the crowd is going to do the same? If the majority does not follow, this becomes a losing proposition for me as an individual and a zero sum for the planet. This brings up the need for some kind of social structure that unites all citizens into common actions. Governments can do that. In their absence, there can be other structures. Internet social networks come to mind.

3)Someone touched upon this third point in the thread earlier. There is the problem of how we, as 'modern civilized' beings, experience the world, on the physical plane, and how that direct experience gives us a distorted sense of reality. Science, technology, progress have given us the impression that we are in control of the world, nature (car example cited). Also, living in the fortress of our houses, we feel immune to nature's calamities. We are, as a matter of fact, cut off from nature, by the walls and the roof in our houses.

4)We are creature of habits, and have been conditioned from a very young age to live a consumerist lifestyle, ruled by convenience and material possessions. The law of inertia asserts that, by nature, we oppose change. There needs to be a greater force to propel us to make change. The force, in the form of fear, is not strong enough yet

5) The big elephant in the room, is of course our growing world population, and the need to stop it with some drastic measures, fast.

6) To end on a positive note, there are some very inspiring and encouraging facts as well. I just wrote an article yesterday about our fundamental nature as social beings. It is interesting to note that we are not doing very well on the happiness index, in contrast to some developing world countries with very little in terms of material resources. What they have, that we no longer have are highly developed social networks, that are embedded in the fabric of their lives. My conclusion is that there needs to be a greater emphasis at the local level, for initiatives such as the LA garden quoted earlier. And that is very exciting news. In order to be happier we need to reconsider how we spend our days. We need to spend more time with the people withing walking/biking distance from our homes, and start engaging in communal activities with them. The recipe for a greener, cooler planet, is the same recipe as for a happier world.