Posted by: scintillatingspeck | May 23, 2008

Talking people down off of ledges

I just read a post over on Rob Hopkins’ blog, Transition Culture, that startled me with its resonance to my current experience.  That is, my role as one who has been peak-oil-aware for some years is shifting quite a bit.

Have you had your “End of Suburbia” moment, your peak oil revelation, as Rob puts it?  I have.  Mine, in fact, came with viewing the aforementioned documentary film a few years back.  Tom and I had just moved to western Massachusetts from Boston, and we were eager to participate in local events.  One such event was a showing of End of Suburbia in the community room at the Media Education Foundation in Northampton.  I remember it well.  There was a small gathering of people.  The documentary was shown.  There was a bit of a discussion afterwards.  Then we went home.  I looked up some of the featured guests from the film on the Internet, including Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Matthew Simmons, and Colin Campbell.  And my life was irrevocably changed.

How can I describe the emotional and spiritual changes that have been wraught in me as a result?  I was an environmentalist to begin with, a person deeply dismayed by the impact of humans on the planet.  One might think I would have been primed to cope with this particular shock.  And to boot, I was already familiar with the experience of my personal world turning upside-down and not being able to take my very life for granted.  Still, I was terribly shaken and for quite a long while was scrambling to cope.  I am still coping, although in a somewhat calmer fashion.

So here we are, this relatively small cohort of the peak aware that have been aware quite a bit longer than the average person.  We are quite a group.  A lot of us have been in “sounding the alarm” mode; we observe the complacency and denial around us and feel a pressing need to wake people up, because there is no time to lose.  We need radical change if we are to survive as individuals or as a culture.  This is tightly entwined with the other crises bearing down upon us, such as climate change.

The time has been lost.

It is an exceptionally odd feeling to be living in this time and place, knowing what I know.  I am still scared and don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but I have come to a place of relative peace in myself.  I trust my mind and my heart.  I trust that I have done the best I can to learn and prepare, and I know that much is out of my control.  Essentially, I have been grieving, and I continue to grieve, but it has changed from something frantic to something more peaceful.

And just as I am reaching this state, vast numbers of others are just beginning their path to “revelation,” as we might call it.  And they are frantic.

The times are no longer demanding that I sound the alarm.  Circumstances are arranging that instead.  The rise in gas prices and food prices.  The shift in the mainstream media.  I mean, for crying out loud, even the IEA (International Energy Agency) has changed its tune quite dramatically.  The meme, the awareness, is spreading like wildfire.

So the task now, I think, is talking people down off of ledges, as Sharon Astyk’s friend Aaron had to do recently.  This task, somehow, feels much more doable to me than sounding the alarm.  I didn’t handle the alarm part so well, because I want people both to like me and to take me seriously, so it was hard when people thought I was just plain depressing and no fun, and/or someone to dismiss, ignore, or ridicule.  I am not a thick-skinned sort.  Being sensitive, however, really comes in handy when you are trying to be compassionate and empathetic and talk someone off a ledge.

Let me be clear, I don’t want people to end up on the ledge in the first place.  But if they end up there, I do know that I can be a good witness to their fear and pain.  I can hang out on the ledge a while with them.  I have visited the ledge in the past, and I’m not afraid of heights anymore.



  1. Hey don’t mind me, I ‘m just over here awake in the middle of the night in Utah after reading about Peak Oil all week and watching gas prices and such.

    Nice post. I can resonate with what you are saying about wanting to tell people, help them understand but not really wanting to be seen as some doomsday survivalist nutso.

  2. Thanks, Verde. Yeah, it’s always astonishing to me when I start talking about peak oil and someone leaps to the conclusion that I’m a survivalist nutso, or way out on the radical fringe somehow… where does that leap of misguided logic come from?

  3. You put most of my thoughts very eloquently into words and made me feel a little less alone. For quite a while I’ve been feeling like chicken little or a Cassandra when I’ve brought up this subject with friends and other politically “illuminated” people I frequent. I live in a country, Italy, where this is simply not on the agenda. Yet. With every passing week my angst seems to rise like the sour dough bread I make. It’s good to know that there is a community of people not only aware but ready to act and share their knowledge. It’s going to be a rough ride though. Suburban moment indeed, the passage from that collective moment to trying to feed our children will be brief. But we’ll be in there trying our best.

  4. Yes, very good post, Western Mass woman!

    I came here via treehugger Sami Grover post on Rob Hopkins and found your threat via Rob. You are very good writer, very good thinker, very good empath, and very good human being. For caring.

    Guess what? I am from Western Mass. too, born there in 1949, downriver from Northampton, at Mercy Hospital in Springfield during an April snowstorm, and then I grew up in Longmeadow and went to Tufts 1967-1971 and then started my “travelling life”. France, Italy, Greece, Alaska, Mexico, Japan, Taiwan.

    I like what you said and also what Rob Hopkins said re has an “specifically discussing how the peak oil community is shifting from sounding the alarm, to leading people towards the fire exits.”

    This rang a bell with me, because for the past two years I have been working as a lone blogger far far away here in Taiwan on a project I call the Polar Cities Research Project, and it has to do with the idea of polar cities in the far north, not at the poles per se, but in the northern regions of the world, not now, but 500 years from now.

    These are my fire exits, my lifeboats. Just an idea. Partly a tool to wake people up, sound the alarm, and partly a real adaptation strategy, because if all else fails, and what with peak oil and climate change and economic chaos worlwide, not now, but soon, maybe 30 more generations down the line, after mass migrations northward, we might need polar cities, or some such like human population retreat, HPR, to house survivors of global warming disaster events, circa 2500 or so.

    So with your empathy and spiritual understanding and intellectual insight, please do tell me your rection to this idea, and if you ever heard of polar cities before. There’s lots of info now online about them, just google the term or go to my website to see images created by a Taiwanese artist here:

    If time allows, email me at danbloom GMAIL

    — Danny, Western Mass. boy
    did time in yellow school bus as home parked in back of friend’s house in Amherst; Cummington Community of the Arts; Northamption rental apartment, Cape Cod, Brattleboro, Vermont, coast of Maine, drove yellow cab in Boston upon graduation from college, Pioneer River Valley boy through and through, but have not been back in over 40 years….. left the USA in 1991, never to return….


    I linked your blog post to my blog here, last part of thread, scroll down.

    – Danny

  6. I think it becomes a skill judging how far long an individual is. Do they need to watch End of Suburbia? Or do they just need a copy of Permaculture magazine popping through their door?
    Peoples lives seem to have the momentum of a large ship. They have their moment of realisation and then panic because they know what a great task it is to change direction.That is when they need solutions quick, before they get up to that ledge.

    I think the survivalist nutso accusations are because people hear you talking about something that threatens society as it is now, and the only alternative which they are aware of is the survivalists response. They need to know we have the oppertunity to make this world better by changing. Not less civilised but more so. They need to hear that our addiction to cheap oil has been distructive for this planet and also disructive to our quality of life, and that we will actually be better off wihout it.
    Nick (Thought about going to the ledge, but got side tracked weeding my onions)

  7. Mark, I’m very pleased that I was able to make you feel a little bit less alone. Also pleased that you are going right ahead and making your sourdough bread. I have strong ties to Italy (my mother is from Bologna, my extended family still lives there, my parents spend half of every year there, I have spent a great deal of time there) so I know what you mean about what is or isn’t in the general consciousness of the Italian public.

    Danny, pleased to meet you, my fellow western Mass. person. I’m intrigued by the idea of polar cities, particularly in the context of thinking super-long-term. Most people alive today don’t bother to think that far ahead. I’m also reminded of some recent essays by John Michael Greer who is also thinking hundreds of years into the future, specifically about preserving culture and knowledge. I haven’t had a chance yet to check out your blog, Danny, but I will soon.

    Nick, I love that you got sidetracked by weeding! Such a worthy, meditative, healing act, weeding is. I couldn’t agree more about where the survivalist nutso accusations come from– I do think there’s a terrible dearth of information about the positive action that’s happening, about the ways to turn this into an opportunity for a better way of life. Regarding approaching individuals who are on the ledge– yes, I do think it’s very important to correctly gauge what kind of information someone needs to take in at a given moment. If someone is already in profound despair, that is probably not the moment to introduce them to End of Suburbia. Good call to offer an alternative; I have a whole bunch of back copies of Permaculture Activist that are waiting for their second chance to inspire.

  8. Dear Scintillating Speck,

    Question: where is that lovely photo above from? Looks like island in Atlantic, Azores, Italy, where? So beautiful. The island I am on, Taiwan, also has some beautiful landscapes and mountainscapes and seascapes, but on a very different level than that photo above. How scintillating the world is!

    Now to matters at hand: World made by hand. Our hands.

    Thanks for your note and reaction to polar cities idea. RE: “It’s an intriguing idea, Danny. I think most people are psychologically unprepared for the idea of polar cities, but I appreciate your forward thinking, especially because you don’t limit your scope to, say, 100 years or less. We owe it to future generations to think about these things.”

    You ”get” it. I am still having trouble getting the message across to most people, but I understand why, and I knew from the beginning that this was a kind of quixotic quest, but I am determined to soldier on, PR-wise, quietly, gently, without trying to scaremonger people. When they get it, they will get it. Meanwhile, there are lots of other people doing other creative things, trying to think this Great Interruption which is coming down the road through, with other lifeboat ideas and fire exit ideas and seasteading ideas, etc.

    I do wonder if you can help me out on one thing. You mentioned the need to use social psychology in these discussions of the coming future, and I wonder if you can give me some ideas about how I can use social psychology to help people understand what I am trying to do with this concept of polar cities. Any ideas?

    I feel that polar cities is really a psychological mindset, and that humans will need to prepare themselves both mentally and spiritually, and psychologically to get ready to what’s coming down the road. I’m not PHD, so I have not expertise on this. Just compassion for the future.

    Any ideas?

    — Danny …in Taiwan….(manning one of the fire exits in this gigantic world theater seating 7 billion people!)

  9. Hi again Danny,

    I don’t know where the photo is from; it was one of the WordPress ready-made templates, and I gravitated to it. I love it too.

    I’m glad you are persistent despite the problem of most people not “getting” it. Your patience and creative thinking will serve you well.

    Ah, social psychology. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I’m not a PhD either. I was a psychology major as an undergrad and was especially taken with social psychology, and even considered going the grad school route in that field, but decided I didn’t want to jump on the teaching-and-research-as-an-academic-in-higher-ed track. No, my path was always meant to be more winding than that. (I did go on to two master’s degrees, though– one in gender/cultural studies and the other in library science.) So I am not very current on the pulse of social psychology these days. However, there is some attention being paid to the psychological impact of the Great Turning on individuals. See, for example, the wonderful Peak Oil Blues blog (link under Blogroll in sidebar). See also Beyond Therapy, Carla Royal’s site (under Links in sidebar).

    Here’s a quote from a recent post by Kathy over at Peak Oil Blues that made me think of you, Danny.

    “… in sharp contrast to being “alone” in your awareness, you are a part of a vast network of rhizomes, all working diligently toward semi-independence and collecting one’s own “unit” of resources, but all ready to rise up and grow together, when the situation presents itself. Prepare well, my friends, and don’t get disheartened because you are feeling alone in your community. Research and develop a vision of what is possible for your own small community and work tirelessly to bring that about, even if you feel like you work alone.”

  10. JH,

    Mr. Greer on his blog told me my comments about polar cities are not welcome at his blog, nor will he print them. he apparently practices censorship. So much for Archdruids……sigh


  11. wow, you don’t know WHERE that photo is from? I see, it’s a stock image. BUT wow, now we must find out. let’s start a contest here among your friends and surfer ons like me to find the location. it looks like Asores, Ireland, where?

    i wish there was a GOOGLE SEARCH software that could allow us to input the image and find out where it is from, but so far this technology does not exist…..


  12. JH
    thanks for these insights. I am going there right now. — db

    Here’s a quote from a recent post by Kathy over at Peak Oil Blues that made me think of you, Danny.

    “… in sharp contrast to being “alone” in your awareness, you are a part of a vast network of rhizomes, all working diligently toward semi-independence and collecting one’s own “unit” of resources, but all ready to rise up and grow together, when the situation presents itself. Prepare well, my friends, and don’t get disheartened because you are feeling alone in your community. Research and develop a vision of what is possible for your own small community and work tirelessly to bring that about, even if you feel like you work alone.”

  13. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Deprecator!!

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