Diamond-Cut Life

More Joy, Less Stuff

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Embracing Our Sphere Of Influence

January 7th, 2010 by Alison · 5 Comments · energy, entertainment, food & drink, global warming and climate change, health & well being, home & garden, nature, spirituality & religion, sustainability, transportation

Have you ever stared down a paralyzing fear – and gained mastery of it, to where you then walked into your power, your sphere of influence? This is my long-promised sequel to Alison Cassandra Barcelona, in which I’ll tell why I feel hope rather than despair about global warming.

Take a brief trip with me back into my youth. When I was a child and then a teenager, I sometimes had nightmares in which evil creatures were out to kill me. I would freeze up with fear in my bed, even after awakening. Sometimes I went to school exhausted, still feeling intimidated. One night right after I turned 20, the nightmare climbed to a new level, taking the form of a man-eating tiger crouching on me. I could physically feel its claws on my back and its hot breath on my neck. I had recently completed a cross-country journey to start in at a new college, a trip that had been hard and challenging, with scary moments, but full of new friends, camping in wildish places, joy and adventure. I emerged from that summer exhilarated: yes, I could make my way in the world on my own, away from my parents, as a young adult.  Faced with this nightmare on steroids, for the first time it occurred to me to not cringe and cower, but to dare the evil visitor to kill me. “Do it!” I mentally yelled at it. “I’m not afraid to die!”

The menacing creature dissolved, and I found myself amazed and alone in a peaceful room. Evidently I could have routed the monsters in the nightmares long ago – if I had defied them by being unafraid to die. It didn’t matter that they weren’t objectively real, because they were real in their effect on me. Summoning the courage to face them down was in my sphere of influence, i.e. the realm of  my own power and impact, and plugging in to that courage set me free from fear and despair.

Fast forward to the present. As much as people don’t want to hear this (who would? I don’t) I do believe our civilization, at least in its current form, is headed for collapse. For just one example of why I believe that, our atmosphere, the one that keeps us (and all other creatures) alive in this surprisingly delicate world, can safely contain only 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. We’re already at 390 and climbing faster than expected, with the Copenhagen summit last month failing to achieve agreements that will rein us in to the 350 threshold. The upshot: it’s not in my sphere of influence to prevent collapse, and I accept that. I don’t like it, but I accept it.

Let me clarify: I’m grateful that a lot of hard-working people, including but not limited to activists, writers, scientists, innovative businesses and even some politicians, are devoting themselves to sustainability, to preventing collapse. Of course I want all their work to succeed. They rarely use the term ‘collapse’, I imagine for the same reason I steered away from it for the first two years and three months I’ve been writing Diamond-Cut Life: the word ‘collapse’ doesn’t tend to win friends and influence people. The specter feels depressing, threatening.  Our instinct is to shudder and turn away, as if from the  image of our own gravestone.

The shuddering I still do at times , but the turning away I don’t.  Instead, I turn toward what is in my sphere of influence, i .e. keeping essential knowledge and practices and yes, joy, alive for the necessary rebuilding after our current fossil-fuel based culture collapses. Our human race evolved for more than 99% of our history without our current luxuries and conveniences, and it can continue without them, but it takes skills and knowledge that have become increasingly rare as most of us have devoted ourselves to consuming resources, often nonessential ones, rather than conserving or creating the resources essential to us. For instance, how many of us know how to grow food, repair clothes or repair our homes? Or get from place to place and entertain ourselves with little or no fossil fuels?

My sphere of influence includes practicing and helping others learn about the careful conservation of energy and heat, and gasoline, since the current abundance and relative cheapness of these things will not last. Food-wise, I’m a budding urban farmer who even as a dunce concerning carpentry projects manages to house and raise chickens that produce a plethora of eggs.  One of my most popular posts describes a very inexpensive but tasty meal that is also very low on the food chain. Similarly, I practice low-carbon cooking.

The world of the future will be water-constrained (already is in many places), hence I cultivate knowledge of xeroscaping. Transportation-wise, I practice and advocate  vanpooling and public transit, but even more, biking and walking.  More than anything and underpinning everything else is the practice of community, of  being interdependent and sharing moral support and resources, rather than isolating and trying to go it alone, in what Bill McKibben has termed hyperindividualism. For example, the skill of living with one or more other people — having a roommate — conserves a lot of resources and saves tens of thousands of dollars over the years as compared to living alone.

And because I am addicted to fun, I indulge in and write about the many pleasures, sports and forms of entertainment that are sustainable and don’t hinge on fossil fuels.  Don’t get me started on the many avenues. Well, OK, just a few. My favorites are singing and playing games;  reading good books and then discussing them; running and hiking and observing  nature; dancing, whether with old friends or friends we’ve just met. Most of these, and many other wonderful pastimes, are common to people of  all times and places. Keeping these juicy practices alive is something we can all do, rather than passively outsource our fun to movies, TV, the internet, spectator sports and the electronics industry. I’ve enjoyed all of these at various times, myself. Yet there’s no getting around how much these sedentary forms of entertainment have contributed to our culture’s high obesity rate. To be blunt, being sedentary make us physically weaker.

I don’t feel despair that I cannot help to prevent collapse. I believe that with many individual and sub-group exceptions, humanity in general isn’t mature enough yet to deal with something as hard as global warming. Maturity means being strong in hard moments, or hard centuries. The overall state of humanity I do not take on as my problem. I feel grounded hope, because  I am doing all I can, in my sphere of influence. I will never command armies or be a powerful person. But I am living in my power.

If you’re still with me and you had a hard time reading a piece about post-collapse, thank you for persevering here, to the end. I had a harder time writing this than anything else I’ve posted, and it’s the longest piece I’ve done as well, because it’s so complex. My final thought is that my spiritual faith, my belief in a compassionate God who has a greater plan than I am required to understand, is woven into my life like a quietly shimmering thread of gold.

As always, I welcome your comments. I’m especially interested in the paths other people have taken in facing down their fears and finding their sphere of influence.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Lou Grinzo

    Great piece, Alison. More than ever we need more introspection and brutally honest expression.

    For me, personally, the situation boils down to a small number of irrefutable points:

    1. We’re in a very deep trouble on both the energy and enviro fronts. Water will be the primary conduit for delivering climate impacts to human beings. Sea level rise, lack of fresh water, lack of water for hydroelectric generation, etc. The primary energy issue will be oil.

    2. The biggest hurdle to humanity addressing these issues is our own nature. Parochialism, nationalism, denial, greed, myopia, etc., will all continue to seriously hinder our ability to do what science says we must.

    3. The chances that I will be able to make a significant difference in the kind of world my three virtual daughters and all the other children I care about (i.e. all of them) will inherit is virtually zero. My current book project has a chance, akin to buying a single Power Ball lottery ticket, but it’s still non-zero.

    4. Despite all of the above, I have to keep fighting. If I didn’t, I would be ashamed of myself. And who knows, as the fable goes, maybe the horse will learn to sing…

  • Marci

    As always, your comments and the intention behind them are welcome. Your musing allow each of us to ask ourselves - is there more we can be doing to turn our planet around? What’s my responsibility in this moment, what’s my best choice in this moment? Stand up. Be the sweeping beacon illuminating what we may not take the time to see.

  • Linda Lou

    Well done, Ali. You go from strength to strength as a writer!

  • Alison

    Lou, Marci and Linda — I really appreciate your comments. Please ‘keep coming over.’ :)

  • mike

    Some good thoughts on fear. I’ve been thinking over the very subject you write about above, and, at the same time, attempting to confront, rather than avoid, these fears. I believe I may be nearly at, or slightly past, the point where I have been stuck, whistling past the graveyard. Actually, I have probably long since passed that point, but have been held immobile by the lack of knowledge I possess on the next course of action. Moving slowly now, with greater knowledge, but slowly nonetheless. More thoughts on fear for you, which I found from here: http://elderwoman.blogspot.com/2009/12/fear-of-falling.html, found through here: http://folkwaysnotebook.blogspot.com/, starting here: http://ecoabsence.blogspot.com/

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