Culture Change e-Letter #80
Collapse of the petroleum
delusion / Rise of the DIY movement
by Jan Lundberg
"This is what chaos looks like." I can see ahead glimpses of
socioeconomic collapse and break-down of the political and even military order.
Looting, starvation, die-off, and no one minding the store at pollution
facilities, will probably be among the main results of the extreme energy
shortage on tap for petroleum-guzzling nations. However, there's also a positive
side to this historic development (which I will get to shortly).
To see ahead, we have to understand what we are in the midst of. I pronounce
this pre-collapse phase as the beginning of the grand nightmare. Mind you, there
will be a dawn, but an unrecognizable one to myopic dwellers of consumer
The grand nightmare, or whatever you want to call it, has been building
steadily, with power-grabs, oppression, wars, poverty, social upheaval,
environment degradation, species extinction, climate distortion, and -- as a
consequence of this massive dose of reality -- an awakening in consciousness and
resistance to be followed by social reconstruction. As to both the negative and
positive aspects of this pivotal period of history, we have barely seen anything
An historic change in social relations, as a deep, cultural transformation,
is foreseeable if humanity is to return to sustainability. Western civilization
is largely the result of turning our backs on mutual aid and sustainability,
pretending we can devour the world as if it is endless, for individual
Rather than promising you a green Utopia of technofixes and empty hope for a
semblance of the status quo, I offer logic that leads from acknowledging
resource depletion and associated strife that have begun irreversibly. Following
today’s trends, signs and the laws of nature, we can anticipate the unraveling
of the dominant, overextended system of corporatist order that modern folk
presently take for granted as normal.
Interestingly, work as we know it is on the chopping block as soon as
petroleum supplies fail us -- as they will shortly, as global production peaks
--: Working for bosses and institutions is largely unnecessary, just as slavery
has no justification. Working for ourselves and the community are
millennia-proven, dating from our early evolution. To adjust to the imminent
post-petroleum future, physical work must return massively to today’s
mechanized societies to mostly make up for the permanent depletion and virtual
disappearance of cheap, abundant energy from petroleum.
What people really need from employment is what the paycheck and money are
supposed to buy: food, housing, clothing, etc. How to go about getting these and
other essentials -- without the middle man or the boss or the taxman -- is the
real revolution. When people get together to collect or grow food, barter, and
help one another with housing, no one needs to be paid on the basis of abstract
symbols of wealth – especially something like the dollar or Euro which are
tied to the world oil market.
But if you are a refrigerator manufacturer, you want from masses of people
their wealth in the form of their pay from labor. As a manufacturer, capitalist
or corporatist or government spender, you want money -- lots of it -- and not
the kindness or help from people in general, for how can those “outmoded
values” make you rich? So, one of the things you do is promote the myth,
through the educational system and Hollywood entertainment and other propaganda,
that "Progress" has dictated we all must have fancy appliances and
unlimited energy so as to be comfortable and successful.
Our industrial rulers have found it necessary to suppress alternative forms
of refrigeration such as cold boxes (e.g., openings in buildings on the shady
side where food is placed to keep cool, or underground/below-floor storage space
to keep root crops and other perishables). Little does it matter to the
manufacturing and financial elite that the mining, manufacture, shipping, use
and disposal of energy-sucking gadgets such as home appliances, and all the
packaging, add up to environmental catastrophe.
On November 13, 2004, People's Park in Berkeley, California was the scene of
a Do It Yourself (DIY) Fest. Skill sharing, publications, and human-to-human
networking were in abundance, along with music and a vegan lunch supplied by
Food Not Bombs. The event was free, and it was easy to participate. Bartering
and education occurred with reckless abandon -- a veritable descent into anarchy
in contradiction of the holy free market's prerogative to convert all common
space into privatized, fenced production-zones for private gain.
There was Berkeley Liberation Radio (a pirate station), workshops on
identifying local plants (cultivated and wild), as well as zine binding.
Information from women on how to control their bodies, in this
mass-merchandized, industrial-medicine society, and tracts on enlightened and
liberated loving, abounded. There was no hooliganism or violence, nor police (in
uniform, anyway). Hundreds of people came and exchanged information and saw old
friends and made new ones. There was no boozing or pot smoking. After all, this
was serious business! But there was something gravely wrong here. Subversive
would be the way to describe it: there was almost no money changing hands! Oh
no, shades of induced recession or depression! Of course, no mainstream media
outlet is going to allow any coverage of the need for cutting back consumption,
if this would see the global economy/house of cards fall -- even if it means we
can build lasting peace and justice.
Activists such as these DIYers, who don't have any illusions of the
Bush/Kerry establishment's offering real solutions to the community's or the
world's problems, are up on issues such as peak oil. They know the world cannot
go on using unlimited petroleum. Many of these DIY folk use as little petroleum
as possible, and are often car-free by choice. There was a table for teaching
car-repair, but the idea is to fix the old car instead of buying a new one. As
any sustainable-living activist knows, buying a new car sends unwarranted
amounts of wealth to corporations outside the community.
Many know that when enough people do not purchase big-ticket items,
especially new cars, this will bring down the entire Waste Economy of the
American Dream. Indeed, the collapse of the world’s foremost greed-based,
sexist, racist Earth-unfriendly system, the U.S.A., is hoped for soon “as a
way to begin managing our lives ourselves,” said one DIYer.
If anything, the DIY Fest was subdued. Despite a goodly sharing of anarchist
tracts, there was no protesting or sign-ups for "bringing the war
home" in solidarity with the Iraqi Resistance. However, if the crowd had
been polled, almost every woman, man and child would have said that the killing
in Iraq for oil and "full spectrum dominance" must end immediately.
Political freedom in the form of "ideally no government" is what most
DIYers may agree on, but it all may come down to establishing local
There are examples of industrial economies suddenly having to meet the needs
of millions of people after the loss of mega-trade and plentiful petroleum,
where consumption of corporate goods has plummeted. Cuba had to deal with the
loss of petroleum products from the disintegrating USSR, so she adopted
bicycling and organic gardening on a massive scale.
A street in modern day Havana, Cuba where vintage
American cars from before the Cuban revolution ply the streets with bicycles and
travel is either on foot or on special bus-like trailers pulled by semi-trailer
trucks. Is this what awaits the rest of the industrial world when global oil
production goes into decline? Photo courtesy of Washington
Argentina, after the
financial collapse starting in the mid 1990s, became a model of local-based
do-it-yourself innovation by 2002: worker assemblies and neighbors took
community control over much of society, showing that people don't need "a
job" as much as they need to provide for their own needs cooperatively --
which they proved in a multitude of ways.
For the DIY movement, which is active in many cities and rural areas in the
U.S and elsewhere, the incipient grand nightmare of massive socioeconomic
collapse is a proving ground for survival skills and a prelude to a sustainable
culture. The average wage slave does not yet have a clue, but s/he may have a
sneaking suspicion that corruption in high places grows and grows and saps the
strength of all people and our land, air and water we hold in common. Cancer and
disease of the heart and lungs are automatic consequences of the quest for
wealth represented by toxic material things we do not need.
From "Outer Space Blues":
"Plutonium's kinda long
To want to have around
But there's some greedy cats
Dying to get more fat
Get on this tractor beam
Driving your SUV
What was your climate worth
Stay if you love the Earth"
[eco-rock by Depaver Jan (2000)]
Are you ready? Or should we forget it and zoom off in our separate cars to shop
at a big box store? I boycott those places and buy used 'n local as much as
possible. I’m bicycling and trying to minimize use of plastics, for example.
Join me in saying no to petroleum domination. See you on the streets and in the
- November 16, 2004, Oakland, California
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