Make a donation with PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover cards - it's fast, free and secure!

Home Page

Nonprofit founded in 1988

Culture Change

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 civilization. 

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 yet. 

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 gain. 

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 economies. 

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 State University.

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 fields. 

- November 16, 2004, Oakland, California


To support the nonprofit Culture Change and its projects, make a donation ONLINE.

To recommend Culturechange mailing list to a friend, send this link:

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.