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Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

Take our Pledge for Climate Protection and learn about the Global Warming Crisis Council.

SEI hometown action!
Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

Overpopulation has become a reality.  Overpopulation Resources and News Tidbits

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Culture Change e-Letter #71 

The rise and fall of Sustainable Energy Institute, 1988 - 2004

Carrying on with Culture Change and fighting petroleum 

by Jan Lundberg

For sixteen years, the Sustainable Energy Institute (SEI) has had a good run.  Now, it is time to move on.  There have been lessons learned and warnings we can pass along.  More importantly, there remain opportunities for active participation and creativity, and the public deserves to be made aware of them, so that those who wish to come forward can be involved.  We will continue to e-mail the Culture Change Letter and retain the website.  As SEI is a public nonprofit charity recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for tax-deductible contributions, SEI is obliged to pass along its remaining assets to another nonprofit as we fold our tent.  But on to the more interesting part of the story:

One of our supporters observes that our organization represents one of many progressive causes that the current U.S. regime has either attacked outright or placed on the defensive.  The twin assaults on liberty and global security render many nonprofit organizations almost impotent in the current political climate.  We never did expect to lobby the legislatures, competing with the big polluters and the major public interest groups, but instead focused on getting our message out to the people.  And from time to time our voice has reached millions. However, every time we were picked up by the major news media, it seemed that our unwelcome analyses and lack of financial clout allowed us to be dismissed by the powers that be.  Even our interview of Teresa Heinz Kerry has been used to attack John Kerry's prospective presidency (National Post/Financial Post of Canada in July 2004).  The bottom line is that our message of truly sustainable (e.g., car-free) living, while fighting more roads, is ahead of its time — even now after 16 years.

The oil war in Iraq has only made our message more relevant, but most people seem bent on buying, using or disposing of increasing amounts of petroleum until the day it runs dry.  Our message of conservation and climate protection in this historic time of peak global extraction of oil has been heard but much ignored.  Yet, as we glean understanding we are empowered.  We also see a growing awareness regarding peak oil.  Several books and websites have appeared on peak oil, yet we at Culture Change remain unique for both our petroleum-industry background and multi-level anti-petroleum activism.  The latter distinction and the short-term market obsession of the corporate news media that — during record world oil prices — have combined to keep us from having much of a voice in news stories and talk shows.  However, our long-term efforts have effects  in more places than we realize.

When selecting the name Sustainable Energy, we did not mean pie-in-the-sky, techno-dream futuristic solutions for the consumer economy.  On the contrary, sustainable energy consists of human power, using the energy of water, wind and sun, and the strength of animals.  When we dig into the Earth for shelter, it saves lumber and achieves a constant room temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit anywhere in the world.  Sustainable energy means acknowledging the life-giving ecosystem that provides energy and utilizes "waste" in perpetuity or until the sun consumes the Earth.  

We are not fringe characters to be labeled Luddites or romantics who ignore the realities of today's fossil fueled dependency.  The planet's six and a half billion people are under threat of unprecedented famine and climate distortion, yet have become hooked on technology more than ever before.  We have called attention to the unsustainability of business-as-usual energy, and taken a hard look at alternatives.  We took such an honest look that we became barely fundable, considering the priorities of the big-money foundations and donors that have their assets invested on Wall Street.  It may not be in the interests of the potential benefactor to have people paid to help stop development-by-bulldozer; the people with the major funds may not want to hear us say that humanity has reached overpopulation and will soon experience a die-off because of today's growing reliance on fossil-fuels based agriculture and distribution.

Our original name until 2001 was Fossil Fuels Policy Action Institute.  The Washington, D.C. trade press heralded our founding in 1988 and declared us "a global warming center."  Our early incarnations included the Ecodemocracy Coalition which was followed by the Paving Moratorium Update (later Auto-Free Times), the flagship publication of the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium.  We tried, but failed to attract support from the rail industry, as we became a popular biker's mag.  We were more than that, with a presence at U.N. meetings and reaching audiences far beyond the U.S. thanks especially to Raul Riutor, our correspondent based in Buenos Aires.  I trust he improved his racquetball technique after our last days together at Lundberg Survey Incorporated

We fought new roads and road widenings until 2001 when our financial situation prevented us from continuing the effort.  Rather than be defeated, we tried one more gambit to drive (bike) our message home: we changed the name of our magazine to Culture Change.  There was never sufficient funding for directly fighting new roads and parking lots, so our office evolved to focus on reducing society's petroleum dependence in general, while demonstrating alternatives such as our Pedal Power Produce project.  Our never-substantial funding that had barely allowed us to operate — $90,000 in one year was tops — plummeted after September 11, 2001. But the writing and activism did not slow, and essays continued to appear with increased frequency — hence, this newsletter is #71.

The deepest penetration of Sustainable Energy Institute's message into the established order may have been my address to The Institute of Petroleum in London last year.  While it might have been a greater achievement to have published the definitive book by now, it isn't possible to accomplish all that one finds fulfilling and desirable. 
Yet, when organizational duties and the paperwork are out of the way, other things can open up and the fight may be raised to another level.

I would like to highlight one achievement of our sixteen years largely spent fighting road construction and car domination.  Thanks to our supporters, we were instrumental in preventing a paved highway from going through the Mendocino National Forest in northern California — the only National Forest without a paved highway through it.  This victory might be someone's idea of a concrete accomplishment.  Our total funds from grants and donations accumulated during SEI's existence to the million-dollar mark, a bargain price for saving any forest.

However, the most important aspect of our work was providing our ideas and commentary to a growing audience (many of them activists), as we ourselves learned and grew personally.  It is impossible to know which of our insights will prove the most significant with the passage of time.  But something that we elucidated from the get-go was the idea that an historic "discontinuity," as Dr. Colin Campbell later put it, of the world economy/petroleum civilization would suddenly take hold.  He and other writers have emphasized the geological reality, while we saw the potential for the market to be devastatingly capable of sudden reaction to oil shortages resulting from the arrival at peak extraction.  This grim reality, along with our finding that there can be no techno-fix to maintain a semblance of the status quo, is barely recognized and is an unwelcome concept among institutions and all vested interests.  It is ironic that advocating for rail, bicycles, walking, sail power and local economics — during this escalating global crisis of diminishing resources — is a good way not to be able to pay the bills!

In sixteen years of official nonprofit activism we endured the equivalent of corporate take-over attempts within our dynamic group, and we have endured mistakes and enjoyed hilarious events.  Much of the time we felt there were too many obstacles, especially public apathy and ignorance, for us to have our desired impact and to witness clear progress. Instead it seemed matters only worsened as road building continued and worldwide petroleum use increased. And, we had a key failure, according to conventional wisdom: lack of big organizational growth; i.e., sufficient funding.

The enemy within, afflicting all of us, is our cultural programming:  The tendency to pave over the most productive soil, or to sit back and allow it, obviously indicates a perverse cultural tendency.  Other manifestations are when materialism in a family precludes solidarity or equitable inheritance, and, similarly, when the heads of many activists are wired more toward ambition rather than cooperatively building a group or a movement.  One can look about and see new nonprofits forming up every day, whereas some united commitment might result in convergence among a few strong groups.  In part this results because there is not a real movement out in the streets.  As such, every day, an attempt is boldly undertaken by fresh idealists to offer the next great idea or single solution that will kick-start a movement — or, just as often perhaps, we see eager joiners on a bandwagon trying to pull in some hefty support from "green" corporate-minded foundations.

To inspire a real movement, we initiated the Global Warming Crisis Council, The Depavers band, publication and distribution of bike stickers (e.g., Jesus Was Car-Free), t-shirts (e.g., Save Paradise Tear up a Parking Lot), and more.  These projects and others, described on our website, have been worthy endeavors of these past several years.  It meant we were not often able to gambol with protesters in the ancient redwoods near our home office, nor were we able to build up a retirement fund or afford medical insurance.  But the projects were glorious and are not dead.  Anyone can help to spread Pedal Power Produce, fight road construction, participate in Food Not Lawns, re-launch Sail Transport Network, and live as sustainably as possible for meaningful cultural change.

There are too many people to list to thank them here for the support, expertise and advice they gave us.  Better than saying "thanks" is "let's keep in touch."  Our spiritual enrichment from the people we met and friends we made have made it all worthwhile.  Culture Change is now becoming a less formal nonprofit group, and will soon be able to accept tax-deductible donations only through an unnamed financial sponsor (another charitable group).  We are shutting down our corporate existence.  Despite this development, we can proudly say that our many, diverse supporters have been wonderful.  We can even hope to continue to improve the website and our ability to respond to the many inquiries we get on energy, road fighting and our projects.  If any activist group out there seeks tax-deductible status and has a mission of maximum energy conservation education and action, we would be interested in hearing from you.

"It has been a good run," said our publishing ace Mike Kunz.

Jan Lundberg, founder
August 13, 2004  

Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:


Articles of interest:
Measuring and controlling the actions of governments 

Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results. 
WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius 

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)

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

Culture Change (Trademarked) is published by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) California non-stock corporation. Contributions are tax-deductible.