Letters to Readers
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Youth Futures: 2012 and Beyond (2012 Archive)
Starting in 2012, this space will present updates to the book Standing on Your Own Two Feet: Young Adults Surviving 2012 and Beyond, which is a free book for all young adults. Short corrections will be incorporated into the book as soon as possible, but most additions and supplements will be found only here.
21 December 2012: Celebrating the End of the World
To start with, remember that "celebrating" doesn't always mean grinning from ear to ear with happiness. We celebrate Memorial Day to remember people who have died, and the original meaning of Halloween (before we added candy) was to honor our dead saints and ancestors.
Most of us have heard the interpretation of the Mayan calendar that predicts some kind of "ending" on the winter solstice, 21 December 2012. Even if this prediction is for the "end of the world," that can mean almost anything, especially if we add "as we know it" onto the end of the phrase. If my dog dies, my world "as I knew it" has ended, but I will probably survive the experience, maybe even grow from it. I will love and appreciate my next dog even more.
Unlike many recent writers on the Mayan calendar issue, this author has no interest in arguing the pros and cons of the prediction. Instead, he asks: What use can we make of this? What value does it hold for us?
The obvious answer is that we can use it to ponder possibilities, and we can celebrate! Fear of death, which the "end of the world" probably includes, has always held a powerful place in our minds. Easter, Memorial Day, Halloween, and many holidays in other cultures, exist to help us with our fear of death in one way or another.
But none of those older holidays prompt us to contemplate the end of the WORLD. Earlier predictions of world-wide doom have served this purpose for some people. Perhaps we need a new holiday, a global celebration of the fact that there are forces in the universe that COULD end our world (comets, asteroids, the sun going supernova, a world-wide plague, etc.)
The purpose of this new holiday would be to pause in our hectic lives (especially with Christmas and New Years right around the corner) and ponder for an hour or a day just what we would feel, and what we would do, if something did threaten the whole world. Some people would party like there's no tomorrow. Others would spend quality time with loved ones. Others would write, or pray, or meditate. Many would do a combination of these.
Actually, the winter solstice is a very ancient Celtic holiday called Yule that celebrates the shortest day (daylight-wise) of the year (in the northern hemisphere) and the "rebirth" of the sun as the daylight hours start getting longer again afterwards. This comes from a time in human history when winter (at least in the northern hemisphere) meant hardship and danger of death, and the passing of Yule brought hope for the eventual coming of another spring with its warmth and abundance.
So the celebration of the "end of the world" on 21 December 2012, and perhaps every 21st of December, fits in perfectly with one of the most ancient tradition for that time of the year.
Pondering what you would do if the world was ending is actually quite simple. Death is only complicated, with wills and lawyers and all that, when there will be people left behind who have to (or want to) deal with your corpse, your stuff, your money, and your debts. If the whole WORLD is ending, then there would be no one left to care about those things, so you can skip worrying about all that and go right to the spiritual part:
What would you want to BE at the end of the world?
If you believe in an after-life, what would you want to TAKE WITH YOU (which, as I'm sure you know, would have to be contained in your mind and soul)?
In what shape would you want to leave the bit of planet Earth that you occupied so that other creatures could someday live there?
By the way, the exact winter solstice is at 11:12 GMT, so for me, on the Pacific coast of North America, it will be while I sleep (or watch a movie) at 3:12 am on Friday morning.
13 December 2012: Real Thinking
This week's essay by John Michael Greer in his Archdruid Report explored several aspects of why our democracy is most often "grid-locked" and not working very well these days. Readers interested in politics may want to read that essay, but one idea he shared is very important to anyone who is trying to develop the personal power and skills necessary to survive the changes that are taking place in our world.
Human beings are capable of both emotion and thought. Emotions come from much earlier in our ancestry, and have much greater control over our actions. But they are simpler, with a "vocabulary" of only about a hundred "words" at the most, and those can be easily grouped into about a dozen major feelings.
Very simple people (or people limiting their expressions to the buttons on a social networking web site) can get by with just 2 emotions:
I Love It - that warm fuzzy feeling we all want, as often as we can get it, that makes us feel safe, well fed, loved, and important.
I Hate It - that cold prickly feeling we get when something's wrong, out of place, creepy, or scary.
There's nothing wrong with simple emotions. They can be very useful for sensing danger. The problem comes up when we try to use them to THINK with.
Political parties and religions are both very good at convincing people to use simple emotions to think with. It makes it easy to get all their people against the OTHER party or religion. For example:
The liberal party wants us to just HATE conservatives, because they're backward, selfish, and closed-minded. Never mind that the word "conservative" means something (protecting, nurturing, avoiding waste, etc.)
The conservative party wants us to just HATE liberals because they're immoral, subversive, and disloyal. Never mind that the word "liberal" means something (freedom, generosity, able to change, etc.)
I propose to you that connecting WORDS with simple EMOTIONS is not thinking at all. It's hardly more than any non-human animal can do, and I've known some that can do much better. And it has 2 very dangerous effects:
1. You will NOT understand what's going on in the world if that's all you can do with your mind. You will be a victim of whatever comes along.
2. You will be completely vulnerable to MANIPULATION by anyone who wishes to bend you to their will for their own purposes.
Each of us must choose. Next time you see one of those "Like" buttons on the internet, think about the shades of meaning between love and hate, and consider the possible ways you could give of yourself to something you "like" (instead of just clicking on the button).
If you sense that you need some help learning how to really THINK, dig deeply into yourself and find that emotion called COURAGE. Then find a book about logic or critical thinking. Don't get discouraged too easily, as there are lots of bad ones out there. Just poking at my shelves, I find The Elements of Reasoning by Conway and Munson. There are many others, as good or better.
6 December 2012: An excellent article!
I just came upon an excellent article about the growing awareness among young adults of the predicaments of our times. Although there is much narrow-minded thinking in our world about what young people should know and not know, this author rises above that and looks at the question from a respectful and open-minded place.
Feed the Hunger by David Sobel in Orion Magazine
5 December 2012: The 21st Century Landscape of Conflict
Richard Heinberg at the Port Carbon Institute has begun a series of articles that looks at the sources of conflict in the world that are rapidly becoming major crises, and will probably explode into wars as we get deeper into the 21st century. These sources of conflict all have their roots in the same set of circumstances, which now appear to be approaching dangerous levels at about the same time: resource depletion (especially energy), environmental damage (especially climate change), and over-population. I will summarize them for you:
1. Growing inequality between rich and poor people.
We humans have invented many ways to get rich, even when many other people remain poor, and even when our efforts to get rich CAUSE other people to be poor. There does not seem to be any way to stop this. It appears to be part of human nature.
We didn't worry about it much when most everyone had a fairly good life, as we did (at least in the developed world) for most of the 20th century. But now that the world has slipped into bad economic times because of the rising price of energy, poor people, whose labor on farms and in factories creates most of our wealth, are starting to not be so pleased with the situation. The rich, as far as I can tell, don't plan to do anything about it.
2. Competition for scarce resources.
Coal, oil, gas, fresh water, metals, phosphate ... these are some of the most important resources that our modern civilization needs to keep running. They are not distributed evenly around the world. Costs of extraction are going up rapidly, and so prices are too.
Most countries have to import some of these. During good times, the price is set by international bidding. But the supply can be threatened when the supplying country decides to use more, or a war breaks out, or they just decide they don't like you. Countries that need these imported resources are making plans to keep the supply flowing -- with deals and money if possible, force if necessary.
3. Competition for safe places.
Unfortunately, most environmental problems, including climate change, do not stop at national boundaries. Greenhouse gasses from industrial countries cause the ice cap to melt far away, which leads to rising sea levels everywhere. Deserts are expanding. Forests are disappearing. Diseases are moving into new areas. Soils are blowing away. Rivers are drying up, when they aren't already too polluted to use.
"Environmental refugees" currently number about 12 million, and that number is expected to explode as livable areas shrink, storms get worse, food and everything else gets more expensive, and governments can no longer afford "safety nets." When people compete for living space, conflicts will result, from fist fights to bombs dropping.
4. A great food crisis.
In a pinch, we can do without cars and gasoline, heating fuel, phones and computers, and many other things. But we are all just one day away from big trouble if we run out of food.
Food comes from good farm land, pasture land, and the sea, all of which are under stress from climate change. Unless you have your own SERIOUS organic garden, every calorie of food you buy was made and transported using about TEN calories of oil and gas energy.
The price of energy, competition for land, wars and conflicts, and a thousand other problems, will all focus their effects, like laser beams, on our most critical need: food on grocery store shelves that we can afford to buy.
29 November 2012: A Battle of Words, or Reality?
Starting about 50 years ago, but certainly in full swing 40 years ago, scientists started warning us about pollution, environmental damage, energy and resource depletion, and all the other unpleasant things now staring us in the face. The best example is "The Limits to Growth," published in 1972.
"We" (the mainstream voices and leaders of society) ignored most of those warnings and did "our" best to make those scientists look like weirdoes that no one should listen to. "We" succeeded pretty well. One very good example of "us" was Ronald Reagan, president of the USA from 1981 through 1988, whose policy was to borrow money from anyone who had it, spend it, import all the oil we needed, burn that oil, and continue to live The American Dream. More recent president have, for the most part, continued that policy.
Does that mean people who care about the Earth and see trouble on the horizon (or perhaps, after Superstorm Sandy, closer than the horizon) have lost the battle?
I propose that the answer is "NO" because this battle isn't about words. It's about REALITY. It's about our planet's physical reaction to the greenhouse gasses, and other pollution, we're putting into the air and water. In a very real sense, it doesn't matter one bit if "The Limits to Growth" was published, if Ronald Reagan was president, or if anyone cared. The only thing that matters is the amount of carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollution in relation to the Earth's ability to absorb them.
Closed-minded people are very good at ignoring, even bashing, anything they don't want to hear. This has always been true, and will never change. BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER! Remember, the issue is physical reality. When the time is right, Mother Nature will tell us what her reaction will be. Some people will yell and scream at melting icecaps, burning grasslands, and superstorms. The Earth will not listen.
This is good news and a bad news.
The good news is that those of us who care about the Earth don't have to take the huge weight of human folly on our shoulders. That's too much weight for any person, or any group of people, to bear. In my opinion, each of us who cares can and should do many things for the Earth, such as helping plants grow on whatever part of the Earth is under our care. But we CANNOT take responsibility for millions of other people. Trying to do that is a recipe for insanity.
The bad news is that, technically, we could have avoided the climate change that now appears to be unstoppable. We knew what the problem was, and the solutions were physically possible 50, 40, maybe even 30 years ago. But those solution were not POLITICALLY possible. They were not within the possible reactions of our human civilization. I cannot prove this, but it's what I see, looking back over that period of human history. I was 17 when "The Limits to Growth" was published.
I propose that we cry and scream, but not in anger at closed-minded and short-sighted people, because that will do no good (and they'll scream, maybe even shoot, back). Crying and screaming heals the human mind and heart. Healing ourselves, and the part of Mother Nature under our care, might be all we can do as the Earth TELLS us what the future will look like.
21 November 2012: Gaia's Body
Here's a wonderful little learning diagram from a book by Tyler Volk, Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth.
HELIOS is the sun, our only source of energy. Petroleum, natural gas, firewood, and falling water are all stored sunlight. Even uranium for nuclear power came from the sun.
The BLACK VOID is outer space where heat goes when it escapes the Earth.
VULCAN is the insides of the Earth where no life dwells, made of rock and still containing some heat from the time of the planet's creation.
GAIA is the thin film of water, soil, air, and life that goes about 9 km (6 miles) up and down from sea level, with most life within 3 km (2 miles) up and down.
Most of our energy is one-way in, from HELIOS, and one-way out, to the BLACK VOID. Other than that, GAIA, and a tiny bit of VULCAN, are all that we have to work with.
15 November 2012: Moving Wealth Around
Notice that I said "wealth," not "money." If you don't know the difference, then you need to read Standing on Your Own Two Feet, which is free to (or for) any young adult.
Money was invented to allow us to move wealth. It can do this in 4 different ways, but most of us only know 2 of them, and there are people in the world who would like it to stay that way. But if you want to survive the years ahead, you should know about all 4.
The 2 we all know about are simple. Money lets us move wealth from person to person and place to place. This lets us buy and sell things, shop in a different town, travel, and all the other normal ways that people need to transfer wealth.
Money also lets us move wealth from one class of people to another. It can be from the working class to the owner class, from the rich to the poor, or any other group transfer. Whether this is good or bad depends on the circumstances and your beliefs.
The 4th way money allows us to move wealth is the most interesting, and perhaps the most dangerous. It allows us to move wealth through time.
We can try to move wealth from the present to the future by saving it, but we often find that it's worth a different amount in the future. Usually it's worth less, but if we saved it in a form that becomes scarce in the future, like a rare coin or a precious metal (gold, silver, etc.) then it can be worth more.
The wealth transfers that can be most dangerous, especially right now, are the kinds that move it from the future to the present. This is done in several different ways, but all are some kind of "borrowing." People borrow money (from each other or banks), groups and businesses borrow money, and whole nations borrow money (from each other, banks, or even from people).
One of the simplest ways for a nation to "borrow" money is just to print too much of it. That causes the value of it to go down in the future, but makes things better today (more jobs, more buying and selling, more taxes, etc.) The people who "pay" the most for this kind of wealth transfer are those who were trying to save some money. This is called "inflation" and it's happening almost everywhere in the world today.
The worst thing about wealth transfers from the future to the present is that the people making those decisions are old, so they won't be here in the future. Today's young adults, and their children, will be.
There are ways to protect yourself from inflation. They aren't easy, so unless you are very determined, you probably won't bother. You can read about them in Standing on Your Own Two Feet.
"We've been hocking our grandkids' future for a little more spending money today." -- Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute
29 October 2012: Confucius on the Rectification of Names
"If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything."
As we can see well during a presidential election, human beings often do not mean what they say, nor say what they mean. And this human quality is not limited to politicians. It is common in all areas of life, but politics and business seem to allow it more openly than other areas. Our legal system has adjusted to it, as no one has ever found any way to get rid of it. In general, if someone lies and it does material harm to another, the person who lied might be in trouble. Otherwise, all we can do is try to learn from the experience.
With all due respect to the great wisdom of Confucius, saying "there must" does not change anything. The only things we can do about this situation are to choose what kind of person we want to be, and protect ourselves from people and organizations who would deceive us.
Protecting ourselves means learning to see through, under, and around the lies. Like anything, it takes practice. You will probably make many mistakes, as I have. You will probably be misled, cheated, and deceived many times, as I have. That's okay. Just remember: the next opportunity to practice will be completely fresh and new, and we can do better at seeing through the "smoke and mirrors" than we ever did before.
Can I give examples? I could, but they would seem, to one person or another, very politically-slanted. Even just implying that untruth is not so good, probably places me, to some people, in one political party and not another. I assure you, I have no loyalty to any political party. My loyalty is to REALITY, and although the human effort to find and speak the truth is not a perfect tool for understanding reality, it is much better than its opposite.
And anyway, your journey, if you decide to make it, from everyday myths and half-truths, to REALITY, will be best if all the examples come from YOUR life.
This essay was inspired by a recent article by Rebecca Solnit.
25 October 2012: Were predictions of doom way too mild?
All through history, people have predicted doom, of one kind or another, not far away in the future. Most of the time, they have been completely wrong. Occasionally, when their predictions were actually based on a little science, they have been right, but got the timing wrong. They guessed much sooner than it actually happened.
It's easy to get the timing wrong. Most changes in the universe happen on time scales that are completely outside of human experience. Mountains are rising and falling before our very eyes, but so slowly we don't notice. Ice ages are coming and going, very, very slowly. The sun is in the process of burning itself out, and will, someday in the far, far future.
But something just happened, this year, with hints of it during just the last few years, that breaks the rules.
Some scientists have been predicting, for a while now, that the polar ice caps were melting. There have been a few people, as there always are, saying, "It will happen next month!" But real scientists have been talking about "centuries from now," or at worst, "around the end of this century."
Then, not too long ago, we started hearing predictions of about 2050.
And then suddenly, in the last few years, it speeded up, and last summer, a huge part of the floating artic ice cap was GONE. Now, dates like 2015 and 2020, for the complete melting of the arctic ice cap, are being considered.
Greenland and Antarctica also hold parts of our ice caps, but they are mostly on land, are affected by different forces, and are harder to measure. There is evidence that the same thing is happening to them, perhaps a little more slowly.
Should we freak out? Of course not. Freaking out is for children. We should keep out eyes open. Scientists are just starting to figure out how melting ice caps will affect our weather. Also, everything we learn about climate change takes some time, at least a few years, to make sure it's not just a temporary thing.
And while you're keeping your eyes open, be thinking. How will a hot, dry, drought year affect your life? A flood? An extremely cold winter? Remember, as the planet warms, weather will get more and more unpredictable, at times even colder or wetter. If you're smart, you'll be as ready for whatever comes as you can be.
17 October 2012: Watch for people burning the "observatory"
The Simpsons, season 6 episode 14, entitled "Bart's Comet" (Wikipedia entry), showed a side of human nature that has already begun to appear in the world. We have a long history of killing the messenger who brings bad news. After briefly listening to Al Gore's warnings about climate change, the world turned away from Science. It was telling us something we didn't want to hear.
We expected this from 2000-2008 in the USA because ignoring science is the official position of the party in power during those years. But now the other party has been in power for 4 years, the evidence for climate change is stronger than ever, and still it is not even a topic in the presidential race.
In the Simpsons cartoon, several funny things happen as people try to stop the comet, or hide from it. We like to laugh at funny things. But at the end of the story, the people decide to burn down the observatory to prevent a similar thing from ever happening again. This gives me, and I hope you, a very sick feeling.
The observatory represents Science, and anyone else trying to honestly understand reality. Science doesn't create the things it looks at. It is usually not even the first to see them. It just tries hard to understand them.
Killing the messenger does not eliminate the bad news. Ignoring or denying Science does not change reality. But ignoring it WILL take away much of our knowledge of reality.
As the news about climate change, peak oil, economic stagnation, and other predicaments, gets worse and more obvious, people will find more and more ways to ignore, then deny, and finally "burn" the "observatory." You may want to avoid the wrong appearance at those times, even if you continue to carefully, privately listen to Science so you know as much as possible about what's going on.
Thanks to Tom Murphy for an excellent article that inspired this essay.
23 September 2012: Why we cannot save the world
You have probably noticed in Standing on Your Own Two Feet and in these Youth Futures essays that I do not advocate political action. One of the most important reasons was recently explored by David Pollard in an article with the same name as this essay:
"We do what we must (our personal, unavoidable imperatives of the moment), then we do what's easy, and then we do what's fun. There is never time left for things that are merely important."
Human beings naturally think and care about what they can see, hear, and touch, but little else. That means the land and creatures around them, the community in which they live, and their loved ones, people and animals. For most of human history, that worked just fine. You may be able to think and care about people and places you cannot directly see, or abstract ideas, but that ability if unusual for humans.
Politics, the power struggles that run our governments, is often described as "the art of the possible." This means that our governments only deal with what most people can agree upon. Because most people are limited to thinking and caring about what is right in their faces, governments are very bad at doing anything about problems that haven't yet slapped us hard.
The problems facing our world are slow-moving. The climate has been changing (generally getting warmer) for at least a century. We've been slowly running short of energy and other resources for at least half a century. Most of our governments have been running on borrowed money for at least 30 years.
When problems move that slowly, they are hard for most people to see, and easy for us to think it's just the normal ups and downs that always happen. So they never become something we MUST do something about.
Dealing with big problems is never easy, and certainly not fun. Even thinking about them is not easy or fun.
But they're important. Unfortunately, that is (most of the time) not enough to make us, our politics, and our governments, do anything about them.
The natural world and the human world are both changing rapidly. If you think you can do something about that through political action, you are welcome to try. I hope you will also prepare to ADAPT to the new worlds that are quickly approaching, just in case.
14 September 2012: Young Adults, Pagans, and the Future
a workshop by J. Z. Colby at the Northwest Fall Equinox Festival, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
This workshop is an extension of what I write and speak about all the time. I am a retired mental-health therapist, and now an advocate for young adults (roughly ages 10-20, sometimes 7-30) as they deal with the stuff that's coming at them out of the future.
The changes on the horizon are huge, and include environmental, political, and economic forces that are approaching just slowly enough so that adults are reluctant to do anything about them. However, the timing of these changes will most likely hit today's youth very hard in the coming years.
I am not the source of this stuff, but it is usually given in thick adult technical/political language, and so is inaccessible to young people. I am their interpreter.
Even though young adults are right in the "cross hairs" of these world changes, they also have some important things going for them, such as their abilities to think fresh thoughts, and their lack of loyalty to ideas that most adults cherish (like "economic growth").
In addition, anyone who has a toe (or more) in Earth-based religions will have a huge advantage in coming years. In my opinion, young adults WITH an Earth-based background are in the very best position to thrive and be happy.
This workshop will last about 2 hours, and will be a mixture of story readings, discussion times, and situation brain-storming with priority given to young people. Please bring pillows and other comforts. Free books, both fiction and non-fiction, for interested youth at the end.
Correction: When I said "we're about two-thirds of the way down" in reference to USA oil production relative to the 1971 peak, I should have said "we're at about the two-thirds point" or "about one-third of the way down."
Discussion audio: MP3 - 50:16 - 32Kbps - 12MB
31 July 2012: Whom shound we blame?
When we notice that the economy, almost everywhere in the world, has fizzled, whom should we blame?
When we see corn fields withering, forests and prairies burning, and rivers drying up, whom should we blame?
When we look for a job, and can't find one, or even if we have one, we see prices going up all around us, whom should we blame?
Corporations? Wrong. They are just people, doing what we pay them to do.
Governments? Wrong. They are just the people we voted for, doing what will get them our vote next time.
People? Wrong. We are just doing what our nature tells us to do: protect and improve ourselves and those we love.
The "Blame Game" is a distraction. It is used by those who will make money or gain power if most of us DO NOT see what's really going on.
In coming years, we will probably see several of these major distractions:
Young people will have the best chance of SEEING and UNDERSTANDING what's going on at this crazy moment in history if they practice sniffing out "Blame Game" distractions. It's a game, after all. Choose not to play, just watch, and you will learn the rules.
(There ARE good ways to be involved in local communities and national politics, and you will have the best chance of finding them if you are willing to say "no" to the "Blame Game.")
28 July 2012: What is "usury"? God's work? A sin? A crime?
Usury is the old-fashioned term for lending money and charging interest. It's what money lenders, pawn shops, and banks do.
It has gone in and out of style over the centuries, but mostly out. Only two periods accepted it completely: the high point of the Roman Republic and Empire, and today's industrial civilization.
The president of a large bank recently claimed that he was just "doing God's work" (Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, 2010). The hard, cold fact is that religions, especially Christianity and Islam, are opposed to usury, calling it a mortal sin.
What could cause such a difference of opinion?
We can find the answer by looking to see what the height of Rome, and today's industrial civilization, have in common. Rome was sucking up slaves and treasure from every place it could get its hand on, from Britain to Persia, Germany to Africa. During the last 300 years, we have been sucking up all the coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium we could get our hands on.
When a civilization has lots of extra "energy," from slaves and plunder, or fossil fuels and uranium, it can grow and expand. When a civilization is expanding, people can borrow money for business, and will make so much money in the process, that they can pay back the borrowed money plus interest.
All the rest of the time, when civilization isn't growing and expending, it doesn't work. Lending money at interest just becomes a drug to suck the remaining life out of the most desperate people. That's why religions are against it.
Our civilization has been growing and expanding long enough for everyone to forget that growth isn't normal. With the peak of oil pumping in 2005, nuclear power proving to be too dangerous, and nothing to replace them (in spite of a few lies being told to the public), growth has ended.
Usury, lending money at interest, just became a very bad idea, especially if you're the one who borrowed it.
25 July 2012: Mommy Robin's Discovery
In my shed, mommy Robin's eggs hatched today, two of them I think, judging by the little voices coming from the nest. While just tending and warming her eggs, she would always fly to a nearby tree when I came around. Today, with hatchlings in the nest and a worm in her mouth, she found the courage to stay when I came for a sheet of plywood, and fed her chicks with me only a few feet away.
One of the reactions to Standing on Your Own Two Feet is "I could never do that stuff!" The truth is, we are all capable of many things that we can't imagine right now. One quality we share with all other living creatures is the ability to go beyond our usual limits when we MUST. Walking ten miles, or sleeping under a tree, are suddenly pretty easy when there is NO alternative.
It seems that there are parts of our brains that just don't turn on until they have to. I'm sure that if I had asked mommy Robin if she'd ever stay in the nest with me just a few feet away, she would have said, "No way!" Then the moment came when it was either try something new (trust a human) or leave the chicks alone. She tried something new.
This kind of shift in consciousness can happen without any preparation or practice, but our responses to dangerous situations will be much better if we have given the situations a little thought beforehand. We call this "imagination." Mommy Robin may not have enough brain power to do this, I don't know. Not even all people do. But if you have read Standing on Your Own Two Feet and are reading this essay, I would bet money that you do.
29 June 2012: How could driving become "uncool"?
During the last year or so, I have heard from several young-adult friends that car ownership and driving are not so important anymore. Other authors who pay attention to changes in the world have also noticed, and mentioned this in their writings.
This is one of the things I really admire about young adults. They have their feet squarely on the path into adulthood, but have not yet become rigid in their thinking. They sense and intuit things that are going on around them, and much more often than older adults, bend with the changing winds.
There will be variations from place to place, of course. In cities with busses and trains, sidewalks and bicycle paths, going without a car is possible. In rural areas where everything is 10 miles from everything, it's much harder, but there are still times when sharing a vehicle can work.
I know that some young people are very aware that cars are expensive, insurance (for them) is ridiculous, and the price of fuel is unpredictable but mostly climbing. Others are not aware of these things, but feel the changing values in their culture, and are adjusting their personal values to match.
In other words, the "American Dream" (that everyone is entitled to a middle-class lifestyle) is not being passed to the next generation. That younger generation is hearing about unemployment, inflation, foreclosures, financial crises in the USA and Europe, and climate change, even when their parents work very hard to keep them from that knowledge.
All that knowledge is simmering in their souls. They are, often enough, smart enough to realize it could mean THEY don't get the same goodies their parents had. Cars (along with trucks, boats, motorcycles, and RVs) are clearly one of the "big-ticket" items that might not fit into a burger-flipping budget.
They sense it. They are preparing, often unconsciously, for that world. That mental preparation will help them to survive and find happiness, even without wheels.
19 June 2012: A Signpost of Change
As I've talked about before in these essays, changes often happen too slowly for most people to notice. The changes going on today that young adults will have to deal with when they grow up, or maybe sooner, are mostly this kind. Climate change, energy becoming more expensive, good jobs becoming hard to find -- all these changes, and many others like them, will probably creep into our lives slowly, without causing most people to take notice.
But there are "signposts" that can warn us, if we have our eyes and ears open.
It looks like 2012 will be a big year for one of these signposts. Until very recently, the "mainstream" voices of our world (TV, newspapers, magazines, and speeches by our leaders) rarely contained the words "climate change" or "Peak Oil." Even "environment" and "energy" were not often talked about.
Suddenly, articles and speeches about these things are coming out everywhere. States are passing laws about them. Big corporations and rich people are using huge amounts of money to sway public opinion. They are suddenly "hot" topics!
Is the scientific truth finally getting out? Are people finally learning about the limits of our planet and its shrinking resources? Have we, as a people, realized that geology and climate are REAL, and will slap us if we don't understand and respect them?
No. The huge wave of opinion being expressed by "mainstream" voices this year is that none of this matters, it's all a myth, and we can go back to shopping and surfing the web.
For those of us who have our eyes and ears open, this tells us something. It tells us that the leaders and speakers of our world feel threatened. But WHY would they feel threatened if it's all a myth?
Could it be because they aren't stupid, they have access to better data than anyone else, and they know what that data means?
This kind of "signpost" has been noticed by many others:
"Never believe in anything in politics until it has been officially denied"
"If it's been officially denied, then it's probably true"
6 May 2012: Black Swans
Most swans are white. Black ones are very rare. They are so few that we can't think of them as a sub-group or "race." And, most importantly, they are completely unpredictable. No pair of mating swans can predict the hatching of one of the rare black ones.
Scientists and scholars who study the changes going on in the world use the term "black swan" for those major events that cannot be predicted. Many of these are geological, such as earthquakes. We know earthquakes happen, and we know about how often (different chances for different places), but no one can predict when. If you buy a house in southern California, it will probably be damaged by an earthquake, but no one knows if that will happen tomorrow, of in 100 years.
Some "black swan" events are technological. When nuclear power plants fail (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima) the problems can be huge because the nuclear materials are so toxic. They are designed NOT to fail. They are not SUPPOSED to fail. But they do, and it cannot be predicted.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster of 2011 in Japan gave us a new kind of "black swan" as it was caused by a geological event (an earthquake) which happened in the ocean so it caused a tsunami ("tidal wave") which hit the nuclear power plant and knocked out both the regular and back-up cooling systems. The power plant was designed to survive tsunamis, just not as big as the one that hit it.
"Black swan" events can be completely human. People gather for rallies and demonstrations all the time. Every once in a while, the will of the people is enough to change a government. It happened very quickly in Libya and Egypt recently, so quickly that most people were surprised.
Stock markets can crash when enough people decide to sell their stocks all at once. We are social creatures, and when lots of people do something, most of the rest of us want to do it too. This creates a "positive feedback" loop that becomes more and more unstable.
Climate scientists believe there are "tipping points" that might be reached about greenhouse gasses (that trap the sun's heat) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), and about rising temperatures and sea levels. If one of these "tipping points" is reached, it could look like a "black swan" event because it could cause a major change very quickly, and be completely unpredicted (except by scientists). For example, the temperatures of the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans are rising, which appears to be causing the release of huge amounts of methane, which could cause a dangerous spike in worldwide temperatures. The last time this happened (about 55 million years ago in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), the effects lasted more than 100,000 years.
Keep your eyes open for "black swans," geological, technological, and even purely human. They can occur very quickly and scare people. We (and most other creatures) are not very good at adapting to changes that come very quickly. The quicker you find out about these things, and begin to think about how you can prepare (if possible), the less they will scare you, and the better chance you have of staying alive and happy.
8 February 2012: Mass Migrations, a Future Trend
In the chapter "The Future," this idea wasn't quite as important as the others, so it didn't make it in, but we need to be aware of it. It has begun in some parts of the world already. As economic and environmental conditions get worse, large numbers of people will be on the move, looking for new and better homes.
People may pack up their things and families based on careful planning, after hearing rumors of better conditions, or just in a panic during a crisis. In the USA, Canada, Europe, and Australia, they can go a long way with nothing to stop them. Even when international borders get in the way, and police/military with guns say "Go back," they will eventually get through if their numbers, and their desperation, are great enough.
This can affect you in 2 ways.
If you're one of those who needs to migrate, you might have to deal with lots of others going the same direction, and the people already living there not liking it much. Go as self-sufficiently as possible with money, food, fuel, and anything else you might need that the locals might not want to give, or even sell, at least until they get to know you. Be prepared for NOT finding housing, jobs, and other needs for a long period of time.
If a migration is coming your way, try to remember that they're people, and you could easily be in their shoes. Based on your location and resources, what can you willingly provide (give or sell)? What might they want that you would NOT willingly provide? Are you prepared to protect your home and resources?
In either case, you may need to "think on your feet." Dangers may pop up that you didn't expect, and opportunities for new friends may come at unexpected moments.
But in most cases, mass migrations are not stoppable, even though it may be possible to stop a few of the individuals. So the best attitude is probably to accept the situation gracefully, whether you are on the move or see them coming.
Standing on Your Own Two Feet: typographical errors
Page 3: Just Frozen Water
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