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[Once you've heard an elegant formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- Entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system; whenever energy freely transforms from one form to another, the direction of transformation is toward a state of greater disorder and therefore toward one of greater entropy - it's hard to sustain any faith at all in the free market as a guarantor of perpetual prosperity. Endless capital accumulation and growth remains modernity's dearest fable, while just beneath its ideological surface the basic truths of the natural world smile at our foolishness. Dale Allen Pfeiffer is FTW's Science Editor, a man well acquainted with the limits of energy exploitation in a finite world. Here he asks why the thinkers, voters, and marchers of the left -- whose critique of capitalism is supposed to be robust and actionable -- have missed the great discreditor of its central illusion. Without endless resources to consume and a bottomless pit into which waste products may drain forever, capitalism simply cannot endure.

Granted, the left has predicted capitalist collapse for two hundred years, yet the Dow hovers above ten thousand. People have been anticipating environmental breakdown for more than two thousand years, yet the wheat keeps coming up in the summer. Why? Well, imagine a spacecraft that has run out of fuel, gradually falling into some distant star. Everyone who observes a section of its fall during his lifetime predicts that it will get there and burn, but it doesn't yet, so he's called a fool. Capitalism is like this falling ship, except that the signs of its descent aren't always obvious to the people locked inside. And now they're sweating. -JAH]

Hope for the Future

The Failure of the Left

Dale Allen Pfeiffer

© Copyright 2005, From The Wilderness Publications, All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.

May 9, 2005 1000 PST (FTW) It would seem natural for the left to take up the topic of resource depletion, and Peak Oil in particular. These problems are indicative of the failure of our current socio-economic system and the need for change. We have squandered our resources in a mad rush of rampant consumption. One would think that the left would have a field day with this. Yet the left has gone out of its way to avoid this issue.

For the most part, progressive voices and alternative media outlets have resisted the message of Peak Oil. Even now that it is staring them in the face, they are reluctant to admit it and are making no organized attempt to deal with it. Instead, they have either been vehement in their denial of Peak Oil, or they have pointed to a techno-fix without taking a good strong look at the likeliness of such a solution.

This failure to discuss Peak Oil and its implications has left the field open to the other side of the political spectrum. Without so much as an argument from the left, the right will institute their own solution to the problem: a militant grab for the remaining hydrocarbon resources, the opening of protected wilderness to exploitation, corporate welfare, a push for coal and nuclear power, and a restriction of liberties for the general public. The opposition will be left to protest loudly against these tactics-something it has become very good at.

Yet the solution of the right is no solution at all, merely a vain attempt to stay the course and hold on to their position at the top of the heap. Ironically, a sustainable solution calls for many of the same goals which the left has long held dear. What is more, the public-as it wakes up to the problem-is frightened for their welfare and clamoring for a solution.

The Salvation of the Left
It is the duty of the left to point the way to a new sunrise. We must answer the cries of our friends and neighbors with soothing words of hope and promise. We must announce a new age of hope, compassion, quality of life, and freedom from the tyranny of corporate capitalism.

One way or another, energy depletion will spell the end of globalization and conspicuous consumption. Surviving the end of the oil age will require us to get to know our neighbors, to rediscover our local communities, and to become responsible stewards of our local environment. We will learn first hand the humane importance of family planning, birth control and freedom of choice. Are these not goals of the left?

The path will be fraught with hardship. But if we begin preparing now, we can ensure that the future holds a world where the values of freedom, equality and justice are known and cherished, a sustainable world in harmony with nature, a world rich with community and quality of life.

First the left must wake up to the reality of resource depletion. We must loudly and boldly articulate our vision for the future, and we must act to bring this vision to fruition. We need artists-painters, musicians, and above all storytellers-to paint this vision for us, to sound it out and give it substance. We need a renaissance of art, thought and action to bring us out of these dark days of corporate capitalism, conspicuous consumption and media monopoly.

As activists, we must learn that protesting is the least important of our activities. It is the duty of activists everywhere to organize locally and begin building the world of the future within the hollow husk of today.

12 Fun Activities for Activists

Community Vegetable Gardens
Lobby your communities and neighbors to allow you to plant up and tend vacant lots. If you live in an apartment complex with a suitable roof, lobby the management to allow you to build and tend planting boxes on the roof. This is an activity which can foster a strong sense of community between you and your neighbors.

Operation Johnny Appleseed
Take a cue from that activist of American folklore and just start planting. Always save your apple seeds, pear seeds, peach pits, grape pips, cherry pips, etc. Save them and plant them wherever you find a likely spot. You can do this with any hardy perennial-fruits, roots and a select group of vegetables. You can even donate a little money and time to the purchase and planting of saplings, vines (grapes), bushes and brambles (blueberries and raspberries), or runners (strawberries).

You could also take a tip from the American Indians and other native peoples and promote the propagation of beneficial wild plants. The study of permaculture lends itself to this activity.

Food Not Bombs
This is perhaps the best single idea to come out of the Anarchist movement in the last fifty years. What is wrong with the Salvation Army, soup kitchens and other charities? For one thing, the majority of food charities expect something in return, usually a religious conversion. But there is a more basic problem with traditional charities: they are charities. People who are well off are taking time to help the downtrodden. However well-meaning, those who come for the food are made to feel like beggars, beholden for the charity they receive and dependent on the charity of others.

In Food Not Bombs, fliers are passed out announcing an open picnic at a local park, or some such place. The food is prepared ahead of time and laid out where everyone can serve her or himself. And then everyone sits down to eat together.

Food Not Bombs picnics can be combined with educational tours to identify local edible plants. You can even show off the fruits of your free plantings or invite folks to help out with the local community garden.

Farmer's Markets and CSA's
If you can locate a nearby Farmer's Market or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), then patronize the former or join the latter. CSA's are farms dedicated to serving their subscribers. For a yearly subscription price, members are given a percentage of the produce. Subscribers sometimes pitch in with the harvesting and other activities. The farmers usually accompany their produce with advice for food preservation.

If you can't find a local Farmer's Market or CSA, consider organizing one.

Community Transportation Networks
This is an idea which is bound to become more popular as gas prices go up. Form a community car pool, not just for the commute to and from work, but to shopping centers and elsewhere. You can set up a local network to match up people who need to go to specific places at specific times, so that they can share rides.

With the US becoming increasingly dependent on foreign oil, and with US soldiers dying in oil wars, isn't it unpatriotic for each single person to drive around by him- or herself?

Bicycle Co-ops and Bicycle Trails
Bicycle co-ops can maintain a fleet of bicycles for the use of members, or for temporary rental by non-members. The co-ops maintain the bicycles, collect them and return them to distribution centers. Bicycle co-ops can lobby local communities for bicycle trails and donate time to the maintenance of those trails.

Support Local Businesses, particularly Co-ops
How many local businesses are left in the wake of globalization? While supporting local businesses, press to ensure that those businesses are ethical and responsible.

Form Co-ops
There is no end to the essential services which can be provided through co-ops. Co-ops give a community control over the provision of necessities.

Organize Community Activities
Community entertainments such as barn dances, music and art festivals or community theatres not only provide entertainment, they provide venues where people can socialize. Here you can meet like-minded folks who would be interested in taking part in the other activities mentioned here. These concerts and festivals also provide forums for local artists to reach an audience and/or inspire them with visions of where they can take their community.

Other activities provide a pleasant setting for doing tedious work, or group support to get things done. This includes quilting bees, sewing circles, or fix-it fairs where everybody can bring old appliances to fix or salvage.

Community Refurbishing Co-ops
Such groups can help to remodel homes for greater energy efficiency, erect or refurbish community centers, or possibly erect shelters for the homeless.

Community Energy Production Co-ops
Such organizations can provide local, community owned and maintained, low level energy production. Depending on local conditions, potential power sources could be wind turbines, solar cells, hydroelectric, or even geothermal (in select areas).

Here is the ultimate activity, an entirely self-sustaining community. This is the eventual goal towards which we must all direct our activities if we are to have a free, equitable and just society. That is, a society where the quality of life makes life worth living and where we can reside happy and contented to watch our children grow up in a positive and healthy environment.

This is the vision which the left can hold out to the public, a vision which cannot be matched by the right's appeal to fear, anger and greed.

Emblems of the Left
The left also needs visible emblems to give them a sense of identity and help draw in the public. The right has thoroughly laid claim to the American flag and to the colors red, white and blue. These symbols have been imbued with nationalism, false pride, vengefulness, obedience to authority, selfish insolence, and even divine right. These symbols have been so thoroughly identified with the right in the public mind as to be inseparable from the attitude "My country right or wrong, love it or leave it, blessed by god."

The left needs noble symbols that effectively appeal to higher values than base nationalism. We need symbols that evoke the cherished ideals of liberty, equality and justice.

To this end, I suggest we stake a claim to the bald eagle. Not a cartoon eagle in red, white and blue. Nor an eagle superimposed over a background of stars and stripes. We need images of eagles flying in a blue sky, of eagles flying over mountains and wilderness, with the words "Liberty, Equality and Justice for All."

The bald eagle is not only the national bird, it is also the symbol of what is at risk - endangered wildlife and vanishing wilderness. In its association with the wilderness, it is the perfect symbol of freedom and justice.

Another emblem which could be claimed by the left is the stylized image of a circle of people holding hands, men, women and children of all colors. At the center of their circle could be a house to symbolize home and community, and/or a tree to symbolize harmony with nature. And around the outside of the circle, there could be words like: freedom, equality, justice, democracy, harmony, quality, sustainability. Or there could be a motto such as: "Let not fear, greed or anger destroy what we have."

It is time for the left to step up to bat. There is no need to fearfully deny the reality of resource depletion. And we have every reason not to leave the field of action to the right and confine ourselves to protest and reaction.

There are hard times ahead, but there is no need to give up hope if we can stand together to meet what is to come. The left does have a positive vision to offer, but it must be trumpeted loudly and we must take the initiative.

Failure to do so will lead to a dark and dismal future. Let us reject the darkness and strive toward the light.

Author's Bio-Dale Allen Pfeiffer is a geologist and a novelist. He is the author of The End of the Oil Age and The Linnet's Song. His most recent book is the novel, Giants in Their Steps. He is currently at work on a book about the implications of energy depletion for agriculture.


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