A few of us are excited about planning for a Transition from a cheap energy powered way of life to a more localized and slower existence. Others have an interest or perhaps a curiosity about what the future might bring. Most, however, cannot or won’t contemplate the possibility that life as we have known it will change dramatically over the next one to five to twenty years.
All of us suffer from what James Kunstler calls, “The psychology of previous investment.” That is, we are used to things as they are, have spent heavily in time and money on creating whatever life we have and have no intention of seeing it changed. Kunstler’s thesis goes pretty much like this, “…as a species we are reluctant to abandon any path we’ve set down, once we’ve made the commitment to set down the path.” It is the law of inertia. In Mr. Kunstler’s case he was talking about his favorite subject— the horrible (in his opinion) societal investment in suburbia and its unsustainable nature. Suburbia is unsustainable in Kunstler’s view because of the cost of energy to get back and forth from work and services and the lack of infrastructure to support suburban populations if it turns out they are unable to get back and forth.
Oil fuels suburbia and our frenetic lifestyle. We need the oil. Here’s a little Kunstler rant from 2005 to give you a flavor of what I’m trying to get across: “If the American public could stand the truth, we would stop calling it the Iraq War and rename it the War to Save Suburbia. Of all the things that Bush and Cheney have said over the last six years, the one thing the Democratic opposition has not challenged is the statement that “the American way of life is not negotiable.” They’re just as invested in it as everybody else. The Democrats complain about the dark efforts by Bush and Cheney to cook up a rationale for the war. Guess what? The Democrats desperately need something to oppose besides the truth. If they would shut up about WMDs for five minutes and just take a good look around, they’d know exactly why this war started. When the American people, Democrat and Republican both, decided to build a drive-in utopia based on incessant easy motoring and massive oil dependency, who lied to them? When tens of millions of Americans bought McHouses thirty-four miles away from their jobs in Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Dallas, who lied to them? When American public officials adopted the madness of single-use zoning and turned the terrain of this land into a tragic crapscape of strip malls on six-lane highways, who lied to them? When American school officials decided to consolidate all the kids in gigantic centralized facilities serviced by fleets of yellow buses that ran an average of 150,000 miles per year per school, who lied to them? When Americans trashed their public transit and railroad system, who lied to them? When Americans let Wal-Mart gut Main Street, who lied to them? When Bill and Hillary Clinton bought a suburban villa in farthest reaches of northern Westchester County, New York, who lied to them?”
The psychology of previous investment says that “The American way of life is not negotiable.” On Lummi Island we can see the ferry issue as the epitome of what Kunstler is talking about.
A couple of generations ago the island had an economy with farming and fishing and had self-sufficiency several degrees above what we find today. The same demographics that affected small communities across the county impacted the island as people moved to big cities and as businesses centralized, merged, acquired and tried to super-size themselves one way or another. Lummi Island evolved from a focused community into a suburb with a large population of part-timers who are naturally not as invested, except as their real estate is affected, in the island.
Lummi Island was able (is able) to work as a suburb of Bellingham because of cheap and readily available oil and, in our special case, first class ferry service. As long as this continues there won’t be too many people who get excited about an uncertain future. Trying to maintain a job or some kind of income will be priority number one. For the more affluent, more of the same will suffice, thank you very much.
So, while a few of us get excited about the idea of Transitioning to slower, more local future, don’t be too surprised or disappointed if our group remains fairly small. It’s the psychology of previous investment at work.
That said I feel compelled to create a family refuge for a worst case scenario and to encourage other like-minded people to work as a community, ready to assist each other and the greater population if necessity requires.