By Jeanie Johnson
The 12th and 13th of October I attended the Women & Spirituality Conference in Mankato, Minnesota. The keynote address was given by a heroine of mine, Starhawk. She leaned on the dias, looked into the eyes of all two hundred women in the room and said, “We’re in a sorry mess aren’t we?” She then proceeded into an hour and a half of honest, straightforward talk about the state of things at this hour on our home planet. She identified the paralyzing inability of the U.S. government to do anything resembling work for We The People, highlighted the expanding, intrusive and dangerous security state, pointed to worsening climate change and the specter of what is coming. She spoke honestly about rampant resource extraction as certainly our country operates on the Last Man Standing approach to energy consumption. Her passion for permaculture was evident as she talked about the need for new thinking in the growing of our food, and, as always, she strongly supported the requirement to educate the world’s women that will help lift millions out of poverty and reduce global populations. Ten times the audience rose to respond loudly for Starhawk’s cogent and heartfelt speech.
It has occurred to me in the weeks after the conference, that an issue not addressed by name by Starhawk or during the sessions was the issue of addictions. Presenters hit all around it and truly Starhawk herself was defining addiction each time she highlighted another aspect of our malaise. As I have thought about my own recent decisions and the changes they produced, I realize they concern addiction and the shadows that live within the world of addictions. (A brief note: I’m not an addictions counselor nor have I been in treatment or recovery, although I probably should have been considering I lived my early adulthood in the 60s & 70s.) I am simply thinking while writing and sharing my years of reading, contemplating, study, and what I’ve come to.
The addictive process includes a level of denial that keeps the person involved in active addictive behavior from being able to see what is happening to them and, by extension, to the people around them. Often the person employs every possible and contorted device for obtaining the drug of choice, unaware or unable to stop or change. Readers may take exception to any portion of my definition. That’s fine. I am using a loose description to take us to an aspect of all our lives that closely resembles, if not accurately states, an addiction to which most all of us are blind.
Cars. And by obvious extension, Driving. James Howard Kunstler calls it Happy Motoring, the scourge of the American continent and a great swath of the planet. We can refer to what I call cars-driving as an imperative, a joy, or as so embedded in our personal stories and the story we hear and tell of our global civilization that we’re surprised to consider it as a form of addiction. But that is exactly what I am calling cars-driving, an addiction that has woven its way into our lives so successfully that it is not apparent that it is anything but part of our daily landscape. You’re going to say, “Wait just a moment. I might not really need cigarettes or booze, but I do need my car! How would I get to work or get groceries or any of the hundreds of things I have to do?” It can’t be an addiction if it’s a necessity, right?
I’m not out to spread guilt around about all of us driving internal combustion-powered automobiles. I am trying to encourage bringing imagination to the reality check that continuing to burn fossil fuels is contributing to runaway global climate change and, as Starhawk starkly put it in Mankato, the rapidly approaching time where life on Earth has not encountered such drastic conditions. It’s common to hear people say that the United States shouldn’t be the only country that needs to curtail fossil fuel consumption. We want to point fingers at someone else, most often China, and wriggle away from our own culpability. But, if we are going to act in our own interest, for the benefit of others, and for our own progeny, then we must accept that we sit atop the heap of over-developed nations that have consumed the largest share of fossil fuel. It has only been in recent months that our consumption curve has slowed ever so slowly. We can’t pretend our addiction to oil (cars-driving) isn’t causing problems. Why would we have hundreds of military bases across the globe in oil-rich places if we weren’t doing everything we could to protect our access to oil, er, our addiction?
There are not any easy answers and I certainly don’t have them. (Cars-driving isn’t the only aspect of oil consumption nor is oil the only fossil fuel responsible for climate change) But that’s the wonderful part of addressing problems (and recovery), people work together. We bring our imaginations and our ingenuity to the table and together we try to solve what ails us. I can offer what I’ve done as one idea. It won’t work for everyone and it took three years of hard work, study, downsizing, and a move, but it is a significant piece of unraveling the cars-driving-fossil-fuel puzzle. I quit driving. My husband and I both quit driving and we sold the car. Because that decision would not have worked where we were living, we spent time researching a place to live that would facilitate life without a car. We chose Minneapolis, Minnesota, not only because we have family here, but because the mass transit is excellent and due to become better when an extension of the lite rail is completed this next spring. We chose an inner-city apartment close to everything we need, accessible by foot, bicycle or bus. It took work and imagination and a trust that letting go of something so deeply ingrained in our culture would not only be okay, but hopefully better. I am ecstatic to write that after nearly six months in a new way of life, it is all of that and more. We are healthier for the daily long walks. We are enjoying the challenge of figuring out a major metropolitan city transit system and, to our surprise, have not missed having a car once since we moved. (That includes two extensive trips to other parts of the country this past fall. We took MegaBus, a perfectly great way to travel.) We have become involved in a movement to address climate change, met new people, have attended events, and enjoy a wide range of activities.
To be clear, we are both currently not working. My husband retired in June. However, we are both soon to be interviewing for work and will either walk or ride the bus. It is not impossible to quit driving and still go to work. It does take planning and imagination. It might take some major adjustments and even a move, closer to services or closer to work or both. It might also take some difficult political work to change systems within your own community, helping to make them less fossil fuel dependent and more open to new ways of thinking. Urban planning for more resilient, localized and less car-focused communities is everywhere. Many writers are addressing creative ways to shift us from a car-driving culture to a shared transit, people friendly mode of travel, whether it is to the grocers or across the state to visit friends.
Starhawk spoke of our need as humans to re-create ourselves in communion with and service to the living system within which we live and are a part. Magic is the art of changing consciousness. I remember reading that sentence many, many years ago in a book of hers as I began my transformation as a young woman. It was a gift to see her in person this fall and to hear her still championing the power of everyday magic. We need that. We need a vision of life beyond the harried, relentless busy-ness that characterizes many of our lives. The addiction to cars-driving and its accompanying afflictions of consumer madness, acquisition therapy and entertainment bacchanales, keeps us from being able to bring imagination to bear on our significant problems. And those problems affect the entire planetary system and all living beings. We have need to really listen to the truth, do an intervention for ourselves, be willing to change, lift our heads up to see further than our own lives. We need to address our addictions and wake up to reality, for surely the times are calling for us to make magic.
P.S. I’m Jeanie and I’m a cars-driving addict. I grew up in the era of the muscle car, ala American Graffiti. We owned a number of fabulous V-8 monsters; two fast, slippery Camaros that took us cross country on more than a few occasions. I loved those powerful cars and the freedom I perceived they brought. I admit I have been in love with speed, raw surges of fossil fuel grandiosity! I loved all of it, from the new car smell to the whistles and bells of each new purchase. I loved the push back in the drivers seat when I stepped on the gas pedal on a warm California day knowing soon I’d be on Hwy 1 along the coast as free as a bird with all the world in front of me. I think I’ve just defined addiction. It’s okay. We need to be able to speak with honesty and not punish ourselves. But, then we do need to move forward.
Support for changing consciousness:
Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs by Eric W. Sanderson
The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
The Ecotechnic Future: envisioning a post-peak world by John Michael Greer
Last minute addition: As this gets emailed for submission into the winter edition of Conscious Community the UN talks on climate change in Warsaw, Poland continue. Once again the wealthy nations have worked to stall progress and skate away from responsibility. Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! interviewed two scientists calling for dramatic change on the part of the wealthy nations. Please read the interview at – http://tinyurl.com/olsp4n7