Our culture presumes that people act to avoid negative consequences but as it turns out that this is not the case. It is well known in the field of psychology that people are more likely to change their behaviour when they see a positive reason for doing so.
We can't get somewhere until we can first envision where it is we want to go. Great leaders in history were great leaders because they had a positive vision and were able to communicate that effectively to their followers. Rarely do leaders win the hearts and minds of the public based on negative forecasts of the other guy.
The fossil fuel era is going to end and it is going to end within most of our lifetimes. We are currently living in the pinnacle of human civilization and that's a real blessing. It may be premature to conclude that the next phase of human civilization will not be even better than our present one.
Some people viewed the dawn of the industrial age as a major threat to civilization, prompting sabotage of industrial machinery and various other types of revolt. However fearful this change appeared during that time, few can deny that the modern industrial age brought us numerous benefits. In the future, might we look back at the end of the fossil fuel era as the start of another great era in human history?
Societal upheavals have often been accompanied by surges in creativity: new forms of art, literary masterpieces, and new philosophical ideas. The renaissance period accompanied the introduction of industrialization and more recently the music of the 60s and 70s accompanied a period of social liberalization.
Painting a picture of a compelling post-carbon world is not an easy task and we need the creative people in our society to step up to the plate. Unfortunately our modern technical society has marginalized our artists, writers and creative thinkers. We need to reverse this trend if we want to accomplish the transition smoothly.
Societies that successfully navigate transition tend to have resiliency as their primary characteristic, and this resiliency is often motivated by a strong desire to move toward something better. It can be said, then, that resilient communities result from a positive outlook on the future.
Transition Townsis a grassroots network of communities that are working to build resilience in response to peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability. This can encompass a large amount of topics but are summarised nicely in this video.
Personal resilience is our ability to recover from setbacks, embrace change, and to soften the impact of hardships. A resilient person can handle difficult experiences and bounce back afterward. Resilience is a natural human state that we have acquired over millions of years of evolution, but there are ways to increase this quality so we are better able to survive Post Petroleum Stress Disorder.
The survival of the fittest mentality prevalent in our society needs to be balanced with the recognition that in nature there is also plenty of co-operation among individuals and species. Living sustainably is more than knowing how to reduce our carbon footprint or preserve natural resources, it’s also about making ethical and practical choices in our lives.
Resilient people develop a healthy self esteem through positive thinking, uncovering and discarding negative thought processes, and developing healthy problem solving skills. They strive to be involved in events rather than feel isolated and powerless. They view stressful changes as learning opportunities.
In our society we are increasingly feeling isolated as we are exposed to advertising messages that tell us we aren’t worthy unless we wear the latest fashionable clothes, drive a new car, belong to the right social groups, obtain the approval of others, etc. While having material goods can improve our quality of life, the belief that our self esteem depends on having all this ‘stuff’ undermines our ability to adjust to difficult circumstances.
Less resilient people have low self-esteem, which leads them to alternate between feelings of superiority and inferiority. They isolate, become passive, doubt their abilities, and blame others for their problems. They try to maintain a false identity rather than behave authentically.
When we work at establishing resilience in our communities, we have a choice whether we impose certain changes on others, or to work with one person at a time and encourage them to nurture their natural resilience. This can involve educating, supporting, listening, accepting, being open to change, and acting on feedback.
The Transition approach is much better at enabling resilience than traditional advocacy groups because the notion of personal resilience has been designed into transition from the outset: feeling part of a positive and constructive process, working with others, seeing the results of a project completed, and having the support of others when you need it. When we talk about resilient communities it is important that we realize that we are not just talking about solar panels and growing vegetables.
Of course you can’t help others become more resilient until you have learned how to be so yourself. How exactly to we go about restoring and improving this important quality? Everyone is different and has varying life experiences and personalities. Here are some of the things we find help us to build our personal resilience:
Make connections with positive groups of people. Focus on our similarities with others rather than our differences. Encourage people to explore possibilities and value their talents and opinions.
Set realistic goals and take regular small steps towards achieving them. Develop a positive view of ourselves, our talents and abilities.
Get out and do something!
Trust our own judgment and intuition. Make decisions consciously and reflect on our motives first. Then take responsibility for our successes as well as our mistakes.
Remain hopeful and optimistic. Visualize our goals rather than worrying about what might happen. Have a positive long term outlook while living one day at a time.
Accept that change is a part of life. Many things are beyond our control but we can change how we interpret and react to them.
Avoid seeing crisis as an insurmountable problem. Not everything is as big a deal as it’s made out to be. Watch the stories we tell ourselves about things.
Seek help from others if needed. Know when you are out of control and learn how to let go.
Look after your health and acknowledge your need for relaxation and peace. Look for opportunities for self-discovery and education. Join a support group, attend a church, or take a course.
Resilience is one possible response to the related issues of climate change and diminishing energy resources. A resilient community is one that responds to disturbances by re-organising while retaining essentially the same level of functioning. A resilient community is one that is sustainable, but goes beyond the traditional concept of sustainability to include the ability to withstand shocks from the outside that are beyond it's control.
A functional community that exists in a state of stable equilibrium can be disrupted by such outside shocks. When planning for a resilient community we assume that there are many possible stable states that a community to be in, and as a result of some disturbance, a resilient community will adapt quickly from one stable state to the next.
The benefits of a resilient community are:
If one part is destroyed, the shock will not ripple through the whole system
There is wide diversity of character and solutions developed creatively in response to local circumstances
It can meet it's needs despite the substantial absence of travel and transport
The other big infrastructures and bureaucracies of the intermediate economy are replaced by fit-for-purpose local alternatives at a reduced cost.
To build community resiliency we apply the principles of resiliency to our planning process: Diversity, Modularity and Tightness of Feedbacks.
Diversity: The number of elements in the system and the number of relationships between those elements.
Modularity: The independence of each element in the system
Tightness of Feedbacks: How long it takes the system to respond to changes
When these three features are present, a system that is facing disruption will be better able to re-organize itself to a new stable state.
The diversity of the various elements that comprise a system include people, businesses, institutions, infrastructure, food sources, plants and animals. Each of these elements also needs a diversity of relationships to the other elements in the system.
A Diverse System
A modular system has parts that perform distinct functions independently of the other parts. When one part ceases to become available, the other parts are able to self-organize and adapt to the change. The highly networked and globalized nature of modern societies mean that shocks quickly spread throughout the system. A better approach is to modularize systems so that they have more local connections.
A Modular System
Tightness of Feedback
How quickly and strongly will changes in one part of the system be felt in other parts of the system. When a module in the system fails, it provides immediate feedback to it's neighbours, who adapt to the change, which triggers a change in it's immediate neighbours, etc. The length of this feedback chain determines how tight the feedback loop is. Centralized governments and globalized economies lengthen this feedback chain, decreasing resilience and increasing the likelihood of problems not being detected in time.
Tightening feedback loops by bringing the consequences of our actions closer to home is preferable to shipping our problems overseas where we won't even notice them.
An important objective of the Transition Initiatives movement is to help people develop new skills and behaviours that ensure they can prosper in the post-petroleum world. This change does not come easily to most of us, and the ability to affect wide-spread social change remains elusive. While there is much work to be done helping society as a whole cope with transition, we need to start initiating change with ourselves and our own households.
Much can be learned from the study of the Psychology of Change. Many of the principles we put forward here were developed to help people cope with major life changes such as loss of a loved one, divorce, or recovery from addictions. Our dependence on fossil fuels is much like an addiction, and giving up some of the conveniences afforded to us by cheap energy is much like losing a loved one. It is no wonder, then, that we find that people who are confronted with facts about climate change and peak oil react with scepticism and perhaps even outright hostility. It is important to have respect for where these people are in their journey and to avoid deepening their denial with abusive comments and anger.
As we break our own habits of over-consumption and learn to live a more sustainable and resilient lifestyle, we trigger various psychological mechanisms that can cause us to experience pain, delusion, and various forms of denial. Getting involved in your local transition initiative and seeking out others who are further along in the change process provides the support and encouragement we need to keep going. If we persevere, we begin to accept this new reality with some peace of mind, at which point people in need of help will be attracted to us rather than us having to seek them out.
When we use the tools and techniques of the psychology of change to change ourselves, the example we set provides a model for other's who are still living in fear of climate change and peak oil, to emulate.
If human beings were purely rational, then change would involve simply deciding to change and then changing. Traditional environmental movements have failed to bring about the goal of change by presenting scary information to their audience. How then does one go about changing?
States of Change
Change doesn't happen all at once, it occurs in a series of discrete stages. Familiarity with these stages helps tailor the approach we take to helping ourselves and others through the process.
People in the pre-contemplation stage don't intend on doing anything about peak oil or climate change. The focus is on helping to raise their conciousness awareness of the issues by providing accurate information and pointing out what is going on in the environment around them.
Contemplative persons plan to take action in the near future but are not able to do so yet. This stage is typified by self-evaluation: "Do I have what it takes to make this change?". Identification of the parts of self that are blocking change results in movement into the preparation phase.
People in the preparation phase intend on taking action within the next few weeks. While in the preparation phase, people generally feel a need for self-liberation. An increasingly optimistic view of life after the change leads them to the action phase.
Those engaged in action seek out others who can provide support, want to control their own environment, and use a variety of cognitive "counter-conditioning" techniques to try to break their old habits.
The process of maintaining the change can last for several years after the person has started taking action. The importance of continuing to perform those actions which have proven to be succesfull in bringing about the change has to be emphasized. The temptation is to include that we are 'done' prematurely.
At any phase of the process, a person can relapse back into an earlier phase. The temptation is to lose heart and become complacement, however relapse is a normal part of the change process and doesn't imply failure. We learn from the process of relapse and try again.
Using the States of Change
The important message of States of Change is that information giving is not enough, and that the roadblocks to change lie in our own minds. The place to start using the states of change is with ourselves. We shouldn't start out trying to convert other people unless our own house is in order.
As we learn to identify the states of change within ourselves, we become more sensitive to how the process works in other people and can begin to respond with more creativity. When confronted with a person in an early stage of change, we can begin to feel empathy because we were once like that ourselves.
Whenever people suffer a loss they go through a grief process. When we think of grief, we usually think about the loss of a loved one or perhaps the end of a relationship but the grief process can also occur after a major catastrophe like a hurricane or flood and even the loss of an automobile. People naturally employ a variety of psychological mechanisms to cushion the shock of some major loss so that it is more bearable.
Psychologists have identified five stages of the grief process that we go through. Not everyone will go through all stages and the progression is not always linear; sometimes people might jump between denial and anger. But these are all states of mind that we go through as we come to terms with something difficult.
"Global Warming is a Hoax", "We'll never run out of oil". Also a form of denial is a refusal to even consider the subjects of peak oil and climate change. Denial is usually only a temporary stage and lasts until the person becomes more aware of what is going on.
Once people become aware of the issues and realize that they can no longer remain in denial, they typically go through an angry phase. They may lash out at various government or corporate entities and assign blame to others for the predicament we're in.
Psychologically people realize that the fossil fuel era is ending and they will have to deal with it, but bargain for more time. "We can get another 30 years of the status quo if we do X,Y and Z". Sometimes magical thinking can be involved such as "we can invent an engine that runs on air".
Once the Great Transition is accepted as inevitable, people have a tendency to go into depression. Depression does not necessarily have to be manifested as sadness...sometimes people in this phase isolate, get lethargic, and believe there is no hope so why bother trying.
Most of us eventually come to terms with the reality of peak oil and climate change when we realize that there is hope and that there is something that we can do. They have a sense of "it's going to be ok, I can deal with it". When acceptance is obtained, people leave their depression and become more active in their own personal lifestyle adjustments.
Using the Stages of Grief
Understanding the stages of grief helps us to see that grief is a process, that it is normal and natural, and that it will eventually end. We try not to rush the grief process because it is necessary for us to adjust psychologically. At the same time, we need to be wary of getting stuck in one of the first four stages.
When dealing with others, we might recognize where they are in the process and want to help them get out of that stage and into acceptance, however it is better if we let them go through the stages at their own pace. We might want to share some of our own experiences going through the grief process so that they understand that this is a normal process and that other people go through it too.
Many of the skills that our grandparents took for granted are now lost. Skills like gardening, repairing clothing, and building with local materials have been lost in our modern throw-away society. Because future products will cost quite a bit more than they do now, we will have to re-learn how to make do with what we have like our grandparents did. We need to de-specialize our knowledge and expand our ideas about what skills might prove useful to our youth as they prepare to enter a world much different than the one we grew up in.
Reskilling events can be fun and enjoyable for all ages and provide an opportunity to network with other people who are working towards a positive post-carbon future. Many events also bridge age gaps, particularly with the elderly who may still remember life before the fossil fuel boom.
Some examples of re-skilling events include sewing circles, alternative building workshops, home canning lessons, gardening workshops, etc. We need to support and participate in these workshops wherever possible.