Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
A couple of Sundays ago I spoke to the “Transition Cornwall” group. There was a good turn out and it’s a great group with lots of great activities. They are very much committed to increasing resilience in their community. Resilience to peak oil, climate change and economic collapse. Oh sure, it’s a fun group!
Actually they were really a fun group with lots of good things happening. I tried to shift the theme of my talk a bit since my “Thriving During Challenging Times” presentation is more focused on personal resilience. Instead I took the approach that they have this incredible group of individuals trying to draw attention to these potential challenges and prepare the community for their impacts. The reality though, is that if the members of the group aren’t personally prepared they won’t be of much use to everyone else when they’re really needed. And I do sincerely believe this.
There were some great questions and comments afterwards.
One person suggested that I was basically discussing the concept of “The Titanic,” a movie that I finally recently watched thanks to my daughter Katie. If the heat wave in March taught us anything, it’s that one of the potential shocks to the system, climate change, is happening in a big way and it’s going to make food production more problematic. Throw in the high price of gas during a period of questionable economic health indicating that we’ve hit “peak oil,” and you’ve got a bit of a mess. So as this person pointed out after hearing my talk, we’ve probably hit an iceberg and his question was, “Which class of passenger are you?”
I am certainly not a first class passenger. Financially I am in the ‘steerage’ class. But from a preparation standpoint, as I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, not only did I bring my own life jacket with me, I brought my own lifeboat and I was kind of already in it when we hit the “iceberg.” And I’m pretty comfortable if others on the ship are surprised by the impact or the impact on them. The writing is on the wall. You can read it and respond to it, or you can hope you won’t have to deal with it. The problem with reality is that it has a way of affecting you regardless of whether you pay attention to it or not.
I also discussed the “ice storm” scenario with this group, since when the ice storm hit in 1998 leaving millions without power for weeks, they were right in the heart of the affected area. I asked how many who had been without power for a week or more had bought a generator, and not very many hands went up. As I’ve noticed in the past with similar groups, there seems to be an inertia where you convince yourself after an event that the likelihood of it happening again is remote, even if the opposite is the case. I’ll never understand this.
A gentleman who stood up to thank me for my presentation talked about his experience with the ice storm, and how a street full of neighbors who had previously barely spoken to each other, suddenly had a real sense of community. “We knew who had water and who had heat and who had food and so we worked as a team.” After the ice storm was over, they all went back to their TV sets and didn’t really talk much. I’m thinking his participation in the Transition movement is likely to provide him with a more permanent network of like-minded people to be proactive with.
And then there was the elderly gentleman who slept through my entire presentation. No really … he was gone before my first slide. After the presentation a number of people came up to ask questions and even in his declining years he managed to burst through and be the first person in the line. But he didn’t have a question. He was just there to vent about wind turbines, which are becoming more common in the Province of Ontario because of the Green Energy Act. I did not talk about wind turbines in my presentation, except a brief mention of my own small unit, and I did not endorse or in any way suggest that I was there to represent the Province of Ontario and its Green Energy Act. But as often happens when I do these kinds of talks, I become the target.
I’m the target because people in my province seem to really hate solar and wind power. With a passion. Why? Because… they are causing our electricity bills to go up (WRONG) and because they use so many resources to make (versus a nuclear plant?) and because they are ugly (compared to the massive power corridors with high voltage lines running throughout the province?) and of course, because they kill birds.
So I explained to him that the bird kill numbers are blown way out of proportion because the original wind farms had too many turbines and latticework towers that birds loved to roost on. If you were a bird today, where could you possibly sit on a wind turbine? The towers are round and smooth. But alas, he and so many others are convinced that they are killing birds by the millions. It was apparent to me that I was not going to win this argument so I finally concurred with the gentleman and suggested he take it up with his provincial member of parliament. And I tried to take another question. But he persisted.
I was being paid to be there so I was trying to be professional but he wouldn’t give up … even though HE HAD SLEPT THROUGH MY ENTIRE PRESENTATION AND HADN’T HEARD A WORD I’D SAID! So I suggested to him that there are numerous studies that show every songbird in North America is in decline because of climate change, so if I were a bird, I’d rather take my chances with a wind turbine. He wasn’t listening. I mentioned how the Lennox Generating station near me uses crude oil to produce electricity and how one night its two massive smoke stacks had killed 10,000 migrating birds. Was he angry about that? Nope, he just wanted to complain about the wind turbines.
So then I asked him, “what about those skyscrapers in the big cities that kill birds every night?” Nope, he wasn’t concerned about that, and he suggested that the ground around my wind turbine was probably littered with carcasses of dead birds. I told him, quite honestly, that I have never seen a dead bird anywhere around my wind turbine, but that I often find them after they have flown into the windows of my guesthouse. It breaks my heart, but hey, it’s a building … “warning birds stay away!”
Apparently his windows never kill birds. So I asked him if he had a cat, because our cats kill birds. “So you have a cat? And it kills birds?” So perhaps we should ban cats. Really, because if they kill birds they have no place in our world.
I tried to end my exchange with him at that point and go on to take other questions, but he came back a number of times to make new points about how bad wind turbines are. I felt kind of bad because I got close to losing my cool, but some people push my buttons and it was even more insulting that he attempted to dominate the conversation after sleeping through the presentation, which really had nothing to do with wind farms. I’m going to have a strategy next time and even though he’s my elder and deserving of my respect, if he thinks I owe him an explanation for something I wasn’t there to discuss, I’m going to shut people like him down early, and move on much sooner.
I had a super afternoon with a great bunch of people. I wish I were able to deal with the hecklers in the crowd better. Like the one bad apple in the barrel, people like him have a tendency to sour an otherwise wonderful experience.