Fuel keeps our lives moving. We use it to get from place to place, heat our homes, and get our food. At least in most of North America, much of our food is grown using fossil fuels, from fertilizer and fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, to the harvesters that allow agribusiness to thrive. Many of our homes are heated by coal or natural gas. Many of us commute to our jobs, from a few miles to several hundred, by car, train, or bus, using some form of fossil fuel. It is safe to say that most of Western civilization depends on the cheap, abundant fossil fuels that power our lives.
The hardship that will be imposed if we do not adapt to its lessening availability cannot be overstated. Many jobs would disappear or have to be drastically localized without cheap, abundant fuels. It would be a real hard question as to whether we can feed ourselves if they become scarce, as so many of us are not growing anything at all. Yet these questions are before us. Experts on oil estimate that Peak Oil, the point at which demand for oil eclipses the ability for the industry to provide for it, to already be here, or to be coming in the none-too-distant future. Documentaries such as The End of Suburbia and A Crude Awakening, to websites such as The Oil Drum, The Crash Course and The Coming Global Oil Crisis, make it clear that Peak Oil, as well as other related peaks, such as natural gas production, are coming. It is not so much a question of if, but of when. The question will be, regardless of whether we are simply delayed in feeling the effects of Peak Oil now, or will feel it in the near future if more conservative estimates are right, if we are able to survive. The questions following that will be related to how we survive. Grand Archdruid John Michael Greer has dug into a lot of different parts of Peak Oil and its impact in his blog, The Archdruid Report in far more deep and diverse ways than I. I am definitely a fan of his, both in his analysis of the situation, and especially how he lays out the challenges we face, the thinking behind these challenges and avenues for solutions. His analysis of the history of where we are and how we got here, and where we may be going makes for enlightening reading. This is equally so for his reader-base and comments section.
How can we, as Pagans, bridge the gap into this new world of shortening availability of fuels? What is the point of a Pagan blog commenting on our use of fuel and its decline? Is it all downhill to doom from here?
To the last question, no. Or, rather, it does not have to be, and I will get to that.
I am writing on fuel for the Pagan Blog Project because I see my religion as being tied in with Earth, with Midgard. This place, and all who dwell within Midgard are holy Beings. From the magma core of Earth to the outer reaches of Her atmosphere and beyond, this realm is holy. I see the Earth within my path as Jord, a Goddess-Jotun. Many know Her as the Jotun who gave birth to Thor. The Earth, then, is a Goddess, and to treat Her well is a holy act. I do not feel that we, especially in the United States, have treated Her well at all. From the fracking that poisons Her rivers and people, to the Gulf Spill of April 20, 2010, we can see clearly how our mistreatment of Her harms not only Her, but ourselves and fellow animals. In our quest for cheap fuel we are killing ourselves. This is true whether viewed from the oil-drenched waters, Peak Oil, or climate change. Our effects upon this world are proving disastrous for ourselves and people we may never lay eyes on. Whole island nations are being or are at threat of being swallowed by rising seas. The mistreatment of our Mother is pain that is coming home to us. So much of the pain we are causing Her, and thus, ourselves, is in this rush to get more fuel.
There is a separation that is common in many religions that I feel has no place in modern Paganism: the separation of the physical and the spiritual. The physical is spiritual. When I say this realm is holy, I mean that both in the immanent and transcendent meanings. In connecting this world with the idea of holiness, it is one of a great many revolutions of thought that Pagans can inspire to bridge the gap from the old ideas of separation and ease of exploitation of the Earth, into the new ideas of interconnection and living with Her. This is not some hopeless idealistic notion; such things are already being put into practice with permaculture and forms of organic gardening. We all are part of this world, and each individual contributing to treating the world better, by extension, all benefit. It is Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, coming to us in positive terms in an age of decline, rather than running screaming off the edge and taking our society, and all of its many accomplishments, with it. The idea of interconnection works whether you see this from the micro-scale, such as a family unit, or the macro, such as our nation.
By treating this world, and its resources as sacred, we can entrust greater care with what we have remaining, and engender better relationships within and without our local communities. This can ripple out, affecting the whole. No large-scale movement, from Civil Rights, LGBTQI Rights, Women’s Rights, etc. began large-scale. They were grown in little seeds, in soil that supported them and nurtured them, until their bloom, spreading their seeds further. Sometimes it took quite a while for the new generation of seeds to grow at all, but it did grow. We as a society, from local communities up to our federal government, can treat lessening dependence on fuel in the same way provided we stop dancing around the issue. The Transition movement is clear indication that we can do this. Declining fuel does not need to mean the death of our society, merely the idea that our society can expect exponential growth like we are accustomed to. It does indicate that, even if not all of us accept the idea that this world is inherently sacred, we do need to accept and respect the hard limits of nature to provide for our wants.
Pagans can also bridge the gap to this new world by respecting our Ancestors, and calling on Them in a myriad of ways. Going back to our roots, and, for example, learning how our Ancestors may have plied a trade, will have two great benefits: 1) It connects us to Them by learning about their life. 2) It can provide a practical way to provide for ourselves, engage a new hobby, or develop practical skills that may be necessary when fossil fuels are too pricey for us to afford. Even if you do not personally use a skill you learn about, it may help another to share that information. It is a source of comfort, to me, that my Ancestors would have faced life without fossil fuels. Even if They don’t give me all the keys (or any!) to understand how to survive in such a time, that They have been through a time at all and lived so that I would eventually be born is comforting. Our Ancestors made it, and so can we. Some of our still-living Ancestors may have valuable skills, life lessons, and so many things that They could teach us if we just listen. I realize this isn’t available for everyone for any number of reasons. That we can glean wisdom from the past and use it in our present is a powerful thing, especially in a time where many of our modern conveniences will, without fuel, become obsolete.
Pagans can also help bridge the gap between our people and our government. The Founders of the United States, for instance, were in no small part inspired by ancient Pagans and Native Americans in the formation of many of our government functions and structures. Like them, we can look to many ancient Pagan peoples for ideas of civic duty, such as those of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, Germany and Ireland. We can debate the usefulness, the scope, and other aspects of these ancient ideas and their relevance to our society. What we can glean from each of these peoples is an idea of how to be a better citizen, or how to be a citizen at all. How to conduct ourselves within private and public life. Am I saying let us abolish the Constitution and set up a Althing instead? No, but Things of one kind or another may well be useful for local communities, especially as fossil fuel leaves us and we are forced to settle things more locally. Would adherence to the state, as emphasized in various generations of Roman rule be ideal for our Republic? Maybe, maybe not. What does Roman rule have to teach us? What can we gain from seeing how our (physical or spiritual) Ancestors may have done things? What have we forgotten how to do that we used to know so well? What can we bring into our lives that can make our local and national communities be more effective and resilient? Are there more effective methods of self-governance that we have given up for dead that may be more useful in a powered down future? What habits, rituals, modes of operation, ways of educating, etc. can we bring into our future generations that will enable better survival, community trust and cooperation?
Pagans can bring the sacred into everyday life. We have Gods, if not spirits, in most any Pagan religion, that are dedicated to some aspect of life and function of home, society, and the world around us. From Gods of the home to Gods of state, from Gods of fertilizer to Gods of fertility, and many other facets of life, our Gods can help us to understand the sacred inherent in our world, in ourselves, and in our everyday existence. We can, in turn, honor our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors by inviting Them into each bit of our lives. This mindfulness is dynamic, and by bringing the sacred into our everyday lives we can change our entire outlook on the worlds around us, and how we live our lives. Work that strikes as drudging becomes an offering, perhaps to the Gods, the spirits, or just to the community itself. Times of trouble can inspire us to come closer to our communities rather than distance ourselves or ‘handle it alone’ in a mindset where the community itself is a sacred extension of oneself and more of a welcoming family than a collection of people who happen to live near you. Death no longer becomes a fear-filled thing to desperately be avoided for fear of punishment in eternal hellfire. We may die in peace, perhaps being more a friend to Death rather than a scared victim of a cruel Being. To reengage the sacred in the smallest times of life gives ground to get through the hard times. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be hard times when the Age of Oil comes to an end. It is how we handle those hard times that may mean the difference between life and death.
I do not pretend to know if we Pagans hold every answer to climate change, Peak Oil, or the myriad other challenges we are facing. What I do know is that Paganism gives us hope in solving these problems, and in doing so, maintaining a good mindset about why we are doing this. It may even give us the drive needed to see these problems through to their resolution.