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Peak Oil, Climate Change, Economic Downturn and life in Presitas.

16 January 2010

More than twenty years ago I went on a church mission trip to the village of Presitas in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Like the spoiled Americans we were, we rented this big Winnebago style camper and drove it out to this tiny rural village where many of the people were sleeping at night without a roof over their heads. We saw people that lived with what seemed to us like nothing in the way of possessions. Only one home had electricity, from a generator. None had running water. They had little food yet they were perfectly willing to share what they had. They took siestas in the heat of the day, and then played soccer or baseball till late in the night. They treated each other gently and they seemed very happy with their lives.

A month or two after returning from that trip to Mexico, we went to visit my wifes grandparents who lived near Palm Beach in Florida. My inlaws drove us all over to show off the sights around where they lived. We saw the Kennedy’s home, Donald Trump’s yacht, homes of other people I can’t remember, all the super expensive shops on Worth Avenue. Parked along the curb on Worth Avenue you could see, without exaggeration, a Rolls Royce, in front of a Maserati, in front of a Bently, in front of a Ferrari. It was quite an awesome display of all the goodies that can be had if you are one of this country’s wealthy elite.

As I looked at the people that were walking around Worth Avenue though I couldn’t help remembering the other very different group that I’d seen earlier, and I noticed something. They didn’t have that same appearance of being content with their lives. They seemed more agitated, hurried, or alternately just bored. They just did not have that same appearance of being at peace with themselves that the people of Presitas did.

I was thinking about this in terms of all of the dire warnings about the different crises that we are threatened with; Peak oil, climate change, and the economic downturn that some are saying is likely to become a feature of the rest of our lives. All these raise the fear in people of a loss of economic stability, loss of dreams and expectations, loss of the ability to predict how much food and energy will cost, loss of what we think of as normal.

Yet what I was thinking about in terms of my back to back visits to Presitas and to Worth Avenue, is that despite how awful some of it may be, should it actually come to pass, the reality is that not everything will fall apart. If we have to live through changes like that, we can endure it. We will find life hard and stressful, but we will also go forward. People will suck it up and retrench and it will turn out that ordinary people can figure out what to do. So we’ll stop over consuming. Maybe families will stay closer together and grow gardens and walk away from their overpriced houses, or maybe fight to keep them. Some of them will suffer badly for it, but a surprising number of people will simply be okay in situations that until now, they would have imagined were impossible to survive.

If we do have to endure any of these predicted crises then we will endure, sometimes even finding ways of loving our new lives. There will be acts of remarkable courage and heroism, as well as acts of the most profound evil and selfishness. There will be enormous losses – but we will also discover that most of us are more than we think we are, and we can tolerate more and have more courage and compassion than we now believe possible of ourselves or our neighbors. I believe that that is possible. Maybe we’ll find that with fewer possessions to get in our way, we’ll have more time for what’s important. Time to cherish our families. Time to contemplate what it is that would truly make our lives meaningful, make us content and at peace with ourselves. Like the people in Presitas.


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