Why women matter to the energy conversation

Moms and kids on bikes

C'mon Moms, get in the drivers seat and lead your kids into a better future. Photo: Taga Stroller.

I can’t think of any moms I know (and even those I don’t) who would sprinkle a dose of poison on her kid’s food. I can’t think of any who would blow mercury particulates in her kid’s face. Nor any who would wish for her child a lower standard of living in the future than she now enjoys.

Who does? Moms are the super champions of kids, wanting only the best for her offspring.

Your kid’s future looks bleak

Yet because of a future of decreased energy supplies and increased energy prices, any mom with kids under 25 can expect that her own kids’ futures will have markedly fewer opportunities across the board, creating a harsh and unmistakable marker between the lives of today, and the lives of the future. Sadly few women know about this and so, like poisoning her children’s food, or blowing mercury in their faces, she is going about life doing the very things that will contribute to hastening her own children’s depressed opportunities.

Harsh words, I know.

It’s a man’s world

I don’t mean anything by it, moms. What I really want is your attention. Hopefully I’ve got it now.

Part of the problem is that your attention is not on energy. The energy companies who drill for the stuff using dangerous and toxic methods like hydrofracking and deepwater drilling don’t have your attention. And the policymakers who both subsidize and regulate the energy industry don’t have your attention either.

Energy is kind of of a man’s world. It may be stereotypical, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Think of the oil workers, the roughnecks manning an oil rig on a Gulf platform. Or picture an energy analyst giving his dry report on some money show. Even solar and wind guys seem mostly like, well, guys. Not that it’s that way definitively. Nor does it have to be. But for a few rare exceptions that’s the reality on the ground. Women are the distinct minority in the energy industry.

Worse, overall women play a very small role in the energy conversation. When they do, it’s too often in the vein of a Condoleeza Rice, dutifully drumming the corporate line and then blushing in girlish glee when her name adorns an oil tanker. Or brain-bimbo Michele Bachmann bragging like a clueless idiot that she alone can bring gas prices down to $2 bucks a gallon if elected Madam President. And no one can say “drill, baby, drill,” without thinking of the GOP’s female empty suit, Sarah Palin.

They give women in energy a very bad name.

We can guzzle it like the big boys

On the opposite side, on the use end, we women are indistinguishable from men in terms of how much and essentially how unconsciously we consume energy. We might even consume more with all our beauty products and shuttling the kids around to ballet and soccer and whatnot.

Sure, we’ve got the intellect and ire to be able to grouse about gas prices like any stodgy dad on his way back from the office. And we can grow just as complacent (if not wrongly optimistic about the economy) when those same gas prices take a temporary dip. We’re also savvy enough to evaluate our home energy use and yell to the kids,

Hey, shut the door, we’re not heating the whole world, here!

Our voice matters

But none of that is very helpful. None of it drills down into the essentials of energy awareness, and energy literacy, and how this plays in to our entire economic paradigm. And it’s that failure that keeps women in the dark about just how vulnerable we are, how vulnerable our lifestyles are, and how vulnerable our kids are, to the inevitable energy shocks now haunting the backgrounds of our lives.

Yes, there are a few key women figures who are really telling the energy story—in the peak oil community in particular; Sharon Astyk, Carolyn Baker, Nicole Foss, Gail Tverberg and Dr. Kathy McMahon come to mind. But a broader lack of energy literacy among women in our society keeps us out of the energy conversation in a meaningful way.

Why should I care?

Maybe none of this would be so bad if energy was a small part of our lives, or tangential to the essentials of our existence. If it was a minor home or business expense. And if we could just give it up like a bad diet or a low life TV program.

But because energy touches every aspect of what we do, how we live, and what we consume, it’s embeddedness in the entire fabric of our lives is like air to our lungs. We don’t spend the whole day thinking, “Oh my gosh, if the air supply is cut off I’m going to choke to death.” We just breath.

We’re equally unconscious about energy.

But like air to our bodies, when fossil fuels become even scarcer—the International Energy Agency said peak oil hit in 2006—and when, because of that, prices spike, it’s going to be like catching our breaths after narrowly escaping the Boston Strangler.

The energy shocks that are coming have the potential to turn our world upside down OVERNIGHT. Picture trucks not delivering food to the grocery store, rolling blackouts to parcel out energy, your damn Droid not able to pick up a signal for days.

And those are the easy things.

So before I go on and on with currently unimaginable but all-too-painfully likely scenarios that will scare the freaking bejeesus out of you, let me just say it’s important that women become 21st century energy literate. You need to know just how deeply oil coats your whole life, and just how linked that is to every inch of economy—not just to filling your tank.

Just the facts, ma’am

You need to know how much mercury spews out of coal burning plants, blowing mercury dust in your kid’s face. Yet ironically, how coal is also running out and how it supplies over 50% of our electricity. Also how we have no plan in the US of Decay to replace it with renewables. Or even if we did, how different concentrated fossil fuels are compared to diffuse, intermittent sources like sun and wind, however attractive those options otherwise are.

Or just how many fossil fuels go into our industrial food system and how many fossil-fuel based poisons get sprinkled on your kid’s food before traveling immense climate-changing miles to get to your house all packaged in ten different layers of disposable packaging.

You hear the word “sustainable” and it sounds like just another word for “green living.” But what it really means is able to be sustained. You know, able to endure. And when you hear the word unsustainable, what you’re getting is “unable to endure.”

The scale of our fossil-fuel use is unsustainable because it poisons our air and water (last time I checked we need healthy versions of these to live and prosper) and fills our world up with more trash than we can manage. And guess who gets to inherit the mounting poisons, dead waters, fish die-offs, radio-active foods, and heaps upon heaps of trash? That’s right, your sweet little babies (and mine). In a growing population, there’s that much more of all the bad stuff to litter the world with cancer-causing agents and harmful filth of all kinds.

Energy is to economy what oxygen is to our life forms

Moreover, without the jobs and abundance that cheap fossil fuels have provided, and an economy in escalating crises due to fractional reserve banking, our kids stand to move into a potentially very bleak future. Think no travel or college except for the very rich. Think sporadic health care at best, none at worst. Life expectancy down by ten years or more. Third world level environmental degradation imperiling their water supply, soil and foods.

I don’t know how much of this we can stop or change at this late date. But the decline of fossil fuels, while good from the climate perspective, is terrible from the lifestyle perspective when we have failed as a society to put viable alternatives that preserve quality-of-life in its place.

Some combination of relocalized economies, simpler living, mass transit, clean energy, conservation, new national priorities and self-policing on the consumer front can help change this. Of these, probably conservation is the most important—home weatherization, using public transit or living near work, giving up 75% of your consumer purchases and upgrades, and buying local food whenever possible (while giving up most processed foods altogether) is necessary.

Speak up, lady!

But the other key ingredient is energy advocacy by women. Women are the voice of the voiceless by advocating for ourselves and our kids.

Women gained rights as much because of industrialization and the need to work outside the home as we did for philosophical and human rights reasons. That means fossil fuels played a key role in our ascent, and the decline of these resources could be mirrored in our own. We women can regress more quickly than we progressed if we fail to address this vulnerable front in women’s rights and equality. I shudder to think what this might mean for our daughters.

As to children, corporations have no real, fundamental prior-existing interest in the healthy, whole lives of our children. They can talk up a good PR line like the slickest Madison Avenue creep but the bottom line is the bottom line for them. Profits above all with a little claim to social responsibility thrown in to put a little spit and polish on the greed.

If we do not start demanding the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, with a shift of the same budgetary numbers to clean energy subsidies, we’re going to set our kids up to lose out significantly in the coming energy crunch.

If we do not start demanding a shift to rail our kids are going to find themselves high and dry on the roads to nowhere.

If we do not start advocating for and supporting locally grown, organic foods at a much higher rate (while denouncing industrial methods and packaging), we’re going to find our adult kids dying before we do because their little bodies had to take up the increasingly excessive industrial toxic buildup.

And if we do not start demonstrating to our own kids a willingness to buy less yet live more, we’re only going to teach them to be as unconscious about energy as we are, setting them up for a crippling shock in the years ahead.

Moms, you’re needed now. You can start by reading James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency. You can also look into what Transition Towns are. Know the term peak oil inside and out. And put conservation at the forefront of your existence.

Time’s a wasting. Let’s not do to our kids what no decent mom would ever do—let them go off a cliff without a parachute.

We can do better. But it’s not going to happen by itself.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

Cross posted from Lindsay’s List

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Comments

  1. Auntiegrav says

    Women are also important for one other reason; lack of big ego.
    The transition will be about change and cooperation, and change requires people who listen and learn.

    Men tend to blunder through things and keep pushing the old ways because they are THEIR old ways.
    Ownership plays a big part of inertia in groups. Women tend to share, rather than own things, unless they’ve been trained to be men.

    MHO, anyway.

    P.S. I think a good gauge of whether something should be continued is whether or not there are a lot of women involved in it. Look around and see if this isn’t so to you. (Oil vs wind, Factory farms vs. local farms and markets, Cattle vs. sheep, Corporations vs. NGOs, NASCAR ….nuff said).

  2. says

    Full disclosure – I’ve been too busy to digest this entire essay, but, if it’s anything like what I’ve come to expect from Transition Voice, it’s spot on. That said, I can’t find any matches for “bus” and “walk” in this article.

    I’d like to challenge all Moms (and Dads) out there who drop their children off at school rather than walking or letting the kids ride the bus to find another solution to the practice of driving the kids to school. I drove (ooops) past my local elementary school the other day and was stunned at the back up of cars waiting to drop off kids. Those cars idle, then creep forward, then idle again until the precious passengers are dropped off in a cloud of vehicle exhaust.

    I know there will be always be the need in our hectic life to drop a child at school sometimes, but PLEASE, think about what this does to the environment and your child’s health. Idling cars spew out much more exhaust, hence toxic chemicals, than cars being driven on the open road. If you can’t walk your child to school, perhaps there is a retired neighbor (like me) who would welcome nothing more than the chance to get some more exercise by walking your child to school. Or, a neighbor (also me) who would be more than happy to stand at the bus stop (umbrella in hand, if necessary) to ensure your child is safely on the bus – what better way to teach kids about public transit than having them ride the school bus.

    Think about ways your community can address this issue – it’s important for the health of the planet, but most importantly, it’s important for the health of your child. There is no better way to build community than helping busy parents with their precious children.

    • says

      Diane,

      Thanks so much not only for the ways to use less, but to build community more through “surrogate grandparents.” IN my own family, I confess, it was my grandparents I was closest to and loved best. Our elders have a role, if only we will open to it.

      Best,

      Lindsay

  3. Delia says

    Thanks for this article, I was very interested by it, and I found this perspective thought provoking. However, I might question the bit that said that mums may consume more energy (than the ‘big boys’) because they shuffle kids around to school / out of school classes etc… I’m not sure why consumption by proxy for kids, whether or not performed by women, should be attributed to women… It’s only a small point, and doesn’t make this article less worth-while to read. but if we’re to step away from the conventional and established languages in order to talk about new possibilities for co-living in a sustainable way, then, it’s maybe worth thinking about…

    • says

      Delia,

      Thanks for the comment. You’re definitely right, to a degree, and I thank you for bringing the point out.

      Clearly women aren’t the only ones shuttling their kids, and why wouldn’t I just tag the carbon footprint to little Johnny or Susie themselves? Johnny and Susie are racking up a carbon footprint right from birth, but their unconsciousness of it is legitimate.

      The reason I gave this to mom (more than dad) by proxy is two-fold. First, it clearly belongs to both mom and dad in an “ultimate responsibility for the kids” sense. But if you look at demographic, behavioral and financial data on purchases, and purchasing decisions, marketing data shows that women make some 80% of a family’s financial and purchasing decisions along with the majority of decisions for the kids.

      To that end, I looked at the driver of Johnny and Susie’s “need” for football or ballet…and by driver I don’t mean literal behind-the-wheel driver (yet) but the one who feels that the kids must do these “enrichment” activities starting at ungodly young ages. It’s usually mom. Mom makes more values and education choices, too.

      There’s a whole raft of things I could say about that, from the cultural pressure she feels, the increasing competition, unconscious good intentions, etc. You know, why she thinks Johnny needs to take dance at age three and why Susie has to start toddler soccer at the same time. But let’s just put that aside for now. The end result is, they are (in a certain demographic category, anyway—also, differentials for age/income/location) and so she chooses to in most cases, drive them there. To put financial and energy resources to that purpose.

      Ultimately my article was about women’s power and ability in her many arenas to make choices for her kids, and set an example for them. Yes there are so-called non-traditional families where dad stays home, or makes more of these choices, or where more equal partnerships are sought and achieved in a marriage. But again, the dominant data is otherwise.

      Since I couldn’t cover everything in the article, I just made the passing swipe in the sentence you mention to sum it up briefly.

      In the end we’re all going to need to be adults, and both fathers and mothers will need to advocate for the future generation(s) beyond the old bromide “do it for the kids.” The implications of peak oil on “the kids” are so enormous that failure to achieve a socio-economic (and by extension infrastructural/built environment/energy-use change) will go down as one of the biggest failings of humankind (or our generation) in all of human history. To be sure there are myriad factors at play there, formidable interested obstacles blocking such change. Still, it’s up to us to achieve the tipping point. I just happen to think it’s women who are the X factor here. If we’ll get our bums in gear.

      Best,

      Lindsay

  4. John Andersen says

    This is a fantastic article, and deserves a wide readership.

    Many women are already doing what Lindsay recommends, but many more need to. The problem is they are married to male egos who often stand in the way.

    I’m going to forward this to others in my family.

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