Among the various books and pamphlets in our meeting’s library, some focus on proving that war is wrong. Others expound on the large U.S. military expenditures, or the fact that a nuclear war would be a disaster. Some cover inequity in food and resource distribution as one of the causes of war. Each of these addresses part of the Peace Testimony, yet with world conditions today I feel we need to broaden our view.
We are at a unique time in history, experiencing the end of cheap, abundant fossil fuels, the highest inequity since the Great Depression, accelerating climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels, and continuing war and civil unrest. I work in a nonprofit organization, Community Solutions, that focuses on ways to alleviate the potential suffering that could result from these threats. I believe we cannot separate war from inequity, or fossil fuel use from climate change (CO2 generation). On the opposite page is a chart showing annual per capita income, fossil fuel use, and CO2 generated for three regions of the world.
The peak in world conventional oil production may have already occurred. Worldwide we are now using six barrels of oil for every new one we discover. And as oil production barely keeps up with soaring demand, these events are producing international stresses, which could lead to much worse conflict than that already occurring in Iraq and elsewhere. Besides rising prices, we are seeing growing competition between nations to get access to these dwindling energy-rich fossil fuel resources. This is because oil has been fueling our growth economy. The dynamic that faces us is that other countries want more of a share of this precious resource (which would mean less for us) while we in the U.S. want to keep our economy growing. But to maintain our economy’s growth, we must take more and more of what is left, which creates intensifying pressure towards war. If the U.S. is successful, it means other nations would have less and become poorer. Their resistance to this could cause major unrest in the developing world, perhaps leading to violent uprisings, civil wars, and revolutions.
The root cause beneath these crises is our largely ignored fossil fuel-intensive way of life. We have become accustomed to the ease that the burning of these fuels provides.
Since the U.S. has exhausted much of the oil supplies on this continent, we have had to import from abroad. But this has come at the expense of other people. The film Crude Impact shows statistics on human rights violations, inequity, and violence in those parts of the world that contain oil. The statement, "Our American way of life is not negotiable," is at the heart of a foreign policy that requires access to the foreign sources of energy that we need to maintain how we live. Ultimately, the violence perpetrated daily by our government and corporations to bring us oil and maintain our lifestyle of ease is our responsibility. True peace, therefore, may require us giving up "the good life" as we know it today.
How can we live to eliminate the pressures that cause and perpetuate violence and war? First, we need to stop turning a blind eye to how our affluence is built on other’s suffering. This is difficult to do as every convenience in our daily lives has become habitual. When we turn on a light, boot up our computer, or use any other electric appliance, we don’t think of the destruction of the lives of hundreds of Appalachian families from blowing up mountaintops for coal, or the destroyed farms from longwall coal mining. When we buy food that is trucked or flown for thousands of miles using oil, we don’t think of the people in Iraq and other war-torn oil-producing countries. When we buy industrial meat we don’t think of the intense suffering of animals in contained animal feeding operations, or how corporate meat production uses enormous amounts of fossil fuels and produces even more greenhouse gas emissions than our transportation system. When we buy clothes and other consumer goods we are spared the awareness of the slave-like labor our corporations use "offshore."
However, this affluent, comfortable lifestyle is catching up to us through the triple threats of peak oil, inequity, and global climate change. Because of our energy dependence we are dangerously vulnerable when these fuels become scarce and expensive. In order to reduce the threat of wars over control of oil, we must voluntarily choose to curtail our use of fossil fuels and goods that use fossil fuels in their production and transportation. If we don’t, we are faced with the possibility that either a third World War or global catastrophic climate change could lead to an Earth that is no longer habitable.
Mildred Binns Young, in her article "The Individual Peaceful Life" in The Peace Testimony of Friends in the 20th Century, has written: "Peacemaking is no part-time job. It goes to the root of our lives, and makes its claim. . . . We [must] begin where we are." The Peace Testimony requires that we take personal action in new ways. We are a Religious Society with a daily life practice, not just meditation and prayer, and not just on Sunday. I believe it is no longer enough to just "witness" against war; we need to address our own complicity. This is not about writing letters for someone else to take action. The question is, "What can I do about it?" John Woolman is a good example for taking initiative; he chose to stop keeping slaves in a time when slavery was still socially acceptable.
We can no longer separate human violence from destruction of the planet through global warming, or either of these from the way we in the U.S. live. Taking action to radically reduce our use of oil will reduce the pressure for energy-based armed conflict, and at the same time slow the build-up of dangerous greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
I don’t believe we can change our government in time. So let’s take a look at what each of us can do. Our choices today can help break us out of a sense of powerlessness. This means taking personal responsibility for our own choices of the food we eat, the house we live in, and how we get around.
Ways to Reduce the Amount of Fossil Fuel We Use
Change your diet: Minimize the use of foods that require energy-intensive production, such as bottled and canned beverages and pre-packaged and highly-processed foods, and ones that require refrigeration and freezing.
Reduce meat consumption: An industrial meat-based diet takes twice as many fossil fuel calories as a plant-based one. Factory meat production is also one of the highest producers of greenhouse gases. This does not mean the complete elimination of meat. Meat can be provided without using high-energy feeds like corn and soybean meal. Locally grown meats using natural forage are not as energy-intensive.
Purchase food differently: Buy food produced by local organic producers as much as possible. Petrochemicals are used when raising non-organic food. Join or start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Local production means less fossil fuel is used to transport the food and also helps to convert agriculture from a corporate-based, high energy-consuming model to a more local and efficient one.
Preserve and store food: Canning or drying reduces the energy used to keep products frozen for months in commercial storage. Buying produce locally for winter storage (like winter squash, onions, and carrots) will support local food production rather than that from hundreds of miles away, and it will help develop local food security.
Create a garden and/or a henhouse: Grow your own food or keep a few hens, and begin composting, starting with all those fall leaves. Consider replacing your fossil fuel-intensive lawn with a back or front yard garden. Use your compost, not petrochemical fertilizer.
Transportation: The average car/van trip in the U.S. has 1.63 passengers, including the driver, so share rides as much as possible. Increasing the number of people in a car directly reduces energy consumed. Next, change to an efficient car. Driving less and more slowly, bicycling, and walking as much as possible are also important.
Housing: Bigger is not better. The average square feet of living space per person in the U.S. has increased from 250 to 800 square feet since 1950 and consumes 2.4 times the energy of European and Japanese residences. The first energy-saving step is to live in a smaller space. Smaller homes, particularly multifamily units, use less energy to build and to heat and cool. Next, an extremely efficient house design called the Passive House has been developed in Germany that reduces home energy use by 80 to 90 percent. While it would be impossible to replace all existing homes with new ones, a passive retrofit of your home is an important option.
Much of today’s conflict is economic in nature, and U.S. policy is to maintain economic control of weaker counties. John Woolman said, "May we look upon our treasures, the furniture in our houses, and our garments, and try [to determine] whether the seeds of war have [been] nourished in our possessions."
Maybe it will be the fear of global warming that will wake us up and bring us to a place where we can finally say, "I will take delight in seeking and finding a way to live so as not to bring destruction to the planet and suffering to its people." As long as we in the U.S. continue to consume such prodigious amounts of oil, there cannot be peace.