Book Review: Pat Murphy’s Plan C means Community and Curtailment
If The Long Emergency and An Inconvenient Truth sounded the alarm for us to wake up and change course, Pat Murphy’s hard-hitting Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change (New Society, 2008) presents a compelling case for joining together to implement plan C: revitalizing community and curtailing our consumption culture.
For the record, Plan A is our present course: more oil drilling, more growth, more carbon dioxide emissions, more consumption, more of a gap between the haves and have-nots. Plan B suggests that we can shop our way out of climate change and peak oil, if only we consume “green” products and services. But Plan C advocates a drastic reduction in consumption as the necessary ingredient for a sustainable, equitable world. Replacing competition with cooperation and materialism with meaningful human relationships, Plan C makes an appealing case for unique places where neighbors care for each other and communities work cohesively to achieve a common wealth that has little to do with money.
Plan C provides a vivid analysis of our present predicament of peak oil (and rising energy prices), climate change and the growing social and economic inequity both in the US and globally. It’s paired with timely solutions addressing food, transportation, and the built environment within the context of revitalizing our communities (read: turn off the TV and invite your neighbors over for lemonade) and curtailment that might even involve some personal sacrifices. Is a plasma TV, using about as much electricity as a refrigerator, really necessary in order to watch the evening news? Why not ditch the clothes dryer and line-dry laundry instead?
Could this be what President-Elect Barack Obama alluded to during his acceptance speech in Chicago? President-Elect Obama called it a “new spirit of sacrifice” and asked Americans to summon “a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility” and called on us to look after ourselves and each other. This definitely doesn’t sound like an appeal for us to go vacationing at Disney World, or hit the malls.
Writes Murphy: “Those who … make the transition successfully with minimal risk … will be more prepared to live in a future that is poorer in material goods but richer in spiritual, psychological and community benefits.
Pat Murphy is no academic or clever essayist, left to comment on the state of affairs casually from the sideline. He’s heading up The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, a non-profit organization that educates on the benefits and values of small local community living, and has organized yearly Peak Oil conferences. Their Community Solutions program, started in 2003, is a national resource for knowledge and practices on low-energy and low-pollution ways of living and self-reliant communities.
“Our problem is cultural, not technical,” writes Murphy. “It is a character issue, not a scientific one. We have allowed cheap fossil fuels to change us from citizens into mere consumers. We in the modern world have become addicted to consuming energy.”
If anything, Plan C depicts a radically different America where our collective well-being, community health and personal happiness smothers the consumption culture we compete in today. Economically, there will be a return to the local economy, with neighbors selling to neighbors, meeting needs, not wants.
We can live better by purchasing less, if only we let go of the misdirected and destructive more-bigger-faster mantra of our consumer culture enticed by corporate greed and political power. From my own personal experience in my place-based, family-scale ecopreneurial business, Murphy’s Plan C is right on the mark, with one exception: we don’t just live better, we live a lot richer in what we call the “good life.”