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.”

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    Perhaps many too many leaders of the family of humanity today live arrogantly and greedily in our planetary home. They appear to take pride in their unsustainable behavior. Certainly, we will “have our cake and eat it too,” they say. They own fleets of cars, fly around in thousands of private jets, live in McMansions, exchange secret handshakes, frequent exclusive clubs and distant hideouts, and risk nothing of value. They will live long, large and free, so they say. Please do not bother them with the problems of the world. They choose not to hear, see or speak of them. They hold much of the world’s wealth as well as the extraordinary political/military power great wealth purchases. If left to their own devices, they will continue to self-righteously exercise their ‘inalienable rights’ to conspicuously consume whatever they desire; to recklessly dissipate Earth’s resources and expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; to carelessly consent to the unbridled global growth of human numbers so that where there are now 6.7 billion people, by 2050 we will have 9+ billion members of the human family and, guess what, even more people, perhaps billions more beyond 2050, if that is what they wish. They are the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe. They enjoy freedom and living without regard to human limits and Earth’s limitations. They adamantly eschew any talk of the personal responsibilities that come with the exercise of personal freedoms or any discussion of the existence of biophysical boundaries. They deny good science or consider it junk. Climate change is a hoax to them.

    Many too many of our leaders and all of the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us choose to deny the existence of “limits to growth”, even though abundant scientific evidence of the existence of such boundaries is available. Please understand that these ‘Masters’ do not want anyone presenting them with scientific evidence that they could be living unsustainably in an artificially designed, temporary world….a manmade world filling up with gigantic enterprises, virtual mountains of material possessions, ill-gotten gains, phony profits and filthy lucre.

    Scientists appear not to have found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the rapacious dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet’s frangible environment, and the increasing risk of destroying Earth as a fit place for human habitation in our time, when taken together, appear to be proceeding at breakneck speed now, moving toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort…. unless, as a matter of course, the world’s colossal, artificially designed, soon to become patently unsustainable global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic ‘wall’ called “unsustainability” at which point the unbridled expansion of the runaway global economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed.

    Who knows, perhaps we can still realistically and hopefully hold onto the expectation that behavioral changes by many members of the human community will encourage others, even the Masters of the Universe, to go forward from this time and place toward the achievement of new goals: restricted and “right-sized” rather than unbridled and ever larger-scale production, restrained rather than outrageous per human over-consumption and the regulation of human population growth….. changes that save both the human economy and God’s Creation for our children and coming generations.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  2. Ruth

    This looks like a great book with a viable message that more people should take to heart.

    Another good one that I’m reading right now is Agenda for a Sustainable America. It’s a collection of essays edited by John Dernbach that provides both policy analysis and practical recommendations for achieving sustainable development in the U.S. and around the world.

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