Day 5 – Megan Quinn, Beyond Sustainability

Conference co-host, Jonathan Dawson, invited participants to metaphorically ‘gather the jewels that we found in the forest as we move into the city.’ Today is the mid-point of the week, the day we transition from the largely heart-based experiential work to the heart and mind-based more practical aspect. The transition began with Megan Quinn.

Megan is the Outreach Director of Community Service, Inc. She served as Master of Ceremonies for the first, second, and third US conferences on Peak Oil and Community Solutions in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and at the Peak Oil and Environment conference in Washington DC in May 2006. Megan has a degree in Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She co-wrote and co-produced her organisation’s documentary, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.”

Megan-Quinn.jpgMegan thanked us for trusting her with this critical turning point moment as we move on to explore the practical strategies required for The Great Turning. Megan shared how powerful it has been for her to be here and to know that she is not alone — others are out there also doing the work with such passion. She used the analogy of the transition we are experiencing in our natural world as we move from winter to spring gathering the inner resources and inspiration to plant our spring seeds. What seeds are we planting, she asked? We need a dramatic reduction in our C02 use to avoid the worst choices of climate change. It’s not going to be easy, Megan admits, to convert from fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels have been beat up — we don’t give gratitude for what they have done for us as a geological gift in terms of all we are able to do in our lives because of them and the people we are able to meet. She then called for a moment of silence in gratitude of the fossil fuels.

Megan continued by talking about opportunities. In the question of sustainability, what is it that we want to sustain? What are we using fossil fuels for and shouldn’t we justify their use before just going ahead and replacing them? The even bigger question is, ‘even if we could sustain their use, should we?’ This world we are creating with fossil fuels is not really serving us. Megan sees two roads:

1. Change out of necessity


2. Make a conscious choice backed by powerful intention.

It’s the difference between not eating because there is no food and not eating because you are fasting. In Cuba, much of what they did was motivated by necessity and was not long-lasting. For example, they made a transition to using bicycles, but when they got more oil, they went back to using cars. If we really want to be sustainable, we need to commit to courageous living, but it’s not going to break our 150 year addiction to fossil fuels, to high energy living. Megan feels we need to take a 12-step fearless moral inventory of our way of living. As American beatnik and hippie, Ambrose Redmoon, said,

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.

We need to take action regardless of fear. This can be daunting to our younger generation who feel they have to solve all the problems they didn’t create (as the young people acknowledged at last night’s session with Richard Olivier).

Megan then turned her attention to peak oil, climate change and solutions. The problem, she asserted, is that essential fossil fuels — oil, natural gas and coal — are finite. The rate by which they can be extracted cannot keep up with the need for them and this cannot continue. Our entire infrastructure is based on increasing rates of this energy source. Our relationship is with one resource which is depleting, so our relationship to fossil fuels is shifting.

Climate change is signalling to us the consequences of our binge use, including:
* increasing water shortage
* loss of the amazon rainforest
* loss of Greenland ice sheet
* increase in endangered species.

The list goes on. So, how do we avoid this? Through reductions in resource consumption, dramatic conservation and curtailment of energy use coupled with an increase in local community living we can survive peak oil and create a sustainable world in its wake.

Why then is change so slow at the mainstream level even with our good models of sustainable living? Some of the reasons are that people are in denial and have a saviour mentality — the corporations or the governments will save us. Megan does not think the leadership is there to help fast and deep enough. And even if it was, at what cost? Would this really serve democracy?

One difference between Megan and her grandparent’s generation, is that the grandparents believed that the government and corporations were taking care of them and would never, for example, produce food that was bad for them. Now her generation has become cynical and feels isolated so much so they feel no-one is looking out for them. So what do they do — get guns to protect them and theirs. It’s an impossible expectation pushing us to extremes. Another issue is our inability to deal with hypocrisy — trying to lead a moral life in an immoral world.

Megan believes that security through community is the middle way and that if we acknowledge our failings, we will be mobilised instead of immobilised. We’ve paid the ‘guilt monster.’ We can then align our actions with our values. What action then can people take? Not too much, not too little. She admits that incrementalism is death. If we don’t reduce, we’ll be vulnerable to losses. We don’t want people to react rather than respond. It’s a challenge to get through to a top ten list. Her organisation focuses on three distinct areas:

1. Housing – green building movement is great at building housing using very little energy; however, studies show that it only saves 15 – 30% which is only about 2% of new construction. Retrofitting existing homes becomes more important, is much more visible and offers habit-based changes that people can make.

2. Transport – problem is increasing reliance on cars. We can’t buy our way out of this. The fact is that the individual car was a big mistake because it devours energy and hybrids are not a viable strategy as they don’t make much of a difference. The long-term solution is to increase mass transit. Meantime, car-sharing and cycling is a way to go.

3. Food – the problem in this area is a metaphor for our society as it reflects our complete disconnect from nature. Fossil fuels allowed us to raise our destruction of land to unprecedented levels. For every calorie of food we eat, we expend 10 growing, processing and transporting it. We’re overconsuming food, eating too much meat (three times more than in 1960) and processed foods, and not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Curtailment would influence how we grow food and what we grow. We’re the only species that does nothing to procure our food. We need vastly more human labour — full-time farmers and all of us producing food. Can you imagine the effect this would have on our society?

So curtailment is the first step. It’s not only about individual changes but systemic changes. We need to replace our industrial system with community which means many different things for us, but community is the benefit we get — consume less but be happier, move to building relationship versus acquiring possessions. It’s a practical strategy of decentralisation. Small local communities are important as they are based on the web of interconnections between people. We evolved in small local environments. Economic relationships have brought misery because producers and consumers are separated. We consume brand names not resources. This creates illusion because we can’t see the connections.

To have mutual relationships will serve our wellbeing. Establishing community is a way to have greater control over our destiny. People are loosing faith but don’t have community. Community means people taking care of each other in hard times. It’s about sharing and conserving our scarce local resources rather than depleting them globally. Community transmits values such as: interconnectedness, goodwill, trust, honesty, integrity, loyalty. Living in community we share the risks and the opportunities. The relationship is most important so there’s more intimacy.

American poet, essayist, and conservationist, Wendell Berry’s political scheme of opposed parties refers to the ‘community party’ and the ‘global party’ which divides over the fundamental issue of community. The global party has power while the community party has potential. Megan says she’d much rather have potential than power. She has experienced the potential in community strongly both at Findhorn and in Cuba. In the case of the peak oil crisis in Cuba, when the Soviet collapsed in the early 1990’s they lost half their oil overnight. The people knew their government couldn’t save them, so they took the initiative to save themselves.

Megan left us with this apt quote from Henry David Thoreau….

Though I do not believe
that a plant will spring up
where no seed has been,
I have great faith in a seed.
Convince me that you have a seed there,
and I am prepared to expect wonders.

To find out more about Megan and the work of her organisation, visit:

Coming soon – presentations by Alan Hobbett and Rob Hopkins.

– Mattie Porte –

Photographers: Sverre Koxvold and Peter Vallance

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