Do You Have Post-Petroleum Stress Disorder?

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Current Affairs, Energy, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Tips | Posted on 17-11-2008


by Shauna Lawyer Struby 

"And so I’ve come to conclude that all the predictions—both good and bad—tell us absolutely nothing about what is possible. Trends and events can only relate to what is probable. Probabilities are abstractions. Possibilities are the stuff of life, visions to act upon, doors to walk through. Pessimism and optimism are both distractions from living life fully.”

            —Tom Atlee, author of Crisis Fatigue and the Co-Creation of Positive Possibilities, Co-Intelligence Institute

Over the last couple of months, in private conversations with friends, I've increasingly heard these words, "I feel overwhelmed," usually uttered in hushed tones within the context of discussing the constant drumbeat of our Trifecta of Emerging Crises—economic tsunami, peak oil, and climate change. The sentiment that usually follows is, “It’s scary.”

The comments come from people with a wide range of perspectives in all walks of life. Regardless of who they are, I can relate in this age of unending what-ifs—what if there’s a global pandemic, a catastrophic interruption in oil supply, food supplies, nuclear terrorist attack, hungry hordes of people roaming the streets. I’ve watched my mind jerk from one worst case scenario to the next over the last few years, in fear for my life and that of my children, spouse, family and friends, trying to decide whether to run for the hills or hunker down and hope for the best while refining and tweaking my lifestyle for whatever comes my way. 

Plenty of magazines, books, websites, and experts give us advice about how to downsize our lifestyles, live more simply, or just survive, but trying to manage this humongous data stream from experts and pundits, some days my mind just shuts down. The reality: the enormity of transitioning from an instant gratification lifestyle baked in cheap energy and topped with unsustainable supplies of credit is a big task comprising not simply changing a lifestyle but changing the heart and mind as well. Therein lays the challenge. As author Rob Hopkins notes in The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, “ … the process of deciding to change and then changing … is more subtle and sophisticated than that.”

Untitled2 Hopkins writes that enabling change has always been the Holy Grail of the environmental movement, but that it’s remained frustratingly elusive. His theory: we’ve failed to engage people on a large scale,  and certainly not on the scale needed to address peak oil and climate change, and not because we don’t understand the problems. We do! Rather, we never really understood change, how it happens, what it entails.

In our well-intentioned push for change, we try to engage people in action by, as Hopkins notes, “ … painting apocalyptic visions of the future as a way of scaring people into action,” with the result being many people experience what Hopkins calls ‘post-petroleum stress disorder.’

This stress disorder can exhibit itself in a variety of ways—see if you recognize any of these symptoms below (more on each the symptoms here):

  • clammy hands or nausea and mild palpitations
  • a sense of bewilderment and unreality
  • an irrational grasping at unfeasible solutions
  • fear
  • outbreaks of nihilism and/or survivalism
  • denial
  • exuberant optimism
  • the 'I always told you so' syndrome

How can we cope with change, with the “dark nights of the soul” within our own hearts and minds? Hopkins recommends that we:

    1)    Be aware of the feelings and realize they are natural.

    2)    Seek to generate what Chris Johnstone calls “inspirational dissatisfaction,” where the feelings generated motivate us to make changes in our lives. Acknowledge the change we want to see starts with us, and see this as an opportunity to rethink basic assumptions.

    3)    Finally and probably most importantly, don’t rush it! Change occurs in increments or stages. Take some time to sit with awareness and realizations as they are revealed to you. It may feel uncomfortable, but as Hopkins notes, within the feelings lies “a call to adventure,” one that with time, you will come to see as a positive transition in your life.

I encourage all of us, myself included, to help ourselves and others by:

    1)    Checking out The Transition Handbook and at the very least reading the chapters covering the psychology of change.

    2)    Harnessing the power of a positive vision (see chapter seven of Hopkins’ book).

In his book, Hopkins includes a long quote from Tom Atlee. I opened this post with part of that quote and include more of the same to close it. His words eloquently speak to this pivotal and hopeful place where we find ourselves.

“I think the emerging crises transcend such false end games like optimism and pessimism … I think the call is to act like a spiritually healthy person who has just learned they have heart disease: We can use each dire prognosis as a stimulant for reaching more deeply into life and co-creating positive change.”

For more information on Transition Culture, Rob Hopkins and The Transition Handbook, go here.