Escape From Suburbia DVD coverSunday evening I watched Escape From Suburbia. A Peak Oil movie with, reportedly, a more upbeat message than The End Of Suburbia (which I haven not seen and, probably won’t be rushing out to watch).

If this is upbeat, I need syncopation.

The movie takes for granted that energy prices will rise steeply when oil reaches peak production, and all that that might entail for the lifestyle developed western countries — well North America in this particular case: the movie’s subtitle is Beyond The American Dream. It goes on to investigate the personal responses of a few individuals who are escaping from lives they consider unsustainable either by moving geographically out of cities and suburbs or by starting to re-invent their lives starting with how they think and behave.

South Central Farms was an urban farm and community garden in the middle of the city of Los Angeles where food for 350 families was grown by the local community organised by a non-profit organization called L.A. Regional Food Bank. It features in the movie as a paradigmatic example of local resilience and community. During the making of the movie, however, the farm was under threat from land developers and it seems the city sold the land in a back-room deal. The community gardens were bulldozed to make way for warehouse development.

Watch it for yourself (the bit with the bulldozers is towards the end, if you don’t have time to watch a five-minute video, skipt forward to 4:20 and watch from there to the end, and remember this happened in the middle of L.A.)

When I saw the bulldozers carving up the vegetable beds and those people crying I was reminded of that bit in The Grapes Of Wrath by Steinbeck where the bulldozers come and destroy the homes and farms of people who have stayed on the land in the American mid-West. The title of the book is taken from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward How and, according to Wikipedia, refers to the book of Revelation 14:19-20:

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God…

That sickle blade and the bulldozer became one for me, and yesterday, when I told my friend Anna about it, I sobbed big tears for the people who have been pushed off their land by the sickle of the angel of commercial growth.


  1. christine Says:

    Hey Mark. Interesting entries. Yes, here in North Amreica, we are pretty much up (literally)shit creek without a paddle. I am hopeful only because the rising price of oil is going to drastically change our way of life. All the media outlets report it here in a doom and gloom voiceover, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s time. We haven’t been paying attention…

    Have you read any Wendell Berry? Great writer from Kentucky who has been paying attention. From an essay entitled Word and Flesh, he writes:

    The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the plaent, but how to care for each of the plantet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others. Our understandable wish to preseve the planet mush somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence – that is, to the wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods.
    What can accomplish this reduction? I will say again, without overweening hope but with certainty nonetheless, that only love can do it. Only love can bring intelligience out of the institutions and organizations, where it aggrandizes itself, into the presence of the work that must be done.
    Love is never abstract. It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or theinstitution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, the lilies of the field, “the least of these my brethren.” Love is not, by its own desire, heroic. It is heroic only when compelled to be. It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded.
    The older love becomes, the more clearly it understands its involvement in partiality, imperfection, sufferring, and mortality. Even so, it longs for incarnation. It can live no longer by thinking.
    And yet to put on flesh and do the flesh’s work, it must think.

    Among others, he writes a provocative essay titled Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer that you might like also.

    Much love, Christine

  2. Alan Says:

    Some day in fifty years people will be crying, “Why didn’t someone warn us?!” when the shit has hit all the various fans. Then we’ll point to Thomas Malthus’ theory from 1798 on population, Rachel Carson’s damning book on pesticides 1960s, massive famines in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia in the 1980s and 90s, reports from 2006 saying all the sea fish will be gone in fifty years, and not to mention protests around the world lately due to rising fuel costs (protests in Malaysia, Nepal, Spain, Phillipenes, etc… all on Al Jazeera within the last week). Experts have been saying, “Every system on Earth is in decline,” and they’re right.

    Daniel Quinn says we will be saved by people with changed minds, not by people with new programs (recycling, hybrid cars, etc), but I am not so optimistic. The only thing I’ve come up with is to tell people not to buy a hybrid, but to drive less (or not at all!)… sometimes I wish we could just “go back” to the wild.

    Sorry for the rant, I’m procrastinating on preparing tomorrow’s lecture notes on WAN link standards.


  3. Mark Says:

    Christine, Alan, you guys are welcome here any time. Rants or none. Rants especially, at the moment, it helps me feel Im not the only one. I’m down at Schumacher college again this week, having just got back to feeling like I might be able to have some sort of project after all, I am reeling under the weight of one metric shitload of work I have to do to get the certificate, that I have been putting off since the start of the course. Sometimes I feel stymied, like after watching Escape from Suburbia. There just seems too much to do and I wonder how I can find my way to being part of it, and while I’m wondering, I ain’t doing much and then I get more and more frustrated for my ineffectiveness.

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