Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peak Oil Vs. "Pathological Optimism"

RADIO STATIONS: end music is a clip from "End of the Age of Oil" by Dan Rovics.

Here are the extra file links for this program:

Your listeners can download Kathy McMahon's 80 full speech (in two parts) here:

Part 1, 38 min

Part 2 39 min

And this 20 minute interview of Karen McMahon by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock.

Also: Radio Ecoshock is available to Radio Stations as two 29 minute segments, allowing you time for Station ID and announcements. Write me (radio [at] for details.


- Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock - on "the Peak Shrink", Kathy McMahon.

You know the Peak Oil three-step? First you find out our oil-based civilization has a nasty best-before date. Second, your own emotions and worries begin to surface. Then your friends and relatives start avoiding your "Doomer" talk.

As a clinical psychologist. Kathy McMahon has heard it all, through her blog Peak Oil Blues. She's been called "the Peak Shrink." Kathy has some ways to help you - and to fend off what she calls "pathological optimism" all around us.

Now, "The Peak Shrink" is on the road, with a series of speeches in the Pacific Northwest. I recorded the full speech, and an interview with McMahon, for Radio Ecoshock. You can listen in, with links at the bottom of this article.

Meeting Kathy is a relief. We are not crazy. The facade of the dying oil civilization is definitely crazy. Millions of people around the world are waking up to this fact, and sharing solutions.

Here is a quick summary of some points in Kathy McMahon's speech in Vancouver, Canada on October 18, 2010. - topics she explain so well in the audio.

Kathy began with the difference between "problems" (which humans enjoy solving) and "dilemmas" (which we loath). The dilemma has no good solution. We get more problems whatever we try, all options stink.

Peak Oil, amid our totally oil-dependent civilization, is a dilemma. Should we hope for a quick end to oil, to save the Planet's climate? Doesn't that mean a messy, possibly violent collapse, with widespread starvation? We don't know what to wish for.

McMahon reminds us the original Cassandra was the ancient Greek woman given the power to see the future. But the God Zeus adds the kicker - she will never be believed.

One Cassandra candidate in recent American history was 1970's President Jimmy Carter. McMahon reminds us of his correct predictions in a famous energy speech. The people chose Reagan instead.

But Kathy's real gift is to gather new understanding of our reaction to learning about Peak Oil (or climate change, and the crumbling economy). These come from the many letters, sent in from all over the world, to McMahon's blog "Peak Oil Blues" (

Students are upset to find the promised future disappearing. Housewives who can't convince their husbands to re-evaluate what they may need, to survive wrenching economic and energy changes.

In the Q and A session after Kathy's speech in Vancouver, I was surprised to find the number of women frustrated with husbands unwilling to even look at the facts about oil dependence, shrinking demands, and world competition for the last supplies. The wife is surreptitiously doubling up on long-lasting supplies ("to save money, dear") while hubby clings to a corporate job, and a brand new gas guzzler.

But what about those who take Peak Oil seriously? Kathy says we start out in shock, and then become mini-librarians crossed with a private investigator. Just the facts Mam.

What follows can be isolation from friends and family, who go into strong denial. "I don't want to hear about it" becomes a wall that can lead to loneliness.

Others go into supermarkets, see all the fruit flown in from around the world, but see it gone in the future, as the oil slips away. Ditto the imagined scenes of abandoned cars and vandalized monster houses. We may even reach a state of nostalgia for the present, remembering the good old days, while we live them.

Cases of outright depression can develop, and very rare cases of suicide have been reported. The Peak Oiler, now sure of the facts, goes through a state of shame and guilt, having participated in the gonzo waste of oil that was late 1900's civilization in the West.

Kathy McMahon admits she became a gambler, like all the rest of us. She had a family business selling new appliances into the construction industry, for new homes. As early as 2005, her reading revealed the suburban boom couldn't last. Should she sell the business, or try to get just one more good year out of it?

We all gamble, trying to say in the fossil system, as long as we have a job.

But the real target of the night, reversing labels like "Doomers" for those who dug up the oily facts - are the deniers who McMahon says cling to "pathological optimism".

You'll have to listen to the speech, or visit her blog at, to get this funny but true look, at the psychological labels we could give all those folks who say it will all be fine, despite the facts of Peak Oil.

There are 50 ways to deny Peak Oil, beyond those who just close their ears and refuse to hear about it. For example, in Frank Zappaism, otherwise educated people believe in magic. A new unknown technology will fix the problem, they say, so we don't need to worry about anything.

As a clinical psychologist, who works with couples, and sex therapy, when not online with Peak Oil Blues folks - Kathy McMahon sees several trends which make us even more unprepared for energy truth.

For example, new psychological studies are finding children who spend more than two years in front of a screen - any screen from TV's, to gaming, to I Phones - fail to develop in some ways. They are much more likely to suffer from mental illness later in life.

When Kathy visits a family, they must turn off all their electronic gadgets a half hour before the session. Even then, kids are whining to get back online, or gaming. They are addicted, and suffer "Nature Deficit Disorder". All this clouds the judgment needed to respond to Peak Oil, and a civilization under dire threats.

But all of us, Kathy says, have "cognitive maps" built in. These are the expectations the we think necessary to function. She gives the example in one startling statistic: when lost, children six or under are more likely to either return or be found, while older children create untrue ideas about their situation, perhaps from things they have seen on TV.

Likewise, our whole adult culture has many preconceived cognitive maps - that don't include dwindling energy supplies, or the realities of severe climate disruption. We make up new stories, rather than change our preconceptions.

Dr. McMahon has developed common-sense prescriptions for what ails us. We need to get grounded, and relearn how to make local friendships and community.

And - you'll like this - "we need to party more". Partying has dropped off drastically since the 1970's, even taking into account different age groups.

Others may want to form intentional communities, even mildly religious ones. We have to revive those skills.

In a funny part of the speech, McMahon reminds us that some people are annoying. That can't be a reason to quit, and go back to our bunkers. Humanity has always managed to adapt to annoying people.

We get examples of past and present community building efforts, mixed with scary statistics like:

Did you know a poll found that 40% of American women said they would get a divorce, if their husband lost his job?!

Or did you know psychologists and child-care workers are finding kids don't how to play? They can text, but they don't know how to invent things to do, outside.

There are a lot of personal answers in this 80 minute speech, delivered in Vancouver on October 18th, as part of a Pacific Northwest tour by Kathy McMahon. She lives in the country, in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts, along with some chickens, gardens, and pigs.

You can download Kathy McMahon's 80 full speech (in two parts) here:

Part 1, 38 min

Part 2 39 min

And this 20 minute interview of Karen McMahon by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock.

If you have ever been discouraged by the dilemma of Peak Oil, or frustrated with friends and family who shut you down, take heart from Kathy McMahon, and the millions of people all over the world, who do know what is happening. Find them at

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Legacy: David Suzuki

This week on Radio Ecoshock, we are listening to a speech by famous geneticist, broadcaster, and author David Suzuki. For almost 50 years, he hosted the Canadian Broadcasting TV show "The Nature of Things", published 40 books, won awards. This is his "legacy" speech - before the release of a biographical film "David Suzuki - Force of Nature," at the Toronto Film Festival.

This talk was recorded by Alex Smith, at a standing room only auditorium at the Kitsilano High School, Vancouver, on September 17th, 2010. Dr. Suzuki tries to place humans in proper perspective, in the real world. I think you are going to learn, and like it.

Suzuki takes us back 4 billion years, as time travelers, to see how we would do without the services provided by the web of life. We don't last long.

Then he examines how our cultural lens - shapes our vision of Nature. Contrary to all previous humans, and continuing aboriginal societies, OUR myth is that all the other living things are "commodities" that we can use, abuse, or kill off at will. That could be our death myth.

But I won't try to put words in the mouth of Canada's most famous environmentalist, and a master communicator. I've heard David Suzuki before. This speech moved me more than any other. It is, as he says, his legacy. Please, take in the wisdom for yourself.

Dr. Suzuki went on to say his real legacy may be his children - all environmentalists - and the David Suzuki Foundation - which has been very active in many environmental problems, especially climate change. Find out how you can help, at

Our close-out music for the show was "350 Getdown" by May Earlwine - from the web site.

Thanks for joining us again this week.

Our own web site almost broke the servers this past month, with listener downloads, of green mp3 audio. More than half a terabyte heading out into the ears of the many, every month!

Thanks to some show volunteers, we've taken steps to strengthen our delivery system - meaning go ahead! Grab our free audio. Make CD's up for your friends, neighbors and citizens. Spread it around.

Maybe, eventually, enough people will understand the triple crunch, and take action to save - ourselves, our future, and the Planet for all the living creatures. That is the dream.

Get the free audio at - still, the Net's largest green audio download site.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Top Down or Bottom Up? Brand Vs. Korten

Should the very rich control our climate? Our food?

In the Radio Ecoshock for last week, I may suprised listeners with a very different point of view. Former Whole Earther Stewart Brand came out swinging for nuclear power, genetic engineering, and geoengineering as the new "green." I'll reply in just a minute.

Our main speaker this week is a refreshing antidote to Brand. David Korten was recorded at the University of British Columbia. He's a well-travelled specialist in the economy and cultural systems, author of the book "When Corporations Rule the World." Korten has a much better idea, in my opinion.

We'll finish up with an example of corporation concentrating functions as Stewart Brand says is inevitable. This time it's our enslavement of animals, in Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations. There's a set of two new books out - we'll talk with editor Daniel Imhoff.

This week we offer you a new talk by author David Korten. He describes where phantom wealth comes from, and how it distorts our world. Then he has some options of how we can re-build community a better way.

Korten's books "When Corporations Rule the World" and "The Great Turning, from Empire to Earth Community" have set the pace. His latest book,"Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth" (A Declaration of Independence from Wall Street) - couldn't come at a better time. This new talk was recorded September 27th, 2010, by the presenters, the UBC Reads Sustainability program.

But I begin this week’s program with a rant about Stewart Brand. His new “eco-pragmatism” reeks of the old conservatism, in my opinion. To be fair, I ran his recorded conversation last week, with little comment. This week, I tell you what I really think, in this piece:

"What’s the Matter With Stewart Brand?" Click on "Read more" below to find a link to that rant in print....

We end this week’s program with an example of what happens in the country, when big business takes over our food system. Daniel Imhoff is the editor of two companion books on CAFO - Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Earth Aware publishers have just brought out two new books on "The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories". There is a CAFO Reader<, and a big, big book of companion photos, that should frighten you.

READ MORE - Including a raft of supplemental audio for this program....

Thursday, October 7, 2010


We all know the creatures of the Earth are in dire straits. Billions of humans. More tens of billions of our food animals. All slashing down the landscape, denuding the oceans and polluting the atmosphere.

Unless we make a drastic change, the climate is headed for a catastrophic shift. Are we ready for desperate measures?

Stewart Brand became a household name in the 1970's with his Whole Earth Catalog - the tool that connected do-it-yourself energy, and back-to-the land implements, to an alternative culture. Now he's back, with friends in high places, and a big business frame of mind. Brand is promoting his new book "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto" - now in an updated paperback edition.

I caught up with Stewart at the Gaining Ground conference in Vancouver. About 14 people showed up. It became an opportunity for a unique conversation, with one of the plugged-in minds of our times.

As Stewart Brand roved, thought, and answered - I recorded with a mini-disk shoved in his pocket. Some of the participants did not expect to be on radio, I've replaced their questions with computer generated voices. Except for my own, of course.


I present Stewart Brand, and "ecopragmatism" as one set of solutions. He wants geo-engineering, like powdering the clouds with sulfates. Thinks the world needs genetically engineered food. Says nuclear power is required to avert climate change. Wonders if the power of well-meaning billionaires - might side-step the failure of politics...

His ideas are shocking to many people. This is not my idea of environmentalism - but in these desperate times - perhaps the last times for a stable climate - we should listen to all ideas.

These are not my positions. You be the judge.

This week you'll hear the first part of a unique conversation with Stewart Brand, recorded by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock, on October 5th, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.

Next week we'll run more from this conversation with Stewart Brand, author of "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto." Find an online version of the book at this web site:

Brand is among those who have made a shift toward the unthinkable: massive construction of nuclear power to avert climate change. Geo-engineering to stop the heat until we can make a shift. Genetically engineered food to help agriculture survive drought, floods, heat, or new insects. The big technical fix - almost the complete opposite of the do-it-yourself localized mentality made famous in the 1970's Whole Earth Catalog.

Why did Stewart Brand change, and how far did he go? Next week we'll hear his verdict on the 1970's - everything from communal gardening to the sexual revolution. And his strange trust in his "friends" - the multi-billionaires he admires so much. Almost as much as his changeable 90-year-old guru, Sir James Lovelock. Is "Ecopragmatism" green at all? Will the technical big fix really heal the Planet?

Be sure and join us next week for more Stewart Brand, - and my own reaction to Brand's proposed new "Green".

Meanwhile, I'd like to know what you think. Please send you comments on this program to this email address:

And keep your eye out on our climate page next week, for another big speech by Stewart Brand. Or download tons of free green audio mp3's, at the web site,

Plus - I have a surprise guest next week - an example of what can go wrong, when big business follows Stewart Brand's mantra of concentration.

Our good friend Dana Pearson has been hard at work on a new short song for Radio Ecoshock, and for everyone who wants inspiration, to save the planet from the climate shift. This one is called "Deal With It".

And we must.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening.