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Power Down

December 6, 2010 – The heat is off and it’s 14 degrees outside. Our furnace broke, so we’re having it replaced with a more efficient furnace for which the feds will help us pay. It will take about six hours to install the new one. Until then – no heat!

Powering down will take time. It will happen over time, not with a resounding crash, but in a series of steps, at the conclusion of which I think we’re all hoping for a gentle thud. What’s taking place today, in my home, is one of a million tiny steps in the direction of powering down. Our source of electricity is a nuclear power plant. Nuclear has, in fact, been the source of electricity for most of our homes, whether we’ve lived in Illinois, North Carolina, or here, in Ohio. We may have had nuclear power in Texas, as well – I just don’t recall. According to John Michael Greer, in his book THE LONG DESCENT, some of the uranium being sold today isn’t being mined at all. It’s being stripped out of old Russian nuclear warheads. One wonders how long that can go on.

We speak of incremental steps, when we talk about facing a powered-down future. There will be those steps, of course, which are more like a stumble, those which are more like a lurch. Doing nothing to,help the situation in Copenhagen, doing less than nothing in Cancun. Steps of omission, rather than commission. Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, methane bubbling up out of the East Siberian ice shelf. Those aren’t steps, of course – those are disasters. We take steps to power down in order to address the causes and effects of these disasters.

“We” are everybody: humankind. It’s so terribly difficult for a group as large as all of us to do very much. Those countries inclined to sign treaties and protocols, and to act upon the promises made with that signature, help the most. They make planning possible. When countries behave like renegades, either refusing to sign treaties and protocols, or signing them and then refusing to honor their signature, they make the world less safe, less secure. The renegades may be taking the steps necessary to power down, but don’t want to be held to a schedule. They may see the necessity of sacrifice, but refuse to act until everyone sacrifices. They seek a kind of unattainable perfection, unwilling to accept the fact that sometimes the best we humans can do is only slightly better than nothing at all.

Our generosity will never be as perfect as our greed. Our trust in one another will never be as perfect as our distrust. Our willingness to see worthy goals through to the very end will never be as perfect as our willingness to give up hope. That is what makes small steps so vital to the process of powering down. Two steps forward, one step back. One lurch backward, one piece of legislation finally passed. One close stumble, a billion dollars pledged to move us forward.

Ever watch sausage being made? It’ll be like that: not pretty. Power down!!

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