Panic felt

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Last updated on August 9th, 2017 at 07:42 am

Reader Joe L. emails: “I have the good fortune of having my office in the same building as ‘The Onion’. This makes me feel terribly and unjustifiably hip. But a new set of folks moved in on the 10th floor. They publish the free magazine: ‘Common Ground: The Bay Area’s Monthly Magazine of Conscious Community’. One of my employees was reading some sections out loud. This Dear Umbra letter was particularly amusing …”

Although I have always been one to conserve, recycle, etc., it is only in the last year that I have realized the extent of the catastrophe coming upon us in terms of climate change. I am 40-something, live in a city, own an older home with a sizeable mortgage that requires my husband and me to work, two kids, two cars, etc. I’ve done all the usual stuff: changed the light bulbs, we’ve each started biking to work when we don’t have to pick up our kids, and I’ve gotten politically active, writing emails and organizing my first event for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Part of me feels such panic, though, and thinks we should sell the house before it becomes unlivable due to power and water shortages and economic meltdown, and join a sustainable community off the grid with water catchment, etc., and devote myself to environmental activism. But I like my job, my friends, my neighborhood and don’t really feel like starting over and am not sure I’ve got what it takes to live self-sufficiently. So does it make more sense to stay here and try to change things from within, even while living more wastefully, or should we get out while we still can?

Laura Brown
Oakland, Calif.

Posted by Tim B. on 09/29/2006 at 11:36 AM
    1. Laura—Please. Get out while you still can. Preferably to Canada. This is a chance to raise the average IQ in both countries….

      Posted by Jim,MtnViewCA,USA on 2006 09 29 at 11:41 AM • permalink


    1. Jim, what has Canada done to you to deserve that?

      Better that Laura should move to somewhere in South America where there is plenty of opportunity to be off the electricity grid!


      Posted by Steve at the pub on 2006 09 29 at 11:46 AM • permalink


    1. …that or a .357 in the ear would work.  They shoot horses, doncha know.

      Posted by trainer on 2006 09 29 at 11:48 AM • permalink


    1. Run Laura. Run like the wind. Try Sebia. With the UN running things there, they’re off the grid up to 20 hours each day.

      Posted by Scott R on 2006 09 29 at 11:50 AM • permalink


    1. Not Sebia. Serbia. DOH!

      Posted by Scott R on 2006 09 29 at 11:51 AM • permalink


    1. Laura’s letter belies how little she actually believes in global warming. If she really thought that something along the lines of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was likely to happen, she wouldn’t be weighing how much she enjoys living an upper-middle class life in suburbia against living off the grid; she would have already moved off the grid and sent her letter in to the magazine via carrier pigeon.

      Posted by Fern R on 2006 09 29 at 11:53 AM • permalink


    1. Geez-check out the “advice” she gets:

      First, let me say there’s room on the environmental spectrum for us all, and an infinite number of ways to contribute—whether you’re making sure you and your friends are taking the most effective personal eco-actions, or supporting the efforts of green groups that sue polluters, or engaging in carefully considered eco-vandalism, or running a giganto corporation, or living on a commune off the grid.

      Then she is advised to go see the A’s play and tell them that she loves their composting program.

      Hey-Athletics-I love the way you decay and stink!!!

      Posted by 68W40 on 2006 09 29 at 11:54 AM • permalink


    1. Baghdad is off the grid most of the time.  This broad is organizing events for Union of Concerned Scientists?  Please tell me she’s not a scientist herself.  The world has gone beyond the hunter-gatherer, hippie commune phase.

      Back in the sixties while living in Berkeley, I attended a Black Panther Party event.  After some speechifying, the floor was opened to questions.  A 40ish Berkely white lady, wearing a serape, beads and birkenstocks got up and asked Eldridge Cleaver what is the best thing that she could do to help black people?  He said “Kill yourself.”

      Enuf said.

      Posted by Mystery Meat on 2006 09 29 at 11:56 AM • permalink


    1. Allow me to point out the obvious: What a friggin tool.

      Posted by dkidd on 2006 09 29 at 12:04 PM • permalink


    1. Mystery Meat-there is a line from a Tom Wolfe book (Radical Chic maybe) where some radical is laying it on heavy and Barbara Walters gets up to ask about those who are “sympathetic” to the cause and Wolfe’s comment is “Barbara Walters and her husband-shot in a basement in Yekaterinburg”.

      God-how I howled with laughter when I read that.

      Posted by 68W40 on 2006 09 29 at 12:12 PM • permalink


    1. Dear Laura, how much are you selling your house for? I might be interested.

      Posted by Observer on 2006 09 29 at 12:17 PM • permalink


    1. I’d give that idiot six weeks off the grid.  Then she’d be back, agonizing over what an idiot she is.

      Posted by RebeccaH on 2006 09 29 at 12:25 PM • permalink


    1. If she sells the house, someone else will continue to use energy with it.

      The only morally viable solution is for her to demolish the place.

      Selling it is just moral vanity.

      Posted by Rittenhouse on 2006 09 29 at 12:32 PM • permalink


    1. One word : potato batteries.

      Posted by rhhardin on 2006 09 29 at 12:33 PM • permalink


    1. Part of me feels such panic, though, and thinks we should sell the house before it becomes unlivable due to power and water shortages and economic meltdown, and join a sustainable community off the grid with water catchment, etc., and devote myself to environmental activism.

      Why yes. Yes you should.
      Don’t delay another minute.

      Posted by Merlin on 2006 09 29 at 12:33 PM • permalink


    1. Well, at least Laura realizes there is a contradiction between her modern lifestyle and the coming eco-catastrophe she believes in as a matter of faith. She’s not making money by speaking at ecology conferences and traveling there in a chartered jet that burns more fuel in a day than Laura’s car burns in a year.

      She’s also honest enough to wonder if she could actually live off the grid. As best as I can tell, most of her co-religionists casually assume that they could become self-sufficient backcountry farmers if they had to, even though many of them have never even visited a farm, much less worked on one.

      As for the commune thing – there’s a reason why there are so few communes and their average lifespans are so short. I wish all of these lefties would try a commune for a year or two. They would learn some valuable lessons about how the world really works, and about the character of their ideological allies.

      Posted by Billy Hollis on 2006 09 29 at 12:34 PM • permalink


    1. Are you sure that letter was not meant for the Onion but was delivered to the wrong office?

      Posted by Room 237 on 2006 09 29 at 12:38 PM • permalink


    1. engaging in carefully considered eco-vandalism To be sure Laura, and the first act of eco-revenge is to shoot down the Al Gore all polluting-air heating jet he uses to get to all his real estate seminars.

      Posted by stats on 2006 09 29 at 12:42 PM • permalink


    1. Her gulibility is just outstanding. Even more so is that she isn’t alone.

      Posted by Srekwah on 2006 09 29 at 12:51 PM • permalink


    1. Mangled that, but you get the drift.

      Posted by Srekwah on 2006 09 29 at 12:52 PM • permalink


    1. While we’re on the subject, the original Moonbat himself, George Monbiot, is taking questions on The Guardian website at 1200 GMT Oct 12.  The subject: How air travel affects the environment.

      Should be utterly hilarious.

      Posted by murph on 2006 09 29 at 12:58 PM • permalink


    1. I’d join a commune if Hef organized it at the Playboy Mansion.

      From each according to her abilities; to each according to his needs.

      Posted by JDB on 2006 09 29 at 01:08 PM • permalink


    1. Always work to change the system from within.  Always.

      Posted by Hucklebuck on 2006 09 29 at 01:43 PM • permalink


    1. Don’t take this fear lightly.  The essence of politics is the issue.  And by far the best issues are ones that go to people’s most primal fear – i.e. survival.

      I haven’t noted this much fear expressed except in German politics in the 1930’s, where Heinz and Trudi got scared to death that Germany’s population had outgrown it’s ability to feed itself (pollute itself to
      extinction??) – the Liebesraum issue, and the whole German culture was being subverted by an inner cabal of degenerate, greedy scum (Conservatives??), destroying everything (Social Security?, a ‘fair’ Tax structure? Welfare? Privacy?) after surrendering ‘Quagmireizing’??) the nation in a vile War.

      That terrifying fear expressed here throws reason and our very humanity out the window.

      Posted by cottus on 2006 09 29 at 01:52 PM • permalink


    1. Cubans living off the grid = despicable American sanctions.

      Iraqis living off the grid = Bush incompetence.

      Americans living off the grid = virtuous environmentalism.

      I’m confused.

      Posted by Dave S. on 2006 09 29 at 02:01 PM • permalink


    1. I keep seeing these envirotard lefties hoovering up resources at a pace I can’t (and won’t) match, and I feel ashamed to call myself a RWDB.

      I suppose it’s OK if I’m only doing it to hoard my precious, precious money, and to keep the boogeymen “terrorists” from getting some petropennies from me, right?

      Posted by Dave S. on 2006 09 29 at 02:07 PM • permalink


    1. Umbra’s response: Remember: you don’t need to suffer to be green.

      Indeed not. You can travel by private jet and limousine; heat, cool and light your 10,000sf mansion(s); water your extensive grounds; ostentatiously consume to your heart and bank account’s content and still be just as green as any eco-haven dweller living “off the grid”. Al Gore, the greenist man on this poor, abused planet, is living proof of that.

      So, get off your guilt trip, Laura. Go plant a tree of something.

      Posted by Kyda Sylvester on 2006 09 29 at 02:19 PM • permalink


    1. Good God, this nit-wit is asking a complete stranger, who works at some minor rag of a magazine, whether her and her husband should make such major life-changing decisions as:

      1.  Quitting their jobs,
      2.  Selling their house,
      3.  Yanking their two kids out of school, and
      4.  Moving to some hovel out in the middle of nowhere.

      I have a hard time believing that I occupy the same planet as such an idiot.

      Posted by David Crawford on 2006 09 29 at 02:36 PM • permalink


    1. My best friend’s parents live “off the grid” (well, mostly: they don’t grow their own food), but not entirely by choice. They have a lovely home here in the Mojave Desert with a spectacular hillside view, a water well (excellent water quality, too), a windmill and solar panels for electricity, and a solar water heater… but only because it would have cost a king’s ransom to run public utilities out to the property.

      #22 JDB

      ROTFLMAO! Best laugh I’ve had in days.

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 2006 09 29 at 02:50 PM • permalink


    1. Did you read the disclaimer at the bottom of the Dear Umbra column?

      Neither the magazine nor the author guarantees that any advice contained in this column is wise or safe.

      Can’t argue with that.

      Posted by VKI on 2006 09 29 at 03:12 PM • permalink


    1. That is one of the most pathetic things I’ve ever read.  My advise would have been to immediately seek psychiatric help.

      Posted by saltydog on 2006 09 29 at 05:20 PM • permalink


    1. #12—RebeccaH: Six weeks? I’d give ‘em 6 days at most, 6 hours is probably more like it. A weekend camping trip is roughing it—living that way permanently is to roll back living standards by 100 years.

      Every modern convenience (refrigeration, hot water, central heating and cooling, stovetop cooking, water and sanitary sewer) which has lead to better health, and longer lives, are a consequence of these distributed (grid) utility services.

      And that’s partly why some 90% of Americans were employed in agriculture in the 1890s, because lacking modern conveniences required devoting the bulk of our human labor resources to the production and acquisition of food.

      Is modern life off the grid possible? Certainly as detailed in comments above, in isolated circumstances, and at some additional expense, it is possible. Yet, it’s done for practical reasons, and reasons of vanity, but not out of any concern for mankind’s future.

      Posted by Forbes on 2006 09 29 at 05:39 PM • permalink


    1. Tim!  You honor me with a posting.

      I am all a-flutter.

      Every time I think about this letter I chuckle.  It is even better to see it in print.

      Someone had to scan through dozens (hundreds?) of the breathless heartfelt, angst-ridden letters that the Bay Area is capable of producing.  And then they had to say:

      “Yes.  This is it.  This one will resonate with our readers.  This letter will provide guidance to our audience.”


      Posted by jlibson on 2006 09 29 at 07:02 PM • permalink


    1. Mystery Meat: I must admit that if I were Eldridge Cleaver I wouldn’t have been able to resist saying that either. I’ll bet it just came out…

      As for the letter, it strikes me as unutterably sad. Here is a woman describing what is for most of the rest of the world (most of which has never seen a “grid”) not just the good life but the great life. The Pharoahs of ancient Egypt were paupers compared to people living the modest middle-class life she describes. Sure, you have to work a bit, but you don’t have to haul your own wood for miles to feed the fires to keep you and your family warm, and you don’t have to wrestle with nature for food, and so on. Yet with all the plenty there is something missing in her life. She thinks to fill the emptiness by making herself more miserable, and so unnecessarily too, since knocking your lifestyle back to a more primitive state in some mistaken idea that such a state is more virtuous will only serve to make life more, not less, vulnerable to the possible effects of environmental disaster. And hovering over it all is the sense that in a way people like her want things to fall apart, they desire the destruction of civilization, which has failed to bring them perfect happiness and satisfaction on a platter. I see it every day in my place of work, on the bus, on the street… a cranky and increasingly dangerous inability to realize that perfect happiness is unattainable in this life, and that we are not in fact entitled to have it.

      Posted by Andrea Harris, Administrator on 2006 09 29 at 07:24 PM • permalink


    1. What is she going to do?  Cut down trees for heat and cooking?  How does that help?

      Gaia is a jealous god.

      Posted by Director on 2006 09 29 at 07:39 PM • permalink


    1. There’s no grid to speak of in Somalia, and the houses are going for a song (as long as the Mosque Police don’t catch you singing it in public…)

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 2006 09 29 at 08:16 PM • permalink


    1. There is a nice park near where I live – you can try living there for a few weeks if you like.  Crapping behind the bushes.  Washing in the river.  Beating small rabbits to dead with rocks and eating them raw.  Sleeping in the open.

      The park comes with an active social life too – several former inmates of loonie bins who spend all day talking to themselves, weeing in their pants and drinking themselves insensible.

      That’s what I call living off the grid.

      Posted by mr creosote on 2006 09 29 at 08:33 PM • permalink


    1. Sorry, I meant clubbing rabbits to death, not to dead.  It’s too early in the morning.

      Posted by mr creosote on 2006 09 29 at 08:33 PM • permalink


    1. #32, Forbes, I give her six weeks to sell her house, move to the leaky-roofed converted motel that is the commune, trying to plant a garden and live off it, realizing the horrible mistake she made, and finding a crappy apartment in an undesirable neighborhood to live in while and her husband try to rebuild the nice life they had.  And possibly another two weeks to find a lawyer to handle the divorce when they realize they don’t want to live with the dimwit they each are.

      Posted by RebeccaH on 2006 09 29 at 08:40 PM • permalink


    1. I know I should go to the country and live in a damp sack, but I just bought a new dishwasher and I don’t like sticks and dirt, waaaaah!

      Posted by Amos on 2006 09 29 at 09:18 PM • permalink


    1. There is a nice park near where I live – you can try living there for a few weeks if you like.  Crapping behind the bushes.  Washing in the river.  Beating small rabbits to dead with rocks and eating them raw.  Sleeping in the open.

      Mr. Creosote-actually Iowahawk has already pointed out that this is exactly how “progressives” should live.

      Posted by 68W40 on 2006 09 29 at 09:21 PM • permalink


    1. And who, exactly, is droning on and on about fear-mongering?  And how terrible it is.  And how it’s wrong to do that to the people.  One guess. (I wish I could find the video or audio.  The printed word doesn’t do it justice.)

      But then all you have to do is read that letter from Laura Brown to realize who the Class A fear-mongers are.  They are in a league of their own if they’ve convinced apparently normal middle class people that they need to sell their homes and live off the land because of the coming eco-catastrophe.

      In contrast, all President Bush is saying is that someone declared war on us and we should go fight them and preserve our freedom and safety.  That’s a wholly natural instinct and right since the dawn of time.  Throwing away progress and cowering in fear of carbon dioxide is not natural.

      Posted by kcom on 2006 09 29 at 09:58 PM • permalink


    1. In my search for the video I couldn’t find above, I did happen to stumble on this bit of hagiography.

      Sample quote: “there have been big speakers [at the conference] before… but never before with such a stark warning that the world is marching towards disaster.”

      Can you say ‘fear-mongering’?  No, it’s not Al Gore this time – it’s our buddy Jonathan Freedland talking about Al Gore.  It’s a “two crazies for the price of one” bonus video.

      Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, the debate is over.

      Excerpt –

      Al Gore: “The debate in the scientific community is completely over, now.  There is no more debate about the fact that it’s real, we’re causing it, the consequences are bad, headed toward catastrophic, we need to fix it and it’s not too late.”

      If he and his cronies have their say, there will be no more debate about it because it won’t be tolerated.  But it won’t be based on scientific principles or free discovery, it will be based on political intimidation and financial pressure.  If they can shut the dissenters up, they have free sway to do whatever crazy thing they want. (Anyone ever notice how big the Democrat/Left types are into projection?  Everything they accuse their opponents of is everything they are desperately trying to get away with themselves.)

      Posted by kcom on 2006 09 29 at 10:07 PM • permalink


    1. Someone should send her Tony Hancock in The Wild Man of the Woods – her intellect and foresight is about that level – without the humour.

      She reminds of the South Korean sect members who in Melbourne in the late 80s got an idea the world was going to end in 30 days. The spent up big – new cars (usually Toragos with a slogan along the lines of ‘The End Is Nigh’), huge credit card debts, &c. And guess what.

      Posted by walterplinge on 2006 09 30 at 01:48 AM • permalink


    1. If she is indicitive of inner city madness I think we should exacerbate their fears, form a collective and buy freaky greenies out house and home for a song.

      Turn progressive areas into Red states on the cheap and for a profit.

      Let them go feral in the swamps. They will probably lose the basic ability to vote.

      Posted by gubbaboy on 2006 09 30 at 06:27 AM • permalink


    1. The impending doom stream of hippiedom dates back to the ‘60s. I remember a brief article in the San Francisco Oracle which suggested that the coming collapse would be so total as to lead to cannibalism. Some of those who dropped out then have managed to survive while remaining out there, but, as Kermit pointed out, it ain’t easy being green.

      Posted by triticale on 2006 09 30 at 08:42 AM • permalink


    1. First order of business for dear Laura: by all means quit breeding…

      Posted by Shaky Barnes on 2006 09 30 at 02:48 PM • permalink


    1. #8:
      A 40ish Berkely white lady, wearing a serape, beads and birkenstocks got up and asked Eldridge Cleaver what is the best thing that she could do to help black people?  He said “Kill yourself.”

      Well?  Did she? (And if not, why?)

      Posted by Shaky Barnes on 2006 09 30 at 02:55 PM • permalink


    1. Personally, I think every one of those self-righteous a**holes who whines about energy use and carbon dioxide should be forced at gunpoint if necessary to live ‘off the grid’ for at least 60 days.  And I mean ‘off the grid’ in toto. No bringing stuff in with you.  No tools that you can’t demonstrate that you could at least have made yourself.  No clothes that you didn’t make yourself.

      Then put their ‘off the gird’ in the Darfur area.


      Posted by JorgXMcKie on 2006 09 30 at 04:11 PM • permalink


    1. Makes you wish there was an uninhabitied sub-arctic island where we could send poor misguided idiots like this.  They could spend their days “off the grid”, trying to survive, perfecting the Marxist society they evidently pine for, and die freezing in the mud at a nice carbon neutral age of 28.

      Posted by Vanguard of the Commentariat on 2006 09 30 at 07:47 PM • permalink


    1. I’ve done all the usual stuff: changed the light bulbs

      All by yourself?

      Posted by Big Jim on 2006 09 30 at 09:11 PM • permalink


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