Friday, May 16, 2008

Root Shift

Wayne at Niches has another post up about the ongoing drought in the southeastern U.S., and some disturbing comments about the response (or lack thereof) from his students - and even from his biology students. I replied that I think the message about climate change and personal change has been watered down too much, in an attempt to make the necessary changes seem "easy." I suspect that many people equate "easy" with "unnecessary."

Then I found myself writing about my root shift idea. It's high time I mentioned it here. From my comment at Niches:
I am working on a concept called “root shift.” This stresses the fundamental change that needs to be made: to shift the roots of our living (our food, our shelter, our clothes, our entertainment, everything) away from fossil fuels and onto a sustainable base. This shift won’t happen if we wait for governments to force it or corporations to donate it; it must come from us, from the grassroots. What is stopping us from making the shift? What is stopping me, a person who knows far more than enough about the need for it? (Another root shift image: the branching tree of evolution, lopped off by our current extinction event, and future biodiversity starting over from just a few surviving roots...) What do I need to know about the roots of my own being, my attitudes, my habits, and so on, to make a real shift? I want to answer that, and more. I have bought a domain name ( - sorry, right now it just directs to Garth’s website) and I’m waiting for “Wikis for Dummies” from the library. I want to build a collaborative website that will bring together tools for change. The “root shift” concept will be central, and all content will have to measure up. Being “good for the environment” is not enough. We’re not talking about tweaking trends, here, we’re talking about reversing them. If an action can’t contribute to the root shift, it’s a distraction. And I suspect that what’s more important than the actions is the spirit - finding enough peace with oneself and one’s neighbours to stop “needing” so much, to begin to love one’s own home place, to choose life.

UPDATE: I have created a web page outlining the root shift concept, which you can view at


Tim Hodgens said...

Right on, my friend, write on.

You know my mantra and I believe it aligns well with the spirit of your root shift(ing.)

I agree with your observation that making something so easy has the tendency to water it down. Most things that become commonplace in speech patterns run the risk of becoming word filler and contribute to non-communication.

And I like your focus that what doesn't align with the root shift, is distraction.

I look forward to seeing how you develop your .org.

I presume that you would see Ivan Illych as a root shifter?


Anonymous said...

Laura - I'm glad you elaborated on that comment! The concept is an umbrella that covers a lot of stuff. In the context that I wrote about, the concept meant for me a transition from a passive to an active role in supplanting simple acceptance to providing as well as receiving. I realize that that's so general that it's not very useful, but I plan to address that more specifically.

OK, a small example. We all listen passively to weather reports. Some of us even check up to see how much rain we got. We are disgruntled because the government weather stations tell us we got 2 cm of rain when we know very well we only got a trace. How unsatisfactory is that?

What if a large number of us actually provided that information, and what if that information were available to us all? What if we, or even *kids* (especially), could provide that information very simply, and then quickly see how their data appeared along with everyone elses? Might they, or anyone else, be sufficiently enthralled to investigate other active roles?

arcolaura said...

Thanks for the encouraging words!

Tim - your mantra aligns well, indeed.

On making things too easy - I have another root shift image in mind around the question: can a tree walk? Well, in desperate times, the Ents awakened the forest. Or to look at it another way - around here we have stands of poplar trees, but often they are not really individual trees but trunks arising from an interconnected network of spreading roots, all part of a single organism. And over time, yes, a clone of poplar could "walk" across the landscape. Old trunks that are no longer thriving can die off and new trunks sprout where conditions are better.

Ah, Ivan Illych. I have seen very little of his writings, but numerous intriguing references to them, and I keep meaning to dig deeper. Thanks for the reminder.

Wayne - for a long time I have wondered what the world would be like if people paid as much attention to animal migration and plant flowering dates and weather events and so on, as they do to sports stats. Around here we have a number of options to participate in "citizen science" including PlantWatch, FrogWatch, eBird, and others. I have heard that there is a weather network where you can share data from your electronic weather monitoring station online. It seems like these projects are slow catching on, though. Again, we know what we could do, but we don't do it. Why? I think there are deeper reasons, in the roots of our living and being, and we need to get at those before - or at the same time as - we offer outward things to do. For example, Eleutheros has pointed out the unconscious choice to let a job pull us, hour after hour and week after week and year after year, away from what we would naturally choose to do with our lives. Looking more inward: in recent reading about the Enneagram, I have learned about the loss of the concept of "soul" in Western civilization - instead of body, soul, and spirit, we think of only two - body and soul/spirit - as if soul and spirit were the same thing. And yet soul is that part of a human being which is most concerned with relationship: between body and spirit; between oneself and other beings (human, other animals, plants, rocks...); between oneself and the material world; in short, the soul is what we most need and lack in these times.

As with so many things, it is a circle. To appreciate nature is to nurture the soul. I think there is a danger, though, of making it too much of a science project, and losing the appreciation. For example, I sometimes find an internal struggle going on when I look at your blog. My trained mind is saying I should read the names and learn some ID stuff, but something deep down just wants to look at the pictures.

Dougald Hine said...

Hi Laura,

Very interesting post. I was particularly struck by your final sentence. The idea that the spirit might be more important than the action is anathema to mainstream environmentalism today. In part, I guess, this is a reaction against the movement's association with New Age "spirituality" - but I think it's worse than that. There was always a Promethean strand in environmentalism, going back to Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalogue. The whole idea that "we" can "save the planet" is insanely hubristic - a continuation of the ideology of progress and human domination which got us into this mess. Today, that strand seems to be completely dominant - which makes me wonder if those of us who can't go along with it shouldn't renounce the whole frame of environmentalism...?

At the same time, it occurs to me that your "root shift" might anyway need to be defined as something other than simply a response to climate change. Because as long as we treat climate change as the central problem, we are feeding the idea that, if only it weren't for those pesky CO2 emissions, our way of living would be just fine. Whereas the truth is that climate change is only the most urgent symptom of a deeper problem.

(This is the kind of response to mainstream environmentalism that Illich was pointing towards in the last ten or fifteen years of his life - and which has been picked up by others such as Sajay Samuel and Dean Bavington.)

Hope the above makes some kind of sense - written in a hurry, and this subject deserves more careful treatment. But best of luck with - I look forward to seeing how it develops.

arcolaura said...

Dougald - most definitely yes, that makes sense! You were one of the first people I thought of when I began to see this as a collaborative project. Any contributions you could make would be greatly appreciated, and I am sure I will be drawing heavily on ideas I have found in your blog.

Anonymous said...

Laura - there are times when I really want to just hang it up.

Readers pull at me from all directions - there are those who want only the pretty pictures, there are those who can't abide the rants, there are those who want the names and information. I do my best, which must also conform to the original mission that I set almost four years ago: to document a small area in the hopes that others might do the same thing, and hopefully to entertain in the process.

Oh well.

arcolaura said...

Wayne! I spoke too quickly, and I knew it. I was walking somewhere and thinking I should have said that differently. The internal struggle is my own, and not a problem with your blog. As you know, you serve many different needs! It is a gift. One reader can study the documentation, another can enjoy the pictures, still others can find solace in the rants. (It's true - there is comfort in hearing another give voice to a rant that could have come from oneself). I don't know how you do it all. I think you must have found some sort of freedom to have that kind of flow of energy and drive, and I'd like to learn from you.

Another thing about internal struggle: it isn't all bad.

leycec said...

Dear Laura,

Hi; my name's Sess. I found your blog via the Googled search phrase, "ran prieur rebellion".

You mention the manufacture of a Wiki, in this post. You might be pleased, therefore, to meet the Wiki at:

...which, so far as I far-flung know, is the only Wiki concerned with the collapse of industrial civilization. (Wiki technology is, frankly, much less conventionally accessible than blogging technology. This is, perhaps, due to the fact that Wikis generalize, abstract, and otherwise complexify the blog concept. If you are, all the time-weary same, concerned with creating your own Wiki, I highly recommend the "Oddmuse" Wiki at "". While most Wiki technology distributes itself across a mish-mashed comingling of internal files, external dependencies, and databases, Oddmuse dispenses with that by centralizing all Wiki technology within one file requiring no external dependencies, databases, or other odd, unmindful complexities. It is, in simpler words, the maximally simple Wiki; but even then, is quite complex, and likely requires your working understanding of Perl 5, CSS, and XHTML.)

Raiazome is, as probably ever, a work in fitful progress. The most fully-fleshed page is "", which provides the following full-length books in Wiki Creole format (under the "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License"):

* Fredy Perlman. "Against His-story, Against Leviathan!" 1982.
* Charles Eisenstein. "The Ascent of Humanity." 2007.
* Henry David Thoreau. "Walden (or, Life in the Woods)." 1854.

Humbly yours, and all the unyielding best,

arcolaura said...

Thanks Sess! I'm very busy with growing season stuff right now but looking forward to digging into your suggestions.