Escape from Suburbia
Beyond the American Dream
A DryDipstick Movie Review
95 minute DVD
by Mick Winter
"Sit, be still, and listen
for you are drunk and we are at the edge of the roof."
- Rumi, Sufi mystic
Thus begins "Escape from Suburbia", a film that suggests ways to start
sobering up and moving back from the roof's edge.
"Escape" comes from Gregory Greene, the director who in 2004 brought
us "The End of Suburbia", which has likely been seen at least once by
every card-carrying Peak Oilist. Instead of focusing on the dire situation,
as did "End", "Escape" focuses on possible courses of action. Whether
or not any of those actions fit your needs is up to you.
While the film discusses (and pretty much shoots down) alternative
fuel sources, it mainly focuses on people responding to Peak Oil in
various ways. One way is demonstrated by an Oregon couple that decides
to move to an intentional community in Canada. For us city folks this
seems a little puzzling, since it looks like their Oregon home is already
off in the wilderness and quite sustainable and self-sufficient. We're
assured, however, that they're actually in the Portland suburbs and
subject to the future problems of a large metropolitan area. That's
particularly interesting since there are many people in the United States
who are considering moving to Portland because they think it
is one of the places best able to deal with Peak Oil.
[Update: It turns out that after being filmed, the Oregon couple
did not join the community featured in the movie but instead ended up
doing something similar on one of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia.]
Another response comes from a couple in New York City. They recognize
that Manhattan is hardly the "green" community (everybody uses public
transit and walks to all services) it's cracked up to be but rather
a dense urban area incapable of sustaining itself without food, energy,
transportation and other aid from the outside. And they know it's time
for them to leave the city. But where? (And leave Manhattan?!)
A third response is demonstrated by a single mother in Toronto who
believes that rather than escape, we have to change where we are. ("Stay
where you are, dig in, and make it better.") She works to do what she
can to make her city more Peak Oil-aware and prepared to deal with energy
The film intersperses the stories of these people with the usual talking
heads (Kunstler, Heinberg, Simmons, Ruppert, et. al.) and with others
trying to change their lives to deal with Peak Oil. Two historical items
are worth comment. Television footage from 1973 shows U.S. President
Richard Nixon (Yes, him. And, yes, he was a Republican) calling for
the U.S. to be energy-independent by 1980. The other is when one of
the film's commentators mentions that among U.S. President Ronald Reagan's
first executive actions after taking office in January 1981 was removing
the hot water solar panels from the White House West Wing roof that
had been installed in 1979 by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. It's a
great story. Alas, the reality is that the panels were not removed until
1986 when they were taken down to fix a leak in the roof and never re-installed.
Such is the credibility of historical myth.
The theme of the movie is of course escape, and it shows some
of those escape possibilities quite clearly. Escape can be an excellent
decision for some individuals and families. However, it is, as Vice-President
Dick Cheney said about energy conservation, an admirable personal choice
but not a policy. The United States has a huge percentage of its population
currently living in suburbs and cities that are not likely to do well
with Peak Oil. Escape is not an option for all, or even most, of its
To the movie's credit, it captures this dilemma. At Peak Oil discussion
groups and conferences in Canada and the United States, participants
recognize that changes have to be made at all levels, from changes in
our personal day-to-day living up to dramatic changes in our national
and international economic policies. And commentators like Canada's
Guy Dauncey point out that the key is to transform suburbia itself.
The latter part of the film shows two possible scenarios for the future.
In Southern California, an exciting grassroots project has changed the
lives of hundreds of people in South Central Los Angeles. Ever since
1992, a community garden has grown and thrived—the South Central
Community Farm. More than 350 families tend their vegetables and herbs
and enjoy the socializing environment of this 14-acre garden set in
one of Los Angeles' lowest-income areas. The garden brings together
people of all ages, mostly Latino, to a safe, healthful and bountiful
green oasis in the middle of asphalt and warehouses. It is what sustainability
advocates throughout the country have been espousing for years, and
it has thrived in L.A. for more than 12 years. It gives one hope.
Then, with the blessing of its City Council, the City of the Angels
sells out its people as it sells the property back to the original owner
at a price no higher than he had sold it for 12 years previously. Despite
protests, legal challenges and star-studded demonstrations, the community
gardeners are evicted, the farm is torn down, and the land is bulldozed.
It sits there still. Barren and unused. At a time when cities all over
the country—and the world—are encouraging community gardens,
one of the most successful is destroyed. That is one direction for the
Up the coast in Northern California, something different is happening.
In the small town of Willits, a little more than two hours north of
San Francisco, a grassroots effort has brought together all segments
of the community into a cooperative effort to transform their town and
deal with Peak Oil.
Environmentalists, city hall, the chamber of commerce, the local bank
and newspaper, school board, law enforcement, and the general citizenry
have come together with the goal of making their town energy and food
self-sufficient. It's a remarkable example of an entire community working
together to cope with the future.
Willits gives a taste of what might happen if community, business,
and local government work together. South Central Community Farm gives
an example of what happens if government not only doesn't support, but
stomps on, community efforts.
Escape from Suburbia shows the dilemma facing many people (in effect,
flight or fight) and the anxiety and depression they feel about Peak
Oil. It also shows the need and value of taking action. As Guy Dauncey
says, "Action encourages optimism". "Escape" shows everyday people who
are optimistic because they are taking action. We all need that
optimism but we will experience it as a society only when we are acting
as a society. Let's hope that the final film in this trilogy is titled
"Transforming Suburbia" because transforming society is now our most
"Come to the edge"
"We can't, we will fall!"
"Come to the edge"
'We can't, we're afraid!'
"Come to the edge'
And they came
And he pushed them
And they flew
Guillaume Appollinaire, French poet
(from the end of the film)
Mick Winter (www.DryDipstick.com)
is the author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change
and Economic Collapse (www.peakoilprep.com)
Copyright © 2008 Mick Winter. This article may be republished
anywhere by anyone as long as it is shown in full (including this notice)
and there is no charge to the reader.