Establishing fossil-fuel free (FFF) Communities

Establishing fossil-fuel free (FFF) Communities

Emanuel Pastreich

October 14, 2019

We came away from the climate march, the climate strike and the enormous swell of political commitment among ordinary citizens in the week leading up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit with a new mandate for action.  Even the commercial media which had previously ignored this climate catastrophe was forced to face the music. Whether it is the strikes at high schools or the declaration of a climate emergency by local governments, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in consciousness in all corners.

But even the positive turn cannot erase the dread of impending catastrophe adumbrated by forest fires in Siberia and the Amazon, the heat waves sweeping India and Europe and the complete failure of the central governments of any major country to make a fundamental commitment to the elimination of fossil fuels even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of impending doom.    

The emphasis so far has been on appealing to top government officials to recognize climate change as a crisis and change policy. Perhaps that was the appropriate first step. But the time has come to move to the next stage.

Sadly, the most committed climate activists, after they are dragged away to prison for their civil disobedience, find themselves washing with warm water heated with coal or natural gas, or even nuclear power and eating vegetables that were shipped on cargo ships and trucks powered by fossil fuels, and wrapped in plastic produced from petroleum. The components in the computers and cell phones they used to coordinate the protests, or write moving articles, were produced using coal and other noxious chemicals in India, in China or in Thailand and the power that drives most internet networks is similarly unclean.

The specialists who conduct research on the impact of climate change have retirement funds tied up in companies with direct, or indirect, ties to fossil fuel profits (often links that are not disclosed to them).

That is to say that protestors may raise attention about climate change to the highest levels, but they return home to a nightmare world wherein there is no escape from the fossil fuels. The individual may have the choice of whether to eat meat, or whether to protest, but he or she has no choice about whether to participate in an industrial economy run according to a bankrupt ideology of consumption and growth. 

Activists can block traffic, or lie down on train tracks, to force politicians to pay attention to their demands, but the vast majority of their actions, from the moment they turn on the lights in the morning and check their email to the last plastic wrapped snack they eat from refrigerator before bed, are tied to fossil fuels. Moreover, they can fight to get articles about climate change in the existing corporate media, or in public textbooks, but there is no broadly circulated newspaper or television news that focuses on climate change.

But if there were a choice, even if the scale was small at first, it would be possible to make every aspect of one’s life into protest action by participating in a global economy, a global intellectual network, which is from start to finish 100% fossil fuel free (FFF). Although bravery and sacrifice are required, such FFF communities are entirely possible. But we are rather told that we must put up with the existing system of dependency on petroleum and coal until such moment as the entire country is net zero.

But if we create large parts of local economies that are 100% fossil-fuel free (FFF), those communities themselves will become powerful economic players that can go toe-to-toe with investment banks and oil companies. Imagine if you had people knocking on your door regularly asking you to become a part of a FFF community which would guarantee that all the energy you use, all the food you eat and all the items in your home are produced without fossil fuels? When that starts to happen, we will have started the real revolution.

Establishing a fossil fuels free (FFF) Community

The general assumption among the vast majority of citizens who are even aware of the threat of climate change is that we will all wait until 2050 and then the government, which has been entirely gutted and privatized) will determine through laws that the entire economy of each nation is transformed into a sustainable. The amount of reporting in the commercial media proposing such a solution is so overwhelming that most people, awash in the half-truths that flow through the smart phone, take this proclamation at face value.

The scientific data shows overwhelmingly that 2050 is far, far, too late. But equally importantly, the current power structure is such that although there are media events about climate change from time to time, there is zero change in your neighborhood. There is no option to select 100% renewable energy, no option to purchase food wrapped in plastic and no meetings of the local citizens to discuss climate change, dependency on petroleum or the other serious problems that we face.

Freedom will start when we have a choice and that choice will only exist if we establish 100% fossil fuel free (FFF) communities around the world on a small scale that will permit committed citizens to opt out of the corrupt system that forces us to use fossil fuels, whether we want to or not. Once there are small communities which are literally 100% FFF (no fossil fuels used in the production or transportation of fabrication of anything employed), there will be the choice for those of conscience to choose (at an initial sacrifice) to join these communities. Without any doubt, many will join. And over time these communities will expand until they become a substantial part of the domestic, and international economy.

Currently, it is possible to participate in protests about climate change. But when the protest is over, for most it is back to normal life in an industrialized society. If we have fossil fuel communities, however, the protest can go on 24 hours a day and a real positive step can be made to stop destroying our Earth now, and not when some politician decides so. We do not need the approval of business leaders or politicians to start that process at the local level. All we need is the will, the vision, the motivation and the tenacity. Such FFF communities give us more than just a good feeling. They bring with them economic independence from a corrupt fossil fuel economy which influences every aspect of the political economy. Those FFF communities can serve as the base for numerous other political, social and educational movements.

The first step for creating FFF (fossil-fuel free) communities at the local level is to gather together a small group of people who pledge to support the community, and each other, for the long term, and to support themselves exclusively on the FFF products produced by this community. There are now, among those willing to be arrested at protests, those who are deeply committed to being vegan. If we have a critical mass of them willing to commit to these FFF communities, and to sink what assets they have into the community in the understanding that those communities will pledge to support them going forward.

There are a few basics for a fossil fuel free community, and they may not be perfect at first, but can be made 100% in a short period of time. The core for our new economy is the establishment of organic farms that produce 100% organic food and transport it without the use of fossil fuels to those who will eat it. At the beginning, those who join these groups will encounter a significant drop in the diversity of their diet, but they can be certain that they have established the foundations for a truly fossil fuel free economy. The food may be grown locally, or brought in from local farms, or grown at home. The point is that fossil fuels do not intrude at any point in the process.

Food can be sold at communal markets in which the collaboration between producer and consumer is a core feature. That is to say that the markets are jointly owned and that the act of buying is linked to a cultural and political act of stepping out of the fossil fuel economy. We can start with one such communal market and then expand them out around the world—what is important is that people are invited to join.

The model of the Amish or the Mennonites is worth considering here. Although we do not have to accept every aspect of their production systems for food without fossil fuels, they offer us best practices that we can use. What we need to make sure is that our communities are expansive and invite in all those who take an interest.

We can create FFF gardens in every corner of the city, like victory gardens in our struggle to win back our economy from the agricultural and transportation corporations who want to make us slaves to petroleum and petroleum byproducts. Give the youth who create this food jobs and pay them in food and currency for their efforts (like the growing of food during WW II but even more extensive). Within a month, we can get a significant chunk of the UK economy made of FFF communities.

It will be critical to come up with fossil fuel free transportation for food and other goods immediately, rather than waiting for corrupt politicians to provide it and to make it clear that making do with limited FFF transportation is not an unpleasant inconvenience for the citizen, but a form of moral bravery, the front line of the battle against climate change. The first step is not technological, but rather attitudinal. If working all day shoveling mulch, or transporting food by cart, or generating electricity on an exercise bike (which is good exercise) is seen as an ethical imperative, much will become possible. If these actions are treated as secondary, something to be left to others, and the narcissism of posting on Instagram dominates our culture, we will not get very far at all.

Transportation reform means reform of the concept of real estate and of community. That we must become social beings again who can share everything and we must give up our private land in order to support ourselves and our community through local food production.

Another critical part of the FFF community must be manufacturing. Establishing FFF manufacturing is an enormous challenge. First you must start making everything yourself, in your community, make it without using fossil fuels. Products, whether desks and bookshelves, or shirts and sweaters, or cups and pots must be made to last for 20-50 years. That means that they must be well-made, that the culture of consumption and constant replacement must be replaced with a culture of sustainability within the FFF community, and we return to local production for most everything.

Starting our own stores that sell only products produced without any fossil fuels and offering jobs to our children and the children of our neighbors in those stores, which we patronize because we are in part owners of them, it is key to creating FFF communities.

It goes without saying that this move is the end of the global trade that we have staked our economy on for the last hundred years. Shipping goods across the Earth does tremendous damage to the environment and also to encourage the inhuman mass production of foodstuffs and other products in certain regions to supply the world. That approach to production and distribution has destroyed local economies and distorted the global economy. It is possible to have trade using entirely renewable energy in the future, but there is no need for it ever to be on this scale.

Some might take this statement as an anti-internationalist, or even anti-Chinese, statement. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is essential that local communities work in an international manner to address climate change long-term. That will be an internationalist project, but it will have nothing to do with global capital investments by the wealthy. It is not anti-Chinese to suggest that China must reinvigorate its local economy and stop the large scale exports that damage the environment by switching back to local, non-polluting manufacturing and agriculture. New technologies can make this process far easier and more effective than was true in the 19th century. Moreover, the shift will make China more independent and more self-sufficient. The same hold true for other nations who have staked their futures on global trade. We must recognize, quickly, that this system is finished.

Finance and Currency

The end of a consumption culture driven forward by corporate advertising must be coupled with a drive to restructure finance and lending to meet the needs of this new community. We must create local banks that lend out money to purchase these products by means of 30-year loans. That is to say that if you buy a shirt, or a desk, that will last for 50 years, it will take a lot of work to make and it will be expensive. But if there is a bank that will lend you money for the purchase immediately using a loan over twenty years to purchase that product, then the product becomes affordable immediately. The same is true for solar or wind power.

It is a tremendous burden to suddenly go out and buy solar panels and have them installed. But if the whole package is funded using a 30-year, or 50-year loan, then it is immediately competitive with paying your monthly bill from the very start. Most people would start using renewable energy immediately.

We need to completely restructure banks, starting with local banks and the banks established by FFF communities. The primary function of banks will be to make rapid conversation to 100% renewable possible. That means that finance must be focused on the small item, not the big infrastructure programs that investment banks love. For example, if a pair of pants that will last for 40 years (and can be passed on and on to the next generation, and is made locally, ends up costing $150, the bank should offer microloans that will make that product cheaper than a pair of pants imported from Vietnam that will last for six months. The bank will serve, starting from the FFF community, to reshape the nature of economics so that loans are primarily concerned with distributing cost for critical investments for sustainability so that those investments are never avoided because they are too expensive. The bank will be cooperative in nature, owned by the members of the community and will not have profit as a goal.

Moreover, the very nature of the economy, whether at the bank of in the newspapers circulated at the FFF community, must fall on long-term development (50-100 years) so that the true cost of petroleum, coal and consumption is manifest. That requires that we transform the study of economics, policy, security and welfare so that all disciplines focus on the long term. We can start this transformation of education from elementary school in the FFF community and quickly expand it around the world.

Part of the process can be the establishment of an eco-currency, a form of money that is completely detached from the fossil fuel banking-industrial-military complex and that ties the state of the environment directly to the value of money. Such a currency can start at the local level, and be expanded in its use at a later date (See “Ecocurrency”).


More often than not, the solution to the climate catastrophe is presented to us as a matter of technology. Although there are certainly critical new materials that can help us to create energy more cheaply from wind and sun, and that satellites allow us to study the state of the biosphere, it will be the humanities that will be decisive in the response to climate change.

The much-neglected field of philosophy will be central. We need to make study of philosophy central to all of our plans for the future and to recognize that it was the war on metaphysics, epistmelogy and moral philosophy which has brought on the current intellectual crisis that has permitted climate change to reach this stage without any response.

The privileged feel entirely at peace with themselves consuming goods that are produced using fossil fuels in other countries while living in comfortable home with minimal pollution. They are happy to have cheap energy produced by coal power plants as long as those power plants are far away. The ability to conceive of that which is not immediately visible as atrophied for the vast majority of the population. Discussions about philosophy, philosophic topics and scientific discussions about the nature of our human experience should be expanded to be a central part of our lives, replacing the commercial consumption dominated media that takes up most of our lives.

Only strong foundations in philosophy will allow our citizens to step back from the drive to make a profit right now, to satisfy their desires immediately, and think about the long-term. Philosophy does not mean, however, that we must bury ourselves in the abstract writings of Hegel and Heidegger. Rather the essential questions about human existence and the meaning of our experience must be made central in all discourse and the consumer culture aimed at stimulating the amygdala must be ended.

The consumption culture that is destroying us creates profits because it encourages, stimulates, the individual to desire more and bigger, to create an imbalance in the individuals self-perception so that some exterior object must be purchased in order to obtain wholeness. Whether it is the worship of growth or the praise of consumption, the blindness towards how our economic assumptions feed climate change must be overcome.

One critical part of that transformation consists of the discovery of the infinite within. As Leo Tolstoy noted in his masterpiece on this subject “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” there is infinite spiritual depth, infinite intellectual and artistic potential within us, within a blade of grass. Such a spiritual and philosophical understanding of human experience is essential to moving beyond our self-destructive current culture and learning how to control technologies, rather than have technology control us.  

The importance of the humanities goes beyond philosophy. We must create a community in which all citizens can fully express themselves and live deep, meaningful and fulfilling lives without ever feeling a need to do something that requires fossil fuels. Humans did it four tens of thousands of years before. They may have suffered as a result of the lack of modern medicine and they may have been malnourished, but we should not assume their experiences were less spiritually and intellectually.

Odd though it may seem to people whose brains have been rewired by computers and the internet to respond to instant messages, it is possible for you to spend months reading books, writing letters, painting and sketching, exercising, playing music or dancing without employing a single drop of petroleum. Moreover, your memory will improve and you will find it easier to keep track of complex issues in your head as a result. Making things with your hands from clay or wood gives a concrete quality to experience that is effective in addressing the alienation in our society.

 The return of art, literature, and the public debate will greatly improve the state of our society and make us better equipped to respond to climate change. It is hard to imagine such a shift, but within FFF communities we can start the revolution.


These fossil fuel free communities require a deep personal commitment. Like members of alcoholics anonymous, we must pledge never to use fossil fuels and support each other so that we do not fall back to our old habit. We must feel a sense of shame, and we should spread that sense of shame broadly. Every time you use fossil fuels to warm your water, you should think that you are killing off children in Chad. Every time you throw away a plastic spoon, you should feel as if you are dumping raw crude oil in the ocean.


Restoring the culture of modesty and frugality that has made up much of human history is critical for our future. That will be part of our education programs, our media programs and our approach to evaluating human progress. We must reject the standards by which we have analyzed the world for over a hundred years.

Shame must be a part of that education. Every citizen must think about all the energy and the suffering that went into every drop of petroleum, the pollution and contamination that is behind every bite of processed food, and also the damage done by every little piece of plastic we through away, every piece of fish we waste.

Education about climate change should begin today, not for those who are reading this article, but for those who live in blissful ignorance, or who have been denied educations altogether. We must work outside of our FFF communities to tell every single citizen what is happening to the climate and what needs to be done. We need to think that we are competing against the commercial media that seeks to lull citizens to sleep and render them as harmless consumers. We must, by contrast, must meet them on the street with posters and other readily understood materials to tell them what is going on in terms they can understand. We must go door to door in every neighborhood and tell them the truth and invite them to join us.

We must not make the mistake of assuming that climate change is an issue for the upper middle class, or for progressives. We must seek out working class people, conservative Christians, everyone, and tell them how climate change impacts them.

More importantly, we must make it clear that those who commit to join the campaign against climate change are our friends. We do not want people to just show up for an event, just vote for a candidate. If they are willing to walk with us, and work with us, we will help them for a lifetime. If we have better educations, better connections, we will commit to helping their families, to looking out for their interests, if they join us. It is that sense of community, of a true contract, that is at the core of a political movement that will last for decades.



2 responses to “Establishing fossil-fuel free (FFF) Communities

  1. Michael Stegherr November 10, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Fantastic essay!

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