Our predominant American ethic is individualism. “I’m tough, I’m strong, and I’m resourceful. I’ll do whatever is needed to protect myself and my family. The others will just have to take care of themselves.”

That kind of thinking is exactly the wrong approach to the challenge we are facing. If we give full vent to our individualism, post-petroleum society will devolve into chaos, and our future will be that of “natural man” as described by Hobbes in Leviathan, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

We must find ways of cooperating with each other if our civilization is to survive. We need to study examples of cooperative societies like those in Cuba and Africa. We in the industrialized world have much more to learn from the third world than we realize.

If we stick together, if we cooperate, we can teach each other, help each other, protect each other, and get through this. We can begin changing the minds of those around us. We may even find life has more meaning and offers more joy.

For starters, here’s our list of the things we humans should be doing now as a society to make our planet a more pleasant place to live.

Things Individuals Can Do to Strengthen Community

  • Bake some cookies (it’s okay if they’re the kind you buy ready to cook) and take them to your neighbor. They’ll appreciate them, and it never hurts.
  • Stop the police car you see on your street and tell the cops thank you for coming by. Trust us, they will be grateful. Cops spend so little time with people who are glad to see them.
  • Whenever you can, and even when it’s less convenient and a little more expensive, shop at the locally owned business instead of the chain store. More of the money you spend with a locally-owned business comes right back to make your community stronger.
  • Begin polishing up on your post-petroleum etiquette.
  • Find ways to help people. Volunteer, and get to know the other volunteers. The people in your community who are giving away their time to help people who need it are the critical cornerstones of the community, even if they don’t seem impressive, wealthy, or even particularly nice.
  • Go to your city or town council meeting or county commission. Listen politely, and stay ’til the end. When it’s over, find one member and tell him or her something good about what they’ve done during the meeting.
  • Find a job that needs doing in your church, your synagogue, your civic club or neighborhood, and just do it, without announcement, fanfare, or discussion. Somebody will probably see you doing it. If they don’t, it will be really fun.
  • Understand that you’re going to be living in two worlds for the next few years and that it’s okay.
  • Talk to people who disagree with you. You’ll always learn something.
  • Write a note to your mayor, fire chief, or police chief and tell them about something good they’ve done, or something good one of their staff has done.
  • Sit outside on the front porch or in the front yard and wave at the people driving or bicycling by. Give it time; you’ll soon see more bicycles and fewer cars.

Things Communities Can Do to Get Stronger

  • Place a moratorium on new residential development. We don’t need any more roads. Really. If someone wants to build high density housing, it may make sense. But no community needs to be adding any more subdivisions of detached suburban-style homes. Fewer of them is good, and more of them is bad.
  • Ask city or town council members to drop in on locally-owned businesses and thank them for being there. You’d be amazed how seldom local business owners get thanked for the benefit they provide to a community.
  • Consider a bike rental program like the one in Lyon, France. It cuts down on automobile traffic, encourages people to exercise, and builds a sense of shared community. People are dramatically closer together when they’re riding bikes. When you do, make sure you make bike lanes that are protected from motor vehicle traffic, and don’t steal any space from sidewalks. We’re going to be using our sidewalks a lot more in the post-petroleum era and using our roads less. Now you know where to put the bike lanes, right?