Songs of Petroleum - the Autobiography of Jan Lundberg, Ecology Activist

By Julian Jackson - 04 May 2011 15:52:0 GMT
Songs of Petroleum - the Autobiography of Jan Lundberg, Ecology Activist

Songs of Petroleum is the autobiography of Jan Lundberg, ecology activist, musician, and the driving force behind the Culture Change website. He has had a fascinating life, being the son of Dan Lundberg, an oil analyst and pioneering TV talk show host, and having been both an oil industry insider and ecology activist fighting against oil corporations, he has unusually seen both sides of the issue. Lundberg's father seems to be a complex and driven character, with many facets, being interested in digging for the truth in his TV show, but also working ferociously hard to have a successful career and become wealthy in a true story of the ''American Dream'', even though it compromised his ideals and the strongly environmental way he brought up his family.

The intention behind the autobiography is to document Jan Lundberg's life against the background of an oil industry which he increasingly saw to be destructive and corrupting, as the USA slides further away from the sunny place of Lundberg's adolescence - he was a Boomer child during the hippy years of the sixties and had a very enjoyable existence - into a corporatist, conformist world of yuppies who just yearn to be corporate man or woman and lack any spiritual or artistic leanings

Jan Lundberg at International House, University of California, Berkeley, 2011 Photo by Gar Smith

Jan Lundberg at International House, University of California, Berkeley, 2011. Photo by Gar Smith.

In the introduction, after detailing recent environmental disasters like the BP Gulf Oil Rig blowout and the Fukushima Nuclear reactor leaks, he makes this heartfelt plea, ''We desperately must see a positive tipping point and achieve a critical mass of awareness. As the generation on the spot, we have very little time left to save the Earth as we know it. We of the environmentally aware population don't have much to show for ourselves after over four decades up against the blatant environmental and human-rights assault of Big Oil. As consumers we have barely started to act upon our own complicity. Oil addiction has only gotten worse, as have a number of ecological issues. Will we only take definitive action after another spectacular disaster, or after two more, or how many? Will the political distraction of climate-change denialism cheat us out of proactively transitioning to a sustainable society? When, oh when, can there be consensus that we can indeed care for humanity and nature?''

The 50-foot yacht Passat, that sailed the Lundbergs from Los Angeles to Greece, 1965-1969, photo by Brian of My Flotsam

The 50-foot yacht Passat that sailed the Lundbergs from Los Angeles to Greece, 1965-1969, photo by Brian of My Flotsam.

When Jan was 13, his father took his wife Mesa and the family on an extraordinary 4 1/2 year quest for education and a life of adventure by sailing their own boat firstly to Mexico and Central America and then across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, finally ending up in Greece where Jan went to school for some time. This seems an character-forming journey, where Jan was given responsibilities far beyond his years in navigating and steering the boat, and he blossomed in contact with European culture. He also saw the darker side of life, and there is a telling anecdote where a rich American they have met in a Mexico port goes to a restaurant and buys the best cut of steak to feed to a stray dog has taken a fancy to, in front of a group of impoverished and angry local people. The knowledge of poverty and want do keep nagging away at Jan as he returns to be a slick executive for his father's firm in Los Angeles. He continues to compose and play music, then after 14 years at his father's firm, breaks away to become an ecology activist, a project that has engaged him since then.

''Just as one learns more outside school or after one's schooling, I was to find that my biggest, richest education was outside and after the family business and the privileged life I gave up upon abandoning my spot in L.A.'s Establishment.''

In 1986 Dan Lundberg died. His widow Mesa, distraught, and not in good health, is - according to Jan - induced to leave the Lundberg Survey oil firm in the hands of Lundberg's sister Trilby and her husband.  Part of the book details at great length the family feud and the sad final years of Mesa in an institution she was put into. Jan feels very aggrieved about this, and it certainly seems an unpleasant story but around two hundred pages about it the saga becomes very wearing. Many families have nasty feuds after a bereavement where there is a lot of money at stake. It takes the focus away from the environment, and dilutes the message of the book to the general reader.

Jan was well placed to see the beginnings of the Peak Oil movement and interact with visionaries such as Colin Campbell, Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Albert Bates and the late Matt Simmons. He details the many protests and events he was involved in as ecology comes to the front of a greater number of peoples' consciousness. In 2001 he renames his activism project Culture Change, ''I had suspected for years that the root problem society had with mistreating nature was cultural. But I increasingly connected anti-nature predation to predatory behavior within families. It had to do with materialism that meant exploiting nature and workers to achieve the false wealth that today's society condones.''

Preparing for Sail Transport Network and Pedal Power Produce along Portland, Oregon's rivers, 2009 Photo by Jeff Gerritsen

Preparing for Sail Transport Network and Pedal Power Produce along Portland, Oregon's rivers, 2009 Photo by Jeff Gerritsen.

The later part of the book, ''Mainly the Message'' takes the reader on a tour of Jan Lundberg's philosphy and the lessons he has learnt from his life, bringing together sections published in Culture Change on subjects like global warming and planetary destruction, bicycle power and his Sail Transport Network as well as health matters like fasting.which is more apposite for the general reader. It is a pity that the eBook Songs of Petroleum version does not have embedded songs or links to them as they would surely be more enjoyable than just the lyrics, although this cannot be reflected in the print version.

Overall, this is a fascinating, though overlong book and could have done with editing, but does shed light on how Jan Lundberg got to be where he is and how he has pursued an alternative lifestyle for many years. Much of what Songs of Petroleum says about the environment will strike a chord with readers who are dissatisfied with our depredations upon Planet Earth and yearn for a more fulfilling lifestyle. I'll leave the final word to him: ''I recommend solidarity and love as the only way to find peace of mind and survive the coming increasingly ''interesting times.''

Songs of Petroleum, by Jan Lundberg, 419 pp, Culture Change Press - $14.00 plus $4 shipping in the USA.

Top montage by Julian Jackson: images Bronwyn Lundberg/Arne Hückelheim-Wikimedia/Sergio Lub.


Culture Change.