Many blog posts and much time has been spent discussing post peak oil scenarios, and what you should do to prepare yourself (and your family) for peak oil. A majority, in my experience, deal with mostly "doomer" scenarios, and caution you to learn basic survival skills, food storage techniques, how to get along with little fuel to heat your home, and even less to travel by. Some threads on bulletin boards even discuss "packing heat" to ward off hungry neighbors from your homestead's garden.
I completely understand the abundance of these posts and the urgency that many feel after learning about peak oil, and its ramifications.
It first hits you like a cheap shot in a bar brawl. "Damn, I missed that one coming?" I was stunned. I searched everywhere for info. I was an original lurker at The Oil Drum. I got on the doomer websites, and still keep many in my blog roll to this day. There are many great blogs out there with a wealth of information on peak oil, and people's perception of where it will lead this nation and the world in the coming years. I read James Kunstler, I became more engrossed. Now I am in the fight. I figure the best offense is a good defense. I decide to learn as much as I can so I can prepare my family... I start fighting back, I start a food pantry, I am learning about insulating my home, and looking at my car with disgust every time I have to get in it for work. I research Eco-villages. I am mentally preparing for the end of civilization. Hey, can you blame me? This is seriously scary shit here. Flash forward to several months later, and many blows to the preverbial body (more bad news - Katrina, the Iraq mess, etc.) I am starting to become numb. Why prepare at all? If the world is coming to an end, what the hell am I going to do about it? Gas is over $3.00 per gallon, and $100/barrel oil is 'right around the corner'. Predictions for the winter heating season are dire. Shortages are pending late in the heating season for natural gas. Financial impediments curtail my preparation, which slows to a halt. A depressive haze sets in. Blogs have lost their luster. The Oil Drum, once my addiction, now becomes a passing reminder that I have little control over the destiny of the country. "Conserve," I thought initially - now I hear that conservation only prolongs the enevitable, and provides cheaper oil to our competitors (Jevon's Paradox). So I spent the next lull between rounds contemplating "what next?" What is important to me, in life, in work, in spirit? I take a break from it all. It did me a world of good.
I left the "bar brawl" and headed for the local coffee shop (fair trade of course...)
I focused on local issues and attempted to become more involved in the community. I started a local blog, then joined a regional one at Groovy Green. I immersed myself in work and have attempted to supplement my normal income. My wife and I have decided to make our home more energy efficient, and to eventually qualify for the Energy Star rating. We are looking into solar as a real option for the house. All of this for our good? Yes, in the short run, but also to help market our home if we sell it. (Anyone in the market for a nice rancher in upstate NY on a 1/3 acre with all the energy efficient ammenities in about 2-5 years?) I started to eat organic and locally grown foods as a majority of my diet. Positive changes happened at work, and I will be working locally in about a week. Instead of putting on the 120 miles a day on the road, I hope to put on 30-40.
Like I said, the past few months have helped me refocus my energy.
Now, I feel peak oil creeping back into my thoughts and into my life. I get nervous when Bush mentions our dependence on foreign oil as an addiction in the State of the Union. Yes, I totally agree with him, but on the other hand, he's supposed to be the "big oil" linked president. If he is starting to believe that America is on the wrong path, or at least willing to put it in the SOTU speech, I think that maybe I really wasn't going crazy and peak oil could be coming sooner rather than later. I get nervous when I hear the war drums start beating over Iran. They have a real army, with real missles, and real WMD's. They hold a swing portion of the oil supply and the loss of their production through sanctions or worse, war, would be devestating to the world economy. Again more punches from multiple sources.
This time, I am ready to fight. I did my upside down sit-ups ala Rocky IV, and have done my homework. How am I prepared to tackle peak oil again as a topic?
I know what I want from life. I know what to worry about, and what my limitations are. I can't solve it all, I can't prepare the problem away.
I fear the big oil shock, but prepare for the slow decline.
My prediction is that the decline in cheap energy will hit in waves. Waves of unemployment, reduced travel and recession. Government will not be able to spend itself out of the situation. Attempts to improve fuel economy, conservation and increased energy efficiency will be relatively fruitful in the short run. This will only prolong the inevitable, and make the next wave only more painful for many. Housing values will be inconsequential, as there will be very little buying and selling of property. The false sense of wealth created by inflated "equity" will decline, as will spending. The fact that we fail to physically make anything anymore in this country and depend on doing services for each other in exchange for a paycheck will become apparent as spending declines and sets off a new wave of layoffs. The baby boomer's retirement savings and wealth will keep providing a crutch for the economy, as money is spent to take care of the aging population's health. Healthcare will increase in the percentage of GDP. As social programs become increasingly burdensome, the government will be forced to cut services and raise taxes. Socialized medicine will come about after the first bankruptcies of the large insurers who will take in less money from young workers, and will be burdened with older and sicker individuals and a increasing outflow of money. Gasoline and home heating will become very expensive and subsidies will increase as an initial response. The price of oil and natural gas will wax and wane with the convulsions of the economy. Global insecurity will keep the price elevated overall, and despite the cooling economy will only pause before rising again. I believe that this will happen over the next 35-40 years.
Fairly grim, I suppose. Painful for many. Nothing that I wish to happen certainly.
What suggestions do I have? What path to follow? Only these:
- Imagine that you have 5 years of time where you can continue to live the life you lead now. What would you do with it? Balance preparation with enjoyment, that's what I say. Sure, you could save every dime you earn for the future, put it into gold and guarantee your self money in the dark times ahead. Or you could blow all your money, travel the world, see all the sights, and do all the things that make your life exciting. I imagine the best course of action is somewhere in between the two.
- Imagine your livelihood 10 years from now. What will you be doing? What will provide you with job security and income in a time of increasingly expensive energy? Will your profession be in demand? What would you do with your life if you could start all over, or to pick the job that appeals to you most? Are the two compatible? Do you really enjoy what you do now? Do you have a choice? All questions that you will have to answer, I suggest sooner rather than later. Like I said above, I believe that healthcare will continue to thrive for a time, even in the face of recession. Care within the community will be important as people are less able to travel throughout the area. Not scientifically inclined? There will be a spike in demand for home health aides and companions, and, I believe, for medical advocates, that help facilitate a patient recieveing the care and medicines that they need. Healthcare not for you? What are some other areas that you believe will be in demand in a post-peak future?
- Imagine your optimal living situation in a post-peak world. I imagine a modest home, superinsulated (I am in the Northeast), with alternative sources of energy production - solar panels for electricity, a materials burning stove compatible with wood, wood pellets, bio materials, etc. Hot water provided through solar heating in the summer and woodstove pre-warming in the winter. Landscaping taking advantage of passive heating and cooling strategies, and 50-75% of the lot dedicated to food production, including fruit trees, and vine fruit trellises. My optimal location is in a community with walking distance to town hall, food stores, and a strong sense of community. All located within 5 miles or so of CSA farms.
- Imagine your optimal community. Involved and participating in local government, a variety of professions, networks of friends and family in the area. My philosophy is this: Burdens are less heavy when shared with others. Dedicate some of your time to getting involved in your community, attend town meetings, and community events. Donate time or money to local charities, especially those involved with feeding the hungry. Can you imagine consistently missing a meal a day? Or surviving on junk food that is less expensive than healthy wholesome vegetables and fruit? Work to make this a memory in your neighborhood, and to help put in place a system that could be expanded in the future if peak oil interrupts food shipping networks. Just think, your local food pantry would have the experience of dividing and distributing food, if a larger food shortage ensued. Or consider volunteering for Meals on Wheels - a program that helps to feed elderly shut-ins that can't make meals for themselves. Work for a little "karma" ala My Name Is Earl and hope that the effort that you put in today will be mirrored in someone if you get older, shut-in, and need help.
Maybe these solutions are not for you. Perhaps purchasing a 3 acre homestead and learning to become completely independent in food production and living off of the grid makes you feel like you can handle what ever comes your way. Perhaps it's living in a planned community or eco-village. Maybe you are still in the bar-fight stage of peak oil and think that the end is nigh.
Who knows, maybe the end is nigh. I could be completely off base. I just know that I am more comfortable with my plans and dreams going forward than I was 6 months ago, and it was time to revisit the topic of peak oil.