Beyond Panic, Peak Oil Revisited
2/13/2006 10:05:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
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.
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21 comments:

On 7:09 PM , Anonymous said...

Very well written and thought out post. It's frightening to imagine the future when our country has set itself up for so many hard failures down the road. We truly are creating great problems for our own children. Becoming involved and helping to educate others around is perhaps the best thing one can do. Independently conserving is wonderful, but to truly make a difference, we must all reach out. The greater threat to our way of life is not peak oil, it's lack of awareness. If we soften the blow through involvement and discussion, perhaps we can make it out of this addiction in one piece. In the meantime, it's posts like this one that help to bring us back down to Earth and regain focus. Well done.
Michael d'E

 
On 7:25 PM , odograph said...

Great essay.

I'm moderately hopeful that the price curve (all we have without national planning) will push people along at an acceptable rate.

But it's only going to happen once, and we get what we get.

(My current guess, revised daily, is that this will be a 20 year evolution, without significant response for 5 years.)

 
On 3:41 PM , Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fine comments. It truly has been a depressing 5-6 months since I first read The Long Emergency. We have a small organic farm. I agonized for a long time if it was located in a good area. Finally I decided I could not evaluate that and anywhere could be a disaster. So we're working to make our farm sustainable as we can get it. We've bought a team of draft horses and looking for cart/riding horses. We're investing in developing more pasture. Looking into a milk cow. And more. This all helps. I'm organizing a disscussion group that hoping will become an action group.
But. I have a poster called The Age of Oil. It graphs the fossil energy production from 1859, when the first well was drilled in the US, and into the future decline. It also plots world population to the present. World population was a little less than 1.5 billion and has grown to 6 billion now. The curves are very similar in shape. While it is not good science to postulate a correlation without some real evidence, it is intuitively obvious to me that the great leverage that fossil fuels has provided us has allowed this great growth in population. So if the carrying capacity of the earth without, or with limited fossil fuels, is 1.5 billiion, or less because we've done such environmental damage, how do we get from 6 billion or more to 1.5 billion and a sustainable future? As with much about our predicament we might arrive at a soft landing if we planned and executed. Does anyone see the leadership that could get us there?
Again thanks for the post. Hope you're right
Nick

 
On 3:41 PM , Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fine comments. It truly has been a depressing 5-6 months since I first read The Long Emergency. We have a small organic farm. I agonized for a long time if it was located in a good area. Finally I decided I could not evaluate that and anywhere could be a disaster. So we're working to make our farm sustainable as we can get it. We've bought a team of draft horses and looking for cart/riding horses. We're investing in developing more pasture. Looking into a milk cow. And more. This all helps. I'm organizing a disscussion group that hoping will become an action group.
But. I have a poster called The Age of Oil. It graphs the fossil energy production from 1859, when the first well was drilled in the US, and into the future decline. It also plots world population to the present. World population was a little less than 1.5 billion and has grown to 6 billion now. The curves are very similar in shape. While it is not good science to postulate a correlation without some real evidence, it is intuitively obvious to me that the great leverage that fossil fuels has provided us has allowed this great growth in population. So if the carrying capacity of the earth without, or with limited fossil fuels, is 1.5 billiion, or less because we've done such environmental damage, how do we get from 6 billion or more to 1.5 billion and a sustainable future? As with much about our predicament we might arrive at a soft landing if we planned and executed. Does anyone see the leadership that could get us there?
Again thanks for the post. Hope you're right
Nick

 
On 10:36 AM , odograph said...

You are an early adopter!

I think that can be harder to do than to move with the crowd, later. Right now riding horses have a time-cost that a car does not. Later, a car is going to have reduced resale value .. but when?

I think I'll try to ride the curve, and make decisions that provide a little return with, or without, peak oil.

In city living a Prius saves me money now, and will have great resale at $10/gal. Riding a bike keeps me in shape and keeps miles off the Prius.

If I were to think about a farm venture, it might be to get a switchgrass pelletizer and become a supplier to homeowners. That should make money with status-quo nat. gas prices, and even more should nat. gas climb.

 
On 6:21 PM , LuceLu said...

I like your stages of urgency. I am in the "I need to focus my attention elsewhere right now." stage.

We are facing an impending move from Central New York (Everyone says Awhhhh!). We have picked an area outside Nashville, TN with some acreage. I think we will be able to develop enough garden area to feed ourselves locally, especially with the long growing season they have there. I will be putting up a raised colonial style split with fireplace and solar heater on the side of the house for sale in L'pool--no new windows tho. My NG bills have averaged about $275 a month this winter keeping the thermostat at 60 (it has a timer).

The future? I am in healthcare. I keep trying to convince my dh to get good and specialized in solar set-ups (he is an electrician). So far he has worked on some windmills and is now in a nuke plant.

Regarding over-population -- Lately I have been tending to view natural disasters, diabolical murderous thug tyrants and plague as natural feedback mechanisms. One of our doctors mentioned that he could not believe that humans were the dominant species on this planet. I told him he was doing his part to changing that --modern medicine doing it's best to weaken the gene pool. Okay, I know I've been a bit down lately... please excuse.

 
On 12:46 PM , CreoleGenius said...

Let's See;

Make your federal reserve debt the most honest way you can. Invest a little into metals and commodities.
Insulate your house and install a catalytic woodstove. Buy and vacuum wrap non-hybrid seed. Buy a listeroid
diesel engine with generator head (engine can run on waste vegoil). Raise some rabbits. Put up a storage building
and fill it full of toilet paper as long as you can, because one day, toilet paper will become more valuable than
equivalent weights of $1 bills.

CreoleGenius

 
On 12:48 AM , Anonymous said...

i'm new THIS WEEK to "peak oil" but have been always aware of the emenent breakdown of society- due to one reason or another.(katrina PROVED this to me!). before i was able to consider myself a "wacko" but now that i have found ALOT OF STUFF about peak oil i at least feel a little better knowing that quite a few people think simular to me.

i'm now so completely scared of scociety i cannot think more than a few months in advance without panicing. so much for college fund or retirement! luckly my wife is still under control and says "just keep going to work!" or i would probably be packing for the mountians.

i'm not really going anywhere with this but- cool site.

 
On 3:19 AM , Matty said...

Great article. Thanks. I have to think hard about what type of livelihood will still be relevant down the road. Maybe food production is the best area. I really wonder what is going to happen to property values and if it's almost better sell high and to rent in about 5 years. I guess the hard part about planning is predicting what is actually going to happen. If you wait a bit you can respond to the actual circumstances. I would be concerned about too hi tech solutions since replacement parts may not be available when you finally really need them. For example, If you are running on solar panels but your inverter gives up, your whole system may be ineffective.

 
On 7:54 AM , Anonymous said...

nice comments. i am making the transition to more sustainable living. i have always been frugal and ecological in my approach to living, but Peak Oil provides further motivation. I expect that populations will plummet, unfortunately not due to a demographic transition. i would like to imagine we will be able to have a technophilic society that will provide a support structure to smaller, more diffuse communities. Big cities are looking at bad times.....good luck.

 
On 10:01 AM , Anonymous said...

Any thoughts of locating to small towns...on mainline train tracks?

In fact Im buying all railroad transportation stocks by the boatloads. (see below)

Im thinking we could still have "train travel" (with all the coal we have)..and thus this may be a nice compermise vs "out in the country".
Agree on Healthcare, electrical, solar, as career (or venture) opportunities.

Other insights welcomed.

 
On 10:14 AM , 100mph said...

You make some great points and I've been thinking along these same lines. Your "I fear the big oil shock, but prepare for the slow decline" is the best summation of an optimal personal response that I've seen. There’s only so much a person can do to prepare for a full-tilt SHTF scenario anyway, and I’m not even convinced that’s worth surviving. Matty’s point about replacement parts is also important. My personal preparations incorporate redundant systems to at least partially account for that. For example, I have six ways of cooking food: electric range, propane cooktop, horno, sun oven, fireplace, and an open firepit. The quest for ever-increasing convenience may be the first casualty in what’s to come.

 
On 12:25 PM , Anonymous said...

Thank you for the positive ideas, since reading "The Long Emergency" last year and witnessing Katrina, I've flip-flopped between preparing and depression. My main problem is wondering what kind of world will be left for my 3 daughters (22, 16, 14) and trying to "prepare" them for that world, without scaring them to death and/or my husband committing me to the insane asyllum. What I've done so far; make good friends with our neighbors, fixed up and ride my bike to work, got the kids riding their's too, storing food and water, and talking to my husband about moving north once the young ones graduate from high school. Like many of the bloggers here, I work in high-tech, which may not have a long term market, but I have many "hobbies" that actually produces goods, crocheted blankets and ponchos, making ceramics, sewing, repairing my bike, learning food storage/canning, stuff like that. Its hard though, having a spouse (he's an electrical engineer/inventor) who doesn't want to hear the "doom and gloom"... it gets lonely - but really good to be able to come here and see that I'm not the only one! Thanks and best of luck to us all. corrientempe

 
On 12:28 PM , Anonymous said...

You all sound like chicken little. Panic all you want--I am going surfing (in the ocean). Maybe an anti-depressent and a new girlfriend is all you need to be happy?

 
On 1:02 PM , welshdog said...

With almost 300 million people in the US woodburning stoves will only be viable for a short time after the troubles begin. Why? If large numbers of people install them, where will the wood and other materials to feed them come from? There will be a supply for a short time, but it will rapidly become expensive as demand increases. Not to mention that there are not enough trees of the right type to support large numbers of stoves.

Plus the pollution from stoves even if they are all catalytic will be massive. I don't see stoves as a viable alternative. Electric heaters powered by sustainable sources like wind will be the best choice. I have read that there is more than enough wind potential in the US to keep electricty flowing.

 
On 6:10 PM , baloghblog said...

"You all sound like chicken little. Panic all you want--I am going surfing (in the ocean)."

Ahhh, to be 19 again...

Thanks all for your comments. As far as woodburning stoves go, I am less worried about the wood situation in my "neck of the woods" so to speak. We have abundant forests in Upstate NY. Electric heaters for one room total 1.2 kWh, per hour, so it would take alot of wind blowing up here to get us thru a winter. I am more concerned that coal stoves will come roaring back into fashion and cause more green house gasses to be produced. Then again, if you believe in peak oil, you have to believe that this will cause a massive decline in miles driven, a large decrease in and therefore a massive decrease in air polution. Hopefully stove efficiency will improve along the same lines as car mileage, as fuel becomes more expensive. I would have to guess that extended families sharing a home and other "families of convenience" will spring up in the winter, as people live together to share the burden of home heating costs. If you think about it, does it really make sense to heat 20,000 cu ft of home by forced air (2000 sq ft home with 10 ft ceilings) for a family of 3 or 4 people? (hmm... this seems like a good topic for another long post...)

Good call on the replacement parts for equipment and redundant systems as well. Will add that to my running list!

And I totally agree with the toilet paper stocking. I buy an extra case each trip to the wholesale club. Any personal care item would be in demand I imagine.

Stop back in soon, and I'll post on the home heating issue.

 
On 8:23 PM , mosiek said...

please see the energy solution via algaes project developed by dept of chemical engineering Univ of NH. There are algaes over 30,000 of them living in warm climate ponds and harvest is in a few days, an acre pond produces 4000 gals of oil/year, oil can be converted to diesel, a scoping study estimates that ponds in desert areas 2x size of NJ are needed for all liquid fuels needs of USA assuming use of diesel for vehicles, algaes grow on municipal waste waters and photosynthesis, DOE started the study in 1978 and ended in 1996 so it is nothing unknown

 
On 9:02 PM , nulinegvgv said...

What a wonderful summation from someone who has digested peak oil and come out the other side informed but not insane. You have a great perspective going for you.

 
On 10:17 PM , Anonymous said...

You've yet to factor in one crucial component that could impact this entire scenario: killer bees. We'd better start sucking up to them while there's still time.

 
On 1:09 AM , Matty said...

On the issue of global warming. We still have half the oil left to burn (that's a hell of a lot left). It took us 150 years to burn the first half, and it will take 30 (?) years to burn the last half. Add to that all the coal we will burn more of. We haven't seen the tip of the ice berg of global warming yet. Unless we can reach a global emission reduction agreement, you may be more concerned about practical issues like moving away from the coast (5m sea level rise in 100 years) and getting out of the South and SW.

 
On 4:50 AM , Mitchell said...

Many of us have little or no control over our country or the future of the world, eco-pushes are all doom and gllom and blame humans for global warming, species extiction and everthing, the planet can contribute to global warming without our help, in one day a volcanic eruption can do more harm than a hundred years of car travel and energy use, but they are willing to overlook these, we do not all laze in our garden hammocks with a fire beside us on oneside and an a/c unit on the other, most of us are responsible and are aware of the energy we use, maybe we should round up all the scare mongers and doom sayers and use them as an energy resource.