Peak Oil Preparation Revisited: What's Enough?
7/01/2008 10:27:00 PM | Author: baloghblog

As I sit here, taking a break from life, far, far away from home...

The beer tastes cold and crisp, the warm sun being replaced by a cool breeze from off shore, and the birds are circling lazily on the updrafts. All feels well for the time being. But, like a distant rumble of thunder and a flash of light on the horizon, a feeling of uneasiness nags at me - a soft pang of guilt rolls into my subconscious.

"What have I done over the past 3 years to prepare for what approaches over the horizon?"

"What could I have done that would have been 'enough'?"

The answer to those questions appear to be not enough and it's never enough.

So in order to come to grips with those thoughts and emotions, I'll do what I always do to work through overwhelming periods in my life... I'll make a list. What should I do to fulfill my dreams, and to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground? Where should I be now or in the near future?

I should be in a home with a low mortgage payment and taxes, perhaps one I've designed myself, more likely one that I've made changes to, to suit my family's needs. It should be in walking distance to the grocery store, shops, and services. Public transportation should be convenient and my friends and family nearby. I should know my neighbors' names within 3 homes on either side. My plot of land should be manageable and I'd enjoy the bounty of a small productive garden and a range of fruit and nut trees.

Ideally, my home would be extremely energy efficient and insulated, and require only a small wood stove to keep us warm through the winter and several fans to keep us cool in the hot summer. This 'dream house' would include a small solar array to provide enough power for the lighting in each room, to run a high-efficiency chest freezer, the coffee pot, the computer, a stereo and occasionally a small LCD TV. The grid would supply the remaining electricity to power the refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and washing machine1. A solar hot water heater would provide hot water for showers in the summer, and an on-demand hot water heater would do the same in the winter, as well as radiant floor heating for the bedrooms in the winter, for the nights that the wood stove just won't cut it. Homemade insulation inserts would complete the heating (and cooling) system - fitting snugly in the windows. The clothes dryer would be a fading memory, replaced by a clothesline in the summer and a highly efficient centrifuge and drying racks/lines in the winter.

Our basement would contain an extensive pantry with non-perishables, jarred fruit and veggies, cooking oils and vinegar. A cold cellar would hold a large sack of potatoes and squash, as well as a few bushels of apples to last the winter and spring. The cool sanctuary of the basement would also transform from a hibernation den in the winter to a family sleeping area in the hot muggy summer nights. Beds, blankets and sleeping bags would come out on the 90+ degree days, as we took advantage of the geothermal cooling.

Plants in every room of the house would improve air quality, provide medicine, herbs for cooking, and natural air fresheners.

Our garage would be well organized and contain a variety of well cared for and functional tools. Gardening tools would hang on one wall, wood working and assorted electrical and plumbing tools on another. A variety of reclaimed hardwood boards, pipes, clamps, screws and the like, would make emergency trips to the hardware store a thing of the past. Aged wood would sit stacked and dry in its rack. Bins for recycling and reuse would make taking the garbage out a snap. Our trash pick up would consist only of a single 30 gallon trash pail that is taken out once every two weeks2. The remainder would be stacked, sorted, reused and recycled. Paper recycling would be minimized as the flow of junk mail would become a trickle. Cans, plastic containers, and jugs saved to become planters and short term storage of dried non-perishables. No plastic bags would enter our waste stream, due to our diligent use of reusable bags. Food scraps would be more easily composted in our new bin system, which is supplemented by twice weekly pick-ups of used coffee grounds from a local coffee shop.

I would wear three hats at work: a part-time medical provider, a part-time environmental/energy consultant, and a part-time stay at home dad. I enjoy all three jobs, the medical care provides the bulk of our income, the environmental work satisfies my technical and creative side, and having time at home a few days a week with the family is worth the foregone income, and allows my wife to continue working.

We live simply, minimizing non-essential purchases, saving cash for large purchases, camping trips and trips to see the relatives. Our monthly bills are low, and our savings comparatively high. Our small obligations mean our 3 month emergency fund could probably stretch to half a year, and our stocked pantry shelves and freezer protect us from food inflation and any shortages of essential goods. Half the freezer holds vacuum sealed veggies and fruits from the summer months, the other half holds beef and pork from a local farmer cut into small packages. Freezer jam, a stash of chocolate, and homemade pudding pops (yes a necessity) fill in the empty spaces. The refrigerator looks decidedly bare without the usual containers and bottles of processed food. Sure a few bottles of condiments are still on the shelf, but mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, homemade yogurt, milk and juice - along with some glass left over containers take up the shelf space. This week's pizza dough is making its second cold rise. Now that food is expensive, not a bit goes to waste. Bones and grizzle get turned into stock. Leftover veggies, rice, beans, etc. find their way into the "Saturday night special" - a rich and spicy soup.

In the bathroom, two plastic buckets sit under the counter. Turning a small dial diverts the sink water into the first bucket. The second goes over the shower drain to collect water while the shower water heats up. Natural and biodegradable soap and shampoo sit on the rack. The reuse of greywater compliments the rainwater collected off of the front and back gutter downspouts. The front collector is just a large watering can used to keep the front flower and herb garden watered, and in the back there is a rain barrel with a stopcock and drip hose threaded through the garden. During dry spells the gravity fed system keeps the veggies irrigated. The recent addition of an outdoor shower allows greywater to directly soak through our lawn and into the roots of the fruit trees.

Ideally our transportation would consist of a fancy new electric car, with an on board recharger for longer trips. However, I'd be very happy with a small gas-sipping car that is little used. I'd really like an electric assist bike to navigate the hills around our house. The bike would have range enough to make it to the store, and would have an attached cart to haul the kids or supplies.

We've made (or have started to make) many of the changes listed above. However, many things remain on the to-do list. Some cost more money than we have at our disposal right now. Most, however, require just time and dedication to complete.

It's my goal to list our projects publicly on my blog. One - to show others what we're working on and two - to give myself a bit of motivation.

I'd welcome your thoughts and ideas on this issue. What did I forget? What else are you working on? Please leave me a comment, or contact me at steve AT groovygreen * com.

1 It is my belief that the number of years to a disruption of the power grid are measured in decades. Even if power were to become "inconvenient" I believe that the appliances mentioned could be used intermittently, or worked around.

2 As the price of fuel continues to climb, twice weekly trash pickups may become the norm.
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On 1:02 PM , NYCO said...

Wow, if you've thought of all these things and still feel unready, I should be in the depths of despair myself! I haven't thought anything through.

As for me, I'm just eating less and walking more, right now. Some of these cultural habits are hard to break; such as the "dinner's at 6" thing, which just leads to rampant snacking all evening on various things manufactured from corn. Dinner at 6 made sense when a farmer's day ended at sundown (7 or 8). I now have a (smaller) meal at 4:30 when I get home from work, and a similar sized one at around 8:30.

On 5:55 AM , Anonymous said...

Only in the past 12 hours have I started to really think about this situation. Too late? Where to live safely? How are we going to get food and fresh water, keep warm? I live in London at the moment and I don't own a home or have kids, life could be easily moved now but to where? London I think will certainly not be the ideal city to live in no big city will be. Possibly rural Scotland in a log cabin! I must admit this is all very worrying and I think its too late!

On 9:39 AM , BlackMacX said...

Though the preparation you envisioned hasn't happened as you would have liked, don't dispair. Have you done things (I haven't read you original posts on this, just this one) like reduce you energy usage, waste and improved recycling? I have similar ideas to yours and though many aren't underway yet (expect the planning), setup a "project" in maybe a GTD fashion to help you get there. I know that for my family, we don't have some of the issues: 1. we live within a major urban centre, within a 10 minute walk of the subway system and a 1-2 minute walk to buses. 2. we have started to grow our own food and 3. have no car (but two good bikes).
My family (currently only my wife and I) live on a largish lot (by local standards) that can be used to grow much of our food and is well cited for PV and SHW usage. We do live also within easy walking of shops, grocery stores and hardware stores as well (12 minute walk). Extended family is also within a 15 minute walk.

That said, we do want to get some form of off-grid power generation going to suppliment our grid usage and to provide emergency power. The SHW helps also as the house is heated by older style radiators with a new mid-efficiency boiler.

On 5:43 PM , Anonymous said...

You forgot guns.

Squirrels, rats & cats are tasty (and necessary) protein sources.

On 12:42 PM , JUST COOL Design Blog said...

this post is scary - the harsh reality that i have prepared for nothing.
on the brighter side, for a car you might consider the one on my blog that gets 190 m per charge / 300 m per gallon. watch the video - it is so cool

On 5:05 AM , Anonymous said...

Have any of you heard of the transition towns movement in the UK? It's all about communities coming together to make themselves more resilient to the changes which peak oil and climate change are bringing. But no need to panic - it's all about positivity. Linked with permaculture.
Check out