Okay, so I've known about peak oil for a while but have deliberately chosen not to go there and nurture my tendency to focus on gloom and doom—basically the same reason that I don't watch nightly news broadcasts or the kinds of tv dramas that scream "be afraid!" I find it easier to live from a place of peace and joy when I resist allowing fear and negativity to seep into my thoughts. Broad scope knowledge that enables me to move in the direction of change is a good thing; wallowing in obsessive worry over the unknown, not so good.
This past week, I decided to let little bits of information into my insulated world via the documentary A Crude Awakening, figuring it wouldn't be nearly so apocalyptic as Kunstler's The Long Emergency, if his blog and other folks' reaction to his book are any indication. (Of course, then I did have to put a hold on the one copy of his book available in my library system, so I'm sure I'll post once I've read it. It is almost winter after all, and I'm looking for some thought-provoking reading material.)
Did the documentary tell me anything I didn't already know? No, but it did offer some thoughtful sound bytes, like the idea that our grandchildren may never know the possibility of air travel. Little things like that make perfect sense when I hear them, but I'd just never quite framed the reality in mundane terms like that. The problem, however, is that I've now let the doomsday scenarios that had previously haunted my walks through the pasture become more than just niggling little what-ifs and take on the insidious form of pressure to prepare and doubts of whether we're doing enough.
But what is enough? That's the real question, isn't it. Because few people in the circles I travel would argue that peak oil is a reality (extended family aside), though there would be lively debate as to whether it has already occurred or is still impending in the next few decades. The real point of debate and conjecture is what the heck to prepare for...as the possibilities range from the rational historically-based Great Depression scenarios or the more recent Katrina disaster scenario to the relatively benign throw-back to another era scenarios all the way to the post-apocalyptic Day After scenarios, the violent and anarchic Mad-Max worlds (or Waterworld if you want to toss in the global warming twist), or the urban, government gone mad Escape from New York.
So, just where do we look to prepare—to the world of grim reality or to the dystopic realities created by writers and artists and our own worst imaginings?
After some serious consideration, I'll be approaching the idea of preparation much like I approached the topic itself: by empowering myself and my family to live well and as independently as possible. Life itself can be lost in preparation for the unknown—an irony I don't wish experience.
So, in spirit of the notion that preparation is in the living and inspired by a thread over at the peakoil message boards, I submit my own 5 rules for Peak Oil prep, some of which jibe with the survivalist fanatics and some of which most definitely do not.
1) Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die: This goes back to the idea that life itself can be lost in preparation. I could spend all my time, energy and money becoming a survivalist, learning to make fire and eat grubs, and then get hit by a bus before gas prices top $5 a gallon here in the states. In the meantime, I'd have lost many wonderful opportunities for delicious food and joy in the moment—a fear-based transaction I'm unwilling to make. I don't believe in starving myself or my family—both metaphorically and literally—to prepare for the possibility of starvation in some uncertain future. Instead, I'll eat well, stay strong as long as luck and body hold out, and enjoy my time here and now, which brings me to my second rule.
2) Forge strong and meaningful relationships: for these are the stuff of life. By this rule I mean relationships with myself, my partner, my children and my community. If we fail to take the time to get to know ourselves or our family, those on whom we will count heartily in any of the potential scenarios, we will have no foundation of internal strength. Too much of modern life fractures families and personal relationships, forcing people to spend more time away from one another than together and championing adversarial relationships between parents and children, men and women, neighbor and neighbor.
3) Become more independent: Although seemingly contradictory to rule #2, the paradox is that as we become more independent, we become more able to enter into meaningful relationships with others. Only through our own autonomy can we act as fully actualized human beings because only through our own autonomy can we know ourselves honestly and fully. Also potentially paradoxical is that by "independent" I don't mean isolated—we come to know ourselves in part through our contact with others. But I do mean self-reliant: from government systems, from non-renewable resources, from unsustainable food chains, from mindless consumption, and from allowing others to think for us.
4) Acquire Mindfully: Of course, the flip side to avoiding mindless consumption is to acquire mindfully, and this is perhaps the most difficult rule for me personally. While we've been trying to move toward simplicity, I'm definitely not the most frugal gal around, though I try. We've become much more seasonal and local eaters, which has gone a long way toward this rule. My goal is to continue to find ways to trim expenses and to make our purchases with an eye towards long-term use value. We'll be privileging homestead infrastructure, manual tools, quality and longevity, self-reliance, sustainability, and skill building.
5) Cultivate Knowledge: Homesteading itself is excellent preparation, so in many ways, we'll just keep on keepin' on. Each day, each month, each year here at the farmstead, we learn new skills, adding to our knowledge base, and we become that much more independent. We're building our library, expanding our research, adding to our practical experience. In the two years we've been here, we've learned about butchering and preserving, husbandry and natural care, building and electrical, weather and earth, planning and flexibility, gardening and direct marketing. Not only will we be spending more time learning on the farm, but we'll also be spending more time doing things as a family like camping and rock climbing—activities we've always enjoyed and that now offer a whole different advantage, ensuring that the kids grow up with solid grounding in practical skills.
Will we be the most prepared folks around? No, but chances are that we'll be positioned better than many and have the solid emotional core to back up our skills and provisions regardless of what the future holds.