Sunday, October 14, 2007

Crude Awakening, or Preparing for Peak Oil

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.

14 comments:

Christy said...

Ah, so you finally gave into the power of the peak oil literature LOL. My first introduction to peak oil was The Long Emergency, I must admit I sank into a pretty deep despair for a bit. Then I pulled myself out of it and started trying to prepare. I'm pretty much doing what you are doing. I'm focusing on learning skills I think will be important and lucky for me the skills are fun for me so I'm enjoying the process. I do sometimes feel a sense of panic that I'm not on my farm yet and what if we don't get there in time but then I take a deep breath and trust.

I've found learning more about peak oil and the type of world we may face to be empowering. I'm taking control of my life and know that I won't be reliant on someone else to bail me out. We do a lot of camping and Logan has learned some really useful skills through that.

Danielle said...

Yes, like I said, it'll be interesting to compare my reaction now to my reaction after I've read The Long Emergency.

Many of the choices we've made in our lives have been in very empowering directions, actively moving away from mainstream institutions. What I find a bit panicking is how dependent upon electricity we still are. So, even though we're already on our farm, it's certainly not our ideal farm, and there's this sense of how much do we invest in this place for a shorter term emergency versus waiting a bit for that ideal place for a long term emergency. And would we really even want to start all over ten years from now.

Christy said...

I'm not sure we have 10 years, but I guess that is the part that is uncertain. I feel that we only have 2-3 years before things start getting bad, not sure where the feeling is coming from but that is how I feel. I feel a sense of urgency to get somewhere where I can raise animals and have real gardens. I don't want to be stuck here when things get bad!

One of the things I do which I find fun is trying to figure out how I would do a certain thing without electricity. That is part of what I'm spending money on now, getting the tools to be able to do things without electricity if necessary. I recently re-read the whole Little House Series to see how they did things. Again, I find that empowering instead of worrying about what we will do without electricity.

Jenny said...

I love your 5 rules! Although I find it odd to hear you speak of "rules" LOL. But I know what you mean.

The way that TLE has motivated us the most is actually in the financial realm. We are not geographically well prepared--our proximity to Mexico and the lack of water here are going to be huge problems. We are certainly well on our way to self-sufficiency but there are big gaps in that arena as well.

But we are moving quickly towards complete freedom from debt (well, there was a recent setback in the form of a long road trip). We are also divesting ourselves of "money on paper"--retirement accounts, etc. We are investing in hard assets instead, the house and land being the largest of these.

My biggest problem with all this is not feeling that I can count on anything. It's very scary! But yeah, I don't want to waste my life living in fear either so I definitely subscribe to rule number 1 as well.

Can't wait to hear what you think of TLE.

Woody said...

I read your post a couple of days ago, always enjoying stepping into ya'lls world because you usually have great eats on the table, light hearted family stories and works from around the farm. The rules are a wonderful guide for living, but the idea that our kids will have to grow up in a much different world than we did really sent me south in the mood department.
Truth is sometimes so hard to swallow. I agree that all we can do is prepare ourselves to be better stewards of what we have around us (family, land, water ect...)and arm ourselves with knowledge. Not just knowledge of new tech stuff but a first hand working knowledge of how those who settled this land worked it with what they had.

Danielle said...

Jenny, I'd like to talk more about this, especially the debt/ money issues, maybe I could bring it to the Crunchy list?

Woody, I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news, especially when you have far too much time on your hands to wallow and think! I'll try to go back to light-hearted food and family posts—I like those better, too.

Jim was funny...after I showed him your comment, he had to go over to his blog and see whether he had any serious posts. Nope, just killin' and eatin' and kids. lol

Christy said...

Have you seen this, it is 100 things to do to prepare for peak oil. Good food for thought. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_4407.cfm

Woody said...

Ya'll crack me up! If you ever get down to this part of our world it would be fun to meet up with ya'll. We really enjoy visiting our friends winery...good food, wine and music. Plus they're cool folks to get to know better.

Yes I do have waaayyy too much time on my hands right now. The sad part is when I've had a couple of good days I try to do too much and bang myself up some more (slipped in the pig pen Friday)I just have a hard time sitting still.

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