Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Peak Oil Overload

So, I'm reading Sharon Astyk's book, Depletion and Abundance, and I have to say, I'm getting a little freaked out. I'm sure that things will settle down for me as I let all the information I am taking in settle in my brain a bit, but right now it's all a bit overwhelming.

As I said on a message board today, " I have long practiced voluntary simplicity and, to be honest, while I believe strongly in a lifestyle that focuses on walking gently on the planet, I must admit that I preferred believing that it was voluntary - to a degree. I guess that I'm learning that it is not anymore and I'm more than a little concerned for our future."



Astyk writes,

We have already begun to experience supply constraints, and just about everything that is made or transported with oil has begun to rise in cost. Virtually every purchase we make involves oil at some stage (often at every stage) - from the shoes on our feet to the houses we live in. Our food is grown with oil [did you know that chemical fertilizers and pesticides were petroleum based??? YUCK. Yet another reason to grow your own, shop locally, and go organic. - ed.], packaged in oil, and transported to our grocery stores with oil. Many of us have an instinctive assumption that Peak Oil is mostly about gasoline, because that's how we think about oil. But in fact, oil is everywhere, and our whole economy floats on a sea of oil and other sources of fossil energy that are reaching their peaks.

One of the other fossil energies is natural gas and I'm sure many cold-climate friends can attest to the high, high prices they are already facing. In addition, alternative energy sources also rely on oil for their production or for mechanical parts; I learned a lot of this last night watching the film, The End of Suburbia.

Astyk has seen The End of Suburbia too and I appreciate that while the film leaves us feeling like the real and perhaps only solution is for the "New Urbanism" to save our cities, she at least gives a little more hope to me as to how one might begin to make changes while still residing in the suburbs. There has to be this kind of hope, because there's no way we're all going to fit into the cities and, at least in the shorter term, there's no way to afford it either.

One of the men interviewed in the film was talking about the great marketability of cities and towns using New Urbanist principles. He noted that they were going for premium rates. Well, that's great incentive for developers and any new development we have should lean in that direction. But he also said that he felt that suburbia may actually be where the future slums are. And I can see that too, because already the beautiful, walkable communites that are voted every year as great-quality-of-life places to live are waaaaaaaaaay out of my family's price range. So, for those of us left in the suburbs, we are going to have to think about doing things differently - way differently.

Consider that as oil depletes and becomes harder to convert into fuel, prices will continue to rise. Not only will we be wanting more oil, but the rest of the developing world that wants and is driving more and more cars, will be wanting more gasoline too. So, consider that the average 40 minute round trip to work will no longer be feasible. Given that the suburbs are rarely set up with reliable sources of public transportation, this becomes a greater problem and may eventually require people to find different work altogether.

Consider, too, that food will no longer be available year-round in the abundant variety we have all become so used to. We will have to know what grows around us at the very least and learn to grow more of our own food as well.

These are just two of the many, many factors that the coming age seems to herald. I am really trying to listen and to learn while it still appears that there is time to do so. Unfortunately, no one seems to know exactly when the effects will multiply exponentially.

Quite simply, it is only a matter of time before we are no longer going to be able to be a global economy and will return to much smaller, regional (if we're lucky) and local economies. We will be required to live more similarly to the ways our grandparents and great-grandparents lived. I don't think it necessarily has to be a horrible thought, (in fact, I welcome much of it and have longed for many of the community aspects of this type of smaller living) but it is a different way of thinking and we would greatly benefit ourselves and our children by learning some of the basic skills that many of us have neglected to learn. Astyk's book, two others she has written on growing and preserving food, and a myriad of other books on self-sufficiency, which may have appeared to be aimed only at a hobbyist audience at one time, now seem required reading for a successful future.

So, I am concerned and yet, I am hopeful. I am afraid that many, many people will continue to wait until they really must act; we are such a reactive as opposed to proactive country. But I am thankful for the amount of information that is out there and that I can take the time that is now to learn what I can. And I look forward to the time when there will be more people who are ready to work together for a healthier future. Right now, I'm sure that I sound alarmist to some, but I think the evidence is on my side. Heck, even the U.S. Army is making preparations for Peak Oil. In the meantime, I will be practicing and continuing to learn more about what it means to live locally and more sustainably. I want to be familiar and comfortable with it - and I want my children to be familiar and comfortable with it - when the time comes.
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