Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book, is awesome. Sharon potently advocates preparing for Peak Oil. Peak Oil is a code phrase, or description of the event that will cause immense economic rearrangement. Change is measured in pain. The gist of Peak Oil, is that inexpensive energy – fossil fuels in particular – will soon reach (or have reached) the ‘peak’ availablility, while demand for energy will continue to grow. The result will be that, as we saw last summer, other nations and new applications will introduces undreamt-of levels of demand. The result? The end of ‘cheap’ energy.
Where today a single family dwelling is the ‘American Dream’, suburb life and horrendous commute to work in mostly single-occupant vehicles, and easy access to cooking and heating fuels, and access to the electric utilities grid, will all be challenged. Sharon advocates growing your own food, re-learning canning and housekeeping from times before the first electric appliances, and relying on ecology-friendly approaches. Other Peak Oil views expect a massive shortfall in food availability – farmers that can’t afford to plant for the low price of produce, and transportation costs so high no one can afford the available food. Loss of municipal water sources, fire and medical services may well follow, making the Great Depression and the attendant deaths from starvation and disease and suicide likely to reappear.
Me? I think we should plan for something like Sharon plans for. That rural communities and groups of families and neighbors will gather to share resources, skill sets, tools, and trade labor. I grew up in 1960′s NW Iowa. Some of our neighbors had a flat-rack (made for hauling hay bales), A few had a baler. Dad helped three or four neighbors bale their hay, then they helped bale ours and put it up in the barn. No muss, no fuss – and no begging off.
That is certainly doable again.
I enjoy working with draft horses. Working draft horses can be the center-point of a rural lifestyle of hard work, rewarding life, and a great place to raise kids. Ask the Amish - they have believed that for centuries, Their Anabaptist forbears were persecuted for witchcraft in Europe – when their fields outperformed their neigbors. The Anabaptists introduced what became today’s modern agriculture. Simply rotating crops, devotion to maintaining soil quality, fertilizing – were weird and suspect practices, and caused many martyrs before they migrated to the New World. Today their lifestyle mingles only lightly with the modern world. And they still believe that working the soil is the right way to raise children.
We have Amish examples that we can live today without the electric utility that some Peak Oil analysts believe will be too expensive for half the families in the US to afford, by about .. umm .. 2012. Three years, give or take.
Our grandparents and great-grandparents that lived through the Great Depression of the 1930′s, and the food rationing of World War II, grew much of their own food. Even in cities and apartments, there were ‘victory gardens’ to supplement what food was available. And there are many people that concede the Peak Oil worries are valid – that are already growing their Victory Gardens.
For a number of years, people have been interested in a slower-paced life. Small Farmers Journal, published quarterly in Sisters, OR, covers rustic skills and early recipes, working and training workhorses and oxen and goats, etc. Rural Heritage magazine from Jackson County, TN, covers an Appalachian perspective of regressed living styles. The venerable FoxFire books detail the elder skills and implements for those looking to retreat from modern life, Mother Earth News helps the back-to-nature people find their way.
I think, if Peak Oil hits as the analysts claim, that we will see prices skyrocket – then return to a higher level, then keep ratcheting ever higher. Companies will lay off workers and close doors as costs to provide services and produce and transport products put them out of business. Those few tilling the land in the old ways will have the best access to the food – that they grow. Small communities of like-minded neighbors will share work and resources. Many will find themselves sharing a home with others, some with families, some with others. Ready, continuous access to propane, natural gas, electricity, heating oil, diesel fuel, and gasoline and ethanol will become intermittent and prices will become prohibitive.
Most food will be locally produced. To assure the best availability of local food, the time is now to begin preferring and seeking out local producers. Establish the market now, so that production increases to keep up – and will be available when food from other counties, other states, or across the ocean will become rarities.
What is the down side of preparing? If it doesn’t happen in our lifetimes – we recover some skills from history, we learn to live with less reliance on fossil fuels, we (eventually) live healthier, more active lives, we save a ton of money. And we provide a useful, sane role model for our kids.