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Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006
Did you read the article yet? Here’s The Link again, if you missed it. A few thoughts.

“If you've been wondering why the Bush administration has been spending money, cutting social programs, and starting wars like there's no tomorrow, now you have your answer: as far as they are concerned, there is no tomorrow.

From a purely Machiavellian standpoint, they are probably correct in their thinking.”

~~ First, let me piss off those of you who hate all-things-Bush by saying this. Laying all things at his feet is short sighted, implies that the man is a helluva lot smarter than he is, that he has some vast agenda for world domination that takes away from the true focus of the problem. I don’t particularly like the man but as I’ve said before on these pages, one man does not run the country. Forget Bush, we’ve got real problems to deal with here, and they go way beyond his scope of influence. If you need proof of that, you need look no farther than the Katrina/Rita storms, how quickly they brought a region to its knees and how they are still living in Third World conditions in a lot of areas.

The hurricanes proved, once again, that this government really isn’t all that concerned about individuals. And you know what? That suits me. I pay taxes which are little more than legal extortion money in the hope that the government will leave me the hell alone. I don’t want to be the one, stranded in a hotel room in New Orleans, begging for FEMA to extend my free room status for another month. Or screeching for a free trailer, free food, transportation to higher ground or anything else that might come to mind. Maybe I have earned it by letting them soak me for 40% of my income over the course of a working life, but that doesn’t mean they can be relied upon to meet my needs. They manage to squander my money and yours just fine all by themselves, so long as you expect little in return.

Ask the family in Mississippi, who’ve been wiped out by the hurricane and they’re sitting in the dark at 3 am under a tent donated by a church. Ask them just how much their government loves them. Make sure to ask them after they’ve been there for six months.

“The real reason no new refineries have been built for almost 30 years is simple: any oil company that wants to stay profitable isn't going to invest in new refineries when they know there is going to be less and less oil to refine.

With oil at or above $200 per barrel, gas prices will reach $10 per gallon inside of a few weeks. This will cause a rapid breakdown of trucking industries and transportation networks. Importation and distribution of food, medicine, and consumer goods will grind to a halt.”

~~ Let me briefly inject one word here: Cuba. In some ways, the Cubans are way ahead of the curve when it comes to living without an industrial base and mega-energy. While I’d have to say that the Cuban people didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, and they’d likely be happy to trade their infrastructure in on a newer model, they are alive. Fairing a little poorly. But living the best they can. Falling off the energy wagon hurt them but didn’t result in their extinction.

~~ One thing that I think the author of the article ignores is the fact that a large portion of the world is already living under the exact conditions he describes as inevitable for the civilized West. You know, no transportation, no TV, little access to energy systems at all. People in, say, Russian Siberia. Where modern conveniences exist but only in a limited way. A community TV, a couple of busses or trucks. Power connected to a couple of work centers.

How would these people react to global peak oil? I can imagine Ivan in Siberia hearing all this and yawning. “What, like this means things are going to be the same as they are now? Pass the potato vodka, babushka. And toss another log on the fire, eh?”

One other major thing, as suggested by Batten. The author offers no substantive solutions. Maybe if you download his book (available as a PDF! For only $11.95! yeah, I always like a little profiteering to go along with doomsday) he’s got some answers. Maybe there aren’t any answers to be had. He makes a persuasive case about something that’s been staring us in the face for years, something of our own making and encouraged by the greed of the powers that be. Something that isn’t going to go away, that worms its way into every facet of modern life.

I believe, for one thing, that when push comes to shove a whole lot of alternate technology is going to be brought to play. Solar is huge, and I think the author does a disservice by stating that it is unworkable for the long term. Biodiesel as a fuel has tremendous potential, and you can make it yourself! Nuclear could make a comeback. The problem being that it will take time to develop and things will be painful. What I’m seeing is a situation in the US similar to that of Europe over the next twenty years or so. You’ll be paying a ton at the pump and figuring out how to maximize your trips on the road. Converting lousy heating systems to something more efficient. Living in a more insular way. Stuff will cost more.

~~ Do I have suggestions? Why certainly I do. Long term:

1. Prepare your mind. If there is one hard thing to do, as the author himself implies, it is to recognize that this is a real problem, that it’s not going away. That your energy dependent lifestyle will come to an end eventually. Does that depress you? It ought to. I can’t imagine anyone leading the life that cheap energy affords not becoming depressed when they find out that the plug is going to be pulled. Luxury is fun. Laptops and A/C and instant hot water in your shower are all really nice things. Oh, we’ve all had an ice storm or brownout that knocked the juice off for a few hours or days. We’ve “suffered”, for short periods. Can you adapt, in your mind, to having it be that way for months, years, or forever?

2. Consider. Drake drilled the first successful commercial oil well up in PA back in 1859. Production vehicles and equipment using petroleum based engines followed, really got going good at the turn of the century. So we’ve been doing this oil to energy thing for 100 to 150 years. Did man really just not exist at all before that? Or did he exist in some shallow form that we’d prefer not to revert back into? A problem I have with the tone of the article is the usual “Oh God we’re all gonna die!” sort of theme that lack of cheap energy seems to inspire, that there is no alternative to the unlimited growth of an industrialized society. C’mon. Yes, people will die, there will be vicious times and ugly conflicts. Remember Katrina, and the nastiness in New Orleans? It’ll be a lot worse than that. But thinking that everything and everybody is going to collapse because we slow down our endless expansion and consumption? That’s been in effect for all of 100 years? Are we really so afraid to face the fact that maybe we’ll have to get our hands dirty in order to eat, to be warm and get in out of the rain?

3. Don’t be short sighted. In no way am I suggesting that everybody in the US or anywhere else is going to slide easily into a horse and buggy scenario. People used to walking into grocery stores or restaurants for their food might have little problem walking up your doorstep and demanding a meal from you at gunpoint. Don’t expect a lot of cooperation from the neighbor down the street, the farmer with the cornfield, the guy with the chainsaw and lots of stored gas. People in desperate times will lose their morality pretty quickly. While bad times can serve to bring out the best in people, I’m pretty sure some gang-banger with a tire iron would have no problem busting out a window and stealing my food, my water and my fuel. Question is, do I have the will to dispatch him before he does and can I do the same to the suddenly maniacal neighbor?

4. Cities are bad for you. There’s a few folks (Here’s Some) who maintain that urban survival is possible, growing food in small plots, retrofitting existing systems to different energy sources, taking advantage of shorter distances and more shelter. Maybe. The problem I have with urban living on limited energy is simple. There’s going to be way too many mouths in the same place chasing limited resources and their skills will be limited. During the time that it takes to retrofit energy systems I’d rather be taking my chances in the woods, thanks just the same, with a greenhouse and solar panels.

~~ What about right now? With an uncertain future, what do I do right now? And hopefully, without looking like a paranoid freak or attracting a lot of attention to myself? Can I afford to do anything that will help me? Specifics? Here’s what I am doing right now.

1. Every time I go to the grocery store for the weekly stuff, I spend $5 on long term food. Stuff that will store well, or that I can rotate in and out of our normal food supply. I keep it in large plastic bins or large coolers. I buy extra charcoal, extra batteries. This is an every week thing. The Mormons advise to have a years worth of food on hand, and I don’t. Nowhere to put it, really. But if the power is cut for a week I’m fine. Two weeks, pretty good. A month? I’ll be doing a lot of fishing. I’m prepping a series of stuff that will stay handy at all times. Curious? Search for “Bug Out Bag”.

2. I’ve got lots of tools. I’m way ahead in the “Get stuff that will help you build shelters and fix your gear” department. I even have a generator. But if I wasn’t way ahead, I’d be working on that pretty hard. And yes, I do consider firearms to be a part of this tool collection. I’m not advocating full-on body armour, camouflage or mortar launchers. Though there’s certainly a percentage of folks who do. I try to avoid them.

3. The internet. Printing out how-to manuals, putting them in a binder. There’s a ton of stuff out there that I don’t know how to do, there’s people willing to describe it. The printer is busy. I’m learning a lot and it’s cheap education.

4. I don’t know of anyone who happens to have a remote cabin with an available woodlot, but I wish I did. I’d be doing volunteer work with the understanding that in an emergency I’d have a place to stay. Probably the best course of action for single people with limited means unless they could pool resources with others and buy such a place. Ally and I are working on this. It needn’t be an impractical thing - we’re not looking for an impregnable fortress with redundant solar power arrays and ten years worth of fuel storage (and if you want a look into what THAT’S all about, you can read yourself into a coma right here - Really Prepared People is how I would charitably describe them. Rich paranoid kooks, or are they? Anyway . . .). Short version? One acre for two people, trees for occasional fuel, perked and drilled for a hand pumped well. Keep it simple, work it up as you can.

5. One thing I'm specifically not doing is buying into every survival preparedness guide that every ex-Boy Scout with an agenda is typing up these days. Common sense over paranoia. I mean, I just can't see myself building concrete half walls into a cabin to prevent stray bullets from 100 FBI guys outside. If they're out there, chances are they'll have brought a tank along for giggles.

So I’m pursuing food, tools, knowledge and a parcel of land. Haven’t ordered my Davy Crockett hat just yet. What else?

~~ Let’s assume that I buy the basic tenant from this story - that within the next fifty years we’ll be down to nothing in terms of cheap energy. Nothing at all. That we’ll all be in survival mode by our own means. That there is no guarantee that alternative energy will be brought to bear in any workable way. The worst case scenario, with a government hoarding what’s left of the energy resource for its own use, few jobs and a zillion new regulations. I don’t see it going quite that way, but if it does?

1. Well hell, in 50 years I’ll be dead anyway, yes? No, I’m not going into that mode just yet. I’ve got children and a grandchild on the way. I can stand living like Gilligan for long enough to see that they’ve got something to build on and the knowledge to keep it going. The will to live, to go on has been around a lot longer than warming houses with natural gas, or zipping down I-95 in a Chevy.

2. One point made in the article that ought to scare you more than anything is the tie-in from petrol to dollars. If there’s a major loss of wealth (even our puny little bit o’ cash) due to markets crashing and banks going under, the phrase “You can’t take it with you” is going to have a whole new meaning.

~~ Peak oil is a doomsday scenario. You can read all you care to about it, you’ll find differing opinions everywhere, like the halfwits who are convinced that oil is a renewable resource. Or those who scream that we’ll be living in caves by this time next year and they're glad, they just can‘t wait!.

I believe we’re gonna see some of this. I don’t see how it can be entirely avoided and I think that everyone is going to suffer because of it. We’ve built up a machine that’s literally running out of gas and we’re going to need to know how to get along without it. It speaks volumes that people in industrialized countries, especially here in the US, are going to learn that they aren’t necessarily the anointed ones anymore, and I think this scares them as much as losing their Lexus and Jimmy Choo‘s.

Trust your family and friends. Get closer to them and if they don‘t want to believe this is possible, don‘t preach. Get ready for a long slide downhill. Gather some stuff together, read and learn. Conserve as much as you can. If nothing happens you’ll at least have prepared yourself for the next power outage and you’ll feel a lot more relieved when it happens.

But don’t give up.

Some long years from now you might find yourself in a simple cabin, with a low fire, on a dreary day in March. Cursing for the thousandth time the short sighted people who took away your carpet and your desk job, and set you to task with a spoon and the last foraged can of soup. And a hoe for the wavering row of lettuce outside.

The hardest thing might be, in that minute, to find that your finest hour has arrived. That every moment from that point on must be your finest hour. And I hope you’ll remind me of it.

God willing, I’ll do the same for you.

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