Energy Descent Musings

One of the results of my forced furlough from hands on participation in Saving the World is that for the first time in, (gulp!) 6 months I am reading non-fiction again.   At my normal state of non-winter activity I am asleep within 5 minutes of hitting bed, and I find it difficult to sit and read for 30 minutes at any other time when there are so many “Useful Things” to be doing.  But Fate has had Her say, so I a reading again.  For some reason, attending the MREA Energy Fair this year inspired me to purchase 3 books on Energy Descent (I think Peak Oil is too limiting a phrase).   As my reading time is (usually) limited this time of year I went to some authors that have earned my respect to get the most bang for my buck: David Holmgren (co-Founder of Permaculture), John Michael Greer (Current ArchDruid of North America [seriously] and author of the thought provoking ArchDruid Report), and Richard Heinberg (a leading voice in Peak Oil)

First up was Holmgren’s Future Scenarios.  Its a quick read at 120 small pages, but as Holmgren compares the likelihood of 4 possible futures (Brown Tech, Green Tech, Earth Stewards, and Lifeboats) one can’t help but notice how much darker his thinking has gotten in the 7 years since Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.  It is very sobering to see one of your heroes lose some of their optimism.      I just finished Greer’s The Long Descent, which is the first book I have read from the Peak Oil canon.   I also have Heinberg’s Power Down, in the queue.  But honestly, I think I need a breather from Doom and Gloom; I gave my son an impromptu bedtime lecture this weekend in the need for Self Reliance in his lifetime as we will have to do more for ourselves that we do now just to survive.  He’s 7… good parenting, Rob.

Regardless, Truth has a way of resonating and I’m all aquiver.  Here is where my thinking is post reading.   Taking Greer and Homlgren together in such a short timeframe I find myself with some thought inducing take-aways with most of the Doom and Gloom edited out:

  • The Dual Crisis of Climate Change / Peak Oil have switched from “Problems” to be solved to Predicaments to be reacted to.  We had our chance in the 1970’s, Reagan shat on that and stole the future from our children.   This is not a call to “bunker up” in the woods, but rather a call to adjust out thinking and ensure our planning scenarios are set against the correct  reality without deluding ourselves that it will “all work out”. 
  •  Holmgren makes a convincing argument that some governments will squander our finite resources in a futile attempt to maintain the Status Quo.  How many times did we hear Cheney/Bush proclaim that the “American Way of Life will Survive”?  Cheney gets Peak Oil, he is just prefers dooming us all like Reagan did to buy us another few decades of decadence.  Other governments will “get it” and divert resources to more sustainable means of energy production.  The EU has made some faltering attempts towards this.  More likely regional and local governments could be persuaded to do more.  Get Involved.
  • Community is Key.  Look around your town through the lens of Energy Descent.  Best case scenario you need 2000 sq ft to feed a person a very meager vegetarian diet for a year in North America using John Jeavons  Bio-Intensive methods.  Towns over 500,000 will struggle due to the logitical realities of transporting food sans oil – we can grow enough food to feed America, we just can’t transport it without fossil fuels given our current demographic reality.  Suburbs are not much better off – services are too far apart for human scale transportation.  My town of 1200 is a mess too.  As a bedroom community, everyone here is used to getting everything they need from OUTSIDE the community – we have no cultural aspects (this is HUGE), no grocery store, no hardware store, etc.  Towns that have changed little in the past 100 years will do better, as will towns used to being fairly self reliant.
  • Prepare now.  No, that doesn’t mean start your own religion and build a bunker.  It means the sooner we each start to embrace the realities of Energy Descent, the less impactful it will be to our lives.  Honestly assess your life: how will you feed your family, heat your home, and earn a living with drastically less energy to rely on?  Learn a craft that will be useful as we Descend,  manage your life to cut your energy use in half or more (this will likely mean moving or switching jobs), talk to your neighbors, go to the farmers market, grow some of your own food, figure out how to heat your home without natural gas, learn to repair things, buy durable hand tools,  plant fruit trees, join a church or community group, and learn basic health care and first aid.

Reality is a bitch, but if we can avoid the darker parts of the descent, we just may find that our lives are more meaningful as we (re)learn to act with purpose and rely on our selves once again.

Be the Change.


4 Responses

  1. We have a good community here. I taught three kids to knit today and have promised to teach them to spin too a little later (one was my own son). I already teach this stuff at a local school. I may not be much of a gardener but I do know lots of other stuff.

    We are going to plant a few fruit trees this year and some shrubby stuff too – cranberries and currants etc. We will get a few more bantams as our old ones are now truly elderly (the 10 year old rooster died the other day) and I do like having our own eggs.

    Hope you aren’t out of action too long but these things just can’t be rushed – I ought to know – I did my knee in last year and was on crutches for quite a while.

    viv in midwinter nz

  2. That sounds fantastic KK. And for someone that “isn’t much of a gardener” it sounds like you are doing more than just fine!

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. I read your blog a lot… I’m a little conflicted by it actually. While I think climate, peak oil, and our current economics will make for an increasingly volatile environment (in several senses of the word environment), and I think permaculture and post-petroleum living are valuable contributions that I too am implementing, something in your blog makes me uncomfortable in a way that I’m having trouble articulating.

    I don’t think society will collapse as the result of the volatile shocks that are coming. I think individual areas (e.g. hurricane Katrina) may have temporary collapses, but the rest just kept limping along. Peak oil is already past, and it’s going to be a slow (although unsteady) deflation of the petroleum economy (with price spikes and valleys). Global warming will make for regional droughts and disasters, but the country as a whole will not be quickly altered in behavior. Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of suffering, and I don’t mean to minimize that. Whether I’m living sustainably in a post-petroleum permaculture or not seems so small and disconnected from what I perceive as inevitable and tragic.

    I just get depressed, where you seem to have anxious energy and urgency. My fruit trees grow slowly, and my actions aren’t large scale.

    I’m sorry, I’m not sure where this was going.

  4. Edgewise – I hear you… trust me!

    I find my anti-depressants in action. I self medicate with projects and have more than a little of Han Solo’s “you ain’t taking me without a fight!” personality. I made the mistake of reading two Peak Oil books back to back – I find it *much* healthier to read one – then pepper in about 3-4 books like Elliot Coleman’s “New Market Grower”, a re-read of Toby Hemenway’s “Gaia’s Garden” and a book on ethanol or something to keep myself sane.

    Peak Oil is of course not like a Hurricane or other one time spectacular event – we have almost as much cheap fuel now as we did in 2005, but we are on the Down Slope and the myth of Eternal Economic Progress is over. Energy Descent will be a Long Emergency – and I believe it has become a predicament not a problem – it can no longer be solved, it can only be reacted to and –most importantly– PREPARED FOR. We missed our chance to make appreciable change in the 1980’s, now we must rise to the occasion to blaze a new path: first to resiliency, and then to sustainability.

    One suburban homeowner, taken in isolation, growing a few fruit trees is insignificant in the light of the monumental changes that our generation has thrust upon it. But we are social creatures and with very few exceptions do NOT live in isolation. Our neighbors see what we are doing, and even those that do not agree are forced to think about it a bit. As food prices rise, your learnings from growing trees will be a resource to your community, and you will learn other skills from them. I’m a fair gardener, but a crappy welder.

    I think analogies to things like WWII in England / Germany, the Potato Famine, 1990’s Cuba and the Great Depression are better than isolated events like Katrina. If anything, Katrina is a warning – 99% of the country was untouched, and still one of our Crown Jewels lays in wreckage.

    Cubans, the1940’s English, and the Okies changed drastically, but survived and eventually *WE* will do the same. My grandmothers / fathers thrived in the Great Depression by their own pluck and vigor. I am trying to do the same… and so are you.

    Continue to plant trees and other seeds – literal and metaphorical. M.Mead nailed it when she said to never underestimate the ability of a small group of tree planting, Peak Oil Permaculturists to save the world.

    Indeed it is the only thing that ever has!

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