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.