Saturday, March 5, 2011

Don't just sit there, DO SOMETHING!

My last two posts have been circling a central issue that I feel underpins a lot of what's going on in the world. Energy. Energy is central to the functioning of economies and states. Naturally, by energy I mostly mean fossil fuels, and especially oil.

Well, there's this thing called Peak Oil. It's a multifaceted issue, but the long and short of it is, as with any limited resource, there is a production peak. After half of the oil is gone, it becomes harder and more expensive (in terms of money and energy investment) to get the rest out. What remains is lower quality, and harder to get (deep water, for example, or in or smaller reserves). So, you plateau a while as the market struggles with it, then the long slide down of production begins, while the line of expense goes ever up. Eventually the two lines cross and it takes more energy to get than to use, and it becomes not worth going after... this happens long before all the oil is actually used.

I'm reading now that oil peaked in 2006, putting us in the volatile plateau area. We're massively fucked. Consider:

With the immense petroleum input that goes into modern agriculture (fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, tractors, transit...), food prices are going up and will continue to do so. Thus the unrest in the Arab world these days. They want freedom and an equal share in their economies, but driving it is the need for affordable food. Adding to that are other systemic problems, like depleted fossil aquifers, wasting food for making ethanol (gotta keep soccer mom's SUV and joe sixpack's pick-up going!).

Goodbye soil,
goodbye future.

That alone should make us worry. Food is life, after all, and we aren't ready to jump into a local, organic food production system. The sooner we start the better. Modern agriculture is ruining the soil (what doesnt blow or wash away), which is a crime against the generations to come. This is one of the top issues in my opinion.

This reality of Peak Oil also helps explain the two wars we have going on (it's the oil, stupid!). It helps explain the power grabs and corruption in our government, and the endless recession we've fallen into, which I personally doubt we'll ever climb out of. The point is that the system is in chaos, and probably falling. Those who can are scrambling to grab what they can, it's looting at the highest levels. Peak Oil isn't the only variable in all this, of course; the system is complex. But it's a major one.

So. As I mentioned at the end of my recent post on unions, the system looks like it's going to crash. No other state or economy so depends on fossil fuels as does America's. We live too far from our jobs, from grocery stores (which are themselves too far from food sources), and from clean water (clean water? what's that?). We have paved over miles and miles of prime agricultural land. The suburbs were built on and depend on cheap oil/transportation, as does trade and manufacturing. Part of the housing bubble's collapse might be a growing if yet unconscious awareness of the coming death of suburbia. Our jobs are largely service jobs now, and do not create tangible goods or wealth. In fact, the growth economy and globalism seems to be in its death throes, which is very good for the long term but very painful for the short term. Do the words "die off" mean anything to you?

This is part of why I think getting into sustainability is vital. It's half environmental ethic, half awareness of the end of western civilization as we know it if we aren't proactive. Sounds extreme, but surely a Roman in the year 400 would have said the same of his Empire. Yet just 100 years later, Rome, at least in the West, was a memory as the so called Dark Ages began.

I don't really want another Dark Ages, and I'm sure no one does. But to avoid it, we have to wake up and realize that we are not going to be saved by a miracle technology or fuel source or some other deus ex machina. We have realities to face. We need to stop being lulled by the politicos and economists who are blind, stupid, or corrupt. The storm is coming, and praying for blue skies won't save us. We need to prepare. Large systems fall slowly, and we can help soften the blows, but we need to start yesterday.

Here's a few interesting sites, blogs and otherwise, that I've been reading lately on this topic and others. I'll be adding them to my link list as well.


  1. The political will to change our unsustainable ways won't raise its head until it is far too late. Future generations will look back to this generation and curse our names.

  2. I agree mostly, and it frightens me. I think, though, that most future generations will be too busy scraping a living out of the ruined world to think much about us.

    Still, some places will be better off than others, because they are preparing. There's intentional communities out there, and organic farms, and people who are making an effort. Makes me think of moving to the west coast where I hear there are comparatively more people doing such things. Middle America is gonna be hard hit, right along with the suburbs.

  3. Becoming locally self-sufficient in the basic necessities of food and water should be our top priority. Without that we're pretty much screwed.

    Kunstler (one of your links above) wrote a great book on this topic: The Long Emergency. It's well worth a read. He actually takes a more favorable view of the midwest, especially the great lakes area, because it's very rich in resources, fertile land, plenty of water, and opportunities for harnessing the energy of the water using water wheels. There's a lot of potential there...for urban gardening...cottage industries...forming a local economy. Too damn cold for me though.

    Kunstler also predicts that the absolute worst places to live in America during the coming collapse is pretty much the entire southernmost portion of the country, but worst of all is the desert southwest...where I am. Hope I get out of here before it's too late. Because if the water ceased coming out of the faucets, without an evacuation, we're all pretty much as good as dead here. Wouldn't last long living off the land around here, especially if competing with a couple million starving/dehydrated gun toting Arizonan's...I think it could easily turn into a cross between "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and a "Night of the Living Dead" situation.

    I used to like the west coast, Northern California/Pacific Northwest, that was my original destination before becoming stranded on this desert island in a sea of sand...though that area is not really on my agenda anymore, I'm bound and determined to settle somewhere tropical, perhaps in a different country, but a couple reservations I would have against settling along the pacific coast is the active fault line and the proximity to the super volcano in Yellowstone. Something to think about. Might want to wait out 2012...just in case...the big one could be right around the corner. Or not. Who knows?

  4. I've long been a fan of Kunstler. I've read some of but not all of the Long Emergency, but I did just finish his new novel The Witch of Hebron which I may post about sometime soon.

    Anyways, the Midwest has potential but they're not using it. Seed saving is illegal pretty much, and with the ubiquity of industrial cash cropping and full shelves at the grocery store, no one is set up for subsistence gardens. It's corn corn corn, soy soy soy. And without petroleum, it's nothing.

    In the mid to long term, they'll do fine, but the first year or two will be hell.

    As for the Pacific Northwest, i can't worry about earthquakes too much, much less a supervolcano. The land up there is good, there's water, climate is alright, and there's mountains to settle my spirit some, and maybe feed me with game. Not bad.

    But like you, I gotta get out of where I am. I can't even imagine Texas in a situation like you say. Buncha crazy Texans living out their Lone Star State cowboy fantasies... God save us. I hope the world can hold out for about 8 more months, so I can do my hike, come back for my truck and stuff, and get me out of here.

  5. Wow, I'm humbled to be included in a list with the likes of Kunstler and the Archdruid. If you haven't seen it yet, there's a great documentary out called Power if Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. I caught it on LinkTV about a month ago. It's worth taking a look at.

    I still haven't gotten around to Witch of Hebron yet, though I LOVED World Made By Hand.

    AS far as location, I think I'm stuck here in the south east. Luckily we're a fair distance out from the bigger cities but within walking distance of a couple small towns. I've been improving the soil here for several years now and have rabbits, chickens, and a well I could eek out enough water by hand to survive if I had to. Not great, but doable in a pinch I guess, and a pinch is the least we're up against I think.

  6. I liked Witch of Hebron better than the World Made By Hand.