Thursday, 12 November 2009

Moving Beyond Panic

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I don't often confront the big issues of our times head on in my blog posts. Usually I tiptoe around them. Today I'm going to make an exception, in light of a recent article by the UK Guardian concerning the IEA, or International Energy Agency. The IEA is responsible for promulgating official statements about the world's remaining reserves of oil and other fossil fuels. Even if we take the IEA at their official word as of late last year, we are now facing a reduction of more than 9% in the global oil supply - annually. Given that industrial economies are reliant not merely on a steady supply of oil, but on a supply of oil that in living memory has only ever expanded in response to demand, this is bad news.

The kicker is the Guardian's report that two whistleblowers from within the IEA have now come forward to say that even a 9% reduction (or a mere 6% reduction if we "invest in more discovery,") significantly overstates the world's reserves of oil. The US government has leaned on the IEA to publish rosy forecasts for years, and a 9% decline was apparently all that passed muster. The bottom line is this: by far the majority of us have no way of knowing how much oil is really left, except that it is probably far less than we've been led to believe. Those who do know mostly aren't saying. Those with the industry background to make very well educated guesses are not giving out forecasts that square with those of the IEA.

My guess is that the readers here at the co-op have thought a bit about peak oil and its implications. Chances are that most of you have gotten past the panic and the paralysis of early peak oil awareness. This news may not be welcome to any of you, but I somehow doubt that it's paradigm shifting for too many of you either. So my question to all of you then is: what have you done to prepare yourself, your family, or your community for the changes that a dwindling oil supply will bring? What have you accomplished so far? What other things do you hope to accomplish in the very near term? What other changes would you like to tackle as time and money allow further down the line? Do you have a formal schedule of projects, or are you just working intuitively on what seems most urgent?

I'll start...

On our suburban 2/3 acre we put in about 2000 square feet (~186 square meters) of food garden. We planted several perennial plants including fruit trees, several types of berries, asparagus and grapes, none of which are productive yet. We added laying hens, and are doing as much as possible to increase the fertility of our garden soil. I learned the basics of canning, dehydrating, and lacto-fermenting foods. I've begun to learn a bit about medicinal herbs. We've made changes in our spending habits in order to pay off our mortgage debt as quickly as possible. Although these changes were made gradually, looking back from the perspective of a few years, they're pretty radical. We had an energy audit done on our home, added insulation and had the house air sealed. My husband built and installed a single rain barrel to catch runoff from our garage, and has plans for next year to chain several more of them together for more capacity.

For the future, we're very seriously considering adding a passive solar thermal heating system for our home, which we heat steadily for about four months per year, with an additional two months of part-time heating. Moving forward with that system will depend on whether or not my husband remains employed after the new year. I also have plans to take a first aid course in January. We plan to add honeybees to our mini-homestead next year, and should be able to do so. In the spring I'm scheduled to teach a homesteading class for beginners. I have no idea whether anyone will enroll. Next year we'll start fig and citrus trees in containers so that we can pull them inside to protect them from the winters that would otherwise kill them in our zone.

As you can see, like most peak oil-aware people I've concentrated on and made the most progress in the area of food production. This is the low-hanging fruit among the host of problems that peak oil will create for us. Not easy, but the easiest among the bunch. Debt reduction has been a very high priority as well. After that, my efforts have been spread over the challenges of medicine, heating, water supply, and the state of my wider community. I've made much less progress in these areas, and haven't even begun to address an alternative source of electricity or transportation. All in all, a pretty average response among those taking peak oil seriously.

I'm not asking how you've begun to prepare for a post peak world in order to stir the pot, nor to goad anyone into action through guilt or fear. Least of all do I want anyone to panic. Panic is never helpful. I'm asking for purely selfish reasons. Because knowing what steps others are taking is heartening to me when I hear news this disturbing. Blogs like those of the writers and the readers of this co-op provide me with both concrete facts and techniques, as well as inspiration and a sense of camaraderie, however distant my comrades.

Please share your stories in the comments.


The Mom said...

I've done many of the same things that you have. Garden expansion every year, adding perrenial fruit and veggies. Chickens were added this year as well. I've gotten to know local farmers and what they have.
My next big project is water. I need a well that can not only pump with electric, but without. It wouldn't take much to dig for water where I live, but I'd like to get a little deeper.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this post. When news like this breaks, it's hard to know where to turn and how to begin. It's great to have the example to follow.

Anonymous said...

Don't believe everything you hear, especially from newspapers and organizations who put out statements. Certainly don't believe people who "leak" information. That's the surest way to spice up a statement. You don't know the UK Guardian. You don't know the IEA. And you don't know me. So check it out for yourself. Find a real oilman and ask him. We have oil. There is no shortage. So why would people tell you there is? Answer that. But don't quote the fear mongers. Get FACTS from people who actually know what they are talking about.

There is nothing wrong with living frugally and wisely. Make the most of what you have. But the sky will fall before we run out of oil. Check it out, if you can. Plan your life on facts, not threats and manipulation.

Pat aka Posh said...

I enjoyed your post and I'm not all that sure we'll run out of oil.. more then likely we will because you can't continue to remove something without replacing it.. the other night I was watching a show about trains that haul coal and how many tons is trucked across the country for running power plants and businesses.. the funny thing was, the show was intended to impress you about trains but it mostly struck me that if we keep digging coal from the ground in that large a quantity then we're surely going to run out.. so I would have to agree about the oil.. we must start finding other means to power plants and heat our homes.

Gavin said...

Hi Kate,

I fully agree with you premise. I too believe that we have already experience the Peak are on the downward slope. The Global Financial Crisis simply slowed down oil demand, and soon it will pick up again as will the prices.

I too have begun preparing similar to you, as have probably all of the co-op writers. People like anon #2 need to have a good look round to see the signs, and maybe visit an ASPO site or two to get the FACTS from real geologists from the oil industry! We are definately in decline.


deana said...

I heard recently a quote, "I would rather live as though God exists and find out He doesn't; than live as though he doesn't and then find out He does." I have applied that to our current environmental situation. I would much rather do as much as I can now and find out it was excessive, than finding out we didn't do enough and leaving a barren waste land for our future generations. I do believe that our current way of life is not sustainable and am appreciative of all those who are making changes to their lifestyle for a healthier earth.

anastasia_wolf said...

I have an awkward situation. My partner thinks that peak oil isn't a real problem, that some technology will be found or the govt will save us. I think he's deluded. We can't agree on this and my efforts to make changes have been met with resistance unless I gradually introduce things. I don't believe we have time for the snail's pace approach though. To further complicate, we rent and are not able to make structural changes to the house. I also worry that the owners of our house might evict us if they run out of money or realise we have a thriving vege garden (which is currently a work in progress).

I'm very worried about peak oil, and feel very concerned that there is little I can do beyond grow food, learn skills and live frugally.

Simple in France said...

DH and I both think the issue of peak oil is real. I think it's funny that we have to actually weigh in on whether or not we 'believe' in the fact that a finite resource will eventually . . . run out. Seems clear to me. We don't know when it will happen, but we are learning to adjust as best we can now.

We currently rent an apartment, so for now, we're 'limited' in what we can do, but frankly, we're quite busy with all the changes we're making anyway.

Right now, we're working on cutting back energy consumption and eating only local fruits and veggies. I'm learning as much as I can about local plants and foraging--we just moved to France, so I'm a little behind the curve in terms of indigenous plants, edible wild plants, when local crops grow etc. I've also built a hay box so that I can shorten our cooking times for things like beans and lentils (since we eat a lot of those!). See my blog for a description if you don't know what it is--I love the hay box! I swear by it and it's very simple to use.)

I've also learned to make all our bread and pasta and will be starting on cheese soon.

We hope within the next five years that we'll be able to buy either a small house on some land or an apartment and some unattached agricultural land (land zoned only for agriculture is currently fairly cheap in France). We'd like to start raising our own vegetables and fruits and begin raising some goats and chickens shortly after.

I have no idea when the problem of 'peak oil' is going to become so serious that it puts the pinch on us, but I think we can already see it's effects in other countries and it's best to prepare now. Besides, there's nothing wrong with living on your own land and being self-sufficient. The idea has always appealed to me, so if we're wrong, we have nothing to loose.

darkpurplemoon said...

For us townies it isnt possible to do a lot of what you, and other posters on this blog do. I have a tiny tiny garden. I do have an allotment, but of course if there ever was a problem it would get raided by locals.

So I do my best, mainly counteracting my other half and trundle along.

Jen said...

I liked Deana's quote.

Here are a couple of ideas for people to check out or learn
1) evacuated tubes. These work great and have been installed on a number of "high profile" projects/t.v shows lately. They don't seem to get the media coverage they deserve though. We own them and love them.
They are a bit difficult to acquire though and the wait can be annoying.
2) Learn to garden using only small livestock to fertilize your plots (rabbits, chicken etc) and practice using cover crops. Even if you have always been organic trucking in organic amendments may become expensive. Understand how to supply each of the three major forms. N is easy the other two are a bit more difficult. Chickens are great for those two (and too).
3) Rain water collection is pretty much practiced by many. many can filter that water so they can drink it? Looking into that could really be a difference for some. Think Hurricane Katrina here in the U.S
Liked your article. Ignore the debate. Live Like Deana's quote.

Desiree said...

It's never easy to hear this kind of news. Even when we take these things with a grain of salt (we don't want to scare people away with our eco-doom-and-gloom) we all know that someday we will run out of oil. The definition of non-renewable resource tells us that yes, it's limited and yes, it will run out.

So how do we go about changing our lifestyles without constant eco-depression? How do we convince others who are less willing to make a change listen? Easy, you approach the situation from a different angle! Although deep down I have a great desire to be more env. friendly, my changes rotate around personal strength and independance.

This year my husband and I started our own organic garden, compost, started canning, worked on reducing our energy consumption, increased our apartment's heat efficiency, and took advantage of local harvests and farmers markets. Why? Sure it's more env. friendly (my green heart knows that) but really, it saves you a lot of money, supports the local economy, helps your neighbor, creates a healthier lifestyle, and teaches you to be less dependent on consumer giants. It makes me feel more independant and strong to know how to do things for myself.

So how do we end up "saving the world"? Don't ask people to give things up or try to scare them into change, instead, teach simplicity, sustainability, and most importantly, frugality! The common man loves saving money. ;)

Affi'enia said...

Hi There.
I've been a follower of this blog for a while and thought I'd comment on this one. Up until discovering the co-op I'd never even heard of peak oil. I will admit to being a bit naive about these things. However we are trying to live without any dependance on things that are run using energy where ever we can. My DB uses hand tools where ever possible, I have a treadle powered sewing machine. I think we all need to be aware how long it takes the planet to make oil. It makes sense that it would be running out as consumption grown. The planet can only make it at a finite rate.

Thanks for your blog!

d.a. said...

Been peak-oil aware for awhile now, and am doing much like others here: expanding the garden, putting solar to good use, and cutting back expenditures/saving.

Hey Anonymous: prove the IEA whistle-blower statements wrong. Bring your cards to the table. You're right, nobody knows you, and anonymous counter-charges without references or proof don't give your opinions any weight either.

Anonymous said...

Even if you can produce all the food you need without addressing an alternative source of electricity or transportation you (and all the rest of us) are lost.

Tree Hugging Mama said...

I haven't done anything. I like to have lots of information and quite frankly I am afraid of my soil. (It may or may not contain high amounts of heavy metals).
I have begun to reduce our energy consumption, and make our home more energy efficient, but those are for strictly selfish reasons.
I am interested to know how your fig tree works. I am going to start citrus trees when the house is cleaned out, and I love figs as do the girls and getting them local would be awesome. Does anyone know can I grow avacados inside?

FrugalMaman said...

I'm currently reading "Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller" by Jeff Rubin, which focuses on Peak Oil and what it means for us. A great read, I highly recommend it.

Canadian said...

Anonymous said: "Even if you can produce all the food you need without addressing an alternative source of electricity or transportation you (and all the rest of us) are lost."

My province uses hydro-electricity, totally a renewable energy resource. (Though not without its problems, so I still believe in reducing my dependence on electricity.)

My city's subway works by electricity. Plus I have my much-loved bicycle. I don't need a car. What we need, though, is to set up proper systems for the transport of goods. Railways are more sustainability than trucking.

I cannot grow a garden or have chickens (I live in a city apartment) but I am trying to eat more locally in an effort to ensure that my region's agriculture is strong and we do not have to depend to oil to transport food from far away.

Anonymous said...

I have felt the growing need to move back to the ways of our ancestors for quite a while now; however, many of my family think some of my ideas are nuts!
Here are a few of the things I have done or am planning to do in the near future:
1. get serious about paying down debt and building a small reserve.
2. getting myself and my family more healthy (and as a result have less need for medical attention from ailments which could be prevented)
3. Use the least amount of electricity I can and in the meantime exloring the use of solar for our electrical needs.
4. I garden, am about to get chickens, ducks and goats in the spring. We put deer, beef, and pork up in the freezer (again......need to find a solar source)
5. We are on city water but live in a rural area and I have access to my brothers well if worse came to worse.
6. We live like the walton's as much as possible.
and every day I read, read, read trying to learn new ideas and new ways to do things

GooseBreeder said...

In actually fact we might expect that the reserves of oil are much larger or limitless since the politics of oil,supply and exloration,development and ownership are complicated and fraught with dangers.Many wars are in fact about oil, recent ones at that so the rruew situation is as clear as a barrel of oil I'd say.
What have I done? Apart from being self-sufficient in water, having a composting toilet,some solar power,downsizing needs and wants, using LETS a barter system to reduce spending and only growing vegetables in Winter and leaving to the experts in water use,the producers in Summer, keeping hens..absolutely nothing because I'm a peak oil sceptic.

Naomi said...

This is a great post - thanks! I'm constantly assessing what we have done and what we need to do. But it isn't something that I discuss much with other people, because they look at you like you have two heads lol!

American Bedu said...

Living in the Middle East gives us a new perspective on the peak oil/no peak oil issue. We are living in a country that is not a democracy and therefore any criticism of the government or its programs could result in deportation! However, the fact that it is not openly discussed is a concern. The fact that any information in the public realm screams propaganda is another. And the fact that this country is currently investing heavily in nuclear power for energy use and is even building a entire city to be powered by solar energy (shouldn't all homes and businesses here have solar power?!) is a red flag.

We are here for two more years. At that time we hope to have saved enough to buy our "five acres and independence." We shall see. I do plan to have gardens gardens gardens, chickens and perhaps rabbits, a milk animal (or a neighbor with extra to sell/barter) and to live a self-sustaining lifestyle. I grew up this way and am looking forward to returning to my roots. My concerns are more for medical care and safety if society starts to unravel. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Anyone know of a great place to live with like-minded neighbors, a garden-friendly climate (but still snow in the winter!) and land that is reasonably priced? :)

Mia @ agoodhuman said...

Hubby and I are both aware of PO and have begun preparing. At the moment we are renting in Southern California so we are limited in scope, but when we move back to Australia late next year, I hope we can take the next steps.

So far we've started a small organic vege garden and build our own compost. We are on a tiny block, but it's quite amazing how much food we managed to grow in our first season. What we don't grow, we try to buy from the Farmers Market. We try to eat seasonally and have reduced our meat consumption quite dramatically.

Hubby doesn't work, so he does most of the cooking, including baking bread. He's the best cook. I'm learning to preserve our harvest.

We limit our water and energy consumption so we are used to making do with less. Hubby is really interested in renewable energy and is learning as much as he can while he has the time.

We are trying to learn new skills. This week I learned how to crochet. Hubby is mechanically minded and is able to repair almost anything. He's a handy guy to have around and will be in demand in a world where we need to fix things rather than buying new all the time.

My biggest goal at the moment is to get out of debt. Prior to learning about PO, I had a lot of investment related debt. Over the last 18 months, we have been living frugally and making a huge effort to get rid of our debt. By my calculations, we'll be debt free in about a year. That will be a huge weight off my shoulders as I know we'll be able to live without wages if we have no repayments to make.

It feels good to have made some progress. I think the biggest advantage of being aware and becoming more resilient is that you trust yourself to be able to adapt. I think 90% of the challenge will be mental preparation. If we have that, we can help others when they need it.