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.