Monday, July 09, 2007

Pick Up Your Hat

Way back in college, I read a short story by Robert Heinlein that I've never been able to find again. In it, a bartender is standing at his bar, when two nuclear scientists come in. They are talking about the immanent danger of nuclear attack on the US, and the bartender gets scared. He asks them whether they really believe what they are saying, and then says something along the lines of "If you really believed that, you wouldn't be sitting here drinking, you'd get out of the target area right now." The scientists assure the bartender that everything is really that serious, and then list a host of reasons why they can't leave right now. The bartender, convinced, picks up his hat and walks out of the bar and city right then, leaving all his connections behind. And this being fiction, just as he gets outside the city limits, he starts to question his own instincts, and he tries to make a phone call (or something), only to see the mushroom cloud go up behind him.

Now life very rarely justifies our assumptions so rapidly, but I find this story interesting because it illustrates just how hard it is to live your life as though you believe bad things are going to happen to you. Even when we know they are likely, even when we see things forthcoming, it is awfully hard to pick up our hats and set aside one set of options to pursue another. Particularly when there's little cultural support for it - when the assumption that even basic preparedness makes you a wacko is so prevalent. The story struck me, long before I discovered peak oil or climate change, because I wondered how it is one knows that *now* is the time to pick up one's hat. I was struck, for example, by the dilemma of the Jews who left Germany - how do you know that the worst is really here? My husband's grandmother was on the kindertransport, that took German-Jewish children to England. She wasn't even 13, and her parents put her on a train with one suitcase and sent her off to a far away country to be raised by someone else. It saved her life. A cousin of hers, living in the same neighborhood in the ghetto stayed with her parents - they thought the risk of harm coming to her in England was greater than the risk of harm in Germany. That cousin died in the concentration camps, and Inge, Eric's grandmother, survived. How do you know it is time to risk so much?

Now if any of you read Matt Savinar over at, you could argue that on nearly every measure, Matt's much more apocalyptic in his thinking than I am. He writes under the name "Juris Doctor of Doom" and he makes the argument that we should just follow the money trail - he says, "we're spending billions to fix problems we spend trillions creating." Matt forsees a real apocalyptic disaster, whereas I tend to talk a lot about what we can do to mitigate disaster, and I tend to think mostly in terms of poverty, rather than anything I'd call "apocalypse." In that sense, it would seem that Matt's a "doomer" and I'm not.

But it isn't that simple. If you read Matt's writings, you'll see he's currently on a hunt for the perfect place to live in the post peak world, at the very same time that he posts "we may only have 18 months left (this was a few months ago)." Right now, he's living in a place that he admits probably won't do very well. And Matt knows as well as I do that building community, and food systems, getting accepted in an area, and getting trees to fruiting and getting practiced in meeting many of your needs really takes time. I've been doing it for going on 7 years now, and I'm still hoping for more time. If you look at our words, Matt's got a far darker vision than I have. If you look at our actions, Matt's risking a whole lot more than I'm prepared to. I picked up my hat a long time ago. Matt's just now ready to pick up his.

I'm not picking on Matt Savinar, or anyone else. Heck, I don't know the future, and Matt may well be wiser than I am. Also, given that he doesn't have kids, is more mobile and has more money than I do, he's probably making the right choice for him. I mention this not because I think Matt doesn't believe what he says - I'm sure he does - but because all of us are hedging our bets to one degree or another, and also because even when you believe it, it can be damned hard to keep the link between hypothetical futures and reality alive in your head and your thinking.

Like everyone, I make my risk analyses based on my reality, and other people have to make theirs on their own. I judge based on my own assessments - do I believe the IPCC or Hansen? Do I believe CERA or Simmons and Assoc. on peak oil? Who do I choose to track? And what are my priorities. For me, protecting my kids is #1, and everything else is a distant second. But even that leads me to one set of solutions, not another. I could, for example, believe that what was needed was a ton of guns and total isolation, or that I would be best protecting my kids by converting to Christianity and fitting in in middle America, or by making a lot of money and protecting them by living in a gated community. And honestly, it is conceivable that any of those strategies might be right - and my "build community, grow food" theory might be entirely wrong, or I just might be unlucky. Like everyone, I'm playing the odds.

The post I wrote yesterday, arguing that people should start living now like they may have to in the long term for selfish reasons got some people quite concerned. They felt that I was either panicking or driving other people to panic. To a large degree that wasn't my intention, but I did intend to create a sense of urgency. I
do want people who read this to think seriously about whether they have a viable back up plan for a crisis that begins in the near future. Why? Not because I think the whole world is likely to collapse, but because I think any collapse will come in stages and segments. For a Katrina victim, it may already have happened. For me it might be tomorrow. For you, it might wait a decade. We don't know - we're playing the odds.

I do want people who read this to thrive in the future, and if you think I'm a wacko, so be it. I tend to think that after Katrina, in an inflationary economy, someone who says "store food, plan ahead, get ready now" might not look like the Unibomber, but I might not be much of a judge ;-).

I think I'd rather have you believe that I'm a nutcasethan believe that I always and only think "we can do it" and thus, don't encourage you to hedge your bets. And I genuinely do believe that we are fairly close to a situation in which many of us will be most concerned with just getting by, and the things that a lot of us might want or need to do to live comfortably with much less are going to be less and less available to us. I think we *can* change many things, and fairly quickly at that - but I'm not at all certain that we will - and I don't want to bet my life on what Brian called, in comments "the political will fairy." I sure as heck don't want you to bet your future on *my* vision of the political will fairy ;-).

Why do I think that we need to start picking up our hats right now, and making the changes that we're going to have to make anyway right now? Well, at this point it still looks like world oil production may have peaked over two years ago - OPEC simply doesn't seem to be able to increase production. Mexico is experiencing double digit declines, and will stop exporting oil altogether shortly. While some new production capacity is coming online, I think we're at the bumpy plateau. That means over the long term, oil prices keep going up forever - they may trend down again a few times, but when they level off, they'll be higher...and higher...and higher.

Natural gas prices have been rising slowly, but mostly because we've had a series of mild winters. One cold one, and we can expect much higher heating costs. Natural gas is set to peak in the next decade, the US has already had its peak and Canada is next. Coal is not far behind. Peaking means rising costs, increasing difficulty getting at it, and a lower return on investment - more and more energy gets eaten up just getting the oil or coal out of the ground. And we're seeing nations that are energy producers reserving more and more of what they do have for themselves - eventually, they stop exporting, and other nations have to make do with what they have. The US's oil reserves peaked more than 30 years ago, our gas almost a decade ago, and most likely our coal has peaked as well/

Energy isn't the only thing getting pricier. Food is too. First of all, the good food we're all supposed to be eating *does* cost more than industrial crap. But even the crap is going way up in price, mostly because of energy costs, but also because of drought (climate change induced in many cases), desertification and soil destruction, and falling yields in many places in the world. I don't think that trend is gong to change for quite a while - food prices will continue to rise because we're putting our food in our gas tanks, and because our food costs are dependent on cheap energy - which is over. That means that food you buy now and store is a good bet to be cheaper. And food you grow yourself is an even better one. Stores won't save you - but they can help a little.

Meanwhile, we're on the verge of some deep economic trouble, and a large number of people believe we're headed for a recession. A lot of them are fairly reputable people who ought to know - Greenspan, for example, has been manipulating the US economy for a long time, and he thinks it is likely we'll experience recession by year's end. Now recessions come and recessions go - but if no big boom of growth comes along to fix them, they don't go. And with less and less available cheap energy, and more and more time spent just fixing problems like climate change created environmental disasters, resource wars and energy shortages, we have less capital to adapt with. The Bank for International Settlements, the world's most significant financial body has warned we're in danger of another Great Depression - this is not their ordinary message, nor is it Greenspan's. That's bad news for us - and a long lasting recession during the period in which we're adapting to climate change and peak oil could mean that we really do mostly have what we've already got, that all our dreams of an orderly transition are over.

Add climate change to that. Yesterday, we learned that the drought in the Southwest is expected to last another century. Think about that. There are 60 *million* Americans there, plus another 60 million Mexicans in the affected area. How long can they stay there? Where will they go? Add to that the people on the Gulf coast and in South Florida - all of whom are vulnerable to the next big disaster we can't afford to stop or fix, and there are going to be a lot of migrants just in this nation alone in the next decade or so. That's going to change the economy, your local job market, and a whole host of things. BILLIONS of people are going to be refugees within their countries or from outside them by 2050 - and it won't all happen in 2049 - that means real people, real us, are going to start being affected today.

James Hansen and the other NASA scientists who argue that we don't have much time say that we only have a decade to fix this - a decade to make the "draconian" changes that would stop the worst sea rises. Let's say we do make good on all those measures - what will that be like? What will it be like when 300 million people have to slash their personal emissions to the bone? I'd tend to bet on some competition for resources, and lots of price rises - at the time that most of us can least afford them.

The thing is, things seem ok on many levels. We may believe that these are crises, but life is still going on. the kids are still in college, the money is still piling up in the 401K, the stock market is still hanging, and we all have a life going on. We're still caught between the life now and the life to come, and it can be damned hard to navigate that distinction. All of us have to figure out what we believe, and hedge our bets as best we can. But it is damned hard to know what to do. Do we pick up our hats, put our kids on the train, give up the present for the hypothetical future? How do we know that something won't pull off a miracle?

One of my commentors pointed out that my prior post created an urge to hoard, to preserve one's own, rather than think communally. Now I grasp that urge. My first reaction to peak oil, many, many years ago, was precisely the same. I had it again when I had my first child, and I have it again every time I worry about my kids. And I did pick up my hat. I blew off my Ph.d in order to start a small farm - I thought for a long time I could have it both ways, but it became increasingly clear that I couldn't, and so I gave up Shakespeare, which was sad in some ways. I closed some options off. We made some bets on what our kids will need - our money is more in land than in the stock market, so who knows what we'll have to do if nothing bad happens when the boys want to go to college. We can't have everything, and we've made our choices, and we have to live with them.

But we also can't choose all the way every time - so we hedge. We put money away for college, and we also put money back into the land. If I had to pick one, I'll tell the truth - I don't think the college dollars will be there in a decade. But I'm not willing to risk my kids entirely on my predictions. I quit my Ph.d, but in part because I love farming and writing, and I wanted to do those too - I didn't just dump it. I invest in community support, but I also have a stockpile of clothes for bigger kids, and educational books for children so that my kids can learn at home through the college level and so they have shoes to wear and don't have to dress in the ugly things I can sew if the worst happens. I don't believe I can stockpile my way out of anything really bad - but I also store food as a hedge, a way of dealing with extended family that might need extras, crop failures, my own mistakes.

We all know people who were prepared for Y2K, had nuclear bunkers, went back to the land because the end was at hand in the 1970s, have been expecting the last coming for decades. And it is tempting, because of those factors, to think that the system is strong enough to endure any crisis. And who knows, it may be. I'm not a prophet - I don't know the future. But look back a little. In the course of a lifetime, ask yourself if your grandparents, and great-grandparents ever endured a time of crisis during the course of their lifetimes. Again, we're not talking about Mad Max here - we're talking about poverty, war, economic disruption, having to leave a beloved place for a new one, epidemic, hunger, want. Now maybe none of your family has ever had those things, but looking back at my grandparents and great-grandparents, I see 2 world wars and a host of smaller ones. Hunger. Want. Poverty. Desperation. Dislocation. Refugeeism. Violence. Disease. Death. And thoes were the lucky ones, who survived to have kids and grandkids. The generations after World War II are among the first in human history to live their whole lives in peace, wealth and good fortune. Should we bet that we too will be so fortunate? And what's the price if we're wrong?

That last question is the real bugger, isn't it? And that's the one that I rest on, my own private version of the precautionary principle. That is, in trying to decide whether James Hansen or the IPCC is right, ultimately, I find that the price of believing in Hansen and being wrong is a lot lower than the price of believing the IPCC and being wrong in my choice. I think the evidence for Hansen's reading is probably better, but the cost in lives and the future of *not* making changes quickly is almost certainly greater than the admittedly high price of making them sooner. The same is true about personal preparedness. What if I don't do it? Sometimes the price is low and light. Sometimes it isn't.

Ultimately, what has to happen is that we find ways to be prepared, and to hedge our bets, without compromising many of our basic principles. This means that we prepare for a future that doesn't work out very well, while also trying to build a future in which it does. That's harder than choosing just one, but I think it is also necessary. That means we buy local, organic, sustainably grown bulk foods for our storage, and fill out those clothing bins with used goods, not new ones. It means we make the new purchases we do need judiciously - yes, perhaps, to the grain grinder, no to the fancy butter churn when a shaken jar will do as well.

I want everyone who reads this to make their own choices based on their own experience, their own reading of the data available to them, their own needs and personal circumstances and their own ability to change. My bet is that change will come soon to some of us, later to others, but that the changes I'm worried about are now essentially already in motion - that whatever happens, we're probably never going to be quite as comfortable or priveleged or lucky or ready as we are today. That sucks for all of us - others even more than me. I want time. But I don't think that I can live my life based on my own want for it - that's wish fulfillment fantasies. Ultimately, my life needs to find a balance between preparing for hard times and attempting to avoid them, between living now and being ready to live in the future. Everyone will choose a different balance. Everyone will make different bets. Everyone will read the future a little differently. And some of us will be wrong - quite possibly me. It is impossible to be prepared for everything, but it is not only possible but wise to prioritize and prepare for many outcomes.

In the end, my own analysis comes down to this. If I'm wrong about what's coming down the pike, what price did I pay? I never got to be a professor of English Literature. My kids may have to earn college scholarships, or we may have to mortgage our land. We may have missed out on some opportunities. But generally speaking, I have a life I love now, work I love now, a family that I wouldn't be able to enjoy as much if I were doing the full time academic life. I have an imperfect degree of security, but a vastly greater one than I could have had otherwise. In the net, the limitations of my choices are endurable. If I'd chosen otherwise, would I be able to say the same? I might love my work, but the risks to my kids future are unacceptable to me. Others would make a different choice, and I don't know if they are wrong - only time will tell.

If it were me, I'd at a minimum make a serious backup plan for what to do if your five or ten year plan fails. That is, I'd be ready now to live where you are, with what you have. And if you don't think staying where you are is possible, I think I'd risk relocating. But I'm not you, and I don't want you to do it because I say so - make your own decisions.

What I can say is this. If you see the evidence much the same way I do, if you really believe it, then it really is time to pick up your hat, or at least memorize the train schedule heading wherever you want to be.




Anonymous said...

"On the Slopes of Vesuvius." In Expanded Universe: The New Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein. New York: Ace, 1981


rich said...

Hi Sharon

Great really sums up my view on making the big life decisions. Everythings a trade-off, and we, like you, are hedging our bets on land and community, hoping that they'll pay off in the end. At worst, we'll just have a little less stuff than the folks who opt to go the business as usual route.

Anonymous said...


I think you have stated fairly well the importance of balancing the risks of one's options for the future. Personally, I did go the academic route, and as a researcher, I was taught the golden rule of judging the significance of a statistic by the 5% "p-level" which means that by accepting the finding you expect to be wrong 5% of the time. What tends to get ignored is the risk of missing a finding that is there (i.e. statistical power).

When it comes to issues like climate change and peak oil, there are those who want to simply wait for the "proof" according to the 5% standard. There are two glaringly dangerous aspects to this. First, by the time you meet that 5% standard, the opportunity to avoid the problem may well be long gone the Hirsch report notes. Second, as you and others have said but are routinely drown out by the status quo, the risk of missing the effect when it is there is far greater than being wrong when it is not.

I am still holding on to the suburban single family home, 2 cars used for commuter-based jobs (I take the bus a couple times/week to work) and minimal ability to feed ourselves should things go bad quickly. That said, I have considered what would I want to have done today if I find out in 5 or 10 years that my best estimate for the state of the world, country, bioregion and my family were worse than expected? So far, that has meant serious energy efficiency, solar panels, both cars that run without petroleum products, fruit trees that need years of growth before substantial yields (about 400 pounds this year) and the start of getting familiar with low energy skills, though this is my weakest area having not had much instruction in these areas growing up.

I still invest in the 401K and IRA's and for the kids' college funds . My parents provided me this advantage, and I would feel awful not being able to do the same. We spent big money on a kitchen remodel this year. I buy prepared foods to some degree while I am finding time and skills to use more basic and locally sourced foods. Though I am working on connecting with my community, I am more isolated than connected. That part seems typical of my suburban neighborhood even without gates and is the saddest part of my list of the "usual and customary" American family life.

We are not approaching 90% reduction in most areas, but are trying to set the stage for it. In the end, my family risks some shock if your view of the near future is realized. I accept that for me and my family to not be quite so deviant or sacrificing at present. It's a moving target that flows with every new report I read on accelerating climate change and peak oil/gas.

No matter what, you throw the dice. The bottom line is, figure out the consequences of all rolls of the dice including accepting the status quo. At some point, the "pick up your hat" roll may be the best one.


shadowfoot said...

First, I'd like to say that Sharon is a typical small farmer in my book. Farmers in New England usually have more than one source of income and/or more than one way to market their produce. My father-in-law paints houses and does handyman work, raises hay, some young stock, and is back to raising chickens after a few decades away from it (eggs for locals and the new little part-time restaurant in town). Oh, and maple syrup in the spring. My mother-in-law does bookkeeping for one of her son's business as well as the farm's bookkeeping and various things around the farm. Other farmers I know have second or third jobs too. Farming is a risky business because of weather, pests, diseases, and the market. It's always a good idea to have additional forms of income.

We've definitely been working two sides of the situation. My husband Lyle works full-time as a relational db designer/analyst/programmer, but also is putting in time at his folks' farm. Helps them out, helps strengthen the family/community bond (two other brothers spend time there also, and some other relatives), helps him to learn and/or re-learn farming skills. I'm currently unemployed because of an injury, but am able to do a lot of other things instead (carefully, and in short amounts of time). This has made it harder for us to pay down debts, but we're trying to do that as well as a modified version of the Riot for Austerity (2-3 years for some things).

Meantime, we're keeping our eyes open for a place in the country, hopefully near L's folks, and I'm sorting and packing things up. We may or may not move this year, but I can still go through things and pack up anything we think we can live without for one year. For instance, we aren't going to read _all_ of our books over the next year, or _all_ of the summer or winter clothing available, and so on.

Packing gives us more immediate space for the renovations we have to finish (painting, trim, etc.), and means that when we have a place to move to that there'll be less packing to do. And of course I'm trying to label the boxes as I go -- mostly succeeding, too.

The city we're in actually isn't that bad, and I think they're making some intelligent decisions, but gas is only going to go up in price over the next decade, so we want to be closer to the farm.

But cutting costs and living more lightly aren't the only reasons we want to move... We're both getting more into weaving, and our sources for wool are either (1) getting the discount/end run cones from Webs, or (2) spinning it ourselves. Right now I can still get dyed yarns at decent bulk prices at Webs (next town over from us, and partway between us and the farm). But a decade from now that might not be the case. So I have spindles and a spinning wheel, and when I have a little spare time I do some spinning. Eventually it adds up to having yarn for weaving. Or knitting or naalbinding if L wants to make socks (I'm an indifferent knitter).

Other friends of mine are also moving into the same general area, one a blacksmith and student harp maker, the other has medical training and is learning to weave. We all do a lot of other things as well. We all plan to raise food, but will be learning other things as well. Some of us raise herbs for cooking, medicinal (minor), dyeing, and household purposes.

It's definitely a strain living life on multiple fronts, and we'll be glad when we finally live up there and only have to travel down to the valley a few times per month for meetings/visiting friends. And who knows? Maybe some of them will move to where we are :)

One thing a grad student without much in the way of means can do is learn skills -- like the knitting for instance. But also more about cooking in general and using more local foods, using less energy, etc. If you aren't in shape, get in shape. A fit person can resist illness better, can work for longer, respond to urgent situations better -- this can be done for virtually nothing but time, and is just as important as all the stuff about storing food and clothes. If you're healthy, you also don't need to see doctors as often, or buy OTC meds as often.

Learning self-accupressure could be useful. Some things can be treated without meds, or can reduce the need for meds.

As a grad student, one of the advantages of this is the access to all libraries through inter-library loan. Read up in-depth on skills/knowledge you think might be useful. If the book is a _really_ good resource, find a copy for your library. Otherwise, it's a great way to learn without spending money.

If you want to learn more about farming, look for a way to apprentice/intern at a farm. There are farms in New England that hire interns every year. Great way to earn a little money (which you'll work hard for), learn some skills, and get to meet some people. You may find a community you can build ties to, this way.

Oy. Sorry for such a long post, but this post and the last one really sparked a lot of thoughts I wanted to share.

Heather G

feonixrift said...

Some parts of what I began preparing for a couple years ago have already happened. The bus systems where I live were rather lightly used then, and gas prices not too bad, but I didn't drive and I practiced alternate bus routes. Now I am very glad I don't drive - I haven't seen gas below $3 a gallon in a long time, and the most obvious bus routes are often crammed full of people and badly off schedule. Starting to use them now would be a major headache, but having some practice under my belt makes it not too bad.

Iñigo said...

Things seen from this side of the Athlantic look not so dire as you paint them, even if we are neighbours to Africa and the Middle East. Besides, we Europeans have nowhere to go, but Siberia, and that is far away :-).

If you actually think all this, the best thing is to start lobbying your Government and your states to implement a sounder energy and enviromental policy, not only to start wars in order to gain control over oil sources. As the leading power in the world the USA should set an example of enviromental care, just now you are just the contrary. And that will only happen if plain citizens start to do that.
Europeans live mostly in towns, have no place to grow vegetables, and no place to run to, either... our countries have signed kioto, but that is still wet paper without USA, Australia and all those countries who go after their lead... so please start moving and don't go on destroying our planet.

Michelle in Ga said...

Great post.

jewishfarmer said...

Inigo, I've been fighting with my various governments on this and other issues since I was a teenager. My parents fought with my government on this issue when my Dad carried me in a backpack on his back. I'm with you on lobbying the government, but sometimes you do have to ask yourself - what happens if they don't listen.

I would point out that Hong Kong and Singapore grow 20% and more of their own food within the city limits, and many European cities have been options in that regards than American ones. So that's not hopeless ;-).


Anonymous said...

I realized walking to work that I actually saw the bartender try to pick up their hat once.

I was 19 and my Russian teacher convinced me to spend August 1991 in Bulgaria. Communism fell there in Jan of 1990, and the economy fell about 40% in 1990. The new constitution took effect in July. Everyone was scared, and excited and felt trapped, but no one was quite panicing anymore. The bartender where we drank (the beers cost 2 lev, about 5 cents US) kept trying to sell us his bar, which he did own. The price got lower each time. The day before I left he offered me less than the cost of my return airplane ticket. All he wanted was out; somewhere where he could start over where things weren't slowly collapsing. But what did I know about running a bar, much less in a language I was barely beginning to learn? I refused his offer and came home to the States. In 1996 the bottom fell out of the lev and there was rioting and suffering. The EU decided they didn't want the balkans getting even worse and started supporting Bulgaria, and setting them on the path to EU membership, which they got in 2004. I wonder if the barowner ever made it out.

-Brian M.

Scot said...

Main question on peak oil, global warming, etc. etc. It impacts planet earth. I can pick up my hat, but where do I go exactly??

jewishfarmer said...

I just want to emphasize that picking up one's hat doesn't mean leaving in any definite sense. I think of it as a metaphor for preparing yourself for the future. Some people really do live in places on earth where they can't expect to flourish, but the major issue is not where you live (in most cases), but how you live.

Anonymous said...

oh my, why did you edit your comments, are you uncomfortable with a little dissension? for heaven sakes talk about denial!!!

RAS said...

Hey Sharon, I see we share the same taste for "trashy" science fiction. I'm trying to hedge my bets with my career (I only have a year of grad school left) and at the same time preparing for another life. It's not easy, living in two worlds at once.

RAS said...

Hey Sharon, I see we share the same taste for "trashy" science fiction. I'm trying to hedge my bets with my career (I only have a year of grad school left) and at the same time preparing for another life. It's not easy, living in two worlds at once.

Geoff Trowbridge said...

A segue from people talking about towns in Europe not being able to have access to land for growing food: I was reading in the 2007 State of the World Report by the Worldwatch Institute, which had as its theme "Our Urban Future", that many cities in the developing world, i.e. in Africa and Asia, are growing upwards of 50% of the food the consume within city limits. Now, you have to understand that in many of these places the planning and zoning codes are pretty sketchy, and cities there often don't really have 'limits', they just sort of sprawl and eventually peter out, but still, the numbers it gives are pretty amazing. If anybody is interested in urban applications of sustainability, which are certainly pretty friggin' relevant considering a majority of the world lives in cities, this book has a lot of very inspiring and hopeful answers, coming out of the most unlikely places. I know it may not be something you can entirely speak to, Sharon, because you don't live in an urban area, but I think it'd be great if you could talk a little bit about some of the dynamics of urban sustainability. Also highly reccomended for anybody, if you haven't read it already, are these two articles by Toby Hemenway: (Peak Oil and Urban Sustainability) and (Cities, Peak Oil and Sustainability). namaste, Geoff

Anonymous said...

I can't actually make any comment but,"Ayah." [Maine-speak for yes] You are the only peak-oil commentator I have found who makes any sense at all. It seems so clear to me. That's what I'm thinking about and doing, and some of it is very helpful. At the very least, I feel understood and not alone. The amazing thing is that you can organize all the material from your life and that you make a successful effort at communication it. You have made a difference in at least one person's life.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful as well as reflective of what thousands of people, including me, must be going through in their own indivdual situation. It has inched me closer to "getting serious" about what Kunstler calls "the long emergency".
I agree that peak oil probably happened in May 2005. We're on the plateau now. I've read that 2011 is the edge of the steep overall decline of oil availability.

DingoDog49 said...

Great post and I have been reading your stuff for a long time. I came down on the side of Henson and the Oil Drum a while ago. I've decided to stay in my community within the shadow of NYC. I've started do intensive gardening, I have a mature pear tree and two new apple trees, I've gotten the hand tools and the wood working knwledge. And I keep asking how much more time do I have to prepare. I took a small engine repair course, more woodworking and I'm looking a boat building (I live near a bay) and black smithing. And who knows what else. The solar panels and water heating are coming. I'm not sure about composting tiolets in the suburbs. But I enjoy reading your thoughts and they help with my own planning and preparation.

Anonymous said...

Hello Sharon;
Great article! You have really asked the million dollar question.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the first good answer I've every found for my "political will fairy" dilemma! From Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0

"Does this mean there’s no hope? I don’t think so. The window of opportunity is small, but not nonexistent. Throughout American
history, anticorporate forces have come to power once or twice per
century. In the nineteenth century, we had the eras of Jackson and Lincoln; in the twentieth century, those of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Twenty-first century equivalents will, I’m sure, arise. It may take a calamity of some sort—another war, a depression, or an ecological disaster—to trigger the next anticorporate ascendancy, but
sooner or later it will come. Our job is to be ready when it comes.

What constitutes readiness? Three things, I believe. First, we must have a proper view of government’s role. That role isn’t to run the economy, or even to manage the commons directly; it’s to assign
common property rights to trustworthy guardians who will. Second, we must have a plan to fix our economic operating system, not just to put patches on symptoms. And third, we must recognize that the duration of any anticorporate ascendancy will be brief, and that we must use that small window to build institutions that outlast it."

The political will fairy, like the technology fairy DOES come along occasionally, the trick is being ready for it when it comes.
-Brian M.

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Some days it simply feels overwhelming and hopeless. Most days, I try to focus on something that my grandparents taught me - learn how to do things. Learn how to grow and find your own food. Learn how to put it up. Learn the medicinal value of your local plants. Learn more about your neighbors and barter for each other's skills. Learn basic first aid/medicine. Just keep learning - and build a relationship with the land that is near you - be it a public park or a true farm. Maybe it was because my grandfather and as far as I know all of my ancestors before him were farmers, but the deep belief that if you really understand the land and work with it, things will ultimately be ok. It served both of my grandparents well. Their challenges weren't all that dramatic, simply poverty that was worsened with the depression. Being sent off at the ripe old age of 13 with the clothes on their backs to fend for themselves. Not being able to go to school past the 3rd grade because there simply was no way to get a pair of shoes. So I try to remember them and be inspired - to learn what I can, to be as self-sufficient as possible, to know my neighbors and establish trade networks and to live as much as possible off my little suburban "homestead". And on good days I am just thrilled when I make dinner and every bit of food on the plate is something that I grew :) Those little things give me hope and help me appreciate this wonderful life that I have right now.

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Wonderful post, Sharon. I appreciate that you are not exhorting people to flee the cities, but instead to "build community, grow food." To me, the first is the most important, and I'd even modify it to "Build community, know your foodshed," as I think living in, and helping to create, a place with a sustainable, sane food system is a stronger strategy than trying to grow all your own food, unless you really love farming.

A friend forwarded me your post without the comments, so in coming here to read them I was amused by Geoff Trowbridge's recommendation of my Urban/Rural articles, and hope you won't take that as an opening to bash them again. We're far too close in our sentiments and visions to waste time on that, with so much else worth doing.


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