Tuesday, August 22, 2006

An Argument Against Personal Peak-Oil Preparation

Most of those in the peak oil movement, and those not in the movement but who are aware of and "get" the serious implications of peak oil, are concerned with potential deterioration of society and potential anarchy and chaos on the other side of peak oil. It is a common situation that those who become aware of peak oil and understand the seriousness of it want to warn those close to them about the problems ahead. And it just as common that those same people, once rebuffed or labelled as a nut case, draw back and begin to quietly and unobtrusively focus on their own personal preparations. They do this in the belief, usually, that society won't wake up soon enough to prepare sufficiently to avoid the worst of what peak oil will have to offer.
I strongly believe that those personal preparations that people are making, even if they are correct for whatever peak oil scenario eventually unfolds, are not going to ensure their survival any more than making no preparations at all. In fact I strongly believe that the more successful their preparations appear to be in helping them survive the more visible a target they will become for those who have not prepared. Thieves don't invade the homes in poor neighbourhoods, they go up-town where the best pickings are.
That refocussing on personal preparations, that focussing on preparing yourself for survival regardless of what the community around you is or is not doing, is, I would argue, born of the same self-centredness that has broken down the fabric of our society and turned us all into cogs in the machinery of big business and big government. We no longer see ourselves as part of a community but rather simply residents within it. Our neighbours are neighbours by geographic proximity only.
There is a fairly simple split in the peak oil community regarding the method and model that people feel is best for surviving the fallout from peak oil. There is the live-off-the-land, lone-wolf, armed-to-the-hilt survivalist attitude of those who expect to be able to live in the wild by their wits alone, foraging and taking game as their sources of food, and satisfying all of their needs from nature. There is the go-it-alone homesteader attitude of those who think they can have a stand-alone, self-sufficient homestead on which they produce all of their food and satisfy all of their needs, very often assuming a nearby community from which to aquire those things they cannot produce themselves, that being a community, however, to which they feel no allegiance and for and to which they bear no responsibility. That community is there as a service to them.
Then there is the attitude of surviving within a community, a community that is interactive, inter-dependent, where all members contribute to that community and benefit from that community. It is this that is the closest to the normal psyche of the human animal. We are not lone wolves or individualistic wanderers. We are tribal, function best within a larger group, whether that is an extended family, a tribe, a village, a town, a bio-region or something larger (which I do not believe is ultimately workable in a post oil world). We are not all capable (if any are) of personally performing all of the tasks which ultimately are needed to ensure our long-term survival. Being part of a community allows different people to adopt certain skills and specialties in preference to others, specialization.
Community, the smaller the better, is, in my opinion, the only social modality that has long-term probability of survival success in a post-peak/post-oil world. Community is composed of people who know each other intimately and work together to satisfy their collective needs. It is a society of cooperation, not competition. It is a society of stewardship, not ownership. It is a society that collectively satisfies its combined needs, not one of building individual wealth. It is a society utterly foreign to the current North American mindset, a wholesale paradigm shift.


Alice said...

Thanks for pointing out this truth. Are those of us who have planted orchards today willing to stand there and shoot the desperately hungry hands that reach for the fruit? Will this world be worth surviving in?

But as you pointed out, we will be in a Catch-22 position. We can't persuade the general masses to accept a serious reduction in material comforts now, AND we will become their target when they get hungry. Rather hopeless, it seems.

However, there is an alternative scenario, which I see as a much better one. We can amass knowledge and experience, which will be like gold in the bank, with the intention to share, and teach others, as needed. Global economic changes, and loss of food production, won't happen in two days, or six months, but will probably happen over several years, starting with higher energy costs, followed by higher food costs, and higher cost of goods, followed by lay-offs, then an exodus out of cities and suburbs, back to smaller communities, etc. A jostling of the general population as they adapt to the new reality, but which won't happen overnight, leaving them with a little room to wiggle.

The ones first hit will no doubt be the poor, as it always has been, wbo might hire themselves to farmers as they are forced to switch to more labour intensive ways of farming. Some countries will see massive starvation, other countries like land rich Canada, might actually be able to accomodate most of us.

Following this will likely be a reorganizing of existing cities, towns and suburbs, by changing by-laws to allow shops in homes, rooms to be rented out, houses to be converted to small factories, with cottage industries based on manual labour, such as spinning, weaving, etc.

People will scramble to find new ways to heat their homes, coal very likely making a comeback out of sheer necessity, wood will be highly valued, there will be some solar and wind, we will burn what we can, and we will most likely huddle together a lot in very cold houses. The Inuit have done this for centuries.

We need to remember, however, that our current resources, both the accumulated human-made, and the natural, won't disappear overnight. We will have a bit of time to reinvent our lifestyles. Not a lot, but some time.

That there will be desperate times for many is a certainty, but the way to get through this is not through isolationism, as you rightly pointed out, but to amass knowledge and experience to share with your community when it does happen. We need to reclaim all the self-sufficiency knowledge that corporations have worked so hard to make us forget so that we'd be forced to buy their products or services.

Here are some examples of knowledge that can help save a community:

-Know exactly what the human body needs in terms of nutrition and foods. Know what plants that can be locally grown, and what animals that can be easily managed can provide this. Know how to grow and preserve this food. Grow some extra non-hybrid, old variety seeds to share with your neighbours, the ones that ignored you as a nut case all those years, so that they too can grow seeds to share with others. Be ready to teach/mentor others in the fine art of growing food.

-Learn special skills such as weaving, knitting, sewing, spinning, felting, candlemaking, etc. to show others how to do this. Also learn how to make the tools that allow you to do this.

-Go back and study the lost arts of homesteading, milling, blacksmithing, carving, building, woodworking, root cellaring, etc., so that if someone in your community asks "How are we to solve this or that problem?" you can answer "Here, let me show you."

-Plant as many trees as possible now, they will be needed for heating fuel tomorrow.

-Invest in hand tools now, while they are still relatively inexpensive. These can be shared with your neighbours when the need arises.

-Help set up barter networks, tools/resource sharing networks, seed saving networks, co-ops, farmers' markets, etc.

-Accumulate books on relevant topics for survival. These can be shared.

-As the desperate times come, rather than shooting people, offer to trade food for work, and barter things. Most people would rather find a way to gain things honestly.

-Keep talking about peak oil. When prices start to rise, you'll find people will start listening. We may have a window when there will still be time to mobilize the masses to action before things crash.

There will no doubt be many casualties as the world adjusts to the new reality, but it doesn't mean we won't make it -- and still retain the best of what it is to be human. If many of us die while we are desperately trying to help each other, the survivors can continue human history with a clear conscience, knowing they did all they could. If most of us die while those who survive are the ones hoarding and shooting, I think I would rather not be one of the survivors.


Alice said...
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