I’m dreaming of a peak oil Christmas

Here at the Transition Voice offices, where the thermostat hovers very low, and where we’re wrapped in wool scarves and blankets as we type out the collapse narrative through our fingerless gloves, it’s hard to imagine that Scrooge will be moved by the spirit of a Christmas present this year.

But, while we’re aware that people are hurting all over, not everyone is necessarily hurting in the same way. Some may have set aside a little money to enjoy the season. For that reason, we’ve written our first Peak Oil Gift Buying Guide to help you give gifts that speak to your understanding of declining resources. (And we’ve posted a funny gallery by artist Jonathan Plotkin on this same theme.)

We’ve covered a range of gift needs here by looking at different ages and income brackets along with different priorities and stylistic preferences. So Mazel Tov! I mean, Merry Christmas!

There’s a lot of ground to cover in this guide, so if you prefer, you can just jump to the section that interests you:

  1. From nothing to something local to something global
  2. Babies, kids, and family
  3. Ladies and gentlemen
  4. Households
  5. Doomer’s wish list
  6. Richie Rich and world influence

1. Worldwide wonders, renunciation, and going local

First let’s address those whose chief concern is railing against the excesses of the season. Basically, this column is not for you. You might want to check out buynothingchristmas.org instead.

Nonetheless, if you’re a renunciate, congratulations. Let your gift to the world be your quiet example, rather than your spiritual materialism.

Who is this guide for? For folks who might want to indulge at least a bit and are looking for ideas.

If you’re one who’s joined the campaigns to spend no more than $100 total on ALL gifts given, a tip of the hat to you too. Limitations are a source of great creativity. We applaud your restraint. And we’d love you to chime in on our comments thread about how many folks were on your list, and how you made it all happen. Or share your great gift ideas.

For those who believe that gift giving should involve buying goats or chickens for the world’s poor while you yourself abstain, again, another laudable choice.

At the same time, I had trouble finding similar programs for Americans beyond Salvation Army coin cauldrons and Christmas angels at church.

Yes, we’re a rich nation, but somewhere between 10 and 20% of our population is now out of work. Have any projects launched that would bring backyard chickens to those on Food Stamps? Or help rent or buy a lot for a local community garden? Or send the unemployed back to school? If not, maybe someone should start some.

And on the Transition minded local angle, let’s remember our producers, artists and artisans. The quality and unique aspects of hand made goods always make for excellent gifts. Check your community for an art gallery holiday shop. You can find butcher’s blocks, cutlery, dinner ware, textiles, tools, lighting, furniture and many other usable goods.

If there’s none in your area, think regionally, or browse etsy.com for a worldwide gallery of hand made goods. (I love a draft doggie we bought last year from hierons1 at Etsy. It allowed us to buy an attractive item from a hand crafter while insulating the house just a wee bit more. Win, win.)

Also consider local wine, local beer, local jams and pickles and sauces and gift certificates to local eateries and shops. And then there’s your own hand-made goods, from food to cards to photo albums to funky socks. Kudos for those gifts!

3/50 project badge.To help local business, you can commit to the 3/50 project by pledging to purchase $50 worth of goods from three local merchants each month all year. By doing so, you’ll boost local tax coffers, improve area services, and help keep your town vibrant. Another win win, (and a jab at Wal Mart, TGIFridays and all the other corporate franchise crap to boot.)

Now on to specific gifts.

2. Babies, kids and family

For the kiddies

Who loves Christmas more than children? Yet the last thing a child wants is to know that Santa is bringing his or her very own compostable toilet. Instead, introduce the wee ones to peak oil awareness in stages, suitable to their development.

Baby, toddler and the young child

Everyone wants to be the hero to kids during the holidays. For too many folks, this means toys. But my dear grandmother, who had an extraordinarily wealthy upbringing, told me that back in the 1920s a child would receive maybe one toy, at most. Even the rich kids. Instead, Christmas was about warm woolen robes, fine slippers, a small candy treat, and a day where mommy and daddy were home all day in front of a roaring fire.

Let’s bring the spirit of fine necessities back into the holidays because 1) someone else is likely larding the kids with toys and 2) your gift will come in handy in power outages, conservation households, and as hand-me-downs to future kids shivering in the post-peak brownouts.

For newborn and infant

The Merino Kids Cocooi Babywrap baby swaddler is crafted from exquisite pure merino wool which is luxuriously soft and non-irritating. Its patented award-winning design has a remarkable ability to regulate body temperature, giving parents peace of mind in varying indoor conditions and under outerwear in the elements. $69.99

For baby through two-years old try the winter weight baby sleep bag for $139.99 and for 2-4 year olds  the toddler sleep sack for $149.99. Yes, all three are pricey, but at more than two-years use each, the cost is spread out. And as a hand-me-down to your next child, the price gets even cheaper. The resale value is also good. If you’re on a budget, search eBay for a gently used version.

Young child

Help your child learn to do chores.Too often when we’re doing something we tend to shoo the young child away, believing it’s easier to “just do it myself.” Instead, engage the child’s natural tendency toward imitation by giving him or her pint-sized tools to get the job done.

This novanatural.com hand brush and dust pan ($15) was a huge favorite for my kids when I ran a Waldorf-inspired at-home child care program. The brush is wooden and natural bristle while the pan is metal. You can also try Nova’s brooms ($24), washboard ($18), clothespins ($5) and child sized drying rack ($24). All made of real natural materials (no plastics). Now practice the age-old act of letting your child work beside you. You’ll help develop a life time of home-keeping habits that will serve the family well while inching your child along the path of self development and community responsibility. With the future that lies ahead, learning to work now will help lessen the blow later.

Children ages 7-9

Loom kit from Magic Cabin Dolls.At first glance this loom kit ($49.95) from Magic Cabin Dolls might seem like just another toy. But with its natural fibers and functional outcome it actually teaches the child a useful skill that also yields beauty. And nothing is a better focusing tool.

If it’s your child’s first foray into textiles, try a potholder, knitting or crochet kit. All of these show kids that they’re capable of using their hands to make the things they need.

Most kits today are glorified paint-by-numbers “kits.” In contrast, these ones develop an artisan craft that your child can expand upon over time

And if you think boys will say “no way” to textile kits (though they don’t always), choose Haba’s Block and Tackle instead. Perfect for lofts, tree houses and other riggings, this pulley answers a kid’s fascination with hoisting stuff. And it’s a great teaching tool. I wish it were made in the US, but what I can say is that when I used to have a retail kid’s store, the block and tackle sold like wildfire. If you get it, gently remind dad that it’s meant for the kids, too.

Kids age 9-12

The new Way Things Work The New Way Things Work is an update of the beloved classic. This illustrated, descriptive book provides hours upon hours of information about everything from simple levers to gears to aqueducts to binary code to remote controls.

Though some of the technologies covered may soon phase out, as a historical reference, this book offers an essential inventory of the technology that will “save us”—the kind that has stood the test of millennia. It’s visuals and details are an heirloom in the making. And talk about fodder for awesome dinner time conversation.


Let them earn the cash for their own iTunes purchases while you focus on experiences and utility instead.

Teens, with their more mature conversation and basic self reliance lead us to the false impression that they’re grown up and understand stuff. Ha! If that were the case they wouldn’t walk around in a tee shirt, shorts and bare feet and then gripe that the house is “freezing.” It’s time for a nice warm robe. Whatever you do, no polar fleece! Sure, it’s made of recycled soda bottles, but it isn’t actually, truly, toasty warm. Not with the heat off. Old reliable is cotton fleece, flannel or wool. This one for girls by L.L.Bean comes in at $44.50 which isn’t bad. Some boys will wear robes, others wont (cool factor). A silk base layer long underwear tee $34.95 is a better bet. It’s useful indoors and out, as jammies or a layer, and there’s nothing dorky about it.

For utility, perhaps it’s time to spring for a nice Swiss Army Knife. The Victorinox Swiss Army Spartan is a good place to start for a basic knife ($29).

Or, steer them to the right kind of ‘shrooms and herbs by giving growing kits that can set them on a path to a lifetime of tradeable goods or business skills.

College men and women

Put all that walking to work with the V-dimension Helius Solar Powered Backpack ($99) that charges their computer or electronic toys while on the way to class. And not to scare mom and dad, but if you wonder about emergency communications at all, you might want to make sure they can get weather and news when it counts. Giving the Etón American Red Cross ARCFR160R Microlink Self-Powered AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio with Flashlight, Solar Power and Cell Phone Charger ($30) may just help you sleep better at night.

Earlier this year I reviewed Peak Of The Devil, a kind of Peak Oil 101 that’s educational and funny. It’s an easy read told with humor that won’t overwhelm someone at an age when they’re feeling like their whole life is still ahead of them. Pair that with Jon Stewart’s gut-busting EARTH and you’ll keep them entertained and informed for hours. Finally, consider getting a gift certificate to their local food co-op. This way you’ll be sure they’re getting at least some nutrition in between all those beers.

The whole family

I’m not usually one to recommend media for kids but in the case of these three wholesome DVDs  I’m making an exception. I believe they all relate to our times very well. Each of these films can pave the way to broader discussions about peak oil, energy, economy, and how we live.

First, Little House on the Prairie – Christmas. In this story (which hews pretty close to the book) the family experiences a scant holiday during a blizzard. Yet simple gifts of sweet potatoes add to the family meal, along with single tin cups, pennies, and peppermint sticks for the girls. The story illuminates all too well how far we’ve come in America, from hard scrabble existences to a life of so much plenty. Sure it’s a bit schmaltzy, but who cares? Heart-warming and instructive.

Next up, Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Special Edition) ($18.99). Most folks think this movie is just a sugary, over-the-top fantasy of a flying nanny. But I’ve long argued that this film is subversive movie making at its finest. In essence, Poppins schools Mr. Banks, ahem, on the meaning of life. (I could write a whole essay on this film alone.)

Essentially telling the story of how people and experiences are more important than money, stature and blinding self-delusion, the film also covers women’s suffrage, the plight of the working class vis-a-vis the chimney sweeps, the role of animals in our lives in “Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag” and the need for imagination in stepping outside the box. The cannon-firing Admiral Boom provides delicious foreshadowing of financial and familial trouble ahead that’s, as he would put it “bang on the dot.” At perhaps its most telling for today’s society and economy is the tune “Fidelity, Fiduciary Bank.” An excerpt:

Now, Michael, When you deposit tuppence in a bank account
Soon you’ll see, That it blooms into credit of a generous amount
And you’ll achieve that sense of stature, As your influence expands
To the high financial strata, That established credit now commands
You can purchase first and second trust deeds, Think of the foreclosures!
Bonds! Chattels! Dividends! Shares!
Bankruptcies! Debtor sales!
All manner of private enterprise!
Shipyards! The mercantile!
Collieries! Tanneries!
Incorporations! Amalgamations! Banks!
You see, Michael, Tuppence, patiently, cautiously, trustingly invested
In the, to be specific,
In the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank!

This movie offers myriad themes to discuss across a range of ages. It’s just dripping with potent symbolism of a world about to be turned upside down. Perfect for families who enjoy lively conversation.

Finally, The Waltons: The Complete Seasons 1-9 (about $210). Taking place in The Depression, this story of a rural Virginia family is often remembered for its fuzzy warm feelings. But if you really drill down, it’s a tale of struggle, loss, challenge and togetherness at a time in history when folks were routinely barefoot, eating at soup kitchens and going without. So often you see the Waltons struggling to pull together enough cash to meet their needs, pulling out the old tin can and counting their pennies. If there’s one series that could prepare kids for peak oil and economic decline, this is it.

There’s not even a need to talk about how it’s going to be that way again, because we don’t know the specifics of the future. But the series shows a family with courage, resilience and a fine work ethic. Everyone pitches in, and everyone works a solid day, every day. The example alone is instructive.

Love plays a central and very deep role. There is an element of Christianity too, but at the same time, while Ma Walton is devoted, Pa Walton wont step foot in a church and openly rejects organized religion. And that’s only one of many tense themes this series explores. Five stars from me.

3. Ladies and gentlemen

For the ladies

First figure out which category she loosely fits, then give accordingly:

Romantic: Antiques for a low energy future like a water pitcher and basin, bottle carrier, bell jar for cultivating plants or hand-made soaps.

Practical: Very warm slippers with real shearling lining or boots of the same caliber or a lovely silk layering turtleneck. Or how about a bike outfitted with panniers? Then she can reduce the carbon footprint even more by pedaling to more of her destinations.

Entrepreneurial: Get her whatever she needs to launch that home based business. Maybe new software, canning equipment, guide book, classes at the community college, printing press, a street vending cart, or pay her farmer’s market yearly fee. Help her make it happen! (The press is for me in case anyone wants to get it.) 😉

Culinary/Gardener: Sharon Astyk’s new book Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation ($13.57).

Reader: Try Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest: A Novel ($10.20), a peak oil tale of two orphaned sisters in a cabin on the edge of the woods in California.

Heady: Tell her that love never means having to not say “I wont scare you to death.” Then give her Nicole Foss’s dvd A Century of Challenges ($30).

For the gents

Dandy: I’m all about the 19th century warm layered look on guys. And buying things that will last. Sometimes that costs a bit more. But boy will you thank me in 2014. Give him a nice wool vest. Pullovers are nice, too. Yet to me, oh, nothing looks hotter on a guy right now than a button up Irish style vest. Except maybe when he wears a hat with it, too.

Practical: No more sweaters, ladies. Give him wool shearling and leather slippers that he’ll still wear in 30 years, or a chamois robe, or a ridiculously expensive but tres toasty wool robe for the coming peak oil winters.

Tinkerer: Get him the stuff to build a cold frame and then set him to it.

Sportsman: A kreel or damn good looking and very warm boots.

Reader: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food ($17.13). Heartbreaking story of the world’s factory fish farming and its impact on the open waters.  Also, James Howard Kunstler’s new book, The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel ($16.32).

Entrepreneurial: Home beer making kit all the way. Get it with the glass carboy: Gold Complete Beer Equipment Kit (K6) with 6 Gallon Glass Carboy ($76.99). If he doesn’t eventually start a local brewery, at least he can keep pouring them at your table.

4. Household

I’m big on stocking up on wool and down blankets. You can never have too many. Look for what’s known as camp blankets in names like Pendleton, LLBean, and Hudson Bay. Those on a tight budget can also indulge. Amazingly you can find blanket treasures at places like Goodwill. I routinely find wool blankies for $5-$10 dollars at thrift stores. Look around. Then just tie a hemp or twine ribbon around it and go old school on the wrapping. Add a sprig of greenery and call it a day. And don’t discount those granny afghans. When made of real wool those puppies are warm. And their Americana kitsch factor is worth something in my book.

Another fabulous gift is an oil burning lamp or lantern. In addition to new ones, antique and junk shops abound with these treasures for usually $20-$80 bucks. On indoor oil lamps, my sources tell me to look for the ones where the finger carrying hole is directly attached to the base. Walking lanterns are also handy to have, or you can really splurge and go for a copper nautical lamp.

Cooks, bakers, and brewers may want to go back to the original grain for the finest quality. And because refined flours may not be available in a food scarcity future, Lehman’s Best Grain Mill offers superior milling of all beans and grains. Best of all its easily adjustable and infinitely portable. Lehmans.com is a peak oil shopper’s paradise, so be sure to peruse their website for everything from wood burning cook stoves to hand cranked laundry machines.

And it goes without saying (sort of) that everyone needs reusable water bottles, reusable to go coffee cups, a tiffin to carry lunch, cloth napkins, and reusable grocery and produce bags of a respectable style.

Finally, make that first foray into shoring up the homestead by getting those rain barrels you’ve talked about for years. Or really go the distance and get that solar water heater. Several states have tax credits on clean energy upgrades, so act now to stretch your dollar the farthest.

5. Doomer apocalypse

Okay doomers, your turn at bat. You can stock up your food and grains in bins all you want, but what about big trouble? Let’s really think crisis here. Here’s a few ideas to get you through the hellish days of a bare knuckled downturn.

Whenever I think about not being able to have hot food I really get the blues. That’s why the Foul Weather Kettle appeals to me. Its efficiency is legendary and its portability an asset. All it takes are some twigs to fire it up and cook. I want one and I’m not even that doomy.

Cautious doomers may want to plan for food crisis by taking up edible landscaping. Go beyond planting a garden each year and instead make the whole place a food paradise year round. Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia has a showroom and catalog to help hook you up with the right berries, fruit trees, and other food bearing plants for your zone. I personally know these folks, and they couldn’t be sweeter!

But let’s ratchet it up a notch. How’s about the 3-month family of four survival set from Nitro-Pak? At only $8,450. (WHAT?) you can store up a 90 day supply promising over 2, 450 calories per person per day. (I wont even go into an analysis of that as excessive right now.) I’ll just say if you’ve got that kind of dough sitting around, why not buy yourself one? Or several? The rest of us can stick to our ten cans a week collection drive.

On the humbler end of the spectrum, I’m a fan of these walkie talkies: Motorola MH230R 23-Mile Range 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio (Pair). When I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity cell phone usage was entirely shut down. But our sturdy walkie talkies took us through the day. With two kids in tow that brought peace of mind. And with a 34 mile range, they could act just like a cell phone for a family. Plus it’s so fun to say things like, “Do you read me, do you read me? Over.” Yes, they depend on electric charge, so you may want the solar variety if you predict an all-blackout future.

And I shouldn’t have joked earlier about the compostable toilet. The truth is none of us want to go from our larded present to an abysmal future as far as basic functions go. Find the terlet that appeals to you and buy now, before it takes 600 wheelbarrows full of cash to make the purchase. If you really want to live in style, get one of these Royal Thrones. Who says my outhouse is pretentious?

6. For Richie Rich

If the very rich will save us, as Ralph Nader argues in his latest book, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” we need them to bolt into action toot sweet. First, retrofit your manses with solar panels. Then, be like Warren Buffet and buy a railroad.

Or bankroll a massive public education campaign on peak oil along the lines of SaveTheOil.org as imagined by ASPO-USA chairman Jim Baldauf.

Need a less ambitious task? Throw your cash behind small urban renewal projects in little towns, such as creating local transit options, or walkable downtown malls. Donate a bunch of fruiting trees to a locality so that instead of labor intensive,  disposable annuals, the town has a source of back up food right on Main Street.

Donate to schools that are seriously going green or off the grid.

And speaking of ASPO-USA, why not sponsor 100 scholarships to next year’s World Oil Conference.

Support great organizations like Post Carbon Institute, Transition US, The Transition Network, Green for All and, I humbly add, Transition Voice.

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas everyone!

— Lindsay Curren

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  1. says

    This list made me laugh. Nice. I think I’ll get some local gift certificates if I buy anything. Mostly I’m making stuff out of papier mache. I hope people like what they get.

  2. Courtney Cranor says

    Fun list, Lindsay.

    A great gift that I’ve encouraged my family to give my children over the years is a membership to a museum. We’ve received memberships to childrens’ museum, cultural museums, science museums and botanical gardens. We get to enjoy it year-round and there is no slave-labor produced, leaded plastic added to my house.

  3. Brenda says

    Love the list. Covers all types.
    Co-incidentally my 4 year old received ‘Mary Poppins’ from Santa this morning. Not because I saw it on the list but because it’s one of the first classics we ‘ve borrowed from the video store and he loved it. It always captivated me as a kid, and now as an adult I see the deeper meaning behind it. I’d much rather we watch films like that and talk about them than he watch modern junk. Plus they don’t run on batteris, have flashing lights or get left all over the flooe.

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