As should be clear to any observant being, we’re headed for a world characterized by ever declining supplies of crude oil.
And because most all “renewable” forms of energy technology are derived from or currently trace back to crude oil, declining availability of oil translates directly to reduced availability of energy and ultimately to completion of the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy.
Even the White House admits world oil supply is not keeping pace with demand, a fact that has President Obama pondering the notion of tapping the strategic petroleum reserve. The hidden-in-plain-sight approach of drawing down reserves has nearly run its course, so Obama’s response is the politically astute next step. Evidently today’s national leadership means a one-time, short-term politically motivated action instead of a truly strategic and durable solution.
Manifold issues, zero response
Societally we face climate chaos at the same time we face energy decline. The tragic political response to these two crises is identical: willful ignorance and intentional obfuscation. Being unmoored from meaningful leadership, we’ve chosen death over life by default, up to and including the near-term extinction of all human beings.
A minor example comes from the United States military and its untouchable budget: The Department of Defense (sic) burns 360,000 barrels of oil every day in support of wars we know about in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and Yemen. Who knows how much is devoted to the wars about which the citizenry hasn’t been informed?
Carpooling by concerned Americans exhibits patriotism by allowing the Pentagon access to a few gallons more, even though the inadequacy of conservation was illustrated nearly 150 years ago in William Stanley Jevons’ book, The Coal Question. (The irrelevance of conservation and efficiency were subsequently confirmed by the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate.)
Because our society has chosen destruction of the living planet in the name of economic growth, thus failing to deal with the most important events in the history of our species, we — meaning those of us who care — must mitigate for the twin sides of the fossil-fuel coin in small groups. Communities must carry the day, and individuals comprising our communities must face our ambiguous future with large reserves of courage, compassion, and creativity. The difficulty of this task cannot be overstated.
It’s a big job: Where do we start?
First, we must recognize the nature of the twin predicaments we face: We’re near the end of the industrial age (the good news), and global climate change is under way and is accelerating (the bad news). Acknowledging reality is a huge step, and one that most people are unwilling to take. Leadership by example is imperative at the local level, and it must begin today.
After recognizing the predicaments, we must work to end the industrial economy that’s making us crazy and killing us (while also killing every other component of the living planet). Along the way, we’ve got to put our shoulders to the proverbial wheel in pursuit of real homeland security.
Protection vs. propaganda
Protecting homeland security has nothing to do with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). By supporting the militaristic, growth-for-the-sake-of-growth agenda of the country’s political leaders, DHS is actively trying to destroy the lands and waters we need to survive.
I’m not a fan.
Rather than supporting the cancerous policies of DHS and its ilk, I recommend defending the living planet on which we depend for our lives. Like Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, we must be willing to risk our lives in defense of the systems that support our lives. We must work unceasingly to keep the lands and water wild and free from the insults of industry. The words of the iconoclastic writer and philosopher Edward Abbey come to mind: “A patriot must be ready to defend his country against his government.”
Investing in durability
A set of living arrangements steeped in suburbia and an interstate highway system — the least durable set of living arrangements we could possible imagine, much less implement — depends upon ready access to an infinite supply of crude oil. But whoops, wait now. Crude oil is a finite material. Thus, development of the most lethal force in the history of humanity is requisite to maintenance of the oil-fueled American lifestyle.
The governmental and cultural solution to our crude addiction is two-fold: obedient, unconscious consumption at home and oppression abroad. Personally, I can’t support either approach. Fortunately, there’s another, more durable, way.
What we need
We need air to breathe. We need water to drink. We need food to eat. We need to maintain the temperature of our bodies at a relatively stable 98.6 F (37 C). We need decent human communities.
That’s all we need. Isn’t that beautiful?
We don’t need industrialization for any of these five factors. Indeed, the industrial economy is effective only to the extent it destroys each of these five factors. Retaining the ability of natural systems to provide these attributes is fundamental to the persistence of our species. It is our vital commons, to which we have a natural right to access in reference to our true needs, while leaving it free from harm for others to use as well. We must defend this from hijacker, usurpers and those who would use it to their private, corporate and profit-driven ends. We have the right to life!
As the industrial economy continues its ongoing demise, hopefully with your aid, you can take specific actions to ensure future generations of humans will persist in your locale.
Think, and act, locally
The Transition to a life free from the curse of fossil fuels can be eased by maintaining focus on the five elements crucial to persistence of our species: air, water, food, body temperature, and human community.
As individuals and communities, we have little control over the first item on the list. However, air quality necessarily improves when we reduce emissions. Thus, completion of the ongoing demise of the industrial economy, along with the attendant lack of access to fossil fuels by most individuals, should do the trick.
Surface water or ground water are available beyond the reach of corporations and governments. Water from streams and lakes can be treated for human consumption with relative ease, as can rainwater collected locally. A simple, durable hand pump can be used to extract water cleaned by Earth’s natural systems. These strategies fail where surface water and precipitation are inadequate and groundwater is too deep to extract with simply technologies (e.g., most of southwestern North America). As you contemplate our post-carbon future, bear in mind that the time to dig a well is not when you’re thirsty.
Food can be gathered and grown. Hunting and gathering supported us throughout the first two million years of the human experience. There were far fewer human beings in these pre-agricultural days than we have today, but I’ve no doubt a significant near-term reduction of the human population in industrialized countries will help mitigate this daunting problem. Subsistence gardening can augment or replace gathered food, keeping in mind that the time to plant a garden is not when you’re hungry.
Maintaining body temperature is relatively simple if we manage to stop global average temperature from skyrocketing. Assuming we terminate the industrial economy in time to prevent runaway greenhouse, shelters and clothing will maintain body temperature in the requisite range for most locales. If we fail to terminate the industrial economy in time to prevent runaway greenhouse, shelter and clothing will not be needed.
And you thought I was all gloom and doom.
Finally, building and maintaining decent human communities are critical to a viable post-carbon existence. There are no lone rangers in collapse, just as none survived long during the prior Stone Age. In addition to the profound challenges of living alone, why would anybody want to live without the love and humor of others?
A personal example
Lest you believe the task is too great, I have even more good news.
When I started my own on-the-ground efforts at post-carbon living as a life-long suburban academic, I could barely distinguish between a zucchini and a screwdriver. But during the last few years, I have learned how to grow vegetables, chickens, ducks, and goats while building structures, skills, and a strong sense of community. Working with other people on shared property, I used local knowledge, trial-and-error, stubbornness, and a budding sense of patience.
I’ve no doubt you can do better than my stumbling efforts. If you want help along the way, don’t hesitate to call on your neighbors. Or, for that matter, on me.
–Guy McPherson for Transition Voice