In the decades since the end of World War II, the oil driven, fossil-fueled global economy has taken over functions that human and natural communities once fulfilled, to a great extent, for themselves. Because none of us alive now has lived in a world without oil, it’s difficult for us to imagine what our lives would be like if it, and the global economy that cannot exist without it, stopped fulfilling those functions, or fulfilled them only occasionally. (In his novel World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler has compellingly imagined for us what post-peak life might be like for the residents of a small town in upstate New York, with intimations of what it would be like for the rest of the US.) So before we plan ways of systematically and individually cutting back and cutting out our use of oil and other fossil fuels, we need to get an up-close-and-personal sense of what peak everything fossil-fuel-wise would mean for our lives.
Passing peak to the point where we cannot pretend any longer that we haven’t passed it will change everyone’s lives dramatically, but it will change lives in prosperous First World nations more dramatically than it will change lives in parts of the world where Critical Mass has been a defining feature of life for decades and the benefits of cheap/easy oil, coal and gas have been mixed or limited. Why?
The world’s less prosperous peoples are practiced in the arts of subtraction whereas those of us born since World War II in Western-styled economies have grown up in decades of addition. Whatever our economic station, there has always been something else, some new or supposedly improved material good or service, that we could add to what we already had. Or that we could at least hope to add. In difficult economic times, there has always been something we could keep, which—given the subtractions many face in this bleak economic time—would feel, if not like addition, at least not like subtraction. And with very few exceptions, all of those things we’ve added and kept, whether they have been necessary or discretionary, have involved the use of oil or one of its kin or derivatives. How?
a) One or more of the variants of refined/processed oil are additives—ingredients, feedstock—in their manufacture, as is the case for plastics, synthetics, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals, for example.
b) The manufacture, transportation and distribution of nearly everything we have requires the burning of gasoline, diesel, natural gas or coal, or the burning of oil or its derivatives or fossil-fuel substitutes to produce electricity.
c) Everything is conveyed to us by forms of transportation or infrastructure—electric utilities, for example—that are fueled by oil, gasoline, diesel, natural gas or coal.
Or, in the Trifecta gamble that constitutes the ABCs of peak oil, getting the things we have added or kept has involved all three.
Passing peak oil without preparing for it will mean subtracting most of what we have added to our lives over the past century in the way of goods, services, conveniences and expectations. The following exercise is intended to help us learn subtraction, to imagine having a peak oil experience before we actually have one. Then critical masses of us may appreciate how important it is to try to avoid having a peak oil experience and to conserve fossil fuels for future vital purposes and use remaining fossil fuels to make the conversion to other forms of energy that will support ecological communities sustainably.
The ABCs of Peak Oil: An Exercise
What follows is a short exercise in subtraction. You may engage in it mentally or on paper, alone or with family, friends and colleagues.
Over the next several days, pay special attention to the objects around you in your kitchen, pantry, cupboards, garage, bathroom, closets, and other rooms of the place you live in; in shops and stores; in your workplaces and places of entertainment; on the street and in your neighborhood and yard. Your first task is to mentally subtract from what you see and use everything that is
Then, in subsequent exercises, in the following order over a period of several days, mentally subtract everything that is:
And, finally, subtract everything that
As you pay attention to these things, you will doubtless discover that in nearly every category from food, clothing and furnishings to electronics, tools, appliances, transportation, and electricity, most customary goods and services depend to some degree at some point on the availability of cheap/easy fossil fuels.
In the worst case peak-everything scenario, everything in your list of subtractions would be subtracted from your life and world because it is not possible for a post-peak economy, or for locally self-reliant communities, in a period of Critical Mass to produce it. That world will not in any way resemble the one you live in now.This entry was posted in Life Rules: The Blog. Bookmark the permalink. ← From Juggernaut to Jubilee: Conceiving a Post-Global Future Teachers & Teachings →
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