Hard times ahead: a discussion on the post-oil world

Holmgren, a permaculturist of some stature, approaches the issues of peak-oil and climate change in a very systematic manner and it is fairly well developed as a way of organizing the topics and information. He begins with a brief history of oil, introduces M. King Hubbert with the Hubbert's Peak analysis and makes a few statements about our current situation. Looking to the future, Holmgren perceives four possible energy futures (that may overlap): Techno-Explosion, Techno-Stability, Energy Descent and Collapse. His discussion rests primarily on "whether energy available to human systems will rise or fall". After defining each of the scenarios he establishes the link between Energy Descent and permaculture. (This is also one of the cornerstones in the Transition Initiative.)

A few years ago I stumbledupon "Zero Point Energy" and saw a video entitled "Equinox it Runs on Water" (BBC 1995). I was impressed with Stanley Meyer's apparent honesty and possible credibility. He designed a power source for a dune buggy that he built and ran. Evidently he was able to devise a method of electrolysis such that the amount of energy in was less than that out (overunity - not possible in the Newtonian world). Mr. Meyer's was dead within a year after going public. If we do find a way to produce free energy the world will be destroyed within two weeks.

The reason I touch on the "outlandish" concept of free energy is that some people are "hoping" that we will be saved by some such technological advance. As the old Zen master said, "Maybe".

At the center of David Holmgren's discussion on peak-oil and climate change is "The Four Energy-Descent and Climate Change Scenarios". There are:

  • Brown Tech - slow oil decline, slow climate change

  • Green Tech - fast oil decline, slow climate change

  • Earth Stewardship - fast oil decline, slow climate change

  • Lifeboats - fast oil decline, fast climate change

He defines each of the scenarios in more detail and adds commentary for how they may play out. The Earth Steward: Bottom Up Rebuild Scenario, he feels, may serve us best; "There is also a cultural and spiritual revolution as people are released from the rat race of addictive behaviors and begin to experience the gift of resurgent community..."

As one might expect from a small book, the concepts and resulting constructs are simple and to the point. Holmgren should inspire the reader to take more time to investigate the subject matter with additional research.

Where Mr. Holgren's comments were mostly focused on an analysis of possible future scenarios, Dmitry Orlov's Reinventing Collapse uses a strong dose of first hand experiences in both Russia and the U.S. upon which to base his comments and projections. The chapter titles give insight to what the reader is to expect;

  • The Soviet Example

  • Superpower Similarities

  • The Collapse Gap

  • Collapse Mitigation

  • Adaptation

  • Career Possibilities

  • In Conclusion

Dmitry's style is down to earth and friendly. It's easy to forget the catastrophic nature of the subject matter (at least it was for me) while reading his views and anecdotal stories. Although I did not agree with everything he wrote, I do agree with his answer to an interviewer's question I saw on YouTube. "What is the one thing that we should be doing now?" He replied, "Get to know your neighbors, talk to people."

Dmitry says that the collapse of Russia had nothing to do with ideology or American words or actions. His recipe for the collapse of a modern military-industrial superpower included: a severe and chronic shortfall in the production of crude oil, a severe and worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget and ballooning foreign debt. (Sound familiar?)

Orlov weaves his Russian experiences into some very probable American scenarios and then provides numerous possible, although partial, solutions. (I've heard that he is starting a merchant sailing enterprise.) He also reiterates the answer to the question I have heard so many times, "If my money is going to be worthless, what should I do with it before it loses value?" Obvious answer: buy, hold and secure those goods that will be required to sustain your small community: hand tools, simple medications (and morphine), guns and ammo, sharpening stones, bicycles (and lots of tires with patch kits), etc. I read somewhere that in hyper inflated Weimar Germany cigarettes and booze became the de facto currency.

When does one begin buying hording "stuff" to use as money in the future? That's the big question! Maybe this little FOX YouTube video will help (maybe not). If you think the time is now (or, at least, very soon) what does your significant other think and how will you pay your bills until the time when "it" collapses? Great questions! Dmitry advises us to remain "flexible".

His discussion on the "loss of normalcy" goes to the core of where one needs to be in terms of understanding what we really need (stuff) to survive. Today, you may think you need to look cool, twitter, and know "what's happening", but, what is truly important? "Much of the transformation is psychological and involves letting go of many notions that we have been conditioned to accept unquestioningly. In order to adapt, you will need plenty of free time. Granting yourself this time requires a leap of faith: you have to assume the future has already arrived."

One closing piece of advice from Mr. Orlov, "Beyond the matter of personal safety, you will need to understand who has what you need and how to get it from them."

I know James Howard Kunstler from The Long Emergency  (a book about surviving the end of oil, 2005), The End of Suburbia (a DVD that is iconic, you must see it), several YouTube videos and, more recently, World Made by Hand. It was a book I had trouble putting down and consumed it in less than a week. Upon completion I felt "lost" without more of the movie that played so easily in my mind. It only took the first few pages before I wanted to be one of the characters in the story (okay, the lead character). It seems that I have been assuming that the future has already arrived for some time now (in my head at least).

Kunstler's summertime story doesn't preach or intellectualize. The everyday facts of life are grueling and at the same time "just the way it is". We worked hard and we took care of each other.

In my last post I wrote a little bit about what I perceive as a part of human nature, "People tend to associate and group themselves into subsets that have similarities." Kunstler provides us with a set of characters that he has divide into four simple groups: Robert Earle and "The Townies" (each with their own variations yet joined by attempts to keep the town going), Wayne Karp and his "Motorheads" (an assortment of low-lifes, criminals and trailer trash) (it's okay, I am allowed to use the term trailer trash because I grew up, for the most part, in trailers in various parts of the south), Stephen Bullock and his "Plantation Folks" (Bullock was fortunate enough to see where things were going, plan for it, attract those who could not manage their own lives without guidance and manage the plantation), and Brother Jobe with the "Jesus Freaks" (having traveled from Virginia they are a special breed that move in mysterious ways).

Since Robert Earle is telling the story we seem to get a better feel of what it's like being a Townie. It's somewhat easy to relate to that group of ex-professionals and feel their disorientation, despair, and emotional struggles. Robert was a part of a family of four. Now he is alone, maybe 45 years old.

I was constantly trying to put a time to that summer in relation to "The Disaster". How long after the Mexican Flu and the L.A. and Washington D.C. nuclear terrorist attacks was it? They had already worn out all the bicycle tires and the upstate New York roads were in such disrepair as to make traveling them, even in a horse drawn cart, somewhat hazardous. Even with all this discomfort there was the feel that things were "normal" not so long ago.

I know a handful of people who have decided to go the survivalist route. They tend to be ex-military and have not one but several stashes of weapons, food and water hidden around not only this county but others also. I met a medical professional about three years ago who had spent probably in excess of $500K stockpiling the bunker he had custom built in the side of a mountain.

I hear some people say that if it gets that bad "I just won't want to live anymore". I chuckle to myself. When it comes down to it the will to survive is quite strong for a "normal" human being. What kind of a society have we allowed our government to create?

I saw Kunstler being interviewed once and he was asked if he was stockpiling food, weapons and the like. He said, "No". I believe he was lying (for several reasons).

It would be interesting to see the readership poll results concerning where we think this country will be 15 to 20 years from now. Perhaps it should include some reference to where we stand with regard to the rest of the world. As you know, just a few of the factors that would influence our view of the future would involve the results of peak-oil, climate change, national debt, inflation, loss of manufacturing, increasing population, state fascism, a broken educational system, an unjust medical system, etc. I can only speculate upon your perspective but, my research does not present a very pretty picture. Chris Martenson says it so clearly with his catch phrase, "The next twenty years will be completely unlike the last twenty years." (I advise taking the Crash Course.)

Five years ago I read Michael Ruppert's Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil, and it was instrumental in beginning my search for even more information regarding 9/11 and the list of influences listed above. Michael was an L.A. cop working in narcotics who slowly began to know too much about how drugs come into this country and where the money goes. Seeing corruption at high levels in the country he loved set him on a very interesting journey. The byline for the book was, "The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil."

This little commentary will concern the thoughts I have about three books I read last month; "Future Scenarios" by David Holmgren, World Made by Hand by James Howard Knustler and Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov. They were read in that order but in hindsight, Kunstler's book should have been last.

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