A few contemporary writer-philosophers have influenced my current obsession with local living, peak oil, sustainability, and the future of civilization (such lofty topics reduced down to homey essentials like eggs, raw milk, yarn, and wild pickerel!) One of these is writers is James Howard Kunstler who has written non-fiction books such as THE LONG EMERGENCY, a contemplation of what will happen as our oil-based economy begins to run out of juice, and a novel entitled WORLD MADE BY HAND–a futuristic fiction about an upstate New York town after civilization has come to a screeching halt.
Granted, Kunstler is on the fringe when it comes to predicting where our society is headed. He’s an alarmist of the first order. It’s my deepest wish that what he thinks will happen, and soon, will not. However, sometimes I find it instructive to take a long look at a “worst case scenario.” People like Kunstler predicted the recent economic collapse (though I think they saw the collapse coming from an energy-supply issue rather than a real estate debacle), and for that alone, they deserve a hearing. If you are interested, take a peek at Kunstler’s blog.
Perhaps civilization won’t crash and burn to the extent Kunstler postulates, but we do need to consider how deeply dependent we are on that black liquid that bubbles up from ancient, underground beds.
Oil. We live on it. Our food is grown with it. Commercial fertilizers are derived from oil products. Farm machinery is run on it. Our food and other necessities like clothing and shoes and blankets and housing materials are shipped to our communities on fleets of boats and eighteen-wheelers run on diesel fuel. Oil heats our homes. Everything from cookware to clothing to car parts are made of plastic which is an oil-derived product. We travel by plane, train, and automobile–all run on oil.
Up until this moment, we’ve managed to get more and more of the stuff out of the ground, which worked superbly for an economy based on the concept of continual growth. Though there is some debate about whether or not we have reached peak oil production, there is much evidence to suggest we are now on the downward slope. The following artlicle by Colin Campbell for ASPO International explains the theory quite concisely. “Understanding Peak Oil.”
As oil becomes harder and harder to harvest and refine, the cost will go up, the economy will react, and things will change . . . how much they will change is the big question. Perhaps we will find alternative sources of energy and will transition before too much chaos descends. Perhaps not.
I ask, why wait? We can begin to transition ourselves and our local communities now by producing more of our own necessities right in our backyards. Let’s build an infrastructure that will be local and flexible enough to withstand whatever happens in the larger world. Maybe there will be some new oil-field discoveries that will last us for the next hundred years. Great! Maybe we will figure out cold-fusion technology and never need to worry about energy again. Fabulous! Strenthening our communities is a valuable endeavor even in a BEST-case scenario. In a worst-case scenario, it could mean the difference between life and death.