Solutions to peak oil – part III: 9 steps you can implement short term to get ready.

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Posted by Herve | Posted in How can I help? | Posted on 20-09-2012

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Wake up, we have past the peak

Wake up, we have past the peak

This is the continuation of my series on peak oil. In previous posts I described the problem and discussed consequences and myths around peak oil. Mostly, one need to remember oil is so pervasive that it enter into the manufacture of most of what can be bought nowadays, its depletion is a mathematical fact and there are numerous indications we have past the time of cheap ever-growing supply of oil. can be paired with peak energy for various reasons. The consequences are complex to understand, and systemic implications are mostly overlooked. Timing has it that is compounding with one of the greatest in the world’s history, with an environment brought to its knee like never since the great extinction events millions of years ago and with the ageing of world population to levels never achieved before.

Thankfully there are simple solutions which would warrant a less painful transition to an energy-poor world. In this post I will focus on what could be the beginning of an answer on which everybody can start to act now. This major society shift involves all of us, and we can all do something about it. In fact, the more people become aware of the issue, the easier it will be to transition our societies to a world without oil / fossil fuels.

Here are a few short term steps you can start to implement today in order to get ready for the energy descent.

  • Get prepared mentally for an economic and social roller coaster. Difficult times are coming, and much of what is taken for granted in rich societies simply won’t be available anymore. But ruin and misery do not have to be the inescapable fate of human civilisation. In fact the changes that are inevitably coming herald the one-in-a-multi-centuries chance to build a better world, more just and free. Doing this is up to all of us and demands not to be attached to physical possessions, to have a mind open to change and to be able to love and share. As long as we collectively put material wealth as our main goal, crave for career success and a bigger TV/car/house/etc.. than our neighbour, we will be slave to greed, and peak oil will hit us hard. That being said, we still have to eat, feed our children and get shelter… Which is the subject of the following points.
  • Seriously consider where you live and whether this is something you should do something about. Don’t act immediately and in any case resist the temptation of building yourself a bunker in the middle of nowhere. Although running for the hills or getting a “bug-out location” is on a number of people’s mind, a totally isolated and independent lifestyle is an illusion1a. Humans have evolved and are stronger together. We each have skills, tasks we prefer to do and are better at doing it. Therefore living in a community makes each individual more resilient through cooperation with the other members of the group.
    That is not to say that if you have the choice of where to live you should choose the centre of a megalopolis such as New York, quite the opposite. Strategically the most sensible places where to live after peak oil are close to your family and friends, within a small/medium, not too densely populated city on a train line and near a river.

    • The train line is likely to provide a route to a bigger urban agglomeration, giving access to a source of income, healthcare or supplies and ultimately will get you and your local economy going longer as things start to break down.
    • A relatively low population density implies relatively easy access to a garden to grow food and fuel. A rural or semi-rural location gives access to more land and therefore more resources.
    • Being nearest to your dearest means you will have people you can count on if you need help and it will boost your common morale when the depression will get people depressed.
    • Rivers have always through history been use as trade routes and obvious water source. Settlements around them have fared better. Access to a reliable source of pure water is going to be of critical importance in tomorrow’s world1b.
    • A small/medium city also improves social ties (see next point)

    Obviously moving home is a serious endeavour and you should weigh it properly. Don’t rush head down into switching career, home and city!

  • Reconnect with your family and get to know your neighbours, and invest time in your relationship with them. Better still, get involved in the local community in something you like, for instance volunteering for the fire department, community gardening, help at the hospital, the local school, maintain elderly people’s garden… Don’t be afraid to bang on doors!
    Think you can do more? go over and solve any outstanding feud, discord, estrangement or argument. Irrespective of any collapse, studies show that social skills improve your health2. And in time of difficulties, united communities tend to make it more easily than isolated individuals3a, 3b. That is the very reason why civilisations are built in the first place. Additionally your local network will determine your future income stream as you will be able to market your skill more easily in this post peak oil world we are heading for. I would even step this argument up to a philosophical perspective and say that in the end, there is no other wealth in this world than those you love and whom love you in return.
  • Invest your money wisely. Don’t get into debt. Even without any peak energy considerations, experts are divided on the future of the economy, a great number of them arguing we will see very high inflation4a, 4b which will hurt savers, others expect deflation5 which will hurt borrowers – in my opinion we’ll have a mix of both, with the value of such items as cars and luxury penthouse apartment dropping like a stone, price of food and energy sky-rocketing. A number of analysts are expecting widespread sovereign defaults6 which will hurt both pension funds7 and state pensions8a.
    Either way, the majority of today’s business models and investment schemes are totally irrelevant in front of a rapid and deep oil and energy decline. Therefore investing in a pension fund or other shares portfolio is at best a questionable short-term move, at worst a long-term disaster. Relying purely on a state pension for your old age is just risky, as demonstrated by governments around the world cutting on pensions 8b, 8c.

    Acquiring a piece of arable land is a good idea. Not as an investment, but as a source of income. It has to be within walking distance to where you live. Even a relatively small parcel can make a huge difference. As an investment, there seems to be a land bubble going on at the moment in some parts of the world9a, 9b, so the price may drop in the future – as climate change is due to set in simultaneously to oil resources diminishing, private owners who got into debt to acquire their land or buy large equipment to service it will end up in negative equity and will have their property repossessed on the back of unsustainable diminishing returns. Some will loose vast amount of money that way9c. So don’t get in debt over it! And don’t get unnecessarily more than you need as when things will get tough, there will be attempts to land grabs and revolt will be in the air. On the balance owning land is definitely the safer bet.

    Finally if you still have spare cash, you ought to look into precious metals – however be cautious and realistic, there is a real gold frenzy going on at the moment. Gold and silver do not have intrinsic value, and is only worth what people are wanting to pay for it10. Precious metals should be long term hedges against inflation and currency break-downs, and you shouldn’t put all of your savings in it. Also beware of fakes that are starting to pop up11. Only buy from reputable dealers.

  • This may be obvious, but buy yourself a push bike and get good at using it. This will knock you back in shape and save you money. Start to exercise as you will not be able to rely on your car so much/at all in the future. Besides you will find various health benefits, for instance it will increase your stamina, furthering your ability to cope in a low-energy world. You will loose weight and be at lesser risk of cardiovascular diseases12 and diabetes13. Regular exercise can also boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep, look and feel better14.
  • Start to learn about modern 15 – this will help you if hard times come, and even if they don’t. This involves simple and important skills such as:
    • how to start and keep a fire. At the moment people rely on disposable lighters, matches or their gas stove. There is so much of the first two you can keep, while the last one will be subject to large price hikes or total unavailability (if Russia decides to cut its gas supply to Europe for instance)
    • how to harvest, store and purify water. In modern cities, people are 100% dependant on tap water, with the grocery store as back up system. But tap water comes from complex and costly infrastructure, and rely on constant input of chemicals and other components. Once peak oil strikes, expect water supply issues.
    • how to recognise wild food growing in your neighbourhood and how to process them. Chances are there are plenty you wouldn’t even recognise. Roses, dandelions, brambles, lamb quarter, purslane, acorns are but a very few example
    • how to preserve food. As the energy crisis sets in, you won’t be able to rely on your freezer. Traditional food storing methods include drying, canning, jam making, smoking, salting…
    • how to make soap to clean yourself when the local shop runs out.

    Those are only the basics. Survivalism is rich enough to become a way of life, and could include making fibre, clothing, compost toilets, tools, etc.
    You will then be prepared not only if the world collapse, but also for more trivial situations like loosing your job. And if nothing happens this will help you live a more free life.

  • If you are thinking of having some essential surgery done, do it sooner rather than later, as healthcare will become more expensive. In fact, in Greece (which is ahead of many countries on the descent curve), hospitals cannot operate as medicines run out 16. Everything is linked: antibodies and vaccines are manufactured in few remote factories which rely on economies of scale for profit, in turn enabled by oil-powered road network, fossil fuel generated electricity fridge for storing medicine, everything now relays on an IT structure which is itself dependant on component prices and energy made affordable by low cost fossil fuels, the healthcare system of many countries is heavily subsidised and often depends on that country ability to raise debt on international credit market, which won’t be viable in an energy descent as debts can’t be repaid in a post peak-oil economy
  • Reduce your energy consumption and your dependence on large energy companies. By now anyone who is reading my series on peak oil should understand that getting into debt to buy a gas guzzler is a bad idea. Of course there is a lot more to it. Get double or triple glazing. Get a biomass heating system, ideally as a masonry fireplace if you can afford it. Redundancy in small energy system can only help you, so you may consider solar or wind as an add-on but not primary source as servicing cost may shoot up post peak energy. If you live in an old house, you may have an old bricked-up fireplace hidden in some wall. It is extremely worthwhile to have it restored to full functionality. Insulate your home as much as you can if you live in a cold/temperate country. Plant a windbreak in your garden against the prevailing winter winds, grow useful or evergreen vine on you house wall as added wind/cold/heat protection, get a well isolated conservatory if you have the financial means to do it.
  • Store essential long-live groceries and rotate your stock. No, everything will not stop overnight, but social conflicts and inflation will happen in spikes and supplies will be increasingly disturbed, especially with compounded effect from climate change17. Don’t get things you don’t use: don’t buy kilos of baked beans and spam if you hate it! Check what you eat on a daily basis, note the long life items (rice, pasta, canned corn, canned tuna…). Find a safe place in your house (not hot, no direct access to outside ground and regularly cleaned to avoid midget, not wet to avoid moulds,…). Make sure you use and rotate your stock!

In my next post I am going to discuss what your long term strategy could be in face of peak oil, including what should you do about employment.

Comments (7)

Excellent article. I only disagree on one point – the statement that gold and silver do not have intrinsic value. These are unique metals (conductive, malleable, ductile, reflective) that have many uses in electronics, medicine, alternative energy, jewelry, etc. Just because you can’t eat something doesn’t mean it has no intrinsic value. You can’t eat oil or coal either. Your recommendations still apply, but this erroneous statement dectracts from the credibility of the piece.

Thanks for commenting. You raise an important issue, but I’ll have to disagree with you. In a commercial transaction, there are several elements entering into play, some of the main one being: features, uses, value and price.

- “features” is the list of all the properties of the good for sale. In the case of gold for instance, it is a “yellow” shiny metal, it conducts electricity, it’s difficult to fake it, it conducts heat and electricity, it’s heavy and malleable, etc.

- “uses” are all the different ways to use those features. So yes, gold can be used to make jewels, protect against electromagnetic radiation, and-reflection coating, for de-icing aircraft cockpits, in dentistry, its rarity can be used as a sign of social status…

- The “value” is a measure of how desirable the uses of the good are to the prospective buyer. In that sense, gold would be near worthless for somebody castaway on a desert island. In comparison, firewood and a piece of meat would be extremely valuable for the same individual.

- “price” is the perceived level at which “most” individuals are prepared to exchange the good using a common currency. When the use of some of the features of the good changes in priority to most individual, the price will change. Therefore price and value aren’t related and some things can good or poor value for money.

I think you meant ot say insulate your home, not isolate in point eight. and these are all fantastic suggestions.

thanks – typo corrected!

Good information, but can I add a global action to encourage motorists to voluntarily change behavior in order to reduce fossil fuel consumption. This has been on going for the last six years and a simple action that can make a major difference. check out http://www.greenslowmovingvehicle.com or driveeasy.org

Thanks. Very good work. Additional thanks for not going ga-ga over gold. To quote Terry Pratchett, “Potatoes will get you through times of no gold better than gold will get you through times of no food.”
Invest in tools, land, books: maybe even some brass and lead (wink, wink), but gold? When TSHTF, there will be more important things to have: skills, water, security (see item about social skills), health, energy (wind, water, solar, animal muscle).
Also kudos for putting “recognize there’s a problem” first.

I dislike this addition to the “checklist” but acquiring a few firearms and the proper training with them (and some ammo!) is best done NOW, as are all of the suggestions.