Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peak Oil and being single -- some ramblings

I've been doing some Googling on Peak Oil and being single. Most articles about Peak Oil (particularly those envisioning a more extreme state of affairs once oil runs out, where society as we know it alters significantly and desperation and chaos set in as food and transportation costs skyrocket) focus on the paramount need for a return to small communities. We're already seeing the impact that $130+ a barrel oil is having on food and transportation costs now; even conservative experts seem hard-pressed to predict anything other than that these costs will continue to soar. Smaller communities producing their own food in a sustainable manner can knock out the increasingly more and more expensive middle step of needing this or that item shipped across (or from out of) the country, thus significantly lowering the cost of food. With individuals learning the sorts of skills that were necessary before cheap fossil fuels enabled us to opt to replace things rather than repair them, and then coming together to share these skills with each other (or to share the products of their respective skills), these communities can be brought closer to a sort of self-sufficiency.

In larger urban centers, many people are coming together to talk about skills acquisition and about transition towns, or relocalization in general. In more rural areas, some folks already have a head start, growing kitchen gardens or living a more basic life where consumerism isn't necessarily as rampant. Then you have these grey areas, these smaller urban centers or larger towns, where ''rural'' means an hour or two's drive into the country, and where finding like-minded people in your own backyard who won't look absolutely incredulous when you mention that oil is running out is like trying to find a dolphin in a goldfish pond. Establishing a Peak Oil group when living in a not-so-populated area starts to feel like a hopeless endeavour and hopping on a farm to learn about growing things can turn into a time-consuming and expensive ordeal unless you have your own motorized vehicle. Books can only take you so far when it comes to learning, so what to do? And what on earth to do if while in the middle of trying to work around these obstacles, you also happen to be unsatisfactorily single? If it's well-nigh impossible to establish a Peak Oil group in a large town, can you imagine finding a Peak Oil aware partner?

I've read about the difficulty that people have impressing the impact of the developing economic crisis on their spouses and family members to try to get them involved. I have a hard enough time when my SUV driving friends affectionately call me a nut for spending most of my time reading about nutrition, herbs, foraging , alternative energy and low-tech skills; however, I can just imagine the small talk over coffee on a first date.

''So where do you see yourself in the next few years?''
''Well, I'm thinking about ditching my things and resettling into an intentional community.''
''So, ah... Hmm. Why?''
''We're running out of oil and the economy is going belly up. We've left our food supply in the hands of agri-bullies who've already brought us some of the most toxic man-made substances ever created yet claim their new mostly under-tested frankenfoods are safe, and we need to reclaim our right to control what we consume. Plus, who doesn't want to live a more meaningful life?'
''Er... sure.... Waitress? Cheque please?''

It seems that it would be a lot easier to be in a relationship and to transition into a less fossil-fuel reliant existence than to attempt to do so while head-butting one's way into the dating game. Instead of jumping as a single entity into a community of many, or stumbling about feeling a little lost sometimes, you'd have a cohort to share the challenges. Technology is such that you can reach out to connect with other like-minded individuals over the internet, but these sorts of exchanges are tricky. Also, almost anyone who's ever taken a go at internet dating will gladly share with you their horror stories, or at the very least, will share their tales of heartache and unwanted surprises. And besides, I surely don't remember the last time I saw ''biointensive gardening'' show up on any man's list of interests on a dating site.

Things to think about...


J said...

Sometimes I think peak oil is seen as the end of the world, which I suppose it could end up being, but it's not a singular event. Peak oil isn't when we run out, but when we can no longer pump anymore out of the ground than we are currently pumping and that figure will go into decline. Granted, the decline could be quite quick if we want it to be.

It truly is very scary though because we've lost a lot of knowledge about how to do basic things (growing food, transporting ourselves without internal combustion, etc), that are vital to our survival.

I myself kind of go back and forth, there are times that I am hopeful and times when I truly despair. It seems lately I feel the despair more than the hope though.

But, the increase in farmer's markets, community gardens, and people interested in things like being 'locavores' or the 'slow food movement' show me that some understand that the current way of doing things doesn't work.

I do understand what you mean about the difficulty finding those who know about this important topic and want to do something about it. I'm lucky that my partner has a quasi-obsession with the topic, so anything we can do to learn how to live without most fossil fuels, we both do happily. My family, however, is a different story. Take my mom for instance, I've told her about peak oil, she seems to get it (it makes sense, you know) and understand that it means things could get bad, but is she actually willing to change anything she does? No. Therein lies the rub I suppose.

I know a few people who live in intentional communities here in Mid-Missouri, I think it's a great idea and it works really well for them.

I apologize for the length of my comment, especially this being my first one, but this and many of the other topics you write about are of great interest to me!

M said...

Hi! Please don't apologize for comment length. I love getting the chance to discuss some of these topics with people in-the-know who are interested in them (and am really grateful for feedback on the posts themselves).

It's unnerving the wide range of takes that there are on how things will turn out. Nobody can really predict how dire it'll get since it's never happened before. Plus, the bottom line is that we really have no idea of how much affordable oil there's actually left at this point. Experts come up with estimates, but they're all over the place (and the oil companies sure as heck wouldn't want to spill the beans). We're getting just a small taste of the potential implications now with rising gas and home heating oil prices (e.g. I rent and have oil heat and have seen my heating costs literally double over the past 6-7 years) and rising food costs. I'm not much of a "doomer", but do think that we're in for much harder times than those to which we've been accustomed.

In my earlier post about the community land trust I visited this past weekend, I was amazed at how the couple who are starting it have managed to completely wean themselves off the electrical grid. They're running on solar power, growing a decent amount of their own food, living in a straw-bale house they built themselves using earth-friendly materials -- and now they want to take it further and get others involved. I've mentioned the project to a few friends who describe themselves as environmentalists and the responses I've gotten have ranged from ''but where would I be able to order pizza??'' to ''god, that sounds so incredibly time-consuming and unnecessary''. The downside of being born into a cheap oil society is that we've never known it any other way; we're literally born consumers and it's work to get out of that mentality. Even the widespread acceptance of the causes of global warming hasn't persuaded most to change their habits. I guess that for some, as long as they can keep filling their gas tanks, everything's kosher.

You're lucky to have a partner who shares your concerns. Especially if you're sharing a home together, since the types of lifestyle choices involved in living "green" can't be made in a bubble. I was pretty much introduced to the idea of peak oil by someone I got to know online over the course of several months and with whom contact was recently severed and I'm really going to miss being able to discuss a lot of this stuff with him.

The Voracious Vegan said...

Ha! I love that imagined first-date conversation. Now I can't stop giggling!

Lately my fiance and I have been reading more and more about sustainable living and the idea of starting a completely different way of life is becoming undeniably tempting.

M said...

The idea of jumping into a sustainable intentional community is something that I'd been thinking of years ago when I was actually in a relationship with someone who was on a completely different page about that.

The dear friend who recently reintroduced me to the idea has repeatedly said to me since we've discussed it that it's the sort of thing that's easier to consider the less things you have bogging you down. House, car, kids, loans -- they make the consideration less feasible because it complicates things. It's still uprooting your life and starting from scratch, though, and if you don't have a good security net of social ties and assets in case things don't work out, it turns the whole prospect into something a bit more scary. (Never mind the unnerving prospect of transitioning to a more rural area with a lower pool of single potential partners -- yikes!)

As for making changes "at home", it's just a question of changing habits and spending money in a more planned manner. Growing a vegetable garden is a good start, leaving the car at home, weather-proofing, learning to fix things rather than replace them... It just becomes a matter of how far you're willing to take it.