Numbed, stunned, angry and in disarray

I’m prompted to write about this after reading Tabbycat’s post, Paint It Black. I had no idea about Tabby’s past activities, but we are very much on the same wavelength here (I’ve previously outed myself as a Peaknik).

The title of this post is taken from an article on Peak Oil Blues, which refers to the common reaction of people who have just learned about what’s facing us: the end of cheap energy, environmental degradation and climate change, and the consequences of the unwinding of an economy based on debt and financial gimmickry.

I’m no exception: I only started reading about this after I got to China, and it’s really messed with my head. It means that the plans I had for the future, vague though they were, have to be abandoned. At some point, and there’s no telling when, we will be living in a much, much poorer world; the economy and lifestyle we are used to will have gone, to be replaced by something much simpler and localized. (By we, I mean you and me, reader, the comparatively affluent who can afford computer and internet access, and probably aren’t living in a favela somewhere in the great and growing global slum).

The transition is likely to be bumpy, as the economically privileged (again, I mean you and me) are forced to accept that the days of cheap, throwaway plastic goods and fast food are over, while those who have only aspired to our lifestyle realize they’re never going to get it.

If you accept that this will happen, and I do (given the available facts, it seems certain to me), the question is: how do we prepare? Even if there’s a slow decline over decades rather than a rapid social and economic collapse (and though the former seems far more likely, the latter can’t be discounted given the likelihood of a black swan event), the time to start getting ready is now. I’ve been kind of paralysed on this.

I look at the British papers today, and already rising oil prices are affecting the British economy.

In fact, peak oil isn’t the only thing to worry about, since peak oil also means peak food; we’re also approaching peak water. Oh, and peak phosphates (which, like oil, is needed for agriculture, so there’s a double whammy on food…), copper, and so on.

It’s probably worth taking a look at this article on Natural Non-renewable Resource scarcity.

The US Department of Energy is predicting a decline in oil supply from 2012 – that’s only two years away! Or even 2011, next year! Then, everything that depends on oil will start increasing in price – and almost everything in our society depends on oil…

Here’s two examples of life after peak oil:

  1. Peak oil and the end of life as we know it in Northeast
  2. Transition Town, for when the oil is gone

You may think this is off-topic for this blog, but not really. I’m wondering how to chart a course through the changes that are coming. That 2012 date (and no, I don’t believe in ‘Mayan Prophecies’) has really jolted me.

First and foremost, I don’t see a way for Singapore to remain a viable economy and society; it depends on massive energy usage and imports almost everything – and the rise in the cost of everything is coming just as the government has decided to massively increase the population. I’ve searched the government’s web site, and Googled, and I find no policies for adaptation, and no programme to prepare the population for the coming, permanent, belt-tightening… I’m not saying it doesn’t exist; just that I can’t find it. This doesn’t encourage me to plan for a future in Singapore, much though I like the country (and I really do). I get a lot of readers from Singapore, so I would appreciate any pointers or feedback on this…

Secondly, China looks like it will be a secure base for a while; though there are many problems here, the country is likely to stay stable. Also, I enjoy my job and my life here. It won’t be a long-term home, though, I wouldn’t say. Short-to-medium term, though, it makes sense to be here, especially as it’s where I need to be to acquire the skills I want.

Third – back to Europe, and Wales? Well, the UK is pretty much broke, though it’s not widely discussed yet. The state is a huge employer, especially in Wales, and a huge number of those jobs are likely to vanish as the state pares back spending. So, if I eventually go back, it’ll be to a society and economy much different from what I left. Much more of an informal economy, hopefully lots of transition towns, lots of what Time magazine calls ‘The Dropout Economy‘; lots of angry, impoverished people…

So, and I’ve mentioned this before, I need to start planning for how to live, post-oil.

  • Train in yiquan
  • Train in tuina
  • Train in meditation
  • Train in performance
  • Study the economics of transitions, eg LETS
  • Identify intentional communities in the UK? (Well, I’ve got no family…)
  • As Tabby points out, “basic prep material” like seeds and seasons, compost toilets, etc…

Addenda:

  • Via a post by the Post-Carbon Institute, I found a link to this report (link to PDF file) on the near-term consequences of energy shortages in the UK. It confirms that the crunch will begin soon. The authors are extremely prominent and successful business leaders, not ‘eco-loons’ and hippies.
  • Damien Perrotin writes about why rising energy costs lead to flooded cities in France
  • Ugo Bardi writes about why rising energy costs mean the US and Europe are reverting to gravel roads instead of asphalt in many places

7 Comments

  1. Well, it doesn’t look good, does it?

    So I got my solar water heater years ago and try also to get solar panels for light, PCs, and a small fridge. Recycling waste water is a must in our 2 person houshold, but water will be a major problem. El Nino is allready bad enough for southern Taiwan, with no real rain since Nov. last year. Also left overs and organic materials are turned into compost, which comes handy for our organic garden. It is not yet enough for self-sufficency, as we like to eat luxury foods, too, and still can afford a nice lifestyle. But if need be, we could expand to a more or less sufficent self-feeding mode.

    In addition, there needs to be a different life style. As we are far off in the rolling hills of souhtern TW, we have 2 cars, and when my job should end, I would love to sell one of the 2. I would also love to stay home, train much more and write about it. But sofar, I still take the iron riceball of the Taiwan edu minsitry.

    Anyway, trainings, like you listed, will come in handy, also. Sometimes I feel like to enjoy the last years of abundance!

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      1. Sorry to bang on about this, but the volcanic eruption in Iceland is proving to be a useful test-run. In this Telegraph article, we’re told that the closure of UK airspace due to volcanic ash is already causing shortages of pharmaceuticals and high-tech products, among other things. Why are these flown in? Because “[r]etailers have increasingly turned to air freight to deliver their goods in recent months to counter the soaring costs of sea freight“. That cost is only going to go up and up as oil gets more expensive…. So, unless somehow the manufacture of medicine becomes localised in every market…. Medical knowledge and skills (eg tuina!) are going to be very useful…

        Also: regarding my comments on Singapore: just after I posted this, Singapore – which has always had a fairly low currency to encourage jobs – revalued its dollar upwards after ‘oil, copper and aluminum prices jumped more than 60 percent in the past year‘. (Bloomberg) That should help fight inflation due to resource scarcity, but I wonder what it will do to employment…..

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  2. There are a few energy efficient buildings in Singapore – with the use of solar panels etc.

    But the stark reality is that Singapore is heavily reliant on imported food and oil. Space is a scarcity.

    The approaching crisis is due to mankind’s selfishness and greed. We had the technology to go green sometime ago. Changing the energy infrastructure will however mean a shift of power and money from the current elite which will logically meet with great resistance…

    Like

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