Sunday, October 22, 2006

Doom and Gloom

Doom and Gloom

On the peak oil boards I contribute to often, a discussion has been going back and forth about Doom and Gloomers. Y2K was presented as a negative example of doom and gloom, since many people went overboard about that situation. The extremists took the general premise and ran with it. I think the problem was blown up out of proportion. Yes, there was valid concerns, but I see it as a non-event simply because a ton of money and manpower was thrown at the problem. It was a problem that had a solution; all it needed was the will to get it done.

A whole slew of companies started up to sell emergency equipment and supplies to the frightened masses. I am sure sales went sky high every time a news article about the problem was put out to the mass media. Bad news sells papers and TV timeslots. Many a geek made big bucks for not a lot of work by fixing the bugs.

Peak Oil is a whole different ball of wax. It is a problem that happens to coincide with global climate change and overpopulation issues. There are no easy solutions but there are some bugs that can be fixed. Everyone knows that a CF bulb uses less power to run than an incandescent bulb. Many people have switched out the old bulbs with new ones as the old bulbs burn out. That is one small step forward. Conservation is the obvious first step to the problem.

The problem is many people do not want to change their lifestyle. It is not in the best interest of big business (in the short term) to support lifestyle changes of less consumption. The economy shrinks and a smaller economy mean smaller profits or no profits. The problem is also that a lot of big corporations are under a lot of pressure to continue creating huge profits, so they make many (in my opinion) bad short term decisions that will maximize profits at the expense of the environment and people (and animals and plants).

Big business has raped and pillaged the earth of its raw resources for so long, they feel they have the right to continue. Even Governments seem powerless to stop the pillage since a business simply will pull up stakes after it has drained one area and move to another area or country where they can not be touched. They have a group of lawyers and bookkeepers whose job it is to keep people and governments from stopping their business. They have the money to bribe or manipulate suppliers, officials and law enforcement people to get their way. No government can stand against that. The current U.S. government actually seems to be in the pocket of big business and they are the ones muzzling the scientists who are trying to show their evidence. Since they are only concerned with short-term gain, they are not willing to look at the damage they are causing and in many cases actively stop others from pointing out the damage. Since they can not see past the next shareholders meeting they are blind. The whole economy is going to fall apart from within once the energy is no longer there to keep it going.

There is the crux of the problem – Energy! The economy needs lots of cheap energy to keep it rolling. We no longer have that cheap energy so no matter what the economy does it can not create a cheap energy source that matches the energy output of oil. I think the best we can do is to create as much renewable energy sources (wind and solar generators, geo-thermal, wave…) as possible as well as educate people about solar heaters and cookers and “Hay box” cookers. To stop a wide spread die off due to famine, also educate and encourage everyone to form community gardens and private gardens to supplement what the local farmers can provide.

The people who happen to point out the obvious conclusions of a possible mass scale die off are called Doomers and Gloomers. I guess I would be called one in that case. I am optimistic that we can avert a lot of the damage, but that would mean major voluntary changes from everyone. I do not see that happening in the west, in fact I see the opposite happening. There is still a ton of money to be made selling emergency supplies and I think everyone should have some extra supplies on hand for emergencies. Creating an atmosphere of fear will spur sales of such items and that is what I think happened with Y2K. Commonsense says you should be prepared for power outages, water contamination and food shortages. Insulating your home make sense so you and your stuff stays warmer I winter and cooler in summer, so you will not need as much energy to cool off or heat up. That will save you lots of money. The most efficient means of travel is the bicycle. It is even more efficient than walking. That is something that needs to be promoted in a large way. It also happens to be healthy and fun.

So what is going to happen when the economy tanks? Massive layoffs, massive hunger and money (fiat currency) will not be worth the paper it is printed on; those are the immediate outcomes of a market crash. Doom and Gloom -hell no- that is just reality. Learning skills to deal with barter in a no-money local economy is going to be a major mind shift for many. Instead of a dozen eggs = $2.19 it will
now be a dozen eggs = a bee’s wax candle or a couple of sewing needles or a bottle of apple juice…, a real market will be set up.

Are you able to feed and clothe and shelter yourselves right now? I could for the short term, but it would be difficult during the winter. I am not even close to self-supporting. I have a certain amount of supplies that I could stretch with forage from the countryside and fishing and the amount of clothes I have could last me several years. I just fixed up my house so it should be good for a while. I want more solar panels and I plan on building some solar heaters and cookers. The less fuel I use to heat my place the better. The less fuel I use to cook my food the better. The less fuel I use to get my food the better. I am counting on my many skills to barter with others for the things I will need to survive. Many things could be done at the government level to help me be more self-supporting. If they de-regulated the hemp industry, I could survive that much easier. Do I expect that to happen? No. Does that make me a doomer? No, It just means I have a realistic outlook as far as what I see governments willing to do. Governments do not like giving up power. What they want is more power.

Where does that leave us? In quite a pickle. We are going to have to grow down before we grow back up.

Michael J. Kaer
Author of "What Money Can't Buy"