Minimalism and Peak Oil

Last night I stayed up late watching documentaries. My husband, who prefers the uplifting genres, went to bed. I indulged in a double-header about Peak Oil and the inevitable decline of the Golden Age which we, as Westerners, now enjoy.

Now, I don’t want to be a doomer here. For the record, I’m of the opinion that humankind will evolve and ultimately thrive on the other side of the window of change we now face. But meanwhile, here we are.

Everything from food to clothing to heat to weekend getaways—all oil. Our economic system depends on cheap oil. Oil goes into the manufacture of almost everything, and oil gets it from Columbus, Ohio to my local Safeway. Oil keeps the ice cream cold and the French fries hot, keeps the power on, keeps the sitcoms coming. Let’s not even talk about where we, as Americans, would be without our cars. I mean I like my bike and all, but come on. So where will we be when the oil runs out?

I’ve been interested in the concept of peak oil in a roundabout way since I learned, in eighth grade Earth Sciences class, that everything we’re running on today is powered by fuel created 150 million years ago and there’s no more in the works. My teacher sat on the side of his desk in his tan chinos and took the time to explain the concept of non-renewable. My young brain sat up and then sat back and said something along the lines of, “Oh, fuck.”

Yes, that’s right. Like it or not, this absolutely gorgeous Golden Age in which I’ve spent my lifetime is going to end. Maybe in my lifetime. Probably in my daughter’s.

So does facing this obvious fact make me a pessimist? A conspiracy theorist? Does this mean I have fifty-pound bags of rice and a shotgun? No, no, and no.

One of the documentaries I watched was called Crude Awakening, which illustrated the state of decline in oil production that’s currently taking place. Another called Collapse was essentially a full-length interview with an investigative reporter named Michael Ruppert. He had lots of scary things to say, of course, but that’s nothing new. Flip to CNN any time of the day or night and there’ll be something scary going on. What I liked were his solutions to the problems that are already beginning to face us, which brings us all the way around to minimalism.

He did not recommend buying a gun, moving to remote territory, overthrowing the government or panicking and running in circles.

He recommended the following:

Grow a garden. Well, hell. I guess this means that after this past summer, when my feeble gardening efforts turned out so poorly that I swore off vegetables forever, I won’t be able to give up after all.  I’m going to try again this year—not only because of peak oil, not only to save the human race, but because I really like fresh garden lettuce. If the slugs don’t get it first.

Save the seeds. Another smart thing Ruppert had to say was to garden with organic seeds, not the commercially plentiful “frankenseeds,” and then to save some seeds. You know, like farmers did for millennia before Monsanto came along. He even suggested that seeds may be economically viable down the road. So save them, plant them, stash them, but make sure you value them.

Community is the key. So in the new, non-oil-powered world, we’re going to have to go ahead, take the leap and get to know our neighbors. For most of human history, survival wasn’t possible without a tribe. Might as well start getting to know our tribes now. I feel fortunate that I live in a small town where community is still a going concern, but anyone with a neighbor has a tribe. Maybe not now, when we’re all stuck in our cars, but in the future.

Start getting used to less stuff. And here we come to the marriage of minimalism and peak oil. Having more time allows for things like gardening and collecting rainwater and raising chickens; having more time also allows for community building. Having less stuff not only leads, indirectly, to more time, but gets us used to the inevitable contraction of our lifestyles. Someday we’re just not going to have all the plastic toys, shrink-wrapped food and convenience appliances that are currently available to us. If we get used to less now, it won’t be as big a deal. I know that I fear losing my job a whole lot less than someone who’s got a three-bedroom, two-car-garage spread in the suburbs. My life is easier to maintain. That’s the point. Simplification not only means less; it means easier. And when everything gets harder without cheap fuel, it’ll be nice to keep things as easy as possible.

Sure, sure, things could keep on cooking right through my lifetime, maybe through Maya’s, and maybe into her daughter’s. Maybe I do sport a streak of doomerism, I don’t know. But it sure doesn’t hurt to make every effort to resist the downward suck of consumerism and to remember how to live in tangent with the Earth. I mean, really. Who was ever worse off for growing a pot of tomatoes?

And if things do go south in a hurry, I’ll have the onions. Come on over and we’ll cook up some soup.

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~ by robinomayberry on January 13, 2011.

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