Saturday, January 10, 2009

Power of the People

Look around you. Is there anything you can see or touch that wasn’t brought to you courtesy of cheap, abundant oil? I started to add, ‘other than air,’ but then realized that even the very composition of the air we breathe has been altered by cheap, abundant oil. In the 'developed' world, everything, every thing in our lives is connected to oil. Everything.

So what happens when oil is no longer cheap and abundant? What happens when oil becomes expensive and increasingly scarce? What happens when you wait in line for hours at the gas station only to find that the pumps have run dry and the next shipment may arrive in a few days, or it may not? What happens when the trucks that supply the grocery store shelves are stranded en route waiting for gas to become available? What happens when the price of everything starts to sky rocket and pay checks and pension checks, if you are lucky enough to be getting either, stagnate? What happens to your coal-fired power plant when the equipment that mines the coal and the vehicles that transport the coal are unable to operate due to a gas shortage? What happens to your water supply when the electric pumps that suck the water from its source and deliver it to your home are working only intermittently? What happens to your toilet when the pumps that suck the sewage from the pipes and deliver it to the sewage treatment plant are working only intermittently?

What happens to an agri-business that relies upon gas engines to run the equipment, petro-chemicals for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and a transportation system to get produce to market? What happens to commerce when airplanes are grounded, awaiting fuel supplies, and cargo ships sit idle in port? What happens to the economy when businesses close right and left?

What happens when Americans start starving to death and guns are more numerous than people? What happens when hospitals close their doors and epidemics break out amongst an ill-fed populace? What happens to your personal safety when you dial 911 and are told that the police/fire/ambulance cannot respond to your call right now, try again tomorrow? What happens to national security when oil-starved nations square off in a struggle to get the supplies they need to keep their populations from dying?

It can’t happen here? Ah, the American hubris. We are magically immune to the trials and tribulations many in the world have already endured. Are currently enduring. Look at the refugee camps in the world’s ‘hot spots.’ Look at what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. Look at the future of America if we stay on our current path.

Oh, but the scientists will save us, the same ones whose warnings we have been ignoring for years. They will come up with all these cool inventions. We will switch to alternative fuels. We will build solar arrays and wind farms and nuclear power plants. Good idea. Should have done that twenty years ago. Doing it during an oil shortage is not only going to be more expensive, but progress will be much slower. Maybe, if we act fast enough, we will keep our power grid up and going. Maybe we will convert to electric cars just in the nick of time. Maybe we will even find a way to keep our big trucks on the road, delivering food to all the Wal*marts. But have you ever heard of an electric air plane? Or a plug-in fighter jet? Are there enough sail boats in the world to keep the shelves at ToysRUs stocked with plastic robots made in China? And what about all the plastics themselves? Made from petro-chemicals. And the green revolution that feeds an over-populated world – based on petro-chemicals.

Is there no hope? Yes and no. We are in for a rough ride. By all signs, we are already at peak oil. Demand is down now, thanks to a depressed economy, but cheaper oil prices and economic stimulus may change all that. Even if demand stays depressed, the supply is already beginning to taper off. Eventually, supply and demand will cross paths and all hell will break loose. There is hope, but it resides more in individual action than in anything that governments or the market place can do. It resides in the power of the people to adapt.

So dig up your lawn and plant a survival garden. Start collecting rain water in barrels or cisterns. Make yourself a solar oven and consider getting chickens. Anything you can do to become more self-reliant, do it. Anything you can do to make your home more energy efficient, do it. Anything you can do to decrease your carbon footprint, do it. If there is anything you can do to make yourself stronger and healthier, do it. If you need elective surgery, get it now. And make friends with your neighbors . . . you will need each other in the years to come.

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