Preparing for peak oil

This article has been making the rounds:

“Convinced the planet’s oil supply is dwindling and the world’s economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn’t prepare.

The exact number of people taking such steps is impossible to determine, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the movement has been gaining momentum in the last few years.

These energy survivalists are not leading some sort of green revolution meant to save the planet. Many of them believe it is too late for that, seeing signs in soaring fuel and food prices and a faltering U.S. economy, and are largely focused on saving themselves.

Some are doing it quietly, giving few details of their preparations – afraid that revealing such information as the location of their supplies will endanger themselves and their loved ones. They envision a future in which the nation’s cities will be filled with hungry, desperate refugees forced to go looking for food, shelter and water.”

I don’t know much about peak oil, but one doesn’t have to be a radical environmentalist to understand that there are limits to natural resources. Fossil fuel may be technically “renewable”, but the jury is still out as to whether its natural renewability can keep up with our very un-natural level of consumption. I tend to think not.

But whether or not peak oil brings on a crisis of the magnitude described in this article, there will be hardships and adjustments to be made when a ready supply of cheap oil finally comes to an end. In my opinion the scenario need not be dire. We can make adjustments. The key – to get back on the old hobby horse – is to return to regional economies and societies.

Technically, we live out in the country. When we decided four years ago to “flee to the fields”, I really wanted a place much further away from civilization. But as Providence would have it, we ended up only three or four minutes outside of a small city of 7,000. Today that strikes me as a good place to be. The town is close enough to be a convenient source of supplies, services, and potential customers for our produce. And it is small enough not be a source of hungry, desperate, marauding and pillaging gangs in a time of crisis.

We will be forced at some point to keep more of our business and interests here in Orland. Presently we drive to Chico – a metropolitan area of 100,000 about 30 minutes away – five or more times per week. Between work, church, music lessons, and shopping we spend most of our money in another county. So do most people who live here.

The biggest challenge will be finding viable work close to home. At present, the opportunities here in town are slim. But I expect that to change as local residents re-direct their dollars, time and activities due to the high cost of commuting. Although many Orlanders work in Chico, a surprising number of Chicoans also work in Orland. If fuel prices continue to climb the Chicoans will opt for Chico employment, opening up positions for locals, and vice versa. Furthermore I expect that some employers will relocate to Glenn County where unemployment is higher and wages are comparatively low.

Eventually the large commercial farm operations, with their heavy dependence on diesel fuel to operate fleets of trucks and other equipment, may find that economies of scale aren’t what they used to be and will downsize. Combined with continuing increases in the price of food, we may witness a revival of small-scale agriculture and the return of the family farm.

In short, the consequences of “peak oil” or something like it may not be so bad. There will be hardships and re-alignments, certainly, but in the long run perhaps we will all be better off.


6 thoughts on “Preparing for peak oil

  1. Father J and I were talking about the pre-millenial rash of doomsday prophecy, Marian apparitions, and militia activity from the mid to late 90s just the other day.

    I honestly believe these things to be somewhat cyclical. Every few years (especially when the economy is not as rosey) talk of impending doom or implosion (wars and rumors of wars!) gets people excited.

    I firmly believe alternative energies and greater fuel and energy efficiency will come hot on the heals of “pain at the pump.”

    Necessity’s a mother.

    Still wouldn’t mind having a little dog kennel next to the “Ole Culbreath Place”… If the next-door neighbor is still selling and you come up are feeling extra generous and willing to co-sign on the note, I am there tomorrow.

    I promise free puppies.

    Still, I suppose an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…


  2. Yes, I agree that apocalyptic fever is cyclical – and it will continue to be cyclical until the apocalypse. It follows that a generation of prophets is going to be right someday. :-)

    You could also be right about alternative energies. However, I don’t have the absolute confidence that some seem to have. There are limits to technology as well. We shall see.

    They won’t let me sign my own notes these days, much less co-sign on someone elses, but I may have just the solution for you. We have a little mobile home on the property that is presently uninhabited. The well went dry last year and the pump burnt out, so our tenants had to leave. It sits on about an acre just up the road a bit. Last year we rented it out for $675/month. We’re hoping to be able to afford a new well and pump in a few months … let me know if you’re interested!


  3. Peak oil isn’t about the oil supply disappearing, as so many seem to think. It’s about oil and oil-derived products getting more and more expensive as the supply slowly decreases over a period of 75-100 years. I don’t think there will be rampaging hordes from the cities terrorizing small towns anywhere. What we will see is the price of petroleum go up and up until demand destruction sets in. the price of any commodity cannot go up forever, just to the point where no-one can afford to buy it any more.

    Unfortunately, it looks like demand destruction in our modern industrial economy is going to come about through an economic depression. As the price of oil rises, it forces up the prices of all the goods that are dependent on oil, which includes just about every manufactured product available for sale. As the prices rise the margins will decrease, and the amount sold will (must) decline. This means business failures and layoffs, which feed the cycle by decreasing the money available to purchase the goods offered for sale.

    The things that could be done to avert a depression are being ignored. The Fed is too busy bailing out the bankers who have been extracting billions out of the housing bubble for the last 10 years. The banks are too busy trying to keep real estate prices high. The government is too busy dumping money and blood into the sand in Iraq.

    Starting in about a year, expect the official unemployment rate to climb into double digits (actually, real unemployment may be there now, but the BLS always manipulates the statistics to make the current administration look good). Basic commodity prices (wheat, rice, cooking oil, corn) will come down a bit at the end of the summer, but not back to where they were only a few weeks ago.

    For more on the Fed sheanannigans, check out Karl Denninger’s Market Ticker

    For some great background on peak oil, see John Michael Greer’s blog The Archdruid Report (warning, rampant neopaganinsm and “alternative spirituality”)


  4. We have a little mobile home on the property…

    I already spent my time living in a mobile home when I first moved to this city.

    Thank you though. I think the pups and I will be looking for some midwestern acreage. They enjoy snow drifts to burrow into during the winter months anyway…


  5. Dan: Thanks for the insights. It’s not going to be a cake-walk. As for the price of oil causing increases in everything else, that is something that can be mitigated if our economies return to a regional scale.

    Sinner: Just a few hours ago you were willing to settle for a dog kennel. Now a mobile home won’t do?? It’s a fine little house, I tell you! A great view of the cow pasture, lots of space for a garden and chickens (and pups if they don’t grow into pit bulls) and much else. Perhaps after suffering through a midwestern winter or two you’ll reconsider …


  6. Just a few hours ago you were willing to settle for a dog kennel. Now a mobile home won’t do??

    A dog kennel for the dogs to live in! Not the Simple Sinners!

    Perhaps after suffering through a midwestern winter or two you’ll reconsider …

    I have suffered through 31 to date. I don’t think the 33d one will do the trick…

    (Afternoon snow shoveling is good cardio and gives one an excuse to drink whiskey and do nothing for the rest of the day.)


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