Monday, 17 August 2009

Peak Oil and Transition

I have been re-reading The Transition Handbook in preparation for a presentation/workshop and visioning what the future might hold for us after peak oil. This worshop will be held next weekend at the Food Forest where hopefully the transition (to a lower energy community) will be introduced to South Australia. I am looking forward to the event.

Hubbert predicted "peak oil" for the United States in a paper that he presented in 1956. He accurately predicted that peak oil for that nation would be reached in 1970. Calculations have been extrapolated to predict global peak oil production and according to current estimates, we have already passed world peak oil. That means that oil as an energy source for our society must inevitably decline from now on. Western society, not to mention my own community is dependent upon a constant supply of cheap oil to maintain our current lifestyle. Almost everything that we use, from toothbrushes and clothing to vehicles and fertiliser depends upon a supply of cheap oil. It has been estimated that the amount of oil consumed by each of us (either directly as oil, or as embedded energy in everything that we use) is equivalent to having fifty people on stationary bicycles attached to generators pedalling all day and night in order to maintain our lifestyle. I have also read that one would need 200 slaves working in the basement to support a household in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Clearly this can't continue.

Using this energy that has been stored for many centuries underground has changed the way that we live astoundingly over the past century. Change has been accelerating at an incredible rate. In 1970, a book was published describing a problem that emerged from this rapid change... Future Shock. Old people describe their childhoods in terms that young people cannot imagine. Old people are no longer respected as wise, and perhaps that is because they are "left behind" among such changes... lessons learned and wisdom gained really do seem irrelevant when the whole world is unrecognisable.

Visions of the future that were described many years ago were very idealistic. Along with holidays on the moon and robots to do all of our "dirty work", we would have leisure, be amazingly happy and contented, even if we needed soma to achieve this. Such optimism, and such promise! It seems that there were a few things not taken into account. Many people are not happier at all, and, as a group, we are becoming less healthy, less happy and there is the suggestion that the current young generation will be the first to have, on average, a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Western society seems to be heading down a "dead end" or at least a "less than optimal" path. In writing this I am reminded of a passage written by David Suzuki, in which he suggested that some of the stress and depression that is common in modern societies could be blamed on our lack of interaction with the natural world. Food for thought.

Where will we be after peak oil? The expectation is that, having passed peak oil, the cost of oil based products, services and transportation will become at least more expensive, and at worst, unavailable. We will need to find different ways of living that do not involve consumption of oil and oil based products. The next twenty years or so may well be very different from the last twenty years. There will be change and it may be quite rapid. I don't have a crystal ball, but common sense tells me that these "next twenty years will be very different from the last twenty years" (Chris Martenson's Crash Course.) People react to this information in different ways. Some people find this so frightening that they prefer not to think about it at all. Some people hope and expect that some new technology will come to the rescue. There are even those who merely deny that this will happen at all, and plan for no change at all. And then there are those who realise that there is a problem, and start to plan for change, either tentatively or with enthusiasm.

The Transition Town initiatives are an attempt to create local sustainable and resilient communities that do not depend so completely on oil. Once one accepts that change is going to happen, it is useful to think about the possible options and choose to manage change carefully, rather than wait for chaos. This is the goal of the transition movement and envisioning what such a community might be like is a first step. The optimists among us are looking enthusiastically towards a more co-operative, lower energy, slower-paced and perhaps healthier and happier society. The "slow" movement gives us some indication of what the alternative low energy lifestyle might be like, and it looks to be pretty enjoyable.

There are as many different plans and initiatives as there are communities, and this is definitely a situation where one size definitely does not fit all. People are beginning to make changes already, from growing vegetables (reducing "food miles" and becoming more self-sufficient) and learning new skills or planting nut trees, modifying cars to be electric and inventing alternative technologies. All of this is a part of the transition to a post peak oil lifestyle.

As I prepare for a "visioning" workshop this coming weekend, I am hopeful that this will be one more step towards the post peak oil world and I am optimistic.


Fiona (posts by her mum and dad) said...

Doing my part, our local pears have just come to the shops. I have been walking past the argentinian ones for months, wanting a I have the local bartletts. Our tree didn't fruit this year, don't know if it was something I did or said, but we'll hold out hope for next years crop.

Jane said...

"Bartleys" is what Ben used to call them.

Trees are allowed a holiday too... life is too good, and it probably doesn't feel threatened. Trees produce a lot of fruit (often in alternate years) when they are very stressed... trying to reproduce before they die. It all gets back to "The Selfish Gene" that is there to take care of itself, making use of its particular organism (pear tree) to do so.