Make your list and check it twice

In the comments to this post, Rajiv pointed us to a Salon blog by Dave Pollard. In his post reviewing James Fallows' Atlantic Monthly article called "Countdown to a Meltdown", Pollard gives a list of steps we should all be following. I thought it might be a fun exercise to go through and annotate his list; you can also play along at home!

  • Reduce your need for energy: Buy an energy-efficient vehicle. Insulate your home better. Conserve energy. Reduce your need to work (by Radical Simplicity) or at least your need to commute. Strive for energy independence (explore community wind projects, solar and geothermal energy options). But make sure your replacement for oil doesn't depend on corn -- because corn depends on both subsidized oil (for fertilizer etc.) and subsidized agribusiness, neither of which is sustainable, especially in an economic collapse. Understand where your energy comes from -- oil may be running your car but filthy coal and vulnerable nukes probably provide your electricity, heat and air conditioning.
Check! I don't really drive since I live in NYC, but when I do, I drive a 1994 Honda Civic hatchback that gets 35+ mpg on the highway. And since I only take it out for long trips (highway driving), we do pretty well.

I walk to work, and my husband takes the subway. This is one way in which NYC is good (don't worry, we'll get to the bad ways).

We've bought into a Green Power program through ConEd. You can read more about the program here, and you should check to see if your local electricity company offers Green Power.
  • Buy local, natural and organic. Support small enterprises that depend less on government welfare. Buy stuff that lasts. Don't buy what you don't need.
I frequent the Greenmarket, and often buy organic at Whole Foods. Still, while it's good for now that my food doesn't travel very far, I don't really think there's any assurance that farmers from 2-3 hours away will still keep trucking into NYC under extremely adverse conditions. The Greenmarket uses propaganda to make us think otherwise, but I don't think this is really going to help us should a dim future actually arrive.

(I also want to point out this Grist article for a potential counterpoint to the "Buy Local" argument. Hat tip: Sustainablog)
  • Get out of debt. If you can't, go for low rates that are fixed for the entire term of the mortgage or loan. Pay off credit cards and other usurious loans on time every month. Don't buy non-essentials you can't pay for immediately.
If you can't pay off your credit cards every month, I would suggest taking a hard look at your spending patterns to see how much is essential, and how much is discretionary. I am not condemning anyone here, since I realize that paying for a family isn't always easy. But if you're single, or married w/o kids and you have a decent job, you should be able to either pay off your credit card debt, or to save. (Yes, college debt is another issue altogether.)
  • Find out how you're exposed if the housing bubble bursts. If your house is suddenly appraised at much less than the amount of your mortgage, can you be required to pay down the mortgage in cash immediately? If so, are you prepared to just walk away from your house?
Here, we are both simultaneously lucky and in big trouble. As New Yorkers, we rent, which means that we won't lose a big wad of cash on our house value when the bubble bursts. But it's also possible that renters might get evicted, or that the landlord will no longer be able to keep up the building. But I guess it's at that point that we pack it up and move someplace outside of the big, unsustainable city, anyway.
  • Find out how your savings are exposed if the stock and bond markets collapse. Will you have enough to retire on? To live on? Consider moving investments to 'near-cash' certificates that keep their value even when markets crash. Consider investments in Euros or other currencies less vulnerable than the US dollar.
I confess to much ignorance on this matter. I do question the Euro idea, though, since the Euro isn't necessarily doing so well right now. Some of our commenters have suggested holding gold or silver. Perhaps someone out there can enlighten us on these kinds of financial matters.
  • Try to wean yourself off dependence on any government subsidies, pensions, and allowances, especially in the US. If the government suddenly becomes unable to pay its debts, it's not going to be able to pay you either. Just ask the ex-employees of Enron what that feels like.
This is a real problem for the poor. Anyone who relies on food stamps or welfare or Medicare or Medicaid is going to be in trouble if the country cannot provide these services. I don't see an obvious solution to this problem, and our society has become so stratified that I also don't see local communities coming together to help the (even) less fortunate should the eventuality arise.
  • Work to get Bush and Greenspan, and those with similar extreme economic policies, out of power. The earlier we start working on fixing the mess they've created, the better the chance for a 'soft' landing.
Nothing further to be said here, I think.
  • Don't hoard goods or other physical assets. It's wasteful, ineffective, selfish and expensive.
The better thing to do is learn a useful skill. One of the more apocalyptic primers (Savinar? Saintbryan?) points out that people with skills will be a lot more valued by the community (read: likely to stay alive). Gardening, homeopathic medicine, building with wood--all of these things are useful, even in today's society. For further information, read the Independence Journal at UrbanSurvival.
So, how are you doing?

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Kurt Cobb at Resource Insights has a good list of things we should be doing as well.

biodiesel biodiesel biodiesel

corn only sucks cuz they use fertilizers and get subsidies, but that doesnt necessarily have to be if the market for corn increases. at this rate this country produces shitloads of corn that are not consumed. that corn can be used for fuel.

either way more talk about biodiesel please please please.

An aspect of peak oil that I haven't seen addressed very clearly in many discussions of peak oil is the distinction between the 'plateau' phase and the following 'downhill' phase. I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind in the context of the 'what can we do right now' discussion.

To clarify my terms, I believe that the 'plateau' phase is the phase during which demand will first start to diverge from supply. This phase will be marked by higher and more volatile prices, the beginning of demand destruction, and a somewhat disorganized rush to bring alternatives online. The downhill phase is what comes after the plateau.

Strategies that we can bring to bear to cope with the plateau phase are transitional strategies that can be implemented successfully in the context of present conditions. Most of the strategies in the posting are 'plateau' strategies, in that they assume the continuation of business as usual in some form for at least a while (a decade is a good starting guess for the length of the plateau phase).

Most of the coping strategies I am engaged in right now are plateau strategies. These include getting all of my electricity from renewable sources, living close to work so that I can walk to work, gardening and patronizing organic and local agriculture, and shifting my savings and investments to safer forms.

As for what we can do beyond this, I think there are two things we can do. The first is to act as a resource for others who want to start to do the right thing. For example, we have photovoltaic panels on our roof as a visible symbol that we are committed to doing the right thing. This acts as a very nice conversation starter and a highly visible symbol that we know about alternatives. The second thing is to start to build communities of friends and neighbors who are interested in doing the right thing. None of really know right now how long the plateau phase is going to last, or what we can really do to deal with the downhill phase most effectively. The best we can do is to build networks of like-minded individuals, gather resources (i.e. spend less and save more), and do whatever we can to encourage the development of alternative energy sources.

Not all Green Power is green! Make sure you check what you're really getting because your program may rely on burning landfill gas to make its Green Power, but this method is far from green. It's dirtier to burn than natural gas, and it creates dioxin and furans during combustion. How does that qualify as green? Because my utility here in Georgia offers only landfill gas generated electricity in their Green Power program, I won't sign up for it.

Media in Trouble: There's another important reason that corn sucks. You have to put more energy in than you get out when you make ethanol. It's merely a trick for turning fossil fuels into ethanol, and the big agribusiness corporations reap all the rewards. It's a boondoggle through and through.

Dr Sol

Biodiesel is not the answer, unless population declines far enough (i.e., lots of people starve) that we won't need the land to grow food (that pesky need of people to eat, you know).

The world is already nearly maxed out in terms of food production, and that is with an artificial, oil-supported, level of excess productivity. Once chemical fertilizer becomes a lot less available, the situation will get grim, with little excess land available for growing fuel.

As I wrote in an earlier comment thatthe problem with biodiesel is the whole land issue. Without a huge demand destruction, bio fuels are just not feasible as a replacement for all the oil we are currently using.

Liu is at it again,, with this very long article that details the workings of international and domestic monetary issues and can help answer some of the finance related questions. I will caution that without at least econ 101, the article will prove challenging.

Having just finished Catton's book "Overshoot," with regard to planning, I would say that a critical inventory of your area's carrying capacity and how much reliance is placed on "ghost acerage" are the first necessary steps. I also found it instructive to read Liu's article through the lens of Catton's ecological paradigm.


I read Liu's long article, and you are right, it was a tough one. In fact I had to copy it off on a hard copy, so I could go through it in phases. I can only say thiis It scared the living daylights out of me. For those who haven't read it. Basicly he is implying that we are sitting right on the edge of one deep abiss.


hermit -

skip the abyss analogy. karlof and I worry enough for the whole group *wink*.

It is an opportunity, maybe the biggest one ever, since we now have enough historical knowledge and technology to make things better. No civilization ever had the knowledge or the recorded history we do today.

It's not over - I ain't seen no fat lady...

Dr. Sol--Hmmm. I didn't know that about some green power programs. Fortunately, ConEd in New York is "a mixture of approximately 25% wind power and 75% small, run-of-the-river hydropower. The wind power and the run-of-the-river hydropower is generated from facilities in upstate New York."

all: I moved a link to karlof1's Liu piece and discussion out front. enjoy!

Since all of this is so locally oriented are there peak oil / environmental organizations in NYC that someone can point me to. I think all of these suggestions are great.

Also, does someone have a set of power point slides that could quickly summarize peak oil and the need for local initiatives? I could see us each having little cocktail parties where we educate our friends or relatives about peak oil and little things that we could do to make life better now and later.

Gmack--Yes! There are a bunch of presentations on the web. Here's a link that links to several of them.

I hope I am not sounding like a broken record, but before you try to convince people, I recommend moderating the content a bit. I am a peak oil believer, I have been involved in the enrgy field professionally and academically for close to ten years and am betting my career on renewable energy. I am probably in the 98th percentile of peak oil believers.

But when I hear people talking about farmers not being able to sell food and encouraging listers to "prepare for disaster", my eyes glaze over. I think these scenarios are extremely unlikely and am not suprised that others will too.

None of us know what will happen. I don't completely write off the possibility that things will get as bad as this, but I would assign it a weight of 5%. I do think there is a very good chance the gas and energy prices go up to the point that it changes our lifestyles significantly. I do think this could impact the economy and create a recession, although whether that will happen in the next ten years, I'm about 50-50. So I do think the debt caution is a wise one.

Again, maybe I am wrong and you are right. Maybe I will be begging you for your canned carrots before the year is out. My I do think my point is important.

If your objective is really to convince people (and I'm not sure everyone's really is), keep in mind that most of them are far more skeptical than I am.

I would stick as closely as possible to the facts. I think Simmons s very convincing. Once you get people educated about the basics, try to move them to think more about how this will impact the future. I am afraid afraid that peak oil is approaching, more slowly, but inevenitably, but when it gets here everyone will have stopped listening to the people who cried wolf.

I agree with Jack.

I also cringe when I see people willy nilly recommending drastic measures like buying gold or converting currencies from the USD to Euros or other such strategies.

Regardless of what happens - a sudden shock, long plateau, sharp drop - governments and citizens will get around it. They will have to, or face anarchy. Problems in the US will not be unique to the US; Europe will feel pain as well, even if on /capita basis most modern European nations use less energy than we do.

An interconnected world means pain gets shared across all.

Back to "what to do" my number one is **use less**.

Conservation has to be one of the key principles upon which a society preparing for peak oil is built. And what better way than to educate our children to be conservationists. We have to start with the next generation, now.

For our part, we bought a tandem bike that I can pull a second child on; we use this instead of a second vehicle, and as often as is humanly possible, we use our bikes instead of our principle car. As a result we only fill up the tank in the car twice a month on average and even less in the spring through fall.

3 of 5 days a week I walk my kids too and from school (2km each way) rain or shine and they are only 5 and 7. Turns out they love the walks and we have great chats about any topic they pick. Somehow environment / energy and other such matters creep into the talks ;-) but not always at my urging. Bonus, they are fit and healthy.

I'm pleased to say that a number of other parents in our kids school have been guilted into following our lead, to some degree. School-age programs and education have to be a priority, but clearly individuals will have to "guilt" governments into taking action because politicians at all levels will take far too long before they act.

While I do agree that we should make an effort to conserve (in my case I put off errands until I have built up several, then do them all in one trip), it may be as futile as our efforts over the past 30 years to protect endangered species in China, India and Africa. When tiger testicles and rhino horns command obscene prices driven by the tens of millions of ignorant and selfish idiots living in the far east, our efforts to conserve over here have little chance against that mentality. China is rapidly moving past the curve on the hockey stick into full blown gimmee-gimmee-gimmee mode. They've got very large and expanding savings pools and they want to be like us, and who's going to slow them down? If they can't feel the passion to save the tiger, how will they feel the need to conserve. It's going to be terribly frustating to watch this play out.

While under other circumstances, I would tend to agree with Jack and Mike, if the situation that was coming up was only about PO. But there are too many other things going on, that cause me to think that the probability of a widespread extreme disruption is much higher than the 5% suggested. And I think it is foolish not to prepare for it. And guess what? We take out insurance for events with a much smaller probabilities than 5%, when the consequences of that event are extreme.

Unplanning Journal has a good post

He observes that - (The rest of his post is very good also)

Most people take for granted the continued existence of the most fundamental resources
Most people worry about the least worrisome details, while completely ignoring the real problems.
Most people fail to accept and plan for changes, even if they accept their validity
Most people assume that someone will take care of it for them

One thing I really think should be added to that list: find a way to grow as much of your own food as reasonably possible. If this pans out anything like the way we expect it too, then "conventional" food production / storage / distribution is going to get a lot more expensive.

Seriously, guys, the suggestions on Dave Pollard's list are hardly reactionary. For the most part, they're things that make good economic and social sense anyway. Green power? Of course we should use as much renewable and clean energy as possible, regardless of whether oil is running out. We'll have pollution and global warming if we don't. Buying local? We should support our communities and small businesses for many reasons beyond worrying about transporting our food long distances. Getting out of debt? Way before PO I was shocked by how much personal debt people bear in this country. Isn't is common sense that buying things you don't have ready cash for is probably a mistake?

And getting Bush out of power, well, like I already wrote, there's nothing more to say about that.

Hi ianqui,

I certainly didn't imply the the list was reactionary. In my post I indicated a strong personal committment to green power and specifically agreed with the idea of reducing debt.

If you look at the string of comments before my post, you will notice they follow the frequent, and important, theme of how to convince others that peak oil is real. My perspective is from someone who would like to see a larger number of people understand the situation and support measures to adjust to new realities.

My feeling is that, beyond a point, hyperbole and scare tactics are counterproductive.

I also agree on a personal level that getting Bush out of power may be among the best energy strategies we have and will provide all sorts of other benefits. However, I think this site should focus on oil based issues, and not politics.

If a moderate or a Republican sees the site is largely political they will turn off instantly. However, if they feel comfortable, they will stay here, read posts, change their minds and maybe stop voting republican.

Just my opinion.


Unplanning also had an interesting comment here

For some reason I'm not able to get this post through...Trying again.

Jack, your point is well-taken. I agree that we shouldn't really focus on politics here, although to some extent I think it's going to be inevitable. I'll try not to make my tendencies too transparent (*wink*), but if we as a community believe that the downward spiral is happening partially because of current government practices, then I think we do everyone a service by addressing these issues. We just have to make sure to debate them in a reasonable way that's open to various points of view, lest we risk turning into a reflection of the public dialogue of today (and when I say today, I really mean today, June 24-23, 2005).

Actually, I shouldn't really use the word dialogue to describe it, because I fear that it's simply become a screaming match where no one is actually listening to the other side...

On a more personal note, though, I am NOT someone who's prone to apocalyptic visions of the future. For example, although I live in NYC, I don't live in constant fear of another terrorist attack. It may happen, but I don't need my everyday life to be shadowed by fear. But when I first read about PO, I first read Savinar and Stbryan, and I was terrified. I've never felt that way before--not about terrorism, global warming (this is changing), nothing. So the fact that these apocalyptic scenarios about PO got to me made me think that there must be some kind of truth behind them. I think the challenge for each one of us is to figure out which explanatory tactic works best with each person we meet--a difficult psychological task, but one which we should learn to accurately evaluate if we hope to get the message across!

Agreed. And the site is a great way of doing that. I think what you are all doing here is a huge step forward and don't intend to be critical. We all look at these issues through our own filters. There are a lot of ways to see and explain the issues. We are largely talking about the future - no one is roght and no one is wrong.

I think this point that you made is right on:

"We just have to make sure to debate them in a reasonable way that's open to various points of view, lest we risk turning into a reflection of the public dialogue of today (and when I say today, I really mean today, June 24-23, 2005)."

We are all on the same side. We don't have to stand in exactly the same spot.

I'm glad more moderates have shown up ;-), that's my general position, between the most optimistic and most pessimistic views.

I think we can work in simple ways to help our families, and society (global society at this point), make an effective transition to a future with less available oil. A lot of the steps we can take are simple. Switch cars, switch appliances, enjoy a walk or a bike ride, etc.

Now it is a little fun to talk about what will happen, but the future is a roulette wheel. There are fundamentals (like resource supply) but also huge elements of human psychology.

To hit just one random, small, thing that I was thinking about this morning. It important that the words "oil shock" are so widely known and understood in the world population. We all know what could happen. I wonder if that means we are more ... immunized from shock than we were in the 70's when they largely hit us unawares?

I'm trying to understand why I see so many brand new Hummers and big trucks on the road. I wonder if they just haven't got a clue (and will be hit unaware, again) or if they really are ready to pay the gas bills. Big if, but if all these guys just keep on buying gas, going to work, and shopping ... we get higher prices without the same kind of "shock".

end random thought.