Sunday, April 15, 2007

Living more locally

Peak oil is back on my mind - largely because Darren sent me a couple peak oil youtube links recently, and because of a shopping trip I made yesterday.

My girlfriend (who was interviewed on CBC's Fresh Air this morning about June Callwood's death) and I, and our friend who has a membership card, went to a Costco yesterday. It was my first time, and I swear to God, I walked through the place (pushing the cart - which was my assigned job) in a state of shock. If you've never been, visualize the biggest warehouse in the entire world crammed full of gazillions of consumer products, and tons of food in SUPERSIZE quantities (for example, we bought about 30 roles of toilet paper yesterday).

Anyway, I went to Costco and the thought that struck me almost immediately was "this is wrong! No one really needs this crap, and it's just going to end up in landfills anyway. We need to raise the gas tax, which will also end up raising the price of consumer crap like this, put some of these companies out of business, reduce the amount of Swiffers and Cuisinarts which get made, and we'll have fewer problems."

So Costco basically made me wish that peak oil was here already.

And then today I watched Matt Simmons on the Bloomberg Report (interview actually took place a few months ago), predicting that we were actually at peak oil already, and that a barrel of oil could be at $300.00 very soon.

And when I searched "peak oil" on you tube, this video came up. It is really good, and discusses how Cuba is basically a post peak oil society already, and MUCH the better for it.

The video is half an hour long, but I highly recommend giving it a watch. The interview covers a lot of the issues that North American society will have to deal with as the price of oil rises.

Peak Oil is fascinating. No one argues that it won't happen at all, because obviously the earth will one day produce the most oil it ever will, and thereafter produce less and less each day as we gradually use it up.

Where the argument lies is in how quickly we reach peak oil, and therefore how badly it hits us. Because the data is very unreliable, even the most interested petroleum analysts don't know how much oil there really is in the earth. So maybe we won't reach maximum production until 2050, by which time we will have wind/solar/clean coal/safe nuclear etc working perfectly and "peak oil" almost becomes a non issue.

Or we may have hit peak oil a year ago and we'll only realize it when OPEC starts increasing the price of oil by $5.00 / barrel every week.

If it hits hard it would brutally affect the poor, cause thousands of deaths, ruin emergency services and hospital services and basically leave people starving in their homes.
Which makes you wonder why it isn't a bigger topic of discussion in the mass media. But, oh yeah, mass media - they just want to increase their advertising revenues and the best way of doing that is to talk about popular stories like Britney Spears shaving her head, so why would they cover peak oil? It's too much of a downer.

The facts however are that oil IS a finite resource; that NO type of alternative energy (or combination thereof) can actually do what oil does for us; and that the price of oil is going to rise drastically, making life very difficult for a person who lives in a suberb and relies on his/her car to get to work and get to the supermarket.

But the real issue is food. Picture farmers being unable to drive their tractors, picture them unable to afford the petroleum based fertilizers which allow them to produce such vast quantities of crops. Think of the average distance that most of the food in your apartment travelled to get into your refrigerator (those grapes from California, that soy milk from the midwest).

None of that will be possible in a world faced with oil shortages. And the solution, as has happened in Cuba, is to live more locally, to survive on the food which can be grown within approximately 100 Miles of where you live.
Incidentally, you might like to have the Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook on your bookshelf to deal with all this.

Countries might break up as peak oil becomes pervasive - especially Canada. What point would a massive federal government have in a society where local communities have to provide - on their own - waste disposal, medical care, education etc? Why would Atlantic Canada care about B.C.? Why would Alberta care about Quebec?

My hometown will be ruined by peak oil. In Bancroft there is no public transportation whatsoever, there is no cycling infrastructure, the land is totally unsuitable for large scale farming, the winters are very cold, the town council has allowed big box stores to pop up north of the town, which means there's no central "downtown" anymore, and to shop, to work, to bank, to visit friends and attend social events, everyone depends on their car because the distances are great and there are no other transportation options.

Something I think we have to be very active in avoiding is letting our society get captured and screwed again by big business. Bil Oil and the Big Three already suckered us into paying THEM in return for suburban sprawl, climate change, soaring diabetes and obesity rates. Big Agriculture suckered us into an environmentally destructive (and largely unnecessary) meat centred diet because American farmers in the 1940's knew they could sell more corn by selling it first to the meat industry than to consumers directly.
(By the way, when it started becoming evident in the 1970's that a meat rich diet was unhealthy, a few American politicans took baby steps towards recommending that people cut down on meat. What happened? The meat industry's lobby went ballistic, attacked the politicans in question, and made sure that the diet recommendations which were released would continue to allow them to make big profits at the expense of Americans' health.)

So, beware of Big Oil and the Big Three morphing themselves into Big Nuclear and Big Coal. Or more insidiously, letting themselves falsely become "Big Green" and promoting crap like the Clean Air Act, which Canada's governing Conservative Party tried to pawn off on the country a few months back. (Luckily the Conservatives got blasted from every direction for the Act and have been forced to toughen up their approach to environmental protection).

The reasons peak oil is fascinating are endless. It's scary as hell, but there is also some hope. Living more locally, knowing where your food came from, living sustainably, not watching Entertainment Tonight anymore but having some musical friends over to play guitar around a campfire. Being healthy due to the all the exercise you get, and the fact that you won't be ingesting all the carcinogens in factory farmed meat anymore. A lot of good stuff could happen.

Except the price of bikes will go up, and I still haven't bought a cyclocross bike.


selsine said...

Costco is a weird place, personally I don't shop anywhere where I have to pay for the pleasure...

andrew said...

The things I'm going to miss the most are bananas, pineapples and Guinness, roughly in that order.