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The Price Of Oil

The Peak Oil Crash: Eight Ways to Survive the Coming Hard Times

What to Be Doing When No One Seems to Be Doing Anything

While the 2008 political candidates argue about whose ads are dirtier and whose friends are more suspect, while Obama bowls badly and Hillary knocks down Jello shots and McCain forgets who is fighting whom in Iraq, ordinary working Americans are losing interest and are instead quietly freaking out.

Americans have good reasons to be freaking out.

The price of oil breaks a record every other day, literally. Gas is nearly unaffordable and is beginning to spike the cost of food. A worldwide food shortage is well underway and haunts the news nightly. Costco shoppers are already hoarding so much rice (entire pallets in some cases) that Walmart is now rationing large bags of rice to one per customer per visit at its Sam’s Club outlets. They warn that flour and beans could well be next if people don’t knock it off.

How did this happen? Why isn’t it being talked about more directly? It might surprise you to know that what is happening right now was predicted by Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert in 1956, and his theories were once again confirmed by none other than the US Department of Energy in a 2005 report catchily entitled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management.

This US report, more commonly called the Hirsch Report, warns:

“As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist… but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.”

Three possible scenarios for this crisis are laid out in the Hirsch Report for the price of oil:

In the first and most optimistic scenario, the US government initiates a crash program to wean the country off of fossil fuels and make major changes in infrastructure at least 20 years in advance of peak oil production. “Crash program” means just that: an aggressive, full-on initiative for change that becomes the #1 priority in US public and foreign policy. This would involve renewable energy initiatives, redesign of public transportation and radical new fuel sources for personal and farm vehicles, and a return to locally produced food. Cleary, nothing even close to this is happening at the present time.

In the second scenario, the crash program is initiated by the US ten years before peak oil production. In this scenario, this crisis is helped somewhat, but the country still has to endure ten years of serious fuel shortages along with all the attendant social and financial chaos.

In the third and most frightening scenario, nothing is done until after peak oil has already occurred. This throws the entire world into a twenty-year liquid fuel shortage that causes the collapse of financial markets, a dramatic increase in violence, food shortages, widespread unemployment, a radical reduction in the standard of living especially in countries that depend heavily on petroleum and petroleum based products (such as the US), and possible worldwide economic collapse.

My purpose here is not to scare anyone, but rather to point out some things you won’t likely hear on the news and then suggest ways to get through it. First, understand that the US government KNOWS this is coming. It commisioned a report THREE YEARS AGO, not to find out IF it a peak oil crisis is coming–even the oil companies have known it is coming since the fifties–Rather, the report was commissioned by the US government to find ways to mitigate, or soften the disasterous effects. Why is nothing much being done? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Meanwhile, here are some things you can do right now, to get ready and help you to avoid panic:

1) Start Growing Some of Your Own Food This is easier to do if you live in the country or have a large yard, but its astonishing what you can achieve even with a patio container garden. Even a small yard can be converted to food production by amending the soil. The idea is to grow lots of stuff, in very rich soil, in a small space. Square Foot Gardening was one of the first books out on this method, and its still a good start. Don’t forget trees and shrubs as part of your food garden. Dwarf fruit trees can be trained to lay flat against a wall or a fence and stay small enough to manage easily. Hazelnuts are easy to grow and so are blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, and sunflowers (the seeds are great toasted and they keep forever).

2) Learn to Can, Freeze, Dry What You Grow For under $30 you can invest in a large water bath canning pot and some ball jars, which you can then reuse over and over each year. Acidic foods are especially easy and safe to can: applesauce, peaches, tomatoes, salsa, jams and jellies, cherries, pears, beets and so forth. Veggies like green beans, corn, and peas are easy to grow but have to be pressure-canned to kill botulism bacteria, so I prefer to freeze or dry them. Leafy greens like collards, spinach and kale can be grown almost anywhere and are dense in nutrients. Potatoes and sweet potatoes keep well without canning, as do winter squash. If you have lots of space, devote some of it to dry beans. Let the plant dry out completely and store the dry beans in jars for the winter. Apples are good dried and so are apricots.

3) Don’t Hoard But Do Buy Staples In Bulk So many staples are much, much cheaper when you buy them in large bags. Flour, cornmeal, rice, oats, dried milk, baking soda and baking powder, nuts, tea, coffee, sugar, noodles, these are just a few of the things you can buy in large quantities and store tightly sealed for a long long time in a cool dry place. If you begin to shop this way, a time will come when you make very few trips to the grocery store, which will save you money and stress when it costs too much to drive there anyway.

4) Assemble an Emergency Kit If you haven’t done this already, you should have, all together in one place, enough clean bottled water for at least a week or two, a supply of candles and matches, a few kerosene lanterns and some kerosene, a camping stove or outdoor grill, flashlights, blankets, a generator or freestanding space heater of some kind, and a supply of canned food and dried food that can last you at least a week, but preferably longer. As the infrastructure continues to deteriorate and the energy crisis escalates, power outages will become more and more frequent. Having a plan for this really helps. We already get them several times a winter here, but we have everything ready so its not so big a deal.

5) Get in Shape Let’s get real for a minute. We are not going to be able to continue to drive everywhere for everything. We just won’t be able to afford it. If you are very sedentary, why not start walking and/or riding a bike now, at least a couple of days a week? You will discover that you feel better, and not only that, you will think better and more clearly. The more you do it, the more you want to do it. Get strong now, so that when physical stamina is a daily requirement, not an option, you have some.

6) Stop Spending Money This one may sound a bit weird, but seriously, if we are going to be running out of money (and trust me, we are), then why not stop spending it now and get used to some other ways of doing things? I have been testing myself lately. How long can I go without spending anything? It’s shocking when you watch your own behavior how much money we throw away each day without thinking about it. I used to buy a bottle of iced tea, a bag of crackers from the vending machine at work, and a coffee every single day, and sometimes I’d throw in an apple from the cafeteria at $1 per apple. That’s a total of $6.43 each day in overpriced concessions and snacks or $32.15 each week, or $1671.80 a year. Plus, the crackers are nasty. Now I bring my own tea and snacks.

7) Assemble Important Papers and Cash, then Stash Assemble all your important documents, make copies, then put the originals in a plastic zip-loc bag with some cash, however much you can afford to keep on hand, then stash it all somewhere hard to find but easy for you to grab. You never know when you might need to get out of where you are in a big hurry. It helps if you can just grab your coat, your loved ones, and stuff to prove who you are in a jiff because you don’t always get time to tear through the house assembling it all. If you never need to use it, no biggie, but every single autobiography I’ve ever read by a displaced person or a person who had been through a major war or castastrophe gave this piece of advice first and foremost. Put it all together, keep it close.

8) Network, Reach Out Start getting to know your neighbors and other people in your community. Find out who wants to exhange goods and services and take part in that. The more you start doing this now, the more grounded you will be when corporate resources start to crash and things are no longer available in the same ways they used to be. Another advantage: It’s harder to lash out at someone you know and like, so start talking or at least saying hello when you go out. In times of crisis, people can hold each other up as easily as they can drag each other down. Why not get a jump on it?

I think it is so important to be realistic, to educate ourselves, and to be ready without panicking and getting scared. It’s worth remembering that sometimes things have to fall apart in order to make room for something better. Our way of life may be about to fall apart at many levels, but that doesn’t mean something better won’t eventually take its place. I trust that it will, even though I may not see it emerge overnight myself.

In the meantime, be hopeful, be kind, be resourceful, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the way our grandparents and their grandparents did it, and we can too.