The New Year is a suitable time to shake out the old cobwebs, so I have finally decided to retire my first blog Zone5.org, which I wrote for six years from May 2006- May 2012. As of midnight tonight or thereabouts it shall officially turn into a pumpkin and thenceforth cease to exist.
Its byeline- On the Edge between Nature and Culture- reflected my interests through much of that time which I still hold- the interaction between humans and the environment. My main focus was permaculture, sustainability, peak oil, civilizational collapse, climate change and the like.
As the years rolled by and the promised collapse failed to materialize, my views changed. Radically. Which is why I started Skepteco.
The Zone5 archives- more than a hundred posts and hundreds of comments- chronicle my gradual change from naive Deep Dark Green Doomer, through skeptical rationalist homeopathy-bashing Dawkins-fan, into, eventually, the well-adjusted and enlightened pragmatist I am to-day.
Over the next few weeks I may occasionally post a relic from those dark doomer days, an offering if you will to whatever gods of Truth there may still be out there, a testimony to show how deeply held beliefs that are in fact wrong can actually be rejected in a single lifetime. By baring all once again I hope my past delusions may serve as some kind of cautionary tale to the young radicals just getting going in life who may be open to some kind of guidance in making sense of the klaxons of environmental alarm that have scarcely quietened in the intervening years. I often wonder how my choices in life may have been different had I had someone like me as I am today around to give the younger me a kick up the back-side. It’s doubtful I would have listened, and a kick would surely have been necessary. However, I also think that many of the ideas and insights and evidence that influence me today simply never crossed my path until I painfully, laboriously uncovered them more recently. If nothing else, it shows how easy it is to get trapped in a bubble where a strong community of like-minded- and similarly deluded folk shout out any alternative views until they cannot disturb the cozy illusion of certainty. I was so wrong, yet I was so sure I was right.
We start appropriately enough with a failed prediction from 2007. Many of the early posts are pretty cringe-making, this one being a good example, in which I claimed that we may only have 5 years before the peak-oil-alypse reduces society to rubble, where only those with the largest stock-piles of beans survive. That was six years ago. Was this really me writing? What was I thinking? My only defense: I was quoting a report from the IEA. Now, they really should have known better…
Originally posted on 20 July 2007 on the now retired Zone5 blog.
With all the interest in the mainstream media being shown recently about peak oil it seems the world may be finally waking up to the realities of the limits to growth and the beginnings of the end of the industrial cycle.
The big news has been the International Energy Agency’s report last week admitting that there may be a serious oil production crunch within the next 5 years, raising eyebrows around the world as this represents an astonishing about-turn on their stance of the past 30 years which has been to simply assert that whatever the world demands, so shall we be supplied.
Another aspect of this has been highlighted by James Kunstler concerning the crises developing in the five principle oil-exporting areas of Saudi Arabia, Iran, the North Sea, Russia and Venezuela: it seems that they will have far less to export in the near future. The declines in exports will decline far faster than actual production declines because of a rapidly growing domestic markets. In other words, the main oil producing regions of the world are using far more of the stuff themselves, so there will be less for the rest of us. This is likely to unfold also on a shockingly short time-scale- just a few years. Kunstler concludes:
“Every day thousands of new driver’s licenses are issued to Saudi Arabian men. Every day, thousands of new cars are sold in Russia (and China and India). Every day the price of crude oil on the futures markets creeps a few cents higher. Every day the US version of “money” (the dollar) loses a few clicks of value against other world currencies. The markets and the American public are headed for a collision with reality. When it happens, perhaps this fall, it is not going to be pretty.”
Ireland, remember, is considered at least as exposed to oil shortages as the US. This doesnt mean that we may still have five years to hope for something else to happen; it means we have really very little time to prepare for the inevitable: real shortages, rationing and severe economic slump. It is really time to gather your family friends and community around you and have serious discussions about how you are going to pay the mortgage, whether you will still have a job or not, and how are you going to get to see the grandparents/grandchildren once air travel becomes prohibitively expensive.
We will not simply carry on roughly as we have been up till now and then in five years’ time suddenly- Wham! -no more oil. The slide into economic recession and then depression is starting now and will merely gather pace as time goes on, with likely abrupt disruptions. Anything you can do to prepare for a time in the not-to-distant future in which we will be relatively poor and thrown back to a large degree on our own resources should be commenced now. Where can you start a garden? Have you space to store food? Have you any back-up power system for essential lights?
Become aware of the “embodied energy” in everything you might need: what has high fossil-fuel content, either in the materials used or the energy needed to create it and transport it to your door? Spend wisely now on infrastructure that will last and save you energy in the long run, like insulation and a suitable stove; avoid systems that will depend always on imports, even if they appear to be part of a self-sufficient system.(One that is often missed, for example, is imported feed for chickens and other animals.)
If you are preparing well, there is much to look forward to in the future low-energy world, but we should avoid romantic projections also: the future will be hard. So much that we take for granted is performed for us by cheap energy, and few of us have actually experienced life for any length of time without the back-up systems that the fossil-fuel society provides. So I don’t go along with the “bring it on” response that many people give me when I speak of this. We need to be prepared for things to be much harder than we expect, and in many unexpected ways.
Any spare cash you have now, invest it in anything that may help you ride the coming hard times. As far as possible, limit your needs and requirements- the Buddhists have it right: the simple life is the best. “Hedonism” has become synonymous with excessive self-indulgent consumerism, and the pursuit of endless pleasures of the material world, but in fact the philosophy of the original Hedon was quite the reverse: Hedon believed that the key to happiness was not the pursuit of pleasure, but the avoidance of pain. Therefore, he concluded, the fewer possessions and attachments we have, the less active and engaged with the material world we are, the less pain we will create, the more at peace with ourselves and the rest of nature we will be.
This has greater relevance today, as “less is more” becomes the motto for the coming times: less consumerism means less pollution and environmental destruction; less economic growth will mean less stress and waste.
So as the meditation teacher has said, “Don’t just do something- Sit there”.
But make sure you have a functioning permaculture system well established first.