Posts tagged ‘peak oil’

“Waves of anger and fear”

And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

I think it must be the time of year. I vaguely remember having a similar period of gloom last year, on a Friday evening, when Scientist Boyfriend was off revelling with other pensions consultants, about the total failure of the powers that be to do anything about the fact that our society is, hmm, somewhere between wildly unsustainable and on the brink of catastrophe. I think I am mostly disappointed by how we have totally squandered the chance we had since climate change and, to a lesser extent, peak oil went ‘mainstream’ about two years ago to actually make some real change. Aside from a bit of faffing around with lightbulbs and recycling boxes (and there were plenty of idiotic newspaper columnists who tried to convince us we were too busy and important to even to these) precisely zilch has changed and now, I sense a collective sigh of relief that now the recession means we can’t afford to, erm, not run cars or take foreign holidays.

Admittedly, this is not strictly true – we do have the world’s first climate change law and feed-in tariffs for microgeneration, but I have noticed no substantial change in the overall political and social climate, which still seems to regard ‘being green’ as essentially a middle class luxury, to be tacked onto the daily business of living, rather than an opportunity for social justice and a possible, nay necessary, lifestyle for everyone. Furthermore, the government’s climate change committee has been recommending clean coal and suggesting that, “It’s possible for the world to cut greenhouse gases while still not cutting aviation by anything like as much, even increase aviation emissions,” while the government is also re-opening the debate about GM crops.

There are plenty of wonderful individuals doing their bit in many inspiring and diverse ways, but I feel this is in spite of rather than because of any external incentives to do so. Most of us feel lonely and like we’re swimming against the tide, at least at times,and even if we enjoy what we do, we feel, well, like everyone thinks we’re a bit odd.

So, the long and the short of this is that, despite everything I’ve said about how the mainstream environmental movement drives me potty and the relative merits of political action versus individual and community action, I’m finally angry enough to go on the climate march tomorrow. I’d like to say something about how this was because I’ve been reading things like George Monbiot’s The Age of Consent and have become convinced that protest is useful and that we should all put aside our differences to fight for something big and meaningful in this insane world. However, that would be a lie.

I’m just really, really, really pissed off. I do not want to spend the rest of my life paying higher taxes to pay back the money we’ve spent bailing out the City. I do not want my parents to have to get flooded every year. I do not want oil to get to $300 a barrel before we’ve come up with plan B. In short, I loathe knowing that I’m going to spend the rest of my life clearing up the mess the previous generation made and trying to explain to my own children why it happened.

(I would also like to know why there’s an orange paper hat, presumably from a cracker, on the coffee table. Hmm.)

So, yes, I was going to say that if anybody else was going tomorrow, or rather if anybody else was half-wanting to go but frightened of going on their own, we could maybe meet up, but I’ve left it so late we’d only have 12 hours to co-ordinate! But, if you want to try, leave a comment or email me at sproutingbroccoli [AT] gmail [DOT] com. I’m actually going with a friend from FoE, but until I knew she was going I was intending to hook up with these people, who seem very un-scary:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame.

W.H. Auden – September 1, 1939

December 5, 2008 at 9:03 pm 2 comments

Hurtling towards winter with no curtains…

Scientist Boyfriend and I have just got back from a lovely week’s holiday in Derbyshire. For reasons best known to himself, my dad has an irrational dislike of Derbyshire and so despite many childhood holidays in various holiday cottages or caravans in various damp counties around the UK, there is a huge Peak District-shaped hole in my experience. I have not yet been able to fathom my father’s reasoning, but he has evidently not visited the farmer’s market in Bakewell. Which is superb. We made a detour to visit the farmer’s market in Belper en route to Hope in order to find the mushroom people and the beer-and-cheese people again. We then spent a wonderful week in a very nicely decorated cottage playing with the woodburner, watching food programmes (Valentine Warner, Jamie’s Ministry of Food and River Cottage: Autumn in one week) and cooking exciting new things like pigeon and beef shin in sub-standard cookware* and occasionally dragging ourselves over a hill to feel a bit more virtuous about it.

I also read Sharon Astyk‘s book Depletion and Abundance and have been happily quoting examples to anyone who will listen to me to prove that the Industrial Revolution was a big con and agrarian societies actually had much more leisure time than we do, and were probably fitter, happier and better fed to boot.

Yesterday I went to a talk by Fiona Reynolds (director of the National Trust) on the future of the countryside and farming, which was very interesting and very sound – I’d been slightly worried (I used to work for the NT, in their first farm shop at Wallington, actually, and am familiar with the… typical demographic profile of their members) that it would be about pretty cows and posh beef and cheese for rich people, but she took a very broad approach, looking at land with regard to food, energy and water in light of climate change and (though she only referenced it briefly in passing, and not by name) peak oil. I was v impressed.

As far as future-proofing my own house goes, I have decided that this year (when I have a job and little time but more money to spend on heating) I will actually make curtains to keep the cold out instead of improvising with blankets (which I never got round to doing last year, when I had intermittent, low-paid employment and thus both an incentive to save money on heating and copious time in which to make curtains). We’ll see how this goes. I’ve decided that we will not turn the heating on till it’s done, which is fine by me as I grew up in Northumberland with a father who went round the house turning the thermostat down and growling at us all to put a jumper on if we didn’t like it and I could probably quite happily go many more weeks with a woolly jumper, my new woolly socks, running up and down stairs a couple of times when I get cold and retiring to bed with a hot water bottle if all else failed (anything not to have to make curtains!!), but Scientist Boyfriend is a (half-Swedish) soft Southerner who grew up in a warm house and has been nagging me since before we went away to put the heating on and close the bedroom window at night.** (I have now relented on the second point.) I have made one curtain (out of four) and feel I might come to regret my rash pledge… You will probably find me in mid-December, ice on the inside of the windows, hands frozen to the sewing machine, repeated muttering of profanities not having encouraged it to stop creating big snarls of top-thread on the underside of the fabric when I try to secure a seem. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I suspect the Victorians would not have put up with it and can only conclude the shortcoming is my own, but repeated unpicking and fiddling with the tension has not helped.


* Actually, most of it was very good, particularly the small wok-ish pan, but the stew kept drying out because there wasn’t a dish with a suitably heavy lid. Due to various bad experiences in previous holiday cottages, we now take salt and pepper, a cafetiere and a knife sharpener with us when we go away, but both feel taking one’s own Le Creuset casserole dish on holiday is a bit excessive.

** My father used to say, ‘It’s good for the soul,’ about pretty much any inconvenience actually, but specifically living in a cold house (often with all the lights turned off if he had his way). I have adapted this to, ‘It’s good for the immune system,’ which probably has more scientific justification but will doubtless be just as irritating to my children.

October 22, 2008 at 6:04 pm 2 comments

What are we going to wear to the apocalypse?

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for months.

I’ve been reading loads about peak oil lately, with the Transition Handbook and various other avenues it’s prompted me to explore, and it’s great that people are writing about the stuff we need to actually do: much great stuff out there about relocalising food, growing our own veg, building houses from local, sustainable materials, walking instead of driving and bringing our lives back within walking distance so it doesn’t seem like such a wrench….

But, with the notable exception of Sharon Astyk, who says we should all be knitting socks, all peak oil writers seem to be neatly sidestepping the problem that once we all start farming and building houses and doing a lot more physical, outdoor work, we’re going to need suitable clothes. Blimmin’ men. 😉 Most people in the West today work indoors, usually in air-conditioned offices or shops, and we can get away with wearing flimsy acrylic jumpers or (in some mind-boggling cases) T-shirts in January. We aren’t really equipped, as a society, to get out there and dig. We don’t have warm enough trousers, jumpers and coats, we don’t have proper boots, and some day we won’t just be able to buy a new pair of socks every time ours get holes in, like we do now. We won’t be able to grow or import so much cheap, fossil-fuel-intensive cotton, and we’re probably going to be wearing out our clothes a lot faster.

Speaking purely from personal anecdotal experience, during the coldest parts of this year, I was wearing my two woollen jumpers and my one (beautiful, utterly decadent) cashmere jumper on a constant rotation. My dad had always sworn by natural fibres, but my parents’ central heating was so efficient I never really realised it until we moved here. Hmm. Rising fuel costs, anyone???

This should be on the agenda too! The tone of what most of what I’ve read implies that clothes are a symbol of our cheap, disposable culture, and should go the way of these pesky electronics and allow us to get back to the real stuff we need to worry about; but relocalising textiles and fabrics and creating durable, repairable items of clothing is, I grant you, not as important as growing vegetables, but easily of equal importance as building durable, repairable houses and furniture.

Objectively speaking, our unsustainable obsession with fashion extends beyond simply clothes to the Changing Rooms-esque regularity with which we are all supposed to replace our kitchens and bathrooms or the furnishings and decor of our rooms, and from both of these we can extract a sustainable alternative (I say ‘alternative’ as if that’s the weird option… you know what I mean…) based on the knowledge that having something to live in and something to wear are of more or less equal usefulness. And yet the gruff, rugged masculine option is the one that gets all the attention…

September 11, 2008 at 3:05 pm 2 comments

Avoid the post-apocalyptic chaos: get a piano!

My grandpa died in April of last year. It was horribly sad and I miss him dreadfully, and I remember just what a good person he was, how active he was in his community, always on the parish council and committees for societies and organising events, how curious he was about everything, and sometimes, selfishly, I think of all the gardening wisdom that I never gleaned from him. I wish he’d been able to see my strawberries and lettuces and the other week, when Gardener’s Question Time was from Cumbria, where my grandparents lived since the early 1980s, I inexplicably found myself in tears. This was a piece of music I always found mawkishly sentimental, but since the line ‘And there was no more sea’ reminded me of his naval experiences during WW2 when we sang it in choir about a week after the funeral, I’ve listened to it about once a fortnight. I’m not even religious…

Yet I also look at my family now and feel much closer to them. My dad’s family have never been close – not that there’s ever been any animosity between them or anything like that, but they are a quiet, rather introverted bunch and he never rang his sisters for a chat or anything like that – and in the last year or so I have seen them all work much more at keeping in touch, at helping my grandma move, I’ve spent time looking at old photos and learning much more about my dad’s childhood. My parents make (and made, while my grandpa was ill) a lot of effort to go over and visit, taking gifts of things like shepherd’s pie, taking my grandma out for the day. I make much more effort to write to my grandparents, and visit them when I can, and help out my neighbour, who is quite elderly and lives on her own. I appreciate my own parents more, aware that they won’t be around for ever.


If I am an optimist, it is more because I try to look for the best in people and in situations and I try to make things into positive experiences as far as possible, rather than because I always expect the best to happen. (I try to be baldly realistic in my prognostications for the future, imagining the best and the worst and trying to be prepared for anything, but mostly expecting something in the middle.) I’m not so Pollyanna-ish as to try to spin anything so awful and finite as death into a blessing in disguise, but perhaps it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that as well as the sorrow, positive things have been born out of it also. I find that if I can put my grief to good use (by getting closer to my family and being to be kind to old people) it helps me cope with it better. Denial is useless; let in the bad, explore the bad, embrace the bad – it is part of you and part of life. But after a while, for god’s sake channel it into something useful.


The more I’ve delved into this rather personal dark place, the less I feel that it was a useful comparison, but never mind.

There has been a lot of talk in various places about The Future, and how we’re all doooooomed, and we’re all going to end up shooting each other over the last can of baked beans in T*sco (whose shareholders have rejected HFW’s chicken idea, the barstewards) and I’ve been trying desperately to point out to anyone who’ll listen that this does not necessarily have to be the case, and that while it’s important to be prepared for the worst, if we go around acting like the worst is definitely going to happen… well, it’s more likely to happen than if we do something to try and avert it. (Like, say, if the motivated people who are aware of what’s going on and why all get terribly depressed and mistrustful and bunker down with tins of food and firearms we’re more likely not to have any of the systems in place that can mitigate disaster and therefore there are more likely to be rampaging, hungry mobs than if, say, they band together and encourage the creation or continuation of resilient local food systems, sustainable textiles and building materials, and so on and so forth.)

However, sometimes I do feel nauseatingly Pollyanna-ish (I do it for your own good, people 🙂 ), and I was wondering if perhaps I was coming off as painting too cheerful a picture of our post-oil future. After all, just because woodburners are nicer than gas central heating, and gardening and making jam are more fun than sitting at a computer all day, and if we had no telly and no internet Scientist Boyfriend and I would probably spend more time talking and playing Scrabble, doesn’t mean there won’t be a load of things I’ll miss (my iTunes playlist, 24/7 Bach if I want it… washing machines… not having to chop wood in Arctic temperatures…). And also, gardening and making jam are a lot more fun when I know Waitrose is just down the road. I made rhubarb and ginger jam yesterday, and effectively buggered it all up (though I might be able to sort it out), and if that had been my stock of rhubarb jam for the whole winter, the consequences would be a lot direr than just feeling slightly peeved that this lot didn’t work when all the other jam I’ve ever made set perfectly. Same when my pepper plant was dug up, or my pak choi got munched by slugs. I was thinking about this when I was spinning and when I was knitting my sock – back in the days when this was how all socks were made, people wouldn’t have had many pairs of socks!

I’ve recently read Affluenza, by Oliver James, which was really interesting. I didn’t agree with all of it, but one point he did raise was that in Shanghai, one of the cities he studies, material wealth does generally correlate with happiness. He explores some of the differences in Chinese and Western philosophy and culture which might cushion the people of Shanghai against ‘affluenza’, but ultimately agrees with the hypothesis that in 20 years’ time, they’ll in all likelihood have the same rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders etc that we have in the West (except Denmark, Denmark seem to have pretty much cracked it, but their childcare system is flawed). Similar themes were picked up in a Guardian article at the weekend: basically, having more stuff makes you happier up to a point, such as getting indoor plumbing, or your first electric sewing machine, or your first car, but after you’ve got a certain amount of stuff, the thrill of getting a different coloured bathroom, or a newer, bigger car, doesn’t give you the same buzz and you just get trapped into a cycle of working more to buy more stuff because you believe it will make you happier, while losing valuable things like relationships with your family and community. (And that, folks, was the whole of postindustrial social and economic history. Tune in next week, when Hamster summarises the complete works of Tolstoy in one paragraph.)

I can mostly agree with this logic, although I do get very acquisitional whenever I go into the yarn section of John Lewis and I love pretty old houses and beautiful textiles and owning shelves of books. Would my life be terrible if I don’t have those things? Probably not, though having shelter, clothing and entertainment/intellectual stimulation in some form would be nice…

But overall, although there are certainly things I do that are unsustainable in the long-term, I find that rather than getting upset about not being able to have 24/7 Bach (do I really need something as wonderful as the Mass in B Minor or The Well-Tempered Clavier as mere background noise when I cook anyway?), I’d rather put my energy into finding ways of… not replacing them, per se, but finding something roughly equivalent that I can carry on having. Like a piano. 🙂 As with food, being a producer as well as a consumer, as Mr Hopkins would put it.

And so, when reflecting on the fact that I have been utterly let down by my education* and I’m going to have to pretty much teach myself (or at least actively seek out someone to teach me) all the skills I am probably going to need in order to thrive in my future life, I don’t find it very helpful to concentrate on the probable widespread poverty and drudgery, the potential for social disorder, or the possibility for days-long power cuts, or any of the Mad Max-type scenarios. I don’t deny they are a possibility, I just a) feel they are an unlikely one and b) can’t really do much about them.

So I let that negativity in, the fear and the loss, but I then try and focus on the positives. Okay, so we won’t be able to travel as much, but we might find or create more to interest us in our local communities. Okay, so we might have to do more hard, outdoors, physical work, but we’ll have better food and probably be healthier. Okay, we won’t be able to blog and use internet forums as much, but we might write more letters and get more post that isn’t bills. And the internet, for all its wonders, is not an unalloyed boon: I have RSI in my right wrist (and really shouldn’t be typing this) and an irritating tendency never to get around to doing anything, because I believe I can do it any time, because somehow broadband creates that illusion in my mind.

Sharon Astyk summed it up well, I think, here:

And the answer, I suspect, is [I am intentionally romanticising subsistence agriculture] a little bit, in the sense that I don’t think anything is served by my saying, “your future and the future of your children is drudgery and misery.” I think it is certainly possible that I elide some difficulties – or rather, that I prefer not to focus on them. Some of that is the optimist issue – I am one, despite my dark prognosis for our culture. And part of it is that ultimately most of the things that will necessarily get harder aren’t the things I value most. That is, I suspect our physical loads will get heavier. On the other hand, I suspect that will only be good for my overall health and wellbeing, so I choose to look at it not as a negative, but as mostly a positive.

So that, really, is my plea to everyone who is worried and concerned about the future. Allow yourself to worry, get it out of your system, and then stop worrying. Decide that you are going to be aware of the bad stuff, and start examining the things in your life that you will miss and the things you definitely won’t and try and work out a way to compensate for the things you will. Think about the things you might look forward to and focus on them.

Choose to see things as positive.

Talk to your loved ones. Get a piano. Be nice to old people. Don’t overcook your jam.

* Not the part at Oxford, where I was encouraged to think critically and manage my own learning, with occasional intervention from the finest minds in their field – the part at my hideous, pushy girls’ independent school, but that’s a story for another day.

June 27, 2008 at 4:14 pm 3 comments

History of Oil

Here is Robert Newman’s History of Oil a stand-up comedy show about peak oil, which, apart from the rather tasteless part about composting the Pope, is excellent – just the kind of eccentric, erudite comedy I love. Watch it.

Bizarrely enough, I found the link to it from the Girl with a one-track mind blog, which, yet more bizarrely, I was linked to by Almost Mrs Average. Funny old world.

June 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm 1 comment

Independence days update…

This is waaaay overdue. But I have done much this month. I’ve also decided learning new skills comes under prepping!

Planted something: did a second sowing of pak choi, rocket and lettuce; potted a strawberry runner.

Harvested something: few more strawberries; picked some elderflowers; cut and come again lettuces are sooo close! pick

Preserved something: tried to make elderflower cordial but it didn’t really work. Hmph.

Cooked something new: broad beans in various forms, made veggie bean-burgers, used the pea shoots from the veg box.

Managed reserves: Waitrose own-brand pasta was back so we stocked up on that. Using up some of the older dried beans in the cupboard and wondering where to get more from as the supermarket ones all seem old and fall apart.

Prepped something: learned various new things at the Downsizer weekend, including making sausages, using a scythe, gutting a chicken 8) and lots of things about bees. Have been inspired to join the local beekeeping association and learn things from them as a long-term project. Got to the end of one sock, now just got to graft the toe. Also going to the fleece workshop this Saturday!

Worked on local food systems: have given lettuces to two friends and herbs to one – muahahaha. Talked about bees to anyone who will listen. Plugging away with the leaflet too. Also bought some local flour at the independent health food shop, and I could get spices from there (not that they’re local) but they come in plastic bags and Bart ones come in glass jars. Ohh, I hate when it gets all complicated….

June 18, 2008 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

Last light?

Well, I read Last Light, all 483 pages of it, in about 24 hours. That’s how lightweight it is. Seriously, top marks to Mr Scarrow for such a fab idea, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by it. No, in fact parts of it frustrated me so much I ranted to Scientist Boyfriend for so long last night he asked, ‘So why are you still reading it?’

I’m now going to pick it to shreds and give lots of spoilers so if you want to read it (I have a copy I’m happy to swap for something useful) stop now!

Basically, if you want a good boys’ adventure novel then this is an excellent romp, lots of raping and pillaging set against a backdrop of deserted motorways and supermarkets with all their windows smashed in. If you happen to believe the human race is too stupid and selfish to co-operate and grow a potato or something then this will have you nodding in agreement.

However, the general format consisted of 480 pages of cold baked beans and police officers shooting people followed by 3 pages of chickens. I’ll come onto the troubling presentation of gender roles in a moment, but what frustrated me most about the general ‘we’re all dooooooomed’ focus of the novel was that the huge advantage peak oil has over climate change (if that’s not a weird way of putting it) is that you can inspire people to do something about it by enthusing them about the good food, the community, the actual positive things you can do and have rather than just painting an apocalyptic vision of the future and banging on about the stuff we can’t do and can’t have and how we have to cut back and deny ourselves things.

The novel centres around a family and the dad has been aware of how dependent society is on oil and how scary things could get if there was a sudden disruption in supply for years, and all he wants his family to do in that situation is bunker down and eat canned pilchards and cold baked beans. Personally speaking, that kind of survivalist vision makes me want to be among the first to be speared by the baying mob – what’s the point in surviving just to sit on top of your store cupboard picking off your neighbours with a sniper rifle? Now, I know it’s a novel, a large part of the dramatic tension of which centred around the fact that his family hadn’t listened to him (there was lots of, ‘If only she’d listened to her husband instead of watching Big Brother‘ and suchlike and Scarrow did explain why they were still in an affluent suburb of London rather than in rural Wales), but in the supermarket they didn’t think to buy any vegetables because, ‘How are we going to cook them when the power goes off?’ Nope, it was all cans of baked beans. The dad hadn’t thought to suggest buying a few camping gas rings that could be used indoors or on a patio (the thought of the apocalypse without tea is obviously a less frightening prospect for him than for me) and the fact that carrots and apples, to name just two fresh products, can be eaten raw and store well crossed nobody’s mind at all. He’d never thought to get the family a dog that could act as a guard dog, there was no mention of a vegetable garden or allotment and nobody actually seemed to have any useful skills that might help them in a post-oil world. Even the most peak-aware character had only prepared for the short-term raping-and-pillaging scenario and totally ignored the long-term adjustments necessary to sustain life after the relatively brief disaster period.

And as for the social and gender stereotyping… Oof, where do I start?! Well, this is a book where lots of people die. The men generally die brawling in the rather boring back-story set in Iraq; the women generally are picked off by the shady, predatory hitman, aside from the strongest, most interesting female character who is savaged by a baying, thirsty mob of chavs in tracksuits after saving her friend. The teenage daughter (who spends most of the book looking after her younger brother, her mother having selfishly exercised her independence as a human being to go off to a job interview in Manchester rather than staying in London to look after her children and doing what her husband says) is pursued by a gang of teenage boys and there are a few almost-rape scenes there, and the mother, too, is almost raped by someone who until then has been very helpful to her in a weakly motivated scene set in a Travelodge with a minibar.

During the pointless Iraq back-story, there is a brief moment of character development and social commentary, in which the Texan is lambasting the Iraqi translator because, in his mind, all Muslims are savages, and the main character (the dad) thinks to himself (in his capacity as smug, Western, liberal atheist) that if it wasn’t for its reliance on God and its rather screwed-up attitude towards women, shariah law might not be so bad. This character is clearly the voice of ‘reason’ throughout the novel, but the (at best dubious) logic of this statement is totally undermined by the fact that the rest of the novel seems to be telling us that Peak Oil (always referred to in capitals) is this strange, mystical, powerful force that is a) punishing the non-believers who didn’t heed the warnings of the prophets and chose instead to walk in a vain shadow, disquiet themselves in vain, heap up riches and never know who shall gather them, and b) forcing a violent, dramatic return to traditional gender roles (during the Iraq back-story, the dad has praise heaped upon him for being all alpha-male instead of just a geeky geologist, and he can’t wait till his wife can hear about that and praise him herself for having been right all along). I got the feeling that the author was somehow getting off on this.

I haven’t yet decided if this is a superb, ironic flash of brilliance in an otherwise intellectually undemanding book or just another example of the fact that the author hasn’t thought through any of the less blood-and-guts-y ramifications of peak oil, like, how the Industrial Revolution and the hydrocarbon age have impacted on how we view religion and gender roles (he recommends in the postscript that we read Matt Savinar instead of Sharon Astyk, though – we’re doomed people 😉 ). I’m going to invoke my Oxford degree in literature and deduce from the unimaginative prose and the author’s irritating habit of inserting chapter breaks solely for suspense rather than for any genuine narrative reason that it’s the latter. But I could be being unfair here.

I am being a bit unfair. I am, despite all I’ve just said, absolutely thrilled that there is a fiction book about peak oil, and I recognise that it was meant to be an artificial situation, manufactured to be the worst case scenario and it doesn’t necessarily mean Scarrow really thinks it’s going to unfold like that in real life.

But what I would really have liked was more chickens. 480 pages of chickens, tomatoes that taste really good, and healthy, svelte people thriving in the outdoors and having far more fun than they ever did when they commuted to work and bought food in T*sco. 480 pages of people learning to knit and work the land and realising they didn’t have to be specialists, but they could be physically fit, artistically creative and intellectually satisfied (you have far more time to think in the garden or when knitting than when you’re working at a computer or watching telly), and the agonising decisions could not be, ‘Do I buy baked beans or canned pilchards?’ (doesn’t really matter unless you also buy a book on gardening and preserving) or, ‘Do I shoot my neighbour or let him shoot me?’ (no-brainer), but instead we could angst about the main character’s brother who lives in Australia and how they won’t be able to see each other as easily in a post-oil world, or about how to reconcile the need to do things like baking and mending clothes with the fact that society has finally acknowledged women are people (something that conveniently only happened after the invention of the washing machine). We could wonder how people were going to care for the elderly and disabled: who would do it, whose responsibility would it be? We could have comedy scenes involving raising chickens in a suburban back garden, or people overcoming their reluctance to use Mooncups. And yes, we could then maybe have 3 pages of the shooting (and miraculously not running out of ammunition) and the raping and the pillaging and the dying and the horro, because these things are important to consider, but really, in the context of the whole of humanity and the whole of our post-peak existence as a species, the total, sudden collapse is a) only one of the ways in which the future might unfold, and b) only a very short period of this possible future anyway, and after a few days we’ll have run out of ammunition and people will be too hungry to riot. Sure, store food, but you can’t store enough to feed you and your family forever, so instead of focussing on that focus on growing things and keeping chickens. Sure, things might get nasty and we might have to shoot our neighbours and in a me-and-mine-or-them scenario only the most selfless of us wouldn’t ‘pull the trigger’, but we don’t need to have endless debates about whether we’d pull the trigger, cos no-one wants to talk about that, and sooner or later we’re going to have to talk to our neighbours, or someone else at any rate.

In case you can’t tell, it really annoys me that such a vocal contingent of the ‘peak-aware’ think the best/only outcome is total, sudden social collapse and the best/only response is the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ scenario; because if the people who know and are prepared bunker themselves away with their canned beans and their stash of bullets, then of course we will have people trying to get in and steal it and of course they’ll shoot at the baying mob. Duh! So, look out for yourself, look out for your family and then can we please try and harness some of this energy and knowledge and do things like plant community gardens and stuff? Please?

I know what happens when I say this: I get called an ‘idealist’ (like it’s a bad thing!) by people who think the opposite of optimism is realism (it’s not, people, that would be pessimism, thank you), but hear me out. I have a cupboard full of rice and beans, I have a contingency plan (to try and get to my parents’ house in Northumberland, where people have vegetable gardens and talk to their neighbours) and if anyone tried to have their wicked way with me I would damn well expect Scientist Boyfriend to step in and do something nasty to them, but I refuse to let that be the extent of my preparation. It’s really a very small part, and I’m not saying it’s not vital or worthwhile – it is; but the other stuff, the talking to my neighbours even though we have nothing in common, the joining FOE even though I don’t agree with everything they stand for, the swapping plants and seeds on Freecycle (in short, the boring, mundane, un-glamorous stuff that’s more like hard work), is not just some silly, girly, ‘I refuse to deal with reality’ way of looking at the future. Because if we all assume it’s going to be raping and pillaging, it will be. At least if we try and do something positive we stand a teeny, weeny chance of avoiding killing each other over the last can of pilchards in T*sco.

Because there are some things that are worth dying for. And canned pilchards aren’t on my list.

May 30, 2008 at 11:18 am 2 comments

Doom, gloom and asparagus

I fell asleep to The World Tonight telling me that all the major newspapers were leading today (or tomorrow, as it was yesterday) with the news that oil prices have gone mental and we’re all doooooomed. The media seems to have gone from, ‘Gosh, high oil prices, something should be done!’ to, ‘Holy cr*p, sky-rocketing oil prices, nothing to be done!’ in a few short weeks. The above is a rather funky little cartoon the Telegraph had about it, although I’m a bit concerned that the people using their car as a greenhouse looked a bit like Roald Dahl’s The Twits. This is not good marketing for the post-oil era.

The most priceless is the Mail’s take on it – yesterday they ran an article about how we’d all confused ‘need’ and ‘want’ and spent far too much money on stuff we didn’t need and should learn how to budget and make do, going without if necessary, (and this is all a direct consequence of women being allowed to be autonomous beings instead of staying at home darning socks and making sure their husbands didn’t drink all the housekeeping money – I’m not saying there’s no truth in this, but the patronising way they phrased it got right under my fingernails), and today, we have a front-page article which includes quotes like, ‘People have to be able to afford to use the car,’ and, ‘It’s getting more expensive to keep warm, put food on the table and… buy holiday flights.’

My asparagus last night was lovely, though as there was far too much and I was beginning to find it rather sickly, some of it found its way into the Bokashi bin (I know, I know, peak oil and wasting food in the same post, terrible). I did a recipe from the River Cafe Green book, asparagus carbonara – basically, cook asparagus, toss in hot butter, mix up egg yolks with Parmesan, add to cooked pasta and grate on LOADS more Parmesan – which was yummy. That book is full of very clever recipes and lovely pictures, but I’ve never used it much, largely because I got it at the end of last summer and most of the winter recipes are for things like chickpeas or dried mushrooms, which I do eat, but I feel it will come into its own more now we’re getting into summer and there’s more fresh veg. The tomato and courgette recipes are much more inspiring!

May 23, 2008 at 10:34 am 1 comment

Such a waste

Sometimes (and perversely), one of the things that gives me most hope for Western society is that there is so much inefficiency into the system that we have a lot of slack to play around with before things really start to bite. So many people waste so much food that we can start using that third of all the food we buy, which will stave off the effects of the food shortages. Most of our houses are so shockingly insulated and we’re so shockingly wasteful with energy, that there are a lot of insulating and efficiency measures we can put in place before absolute shortages of fuel kick in. We import a lot of food, but we also export a lot: the Transition Handbook is currently chez a friend from FOE so I can’t find the figures, but it’s something along the utterly insane lines that we import virtually the same amount of wheat, flour, butter, milk, lettuces etc as we export, so that food is still there, being produced in our country, to step into the place of imports, should it ever become necessary or strike someone as sensible. As I commented, driving back from watching Crude Awakening through the 1960s ‘new town’ of Bracknell, the saving grace of suburbia is the huge expanses of manicured lawns by the sides of the roads and at junctions that could be turned over to food production if necessary.

I’m not pretending inefficiency is a good thing or that it isn’t contributing in a huge way to the problem, but sometimes I wonder if it might offer us a cushion, a more gentle way in to being sustainable.

May 10, 2008 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

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August 2020
The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."