From Global To Local: What Peak Oil Means For You
You may not know it, but your life is going to change. And it's not because everyone is going to decide to be "green" because they are good people (although that may happen too): it's because we've hit the midway point of the world's oil reserves and there's no going back.
This is a simple matter of economics. You see, the world economy is global. The global economy is fed by and runs on oil. It's what allows us to have ceasar salad in November, with lettuce grown in California. It's how we can eat lamb in North America that's grown in New Zealand. It's how we can eat a fresh green apple in February, that's been shipped from South Africa.
It's not just food that we can get all year round. We can also afford to ship manufactured goods from anywhere - extremely cheap - because oil has been extremely cheap. That's allowed us to have a type of economy where we could make a decision to buy our labor in China and simply ship the product to where we wanted to sell it.
Life has been simple. Transportation didn't cost much. In many parts of the world, labor was cheap. So, first world corporations leveraged the developing world and made money hand over fist. It wasn't that we were "bad" people: it was economics.
Well, that's about to change.
Jeff Rubin, the former Chief Economist of CIBC World Markets in Canada and author of Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, is not a "green warrior" in the traditional sense. He's a numbers guy who has worked in the upper echelons of financial institutions. He runs statistical models based on our current consumption to develop his world view. Rubin says that if you look at the numbers - and he has - we'll be staring down the barrel of high triple digit prices for a barrel of oil in the next 3-5 years.
That alone will spur a revolution in our economy, away from globalization in distribution to locally made and locally produced items - and less dependence on oil. This will happen, quite simply, because the economics will change. While the green movement says that we can't afford to live the way we do because of the impact on our planet, Rubin says that we - quite literally - will not be able to afford the price of living the way we do, because we won't have the money to pay it.
We depend on cheap oil and it's just not going to be cheap anymore.
People are talking about peak oil now, but most of us have no idea what this means. The term "peak oil" indicates that we've now hit the maximum level of oil production that we will ever have. From this point on, production starts to drop - and prices start to go up.
Rubin is predicting North American gas prices of $7 a gallon or $2 per liter in the next few years. He is not giving us a decade to get to this price. He's saying: get ready - it's coming fast.
Rubin is not the only author talking about peak oil. Peter C. Newman, a man known for his books about politics and politicians, has also joined the discussion. His latest book is called Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change. In it, Newman and his co-authors look at how we can transform our cities from energy hogs to dynamic urban centers that are no longer tied to oil.
This is the crux of the peak oil phenomena. Almost half of the world's population lives in cities. Those cities have not been energy efficient. Transportation is just one example. People could commute from 50 miles out in a personally owned car: the city didn't have to provide a comprehensive infrastructure to move people because those people moved themselves. However, that world is declining - maybe rapidly - because the affordability of commuting will disappear. And that's just one example.
We need a new way to live, not only because we are poisoning the earth (which we are) but also because our national economies and our personal economies will not be able to sustain the curent way. With gas at $7 a gallon, commuting will cease to make sense. The personal car may go the way of the dodo. Importing food will cease to make sense, as will importing products from far-off places.
And, if the experts are right, economy will begin to revolve around food production - as it has in the past.
Local Economy Takes Over
Every community will have to be able to feed, clothe and make the products needed by those who live there. Cheap foreign labor won't matter when the cost of shipping doubles and triples and skyrockets upwards. We have to change our mindset to being able to take care of ourselves, within our own smaller, regional communities.
This may seem an "old" mindset. As little as just over 100 years ago, most families were capable of producing most of their own needs. Self-sufficiency wasn't a buzzword: it was just how people lived. Anything they needed was likely made by someone within a few miles of where they lived. Since then, we've seen a dramatic shift to specialization - in many parts of North America, economies are largely service based rather than commodity based. Actual manufacturing has been done in far off corners of the world. We ceased to do "dirty work".
The clothing industry is a great example. Almost all clothing sold in North America is made "off shore". Yet, not that long ago, the majority of clothing was made and sold here. That included every component of clothing, from the weaving of cloth to the production of fasteners and finishings.
What this means for us is that more of us will be making things rather than providing services. Our products won't be shipped around the world: they'll be sold down the street. That's not a bad thing - but it is a change that our local communities will have to make.
Preparing for Do-It-Yourself
The shift from buy to make is already afoot.
Such terms as "urban agriculture" are sneaking into our vocabulary. Urban agriculture changes the city from a net importer to a full provider for its own population. Urban agriculture is taking all sorts of forms, from roof top gardens on skyscrapers to container gardening on balconies. Instead of flowers grown just for beauty, you have the blooms of tomato plants that will later feed you.
This isn't that different from a few generations ago. Most of our greatgrandparents would have had a vegetable garden in the backyard. Many of them would also have planted a few fruit trees or bushes, rather than that decorative weeping willow. Our gardens can be both beautiful and functional: the beauty of the spring apple blossoms becomes the bounty of apples in the fall.
Preparing to take on more self-sufficiency is key. One of the easiest ways is to plant that garden and rediscover the joy of dirty hands and fresh produce (which have never seen plastic either.) Growing just a few staples can allow you to cut your grocery bill significantly while also allowing your children to see just how amazing it is to watch food grow.
Another great way to prepare for peak oil is to make sure everyone in the family has a bike with a carrier. Bikes are a great way to get around that most of us abandon once we hit adulthood. Re-appropriating the bike and making it part of your weekend errands will not only make you healthier - but will save money and the environment. Children love to help: take them along shopping and have them put some of the produce on their bike! You won't have to worry as much about $7 gas if you can get around with a gas-free vehicle.
Communities will be more important than ever. Without the same freedom to go long distances to get things, our neighbors become our insurance that we can get the products and services we need. Perhaps your friend down the street is great with mechanics and you have a reel mower that needs some attention. (Remember: with peak oil, that gas-guzzling lawn mower won't be the right option anymore.) So, your neighbor fixes your mower, and you give him some fresh food from your garden in return. Everybody wins.
Trade and barter are not bad words (except to the government, who doesn't know how to tax them.) If you have a skill at producing something, that could be your new job in the new economy!
We can become overwhelmed - or we can become excited at the opportunities that will present themselves. We can put our creativity and inventiveness into embracing local living - or we can be caught unaware. It's up to us.