November 21, 2006

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the States, so that means a short work week for yours truly, and probably a lighter posting load as family events dominate the latter half of the week.

I’d like to take a quick second to thank the regular readers of this blog, and to especially thank the owners of other blogs who have MEOW on their blogroll. I started this blog as a way for me to think and write about peak oil and it’s related issues in a public forum of some sort. I’m grateful for those of you who have found your way here and think enough of my writing to keep coming back. I sincerly hope I’ve given you some additional information and insights to ponder concerning our eventual transtition to a low-energy future.

As a small way of saying thanks, I’ve added links to all of the other sites I’ve found that have a link to here. Please take some time and check these other sites out.

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, have a happy holiday. I hope you’re able to spend it with those people who matter to you.


October 24, 2006

My son had his pre-kindergarten screeing test yesterday and handily passed. While we think he’s a smart little guy, he’s right on the cusp of the age range for going to school in fall 2007, and we were not sure if he’d be ready or not. He may still not be ready from a maturity standpoint, but at least in the school district’s eyes he’s shown all of the prequisite skills needed for entry. In light of this, we decided to celebrate last night an took him to his favorite restaurant (the Rainforest Cafe at the Mall of Mammon) as a surprise.

He was thrilled. I personally think the food is mediocre and overpriced, and the anti-consumerist in me hates going to the temple of materialism that is the MOA, but in the eyes of one special little 4 year-old, that place is a slice of heaven. I still winced when I got the bill, but seeing the joy on my son’s face made me remember that there’s more to life than money.

After enjoying a loud, racuous meal, we got back out into the main area of the mall when the missus declared that she had “a few things that she needed to pick up while we’re out here.” So we ambled down one of the concourses towards a soap shop. We both noticed that a sizeable percentage of the mall patrons that night were Muslim… maybe forty percent or more of the people. This seemed rather odd to us, until I remembered that we were getting towards the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan. In fact last night was the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr if my dates are correct, which is a major holiday in Islam. There were many Somali families out and about that night, dressed nicely and looking to enjoy themselves. The amusement park was busy, and the sounds of laughing children filled the air. An unusual Monday night in Minnesota for many of us, but a special night for some.

While I tend to do more ranting on this blog than anything, there’s much more to life than simply wringing one’s hands about the future. What comes will come, and while it’s important to be aware of the changes that are coming in life, that’s no reason to not celebrate the joys that happen in the here and now. Yesterday was a particularly good day for people in my circle of acquaintances; we had one child pass a milestone on his path to maturity, my brother-in-law got a new job with a hefty raise that will help him support his family better, and some close friends had a healthy baby. If that day isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

Make Money Fast!

August 17, 2006

Want a quick way to double your money? Hoard old coins. With rising commodity costs for metals, it’s turning out that a lot of US coinage is currently worth more than it’s face value.

One quick example: US Pennies minted between 1959 and 1982 are almost pure copper. Currently, the metal in one of those pennies is worth $.023. Likewise, soaring nickel costs mean that current nickels are worth $.068 each. Current dimes and quarters are still worth more than their metal, and will be for a while due to the fact that they’re mostly zinc.

If you’re lucky enough to have pre-1964 dimes, quarters and half-dollars, you’re sitting on a silver mine of sorts, since all of these coins were 90% silver. You’ll occasionally pull one of these out of everyday circulation, and I personally keep them when I do. A pre-1964 quarter is worth over $2 just for it’s metal these days.

For more information, check out Coinflation.

Slow Posting Week

August 17, 2006

Apologies for the relatively light posting this week. I’m still carving my way through Edward Griffin’s “The Creature from Jekyll Island,” and I’ve got some more things I want to write about it, but it will take me some time to get my thoughts in order.

In the meantime, I’ll hopefully post some smaller articles of note. If nothing else, relative peace in the Middle East combined with a lax start to hurricane season and resumption of some flow from Pruhoe Bay have resulted in gas falling to the ‘bargain’ price of $2.84 or so around here. I can’t help but thinking this is a bargain when I see it, even though I realize how the price has gone steadily up since early 2005. Everything we’re seeing indicates that we’re in the ‘plateau’ of peak oil production. Production may rise a bit, then fall as some fields decline or come online. The price of oil (and everything that depends on it) will move accordingly.

As a piece of advice, if you have a desire for any durable goods from overseas, I’d buy yourself a Christmas present or two this year. The next few years will be the end of the window for getting goods from overseas cheaply, I think, so do yourself a favor and get the good stuff now while it’s still reasonable.

The Strib is Waking Up

August 9, 2006

In the aftermath of BP announcing the temporary (we hope) shutdown of their main Alaskan oil field, Governor Pawlenty has been all over the local media once again promoting ethanol as America’s savior from the perils of oil addiction. I heard him on NPR this morning wishing we’d started this 20 years ago, we’re leading the way on ethanol & biodiesel production, etc, etc. The usual campaign-year boilerplate from what I could tell. I hope all of the corn farmers in Minnesota are suitable impressed…

The StarTribune has posted a couple of interesting articles on the subject today. While I’m not normally a fan of the Minneapolis paper, I’ll give them props for their editorial today, which is the strongest statement I’ve seen locally about reducing our reliance on oil. While they don’t come out and say we’ve got to get used to using less energy in our day-to-day existence, they do use the following line, which is priceless:

The answer isn’t more drilling, as some conservatives urged in the wake of BP’s shutdown of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay field. That would be like giving a bigger meal to a fat man. What’s needed is a new direction.
Pass me a third helping of E85, please. I’ve gotta drive to the corner store to get more Cheezy-Poofs…

Economics columnist Neil St. Anthony also writes about Dr. Pawlenty’s magical corn elixir, coming out and actually stating that there’s no way the US can produce enough corn to fuel more than maybe 20% of our current gasoline needs. He then pulls me back from my happy place by ending his column with the notion that hybrids and alternative fuels will pull us back from our dangerous reliance on oil and the foreign despots that own it all. I suppose I shouldn’t have counted on an economics guy to actually use the word ‘conserve’ in a column of his; he’d probably get his economist card revoked.

While both stories end up pulling their punches at the last moment, I’m happy they’re at least starting to tell people that there’s no way we can keep living the way we are right now. The editorial piece in particular is doing away with the usual happy-talk that the major papers usually push out. Perhaps this is just the start of a master plan for slowly breaking the news to people in small amounts. A dreamer can always hope, right?

Getting the Word Out

August 7, 2006

The whole field of study revolving around oil depletion, food security, financial crisis and sustainabilitty is the collective failure of public relations efforts. It’s an issue that’s bugged me for some time now, and I’m thinking about ways to get the message out. There are a number of issues with this that I’m going to discuss in this article, and I’d love to get some feedback on them.

The first issue is trying to ‘sell’ what’s essentially a negative message. Most people, when they expend any time at all on recreational reading, don’t wish to hear about how their future and all their preparations for it, are basically going to be flushed down the toilet. On TV, for example, ‘reality shows’ are great as long as it’s someone else’s reality that’s being jacked with. There’s seems to be a growing subconscious realization among Americans that something is wrong with our nation, but most people choose to submerge themselves in diversions of one sort or another to avoid the subject. Witness the popularity of talent shows, reality TV, sports, and other entertainments. Much like late Imperial Rome, bread & circuses are becoming more and more necessary to keep the ‘mob’ in line. As the price of bread goes up, I wonder how much more sensationalized the circuses will become?

There is a need to have some commentators step up and try to frame the issue as neutrally as possible. As much as I like the writings of James Kunstler (let’s leave the whole pro-Israel thing out of it, for this discussion, as it’s off-topic), he’s a poor advocate for doing anything, in my opinion, since his message is basically a sensationalized version of “we’re screwed, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.” That’s great fodder for the true believers, but it does nothing to try and motivate the rest of America. Richard Heinberg would be a decent candidate, I think, for he seems to be able to write coherently about peak oil without making everything into an end-of-the-world scenario. While he definitely has a liberal bias, he can keep it under control much better than some others out there, and he doesn’t seem to revel in anticipation of upcoming turmoil like some others do.

As a side issue, reader Liz commented in one of my earlier posts that there is a definite lack of female peak oil advocates. She’s not the first person to realize this, as Shepherd Bliss has written several articles on this subject (linked at Energy Bulletin Part1/Part2/Part3). I have no idea why this is, but it’s a damn shame, since having some rational, female voices added to the fray would be very beneficial. There are several women who do write on both peak oil and related subjects, and I can recommend the sites of Carolyn Baker, Paula Hay, and Catherine Austin Fitts, among others. If anyone knows why women don’t seem to raise their voices as much as they should, I’d love to hear the reasons. This journey we’re about to undertake will affect all of us equally.

The next issue is how to break out of the echo chamber that’s set up around peak oil. While there are a few ‘conservative’ advocates out there like Roscoe Bartlett and Matthew Simmons, most of the people actively trying to raise awareness for these issues are of a liberal bent to one degree or another. In today’s polarized political climate, this means that half of the population will likely tune these people out because they’re liberals… a classic case of shooting the messenger before you’ve even heard the message. Bryant Urstadt’s article in the latest issue of Harper’s sets biases before you even get into the meat of the subject. “Scenes from a Liberal Apocalypse” automatically casts the issue as one that’s only of interest to hippy eco-fascists, and it’s since it’s a ‘liberal apocalypse’, that seems to imply that it’s some sort of secularist version of the rapture. While there are some people out there who think this will be the likely outcome of things, it’s unfair to paint the whole crowd that way, and it’s unhelpful in getting an honest dialog started.

Control of the media is another stumbling block. Jeffrey Brown does a nice job of arguing how the “Iron Triangle” of automotive/housing/financial companies, oil companies, and mass media have a vested interest in keeping the status quo running for as long as possible, extracting as much money out of the American consumer as possible before things come crashing down. This is despicable, but it also fits perfectly with Wall Street’s demands for short-term performance over long-term stability. The people at the top of the corporate food chain will rake in hefty profits for as long as they can, and then skip out to a safer part of the world once things become untenable here. So, we get stories either setting up strawman arguments or attempting to debunk the theory instead of any real information. This is changing slowly, but the really balanced stories are still few and far between.

With most of the major corporations of the world being true multinationals now, the United States becomes just another market to be exploited and then exited when it becomes unprofitable. This is the reason that the government doesn’t see anything overly alarming about exploding debt both for the government and the individual consumer, in my opinion. use the good name and bond rating of the United States for as long as possible to achieve the goals that the ‘elite’ deem worthy, and then stick the average American with the bill, which he or she will not be able to pay. I only have one credit card right now, and don’t carry a balance on it. I have a fixed rate-mortgage on my house and I am making progress (albeit slow) on reducing my principle. I hope many of you are in the same position, for the changes to the bankruptcy laws and universal default are aiming to make as many people as possible into debt slaves of one sort or another.

So, what to do? We have a clearly set of defined problems, but no real way to get the message out beyond the internet, which will work, but slowly. The first step is getting yourself into as good a situation as you can.

Part of the solution to oil depletion is relocalization. If you’re not living in a place where you’re close to work and your support group, getting there as fast as you can should be a priority. Moving to where I did recently doesn’t make sense from a long-term perspective, since I’m still in the burbs in a modern house with all of it’s dependence on energy. However, I can bike to work & shopping, and walk to both my in-laws and my sister-in-law’s places. Like many people, while I may be on-board with reducing my energy consumption and downscaling into a smaller, more energy-efficient house, my spouse isn’t, and probably won’t be until it’s obvious that the way of life we all grew up being used to isn’t working anymore. While the issues of oil depletion and sustainability are important to me, I’m not about to wreck both my marriage and my children’s lives over it, so we’ll stay where we are for a while and see how things go. I’m lucky in that my in-laws have a spacious house that is totally paid-off on a nice piece of land, so there’s always that safety net if it’s needed.

But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that you need to figure out where the best possible location for you is and try to get there. Perhaps it’s where you already live… if so, that’s fantastic. Once you’ve figured that out, I think that finding a local group of people is important, and that’ harder than it seems. Car culture has destroyed many local systems. Unlike things several generations ago, we don’t work with our neighbors anymore. Neither do we shop with them. It’s a rare surprise when I’m out shopping at the local grocery store, etc, when I run into a co-worker or neighbor. Usually, both parties seem to be shocked at seeing someone they know, and they quickly move on to completing their tasks. We seem to thrive on anonymity in most things that we do.

The two areas I can think of where we truly interact with our neighbors are school and church. (N.B. – This could be any religious organization: mosque, synagogue, etc., but I’m Lutheran, so I’ll call it church). Both of these issues present problems, for in both cases you’ll probably be seen as either trying to brainwash people, or causing disunity & trouble. Since both of these local groups are control structures, I’m not sure that anyone would have much success in alerting people to the coming crises, or doing anything about it once you’ve made your points.

As an aside, I think that a real Christian church would be a great place to get the word out; unfortunately most churches these days seem much more concerned with not rocking the boat, making everyone feel happy and keep the money rolling in, versus actually challenging anyone to live up to the teachings of the Bible, etc. In the church’s early days, theology and issues of faith were of primary importance to the majority of the people, whereas today’s Christianity, regardless of denomination, has become a vehicle that performs a few tasks in regards to setting basic morality for kids, but otherwise is something that people feel vaguely obligated to attend once a week, hopefully ending before the football game starts. Before confirmed secularists start sweating and navigating away, I’m not a die-hard Christian, nor especially religious. Faith or lack thereof is a personal decision, and I’m a foe of organized religion for the reasons I’ve listed above… OK; rant over .

Anyway, I’ve wasted a lot of space describing the reasons why peak oil awareness seems confined to a pretty small group of people. I’ve been thinking about ways to get the message spread out more, but long story short, I’m stumped. Does anyone else have any ideas? Post a comment. I’d be glad to hear what you’ve got to say.

A Little Disclosure

July 28, 2006

There’s an interesting post at OIFS today in which Jim discusses his transition from viewing his lifestyle choices as trying to be morally superior to seeing them as the most logical way to prepare for the changes that are coming. He mentions me in that post as one of the people “actively preparing” for that future, and I thought I’d take a few minutes to give people a hint as to what I am doing.

A quick look at my profile shows that I’m living in suburban sprawl of the Twin Cities metro area. Hardly the place for the someone who claims to be concerned about our future to be living, right? Well, it depends on your vision for the future, and what you want out of it. I believe our way of life and its supporting systems will collapse some time in the next decade or two. I wish I could narrow the timeframe more than that, but there are simply too many unknown variables in play right now to make a more accurate assessment than that. If pressed, I’d say that by 2015, the changes will be undeniable. That said, I don’t think we’re going all the way to Mad Max or a similar anarchical hell. We’ll be living much more locally; not many people will be commuting 30 miles each way to and from work unless you’re fortunate enough to be near public transport of some sort, and are willing to sacrifice 4 or more extra hours out of your day to get to and from your workplace.

Most assessments show that in 2020, even if we’ve peaked now, we’ll still be producing roughly the same amount of oil as we were in 1980. That’s still a hell of a lot of gasoline and associated products, but with a lot more people on the planet demanding access to that oil, prices will be much higher. The net result of this is a lot less commuters, a lot less discretionary income to be spent on tech toys, cheap clothing that needs to be replaced every season, and other crap. People will need to make wiser choices about where they live, what they buy, and how they eat. So, will the road system crumble? No, but there will be a lot less cars on the road.

Anyway, I grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs; it’s what I’m most comfortable with and where my family chooses to live. I don’t know that I’m cut out for the rural, agricultural life, and while I have nothing against living in the city, the advantages don’t outweigh the disadvantages for me at this time. My current residence is new, relatively energy-efficient for a traditional house, and we’re located within walking distance of most of my wife’s family, and within biking distance of work, shopping, etc. I’ve got between 1/5 and 1/4 of an acre that I could potentially turn into a permaculture garden, but for now I’ll content myself with some raised vegetable beds and ‘decorative’ flowers, herbs and other plants that can pass themselves off as landscaping. No need to pick a fight with my fellow homeowners until it’s really needed.

I’ve also taken steps to wipe out pretty much all of my long-term debt except for my mortgage. I’m not as concerned over the mortgage for a few reasons:

  1. I’ve got a 30-year fixed rate that’s quite competitive over the long history of interest rates, and I’ll be paying down the principle at the same time. None of that dodgy interest-only ARM crap for me.
  2. The federal budget is so screwed up, and our money supply is so mismanaged that inflation (and perhaps hyperinflation) is pretty much guaranteed unless the US decides to simply default on it’s debt obligations, which I don’t see happening, especially under Helicopter Ben’s watch.
  3. When you get right down to it, private ownership of property is pretty much a myth in the USA. If the government wants your property, they’ll take it. Whether they do it by eminent domain, raising your property taxes sky-high, or via executive order, they will take what they need, when they need it. Search on ‘Executive Order 11490′ or ‘FEMA private property’ sometime.

So, I’ll stay where I am until I pay the property off, or it’s taken away from me. In the latter event, I’ve got family with plenty of extra room nearby. At any rate, it’s impractical to think that everyone will up and abandon the hundreds of thousands of homes that inhabit the Twin Cities suburbs to either move back into town, or to the small towns and take up farming. Most people don’t have the skills to raise food properly, especially in a low-energy setting. Many of us will have to make a go of it in the burbs, and until my family decides otherwise, I’ll be one of them. We’re expected to add another million people to the area by 2020 or so, and that’s before taking into account any migrations of people from regions that will be hammered by rising energy costs like the Southwest, or even the old South. These people will need to live somewhere, and I’m guessing that the in-filling of Minneapolis, Saint Paul and the inner-ring suburbs will only handle some of them.

Most importantly, I’m trying to learn a new skill set based on what I see as being important for the future. I’m learning about bike maintenance, gardening, permaculture, cooking, green building and other related issues. While making money will always be important, I think it will become much more critical for people to be constructive members of their local society. My goal is to eventually be able to teach others on these subjects, since the more self-sufficient everyone becomes, the less I have to worry about my starving neighbors stealing all the produce out of my garden.

Finally, I’m trying to get the word out. My own family, like most of the people out there, either don’t agree with my views on the coming transition, or they simply don’t want to hear about it. Few people like to be told that their way of life is on life support, and that they’ll have to give up activities and patterns of life that are comforting to them. For some reason I can’t just sit back, read, and stew on it in private, so I’ve decided to set up this blog to hopefully start some discussions about coming changes, and to get out crucial bits of information that will make people think, if not take action.

I’m not setting myself up as a pillar of virtue, nor am I trying to sell anyone anything or convince them that the way of life I am choosing is the only correct path to survival. My goal is to inform, to help build the community of upper-Midwest peak oil/sustainability people, and start building the world my children will inhabit.

Obligatory Bike-Related Content for OIFS readers…

July 26, 2006

My son turns 4 next month, and we bought him a 16″ bike as a present. We bought a cheap one from our friendly neighborhood toymart since odds are good that he’ll use it for two years at the most, and if it gets 100 miles on it, I’ll consider myself fortunate that my kid loves biking. The next bike will be a higher-quality one, but for this first one, I figure I’d roll the dice and get a $60 cheapie and put it together by myself.

This particular model has both the skid-brake as well as hand brakes, but the hand brakes are almost totally worthless. I spent more time trying to get the cheap, stamped-metal sidepull brakes on my kid’s new bike working correctly than I did working on the brakes on my refurbished early 90s Schwinn Searcher. Tighten things up, but not too tight, or nothing works. The cabling keeps popping out of the guides, etc. I had foolishly planned on quickly putting the bike together and then washing & cleaning the gunk out of the Schwinn’s drivetrain. Silly me. An hour later and I called it a night.

Looking at the Schwinn in some detail, I’m guessing that I’ll be installing a new chain & new cassette at the end of the season anyway, since the cogs on several gears are really worn down. There fore I thin I’ll be skipping heavy-duty bike maintenance until the fall when I can take it into the basement, put it up on the repair stand, and strip it apart. I’m just getting back into biking after a long hiatus, so I bought this model from the good folks at the Sibley Bike Depot. $150 for a quality steel frame, fenders & Blackburn rack. Can’t beat the price, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to learn bike repair on that then on something new from the store.

Perhaps in a couple of years I’ll be able to shell out the dough for a nice Atlantis or something, but in the meantime, the Schwinn will do fine.


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