The Road to What’s Next

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks contemplating the issues facing all of us, how things will play out, and how my life choices fit into the puzzle. 2006 has turned out to be an interesting year both for me personally and for the world as a whole.

On the global scale, the biggest issues have really been non-issues: The Israeli-Lebanon war ran out of steam before expanding into a regional conflict; the 2006 hurricane season has been a non-starter in terms of it’s affect on oil prices, and while the US economy has been slowing down (along with housing prices), it’s simply been a slowdown and not a ‘crash’ that some economic doomsayers have been predicting. The net result of all this has been a reduction of gasoline prices, a forecast of lower natural gas heating bills for the winter, and more bargains to be had at the shops. We have been getting bombarded with both email and snail mail offering bargains, special events and deep discount coupons (40% is not uncommon). I’m sure that others are experiencing the same thing.

On a personal level, the two main things that have changed for me have been our move to a new house, and my taking a personal inventory of my life. The new house we built is in the suburbs, cost way too much (lucky me for buying in at the top of the real estate bubble), and is otherwise a fairly standard modern house, albeit with some energy-saving features. The main benefit is that it’s much closer (less than a mile, in one case) to other members of the family, and it’s gotten us out of what was a toxic neighborhood full of self-important, snobbish people. It’s odd for me to be writing about the transition to a low-energy future while still living in a high-energy present, but that’s the path I’ve chosen, and I think it will hopefully add a different perspective on how the changes in society will affect us. There are plenty of other people who have struck out for a more simple life already, (Kevin from Cryptogon & Steven Lagavulin of Deconsumption among others). I salute their efforts and wish them well; I’m just not ready to make that change yet, and neither is the rest of my family. I’m not willing to sunder my family just to ‘walk the walk,’ so I will stay where I’m at for the near future, and attempt to dodge any claims of hypocrisy while doing so.

The second personal issue I’ve been dealing with is the overall direction of my life. I have a good life; loving wife, two healthy kids, good job, nice house, etc, but I have been getting more and more unhappy with living the “American Dream.” I’m not a pack rat, but I still have a lot of stuff. The old adage about stuff owning you as much as you own it is true, and I’ve been trying to get rid of as much of the old stuff as possible while only acquiring new stuff that’s durable, lasting, and that will still be of use 20 years from now. Out goes the personal electronics, novels, and collectibles, in come stuff relating to gardening, canning, bikes and brewing. My main battle is determining how to ‘withdraw’ from some of the more pernicious parts of our society while still remaining a part of it. I am trying to eat less pre-packaged, unhealthy crap, cut way down on the amount of TV I watch, and the hardest of all, but down on my internet usage. I lived without television for a few years without any real hardship, but I think I would go through severe withdrawl if I had to walk away from computers. I don’t know that I’m an ‘internet addict’, but I get a lot of my news, entertainment and shopping online, and I’m trying to reduce that somewhat.

There is a point to this ramble, trust me. I’m trying to do a stealthy downshifting of my personal life, for I’ve seen the future, and it comes with a lot of paradigm-shifting and plain old hard work. I could be better positioned to take advantage of that, but circumstances prevent a radical change, so I’m looking for a way to contribute to the peak-oil/sustainability movement that works within the framework of my life as it stands right now. This blog is one part of it, and I’m hoping to explore some other parts over the next week or so.

Once we pass the tipping point of the peak-oil plateau, we will have to come to grips with the idea that what constitutes a ‘good standard of life’ must change. Jeff Vail has a great quote that frames the main issue well:

Rigoberta Manchu Tu, an indigenous Mayan activist, commented that the US economy is predicated upon the exploitation of other, poorer economies. She further stated that wealth in the rest of the world necessarily required poverty in the US.

As the price of oil and other commodities rises, a lot of the trappings that we have come to associate with a decent standard of life will be unattainable to many of us. Things like two cars, or 25 pairs of shoes, or even a house with 1 bathroom per occupant may very well become luxuries that only a select few can afford. First, we need to prepare ourselves for this, and then we need to find ways to help others. Many writers are prediciting rioting, insurrections, and worse when this comes to pass., but it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m hoping to start a dialogue on ways people can proacively work to mitigate some of the worst possible outcomes. I don’t think we can avoid unpleasantness altogether and, quite frankly, most people won’t change without first being hit square between the eyes with a 2×4. There will be plenty of challenges ahead; mass change will require mass effort, and that means greenpunks/peakniks/environmentalists will have to venture outside of their normal comfort zones and engage groups of people that they otherwise would avoid like the plague. It will also require trying to find a message that will appeal to a wide audience, and that means limiting the rhetoric that fires up some of the more strident greenies out there. Baby steps before big ones…

Anyway, that’s the premise I’ve been working on. I hope you’ll find something worthy of your time in the coming posts.

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