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Page added on May 30, 2014

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Three Necessary Strategies Mitigating Peak Oil

Consumption

Excerpted from John Michael Greer:

“First is conservation. That’s the missing piece in most proposals for dealing with peak oil. The chasm into which so many well-intentioned projects have tumbled over the last decade is that nothing available to us can support the raw extravagance of energy and resource consumption we’re used to, once cheap abundant fossil fuels aren’t there any more, so—ahem—we have to use less. Too much talk about using less in recent years, though, has been limited to urging energy and resource abstinence as a badge of moral purity, and—well, let’s just say that abstinence education did about as much good there as it does in any other context.

The things that played the largest role in hammering down US energy consumption in the 1970s energy crisis were unromantic but effective techniques such as insulation, weatherstripping, and the like, all of which allow a smaller amount of energy to do the work previously done by more. Similar initiatives were tried out in business and industry, with good results; expanding public transit and passenger rail did the same thing in a different context, and so on. All of these are essential parts of any serious response to the end of cheap energy. If your proposed bargain makes conservation the core of your response to fossil fuel and resource depletion, in other words, you’ll face no criticism from me.

Second is decentralization. One of the things that makes potential failures in today’s large-scale industrial infrastructures so threatening is that so many people are dependent on single systems. Too many recent green-energy projects have tried to head further down the same dangerous slope, making whole continents dependent on a handful of pipelines, power grids, or what have you. In an age of declining energy and resource availability, coupled with a rising tide of crises, the way to ensure resilience and stability is to decentralize intead: to make each locality able to meet as many of its own needs as possible, so that troubles in one area don’t automatically propagate to others, and an area that suffers a systems failure can receive help from nearby places where everything still works.

Here again, this involves proven techniques, and extends across a very broad range of human needs. Policies that encourage local victory gardens, truck farms, and other food production became standard practice in the great wars of the 20th century precisely because they took some of the strain off overburdened economies and food-distribution systems. Home production of goods and services for home use has long played a similar role. For that matter, transferring electrical power and other utilities and the less urgent functions of government to regional and local bodies instead of doing them on the national level will have parallel benefits in an age of retrenchment and crisis. Put decentralization into your bargain, and I’ll applaud enthusiastically.

Third is rehumanization. That’s an unfamiliar word for a concept that will soon be central to meaningful economic policy throughout the developed world. Industrial societies are currently beset with two massive problems: high energy costs, on the one hand, and high unemployment on the other. Both problems can be solved at a single stroke by replacing energy-hungry machines with human workers. Rehumanizing the economy—hiring people to do jobs rather than installing machines to do them—requires removing and reversing a galaxy of perverse incentives favoring automation at the expense of employment, and this will need to be done while maintaining wages and benefits at levels that won’t push additional costs onto government or the community.

The benefits here aren’t limited to mere energy cost savings. Every economic activity that can be done by human beings rather than machinery is freed from the constant risk of being whipsawed by energy prices, held hostage by resource nationalism, and battered in dozens of other ways by the consequences of energy and resource depletion. That applies to paid employment, but it also applies to the production of goods and services in the household economy, which has also been curtailed by perverse incentives, and needs to be revived and supported by sensible new policies. A rehumanized economy is a resilient economy for another reason, too: the most effective way to maximize economic stability is to provide ample employment at adequate wages for the workforce, whose paychecks fund the purchases that keep the economy going. Make rehumanization an important part of your plan to save the world and I won’t be the only one cheering.

Those are my proposals, then: conservation, decentralization, rehumanization.

any steps in the direction of conservation, decentralization, and rehumanization that get taken will make the descent less disruptive and increase the chances that communities, localities, and whole regions may be able to escape the worst impacts of the industrial system’s unraveling.”

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4 Comments on "Three Necessary Strategies Mitigating Peak Oil"

  1. J-Gav on Fri, 30th May 2014 3:15 pm 

    Reasonable advice, to my way of thinking, though advances on these fronts are likely to be painfully slow, at least until the urgency of the situation begins to take hold on a broader scale. When might that be?

  2. Joe Clarkson on Fri, 30th May 2014 5:07 pm 

    J-Gav,

    There are many things individual families and small communities can do to further “conservation, decentralization, and rehumanization”. To get really serious about the decentralization part does require leaving the cities and suburbs, which are centralized by definition. Rehumanizing one’s food supply is easier if one has access to land enough to grow it.

    I think that many urban people have an intuitive understanding of how precarious and dependent their living circumstances are, but they just don’t have the motivation to move to the country, especially if things are going OK right now. Unfortunately, once events begin to raise the level of urgency, it will probably be too late to leave.

    Conservation, decentralization and rehumanization run counter to all the recent trends in residency and work. It will take a lot of time and effort to buck those trends on an individual basis, but those who don’t make that effort will be very vulnerable, and sooner than they think.

  3. Makati1 on Fri, 30th May 2014 6:38 pm 

    We took the consumer path because we were programmed to do so by the worse invention of mankind, television. The first time that the powers could reach all of us all the time and do their programing of our minds to buy buy buy.

    Had we used our hydrocarbon inheritance wisely, we could be living in a ‘George Jetson’ world, all of us. But we Westerners wanted more more more useless junk to fill up our over sized cave dwellings and to impress the people we don’t even know. Then the disease spread, and now, here we are. Facing our own extinction in less than a human lifetime. An extinction that will come by our own hands. We deserve all that we get, but our grand kids don’t. THEY will pay the greatest price.

  4. Juan Pueblo on Sat, 31st May 2014 6:19 am 

    Good advice from the Archdruid!

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