Friday, May 11, 2007

World Without Oil: Stay or Go?

The Andersons, a young married couple in their early thirties, left this past week. Piled everything into their van, turned the keys to their house over to their neighbor and drove away. I don't know where they were headed. I don’t think they’re planning on coming back. I hope they make it. This weekend we're going to dig up their backyard and plant another garden. We should be able to get some sort of a harvest out before the bank forecloses, given the pace of such things these days.

More neighborhood meetings this week. Of course, I went back; I couldn't afford not to. It was another instance of the question I've been wrestling with since the beginning.

Many tales of woe. I can’t believe how many people were living off of credit cards and the cashed-in equity of their homes. When this thing first started, this crisis, I somehow knew it wasn’t going to pass quickly. Something just told me that this was it, that the moment had arrived. Others, even some of the people within my local network, the people I like to refer to as The Usual Suspects (because I’d always see them at the same events I was attending, and I gradually got to know some of them personally) – even those folks continued to debate back and forth as to whether this was that moment, the start of the great collapse, the unwinding of our fossil fuel-driven economy.

I went through the denial and depression stages pretty fast. Within a couple of days, actually (see my first couple of posts.) And then I started to formulate my plan. I won’t go into the details, but as a starting point, it involved spending down a lot of capital I’d saved in order to purchase tools (of the non-electric sort), seeds and other supplies. I took time off from work to do it, to catch up on preparations I’d been putting off, literally, for years. The surprising thing to me was that I seemed to be alone in making these kinds of arrangements. (In Los Angeles. This guy in Australia seemed to get it.)

Then I parked my car in my garage, siphoned the remaining gas out of the tank, and haven’t driven it since. People have broken into the garage several times, only to be disappointed. I also paid off my credit cards and cancelled just about everything I’d subscribed to for years, including my internet service. This is being posted from my jobsite. And that may go soon. Cash only from here on out, until the barter economy kicks in.

Then I went around the house unplugging everything, turning off all of the “always on” appliances. My spare time went into my garden, into reading up on survival techniques and making some alternative water supply arrangements. I’d included myself in the new plan at my job that allowed my team to work from home most days; and as time went on, it became more and more dangerous to even ride my bike the couple of miles to work and back. Lately there have been a growing number of anecdotal accounts of bicycles as well as cars being hijacked.

The last thing I did was prepare my “walk out” backpack and supplies, though it should perhaps have been the first thing on my list. I put it off because I really didn’t want to deal with the question that I was still wrestling with last week: should I stay or should I go?

Should I just walk away from everything I’ve built up over the last thirty years, my home, my garden, my friends and associates, my job? Or should I stay and try to maintain as much of it as I can through this period of volatile instability? And if everything collapses around me, will I eventually regret having made the choice to remain here, trapped, isolated, thousands of miles from the other members of my immediate family?

I kept telling myself at every step of the way that I could still hop on a plane at a moment’s notice and be back with my family (and my daughter). But I would always be looking to the west with regret, curious to know what might have happened had I stayed. There was so much to lose. Time seems to have sped up, and as it did so, the options for escape narrowed. Last week, the incident with the guns brought the problem into much sharper focus, and I realized that I was as addicted as everyone else around me. I can't leave.

By the same token, I can’t go through this alone. I need to be able to trust my neighbors, but we’re not on the same page. Most of them still think this is going to pass: somebody somewhere is going to fix this situation and restore their lives to their previous condition, their former level of affluence and comfort. But the situation itself is changing us.

There is a paradigm shift taking place, but it needs to happen faster, because we’re racing against a clock. What we have, on a practical level, is a design problem; we have to quickly re-arrange the way we live, and we’ve got to start now. I’m convinced we can do it, but not if a previous mode of thinking prevents us from even recognizing the problem. And it won’t make much difference if I’m the only one doing it, because, as I said, it just won’t work without these other people.

We’re all in rehab together, forced to try to kick this habit but still desperately looking to do just one more line or take just one last sip of that drink. Many people are still trying to fill up their gas tanks and keep driving, piling on the debt in order to do it. Some of them absolutely have to. My hope is that the paroxysms, the convulsions and hallucinations, the nausea and the agony of going cold turkey off of cheap energy pass quickly so that we can all get down to the serious business of creating some new way to conduct our lives as a community.


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