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January 04, 2011

Doing Without the Big O

By Sarah

It had always been my understanding that something was supposed to peak in my middle age. Heretofore, I thought it was the Big O, but lately I've come to understand it's not that Big O, but the O far less fun, though equally in important, O - oil.

Just when I'd twisted my mind around the fact that croci in January would be the new normal in Vermont, there's another Looming Disaster on the horizon that will Irrevocably and Permanently Change Our World and  that is when we reach the wall on the ready supply of fossil fuel, between 2 to 5 years from now.

As if 2012 (the movie and predictions) wasn't bad enough.

There's all sort of math behind this, most of which can't hold my attention, especially when I've got to summon my powers of concentration for Bill, Margene, Nicki, and Barb as I get ready for the final Big Love season of Big Love. But the upshot will be that the long lines and tank topping so familiar to us who lived through the summer of 1973 will become the new reality. And that's just the beginning.

According to economist Robert Hirsch, author of a pivotal 2005 peak oil report to the Department of Energy and author of The Impending World Energy Mess, we can look forward to a worldwide Depression that will make the recent Great Recession look like Happy Days. People with long commutes will be forced to quit work out of economic necessity. The cost of electricity will skyrocket. And because we scaled back our plans to build high-speed trains and other forms of mass transportation during this most recent economic crisis, most of us will be housebound.

What I found really interesting in this interview with Hirsch was not the gloom and doom that I can't prevent, but his answer to what we individuals can do now. Some were obvious: buy a hybrid car. Most were squirrely: invest in gold, divest from the stock market, perfect skills that can be bartered for non-cash transactions. Blah, blah, blah.

However, in another interview with a woman on the same subject, her response was quite different. Instead of hunkering down, we should be creating ties with our neighbors as we help each other survive, whether that means making sure the elderly in our community have access to food, medicine and heat, or insuring that our kids can still be educated, possibly at home.

I love the feminine response to this, don't you? It's like stocking up on cocoa, movies and baking Chocolate cookies as a blizzard rages.

Okay. I have to admit that I'm extremely skeptical about this peak oil business. It seems so, well, whacked. On the other hand, that might be because I was born in 1962 and all I've ever known are cars and suburbs and gas stations galore. I just can't imagine a world without fossil fuel.

However, when I took a walk the other day around my rural Vermont town, my recent fixation on the peak oil crisis raised in me a new awareness. Here was plenty of evidence of a world before oil.

Our horse barns here are functional, not yuppie. Almost every house has a wood stove that cranks out heat all day long. (We try to use ours to provide most of our heat throughout the winter.) And every two miles or so there is a small, one-room schoolhouse - now private homes - close enough for a child's safe walking distance. Yes, the farms are rare - Vermont's rocky soil is pathetic when compared to the Midwest, the South or the fertile valley where I grew up in Pennsylvania. Yet, it was enough for people to survive.

In other words, oil is but a blip on the timeline of human existence. Frankly, I'll be sad to see it go since hopping into the car and running down to the grocery store for whatever is really, really convenient and horses have never been my girlish passion.

But maybe oil's decline is the answer to a whole bunch of society's ills. I like to think of us reforming bonds, creating stronger ties with our children and neighbors, gardening, sheering sheep and setting up community stills in the backyard. I mean, what more do we need to get by than vegetables, yarn, hooch and friendship? Works for me.

On that note, maybe Bill Hendrickson was wrong to leave the compound. Those Mormon offshoots with their plural wives and homemade dresses might have been right all along.

Or maybe we're doomed. What do you think? And, are you doing anything about it? Or are you flipping to HBO and blocking out reality, like me.




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Sarah, the only doom I can think of right now is that this will be the LAST season of BIG LOVE. Grossly unfair of HBO to stimulate me with the anticipation of a new season with Bill, Margene, Nicki, and Barb while depressing me with the knowledge that they will be divorcing me and cutting me off! Who the fuck cares about oil? I mean does oil make the TV go?

It's a new moon tonight. As a result, I have no problem envisioning any doomsday scenario.

I'm all for conserving but when the time comes to own livestock, count me out. I'm allergic and frankly, I've never even had a dog. I have enough shit to deal with other than the actual kind.

I don't get Big Love at all. Perhaps because my people simply do not share well.

My keyword for 2011 is appreciation so the whole doomsday scenario thing is not for me right now. But I do agree with Kathy, ick on the whole livestock thing. I also have never had a dog and the whole animal poo issue, not for me either.

I tried to watch Big Love and eh, no interest. I have lived by myself for most of my adult life so I don't want to share my space with a man, never mind a man and more women!

I only put gas in my car 4 or 5 times a year so my consumption is pretty low already. Now when it comes to olive oil, I use lots of that!

Oil is the least of our worries. Look around at the water situation.

“Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
Charles Schultz

We are doomed. But I do intend to replace my Scion with a Prius this summer, assuming I am still employed.

Big Love has always struck me as so sexist. I would watch it if the roles were reversed, and the wife got to have five husbands.

OMG. Wait. What am I saying? FIVE HUSBANDS? *face palm*

Oil, yeah, big scary issue. When things get bad and the world tanks, I volunteer to own a herd of cows. I'm not sure if that will help the crisis, but cows are soothing.

Will my solar panels still work, or do they too need oil somehow? The nice thing is that they are the Talk of the 'hood. I thought my neighbors would complain about their unsightliness, but they're all agog to learn the details. So I'm learning names and forging friendships and I guess, in the Big Depression to come, the cookie party is at my house.

As for BIG LOVE, I auditioned for it long, long ago, when it was just an untitled pilot. Obviously, I didn't get the job, and petty creature that I am, have never become a true fan. There's a whole body of pop culture out there that I don't participate in, due to this Sour Grapes mentality. But I understand fan-hood, and so I feel your pain.

Okay, a few things:
Kathy: Only you would stand up to the laws of the universe. I look forward to the day when you say, "Gravity. I've had enough of your shit, dragging me down." As for livestock, leave that to others. I'm sure you have other "talents" you can "barter" for "meat," no?
Gaylin: 4-5 times a year???!!!!
Judith: I agree about the water. Which brings me back to Gaylin. Invest in Canada - they have all the H2O on this continent.
As for the rest of you, Big Love is so well written with such gripping characters that I can't wait for it to restart. As for the sexism - yes! - that's the beauty of it, especially when Bill's world starts to crumble. Also, you should know that it was conceived by two gay men who wanted a metaphor for the world they live(d) in that required them to keep their loving unions under radar.
But Charlie doesn't get it either.
Finally, Ramona, I'm so glad you corrected yourself. Five husbands. Could you imagine?

Harley - you were so ahead of the curve with those panels.
As for BL - be glad you missed it. Those characters are forever typecast in my brain.

My head is in the sand and I like it there. I don't have to think and prepare and ... other stuff I'm not ready for. Ugh.
Darn you Tarts. You make me think.

It would be nice if the predictors of doom and gloom had a better track record than a chimp with a dartboard, and they don't.

Hop in the wayback machine with me for a second: Lake Erie is totally dead. The water can burn. - oh, wait, Cleveland now has a thriving lakefront. It will take 50 years to recover from Mt. St. Helen's. - oh, what do you mean plants started growing back in a year. Social Security will run out of money by 1964, I mean, '73, '78, '84, '88, '96, '01, '16. And don't get me started on Y2K. I had to spend an hour explaining to a math class and a math teacher how meaningless it was that today was 9/9/99 and the computer would not care because it is not an odometer. Y2K did give me my favorite D&G. A lady was stockpiling bicycles because Y2K was going to so cripple the nations gasoline supply that bicycles where going to become a commodity.

As a planet we are short on drinkable water and burnable oil. There will be some tough choices but trading a 28 mpg Scion for a 35 mpg Prius won't even save enough gasoline to pay for the difference. For that matter, if instead of offering the Volt in limited markets, Chevrolet put Volt powerplants in every car they made from today forward, we would still be behind China and India in gasoline consumption in five years.

Alan, you are forgetting the New Madrid Fault/the Iben Browning doomsday message of 1990?

Amen, Alan. Y2K crossed my mind, too.
And it WILL be the Chinese and Indians who are going to start gobbling up oil by the megaton. Which is why this year, I'll be investing in Ford. (Chinese love big American cars, bless them.)

Water. I could write six blogs, just about why we have a water shortage. But no one listens.

Okay, I feel much better. I just went through my post-Christmas mail and found a postcard to Charles Merriman or Current Resident saying that the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011.
So, see? I don't have to worry about oil or Big Love at all since the season will be over by then. And, coincidentally, it's about the end of times.
Gee. Those HBO writers are smarter than I thought!

I never got Big Love either. I don't like the whole polygamy thing. My husband did watch it for a while, hopefully not to get ideas. I get plenty of sexism from watching Mad Men, which I love.

One of the houses in my development has its own little windmills on the roof, and they spin all the time. Plus, the Eagles stadium is going to generate its own power with wind turbines and solar panels. http://inhabitat.com/philadelphia-eagles-stadium-to-receive-30m-eco-upgrade/

As for livestock, I don't think my three small dogs will do much good. My brother breeds miniature donkeys, though - maybe I can get one to ride to work. It could take care of the lawn too.

Things that irrevocably and permanently change our world tend to sneak up on us. After all Rockefeller made his fortune by selling cheap petroleum for lamp oil, thus making whaling uneconomical. Who knew that Henry Ford would come along and make it the basis for cheap transportation for everyone. Somehow I take heart in Winston Churchill's quote "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."

Harley hurray for you! Once your solar panels were installed you were no longer using any fossil fuels whatsoever. Use them to charge your Nissan Leaf and you can laugh at the future.

Sarah, yes I only get gas 4-5 times a year. I have a 20 year old Honda Civic hatchback which must have been made on a day when all the workers were really happy. Not only do I get good gas mileage, it rarely needs repairs. I live in a neighbourhood where I can walk to almost anything I need to get to (2 libraries, bookstores, food, etc, oh, and Granville Island is a short walk as well). I do drive when I visit friends in the suburbs because taking the bus, skytrain, bus and another bus is just gross and time consuming. Even with the cost of gas in Canada (higher than US prices) the tank is small and costs me under $40 to fill. Also, it would cost me over $200 a month to get parking downtown where I work so I take the bus to work and walk home (most days) and my cost is only $45 or so per month.

And yes, in Vancouver, there is rarely a shortage of water. In summer there are watering restrictions re: lawns etc but that is a regular thing we call conservation.

And here I thought you were going to talk about how body oil peaks after the midpoint of life, and then discuss dry skin!

I can walk to the grocery store and the coffee shop and the liquor store and a bookstore (if Borders doesn't close), if I have to. It would be good for me. Fie on that.

I have to laugh at "it's already tomorrow in Australia," because look at the floods down there, and the wildfires and drought in the other half of it.

I'm stockpiling chocolate. Now that's rapture.

p.s. My favorite-novel-not-written-by-a-Tart of 2010 --until I reread GIANT--was THE LONELY POLYGAMIST, so I'd probably like Big Love.

First off, a slight correction from the great George Carlin: "The WORLD isn't going anywhere. WE'LL be gone, but the world will still be here."


I've never seen Big Love. Probably wouldn't watch it anyway because the very idea of having more than one wife indicates insanity in a man. And the same would go for 1 woman + multiple husbands.

RE: Shoveling shit and caring for animals: I've been doing it all my life. No big deal. Same goes for gardening.

Overall, I'm the kind of person who would look upon the collapse of Civilization As We Know It as an excellent time for both business and adventure, probably both taking place at the same time. The creative person can always find a way to get by.

A conversation I once had with a survivalist/gun nut...

Him:"Come the collapse of things, if I'm walking down a road and I have a gun and some other guy has food, I'll soon have a gun AND food. Ha ha ha."

Me:"And just minutes later, I'll have your gun, his food, my stuff, you carrying it all and he & I will be congratulating ourselves on a trap well set. Ha Ha Ha."

So, no oil? No massive amounts of free water? No law & order? No problem:)

Hubbert's Peak. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubbert_peak_theory There was a West Wing episode of the same name. Hubbert originally predicted that oil production would peak in the mid-1970's; it seems to have hit later than that, but the idea is still sound. Remember that Hubbert's peak doesn't predict that oil will get used up any time soon, but that production will start to fall.

Sarah et al., I have one word for you - plastics. Think about it - what are the solar panels and windmills made of. What about medical tools and devices? Computers? The pipes that deliver the water? Cars, for that matter? Next up - agrochemicals. No, I'm not a huge fan, but our food supply is pretty dependent at the moment on petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers. So is our cotton supply, for that matter - so let's imagine what happens when we need to make our clothes from wool, organic cotton, and leather . . .

A geologist friend of mine says that oil is so valuable that it's criminal to waste it on transportation.

Big Love, on the other hand, is too valuable to cancel. I find it weirdly fascinating and completely compelling (I just discovered it a few months ago and watched all 4 seasons in short order!), but am frankly loving the way in which Bill's position as family patriarch is crumbling around him. Especially as Barb and Margie find their own voices -- I'm not so sure about Nicki.

Plastic grocery bags--which are used for mere minutes and then discarded--are made of petroleum. Grocery stores in the US use more than 100 billion a year. All stores combined (again, just in the US) use nearly 400 billion plastic bags annually.

They also take water to create, by the way. And that doesn't count packaging, including the plastic bags in the produce department, the plastic wrap over your meat, the plastic used to contain dairy products, frozen foods, etc. Soft drink containers are a HUGE waster of petroleum, as are those idiotic little toys in fast food "happy" meals. Which have no nutrition anyway and shouldn't be shoved at little kids just to sell other, tie-in products, like toys and movies.

My grandson's Christmas gifts this year were almost all made of cheap plastic, and almost all made in China. It was so depressing I almost took to drink.

I envy you, Gaylin, for being able to walk or take public transportation almost everywhere! Thanks to your inspiration I'm going to check into the local transit system. I just might qualify as an "elderly" passenger - it seems that people over 60 are "elderly" around here! (I still see a 21 year old in the mirror...)There's a bus stop around the corner from my home and another one up the street from my office. I think I'll make a phone call today or tomorrow...

Nancy P, I thought Sarah was talking about body oil, too! Interesting that getting to the liquor store is on your list of priorities...

It's been a few months since I watched TV, and I have only ever had very basic cable, so it took me a few minutes to realize that people were talking about a TV program in referring to Big Love. For those few minutes my imagination was in over-drive!

Hey Deb, I am lucky, Vancouver has a great transit system, good enough that they didn't have to boost it much to deal with the Olympics. Now it is time to go for a walk.

I visited friends with small kids on Boxing Day and was appalled and the sheer quantity of plastic the girls received for presents. I was proud of my homemade, non-plastic presents for the girls. Oh wait, what is ballerina tuille made of anyways!

i just read that Dick Cheney doesn't have a pulse. Seriously.

Confirming my suspicions about ole Dick.

Deb, lol. I figure if things get that bad I'm going to want that glass of wine. But really, it's only for my mom's medicinal needs. :)

At the moment, I am surrounded by working Amish farms, and thus able to partake of their produce and meats. However, my commute could change all of that as I am currently on the road an hour each way.... ugh.

Yeah, Nancy, "medicinal" reasons for the old lady...

Karen, living as I do in the West, where I've been railing about suburban lawns for years and then moved in with my beloved, who has...suburban lawns and a sprinkler system..! His holiday gift to me was a landscape architect who is going to design and arrange an urban garden in my backyard. No chickens for me, though. I don't like them. Water really needs tending. (Or maybe the Aussies will perfect the desalinization process so we can drink up the oceans.)

I have a hearty skepticism for disaster scenarios. Gas is bound to skyrocket, but that's not such a bad thing in the long run. I don't see engines and cars going anywhere.

Humans are pretty smart, long term. It's just the short term that causes trouble.

I remember the Browning New Madrid Fault prediction hysteria very well. I was still teaching then and we had school that day but there was poor attendance. Kids and parents used it as an excuse to miss school. I know some public and private schools actually closed that day. I have a friend who normally doesn't react to anything crazy who kept her son home. I went to school during the late 60's at Southeast MO State right in the middle of the fault zone and remember having little earthquakes from time to time. Nobody got hysterical over it back then. Now they are saying the zone is probably not even in the area at all.

I had a crown/tooth break today that is going to cost $2192 to fix. If the world is going to end soon be sure to let me know and I won't worry about paying the bill.

Harley, you're probably too young to remember that Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House and extended tax credits to anyone who wanted to follow his example. Ronald Reagan took the panels off and canceled the tax credits. But we put two panels on our roof that year for a solar water heater. We've had to replace the water heater once, but not the panels. Summer or winter, even when we had teenage houseguests who shower every fifteen minutes, we've never had to turn the electricity back on to heat water. It comes out scalding and every time I look at our electric bill, I send a small blessing to Mr. Carter.

Sarah-- exactly:

"As for the rest of you, Big Love is so well written with such gripping characters that I can't wait for it to restart. As for the sexism - yes! - that's the beauty of it, especially when Bill's world starts to crumble. Also, you should know that it was conceived by two gay men who wanted a metaphor for the world they live(d) in that required them to keep their loving unions under radar."

Thank you.

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