Cheery news on the climate change and peak oil front this week.
If you aren't actually witnessing climate change in all its glory, say in Britain (massive flooding, officially confirmed to be connected to global warming) China (massive flooding some places, drought and desertification elsewhere), the Amazon (drought), the Southwest and Southeast US (drought) or somewhere else, there's increasing evidence that the Arctic Ice will be gone within the next decade or so.
This is not good news.
Add to that the new study that suggests that the Amazon Rainforest may essentially be destroyed within the next few years, and we're facing two climate tipping points - not at the end of the century, but in the next few years.
Virtually all research suggests that most climate change isn't very gradual at all - the IPCC report imagines linear, slow, moderate climate change, which is scary enough. But there's ample science suggesting that in fact, what happens is radical, quick change, in non-linear ways - ice melt, for example, simply doesn't proceed the way the IPCC report has presumed. It is not at all out of the question to imagine that we could experience massive climate change over the course of decade - arriving suddenly in a world we don't recognize. Oh, and just plain old pollution is getting nasty - 75,000 Chinese people a year, 30,000 in the US (Financial Times).
On the peak oil front, The Oil Drum suggests a more significant decline in Russian production (up until now the only major oil producer not showing significant declines in supply) than otherwise expected. If Russia starts declining as Mexico and Saudi Arabia have, we can expect to see radically higher energy prices very soon. Goldman Sachs reiterated that we could see $100 barrel by 2009, and Pat Robertson apparently told his 700 Club listeners to get bicycles, that peak oil was here. And a newly translated book argues that the collapse of the Soviet Union was caused largely by too many farmers leaving the land. Sound like anything anyone has heard of?
If you've been to the grocery store lately, you know that the price of food is way, way, way up. Last week the price of powdered milk rose by *300%* - and almost everything else has risen by 25% or more over the last year. I'm starting to see working people ask how they are supposed to get by. And that's a real question.
Tens of thousands of Americans and Australians are now experiencing "transportation poverty" - that is, they spend so much on gas getting to work that they can no longer buy basic essentials.
And if you are struggling to make ends meet, well, you can feel you are in good company - the UN last week announced that because of the ethanol boom and its effects on food prices, it will no longer be able to provide food aid to millions of hungry people. That is, we're going to let millions of people starve to death so we can have more gas in our cars - and realistically, ethanol is a very short term boom - as fossil fuel prices rise and the environmental consequences become clear, ethanol, which provides a very, very minimal energy return, if that, is going to disappear.
One of our last big build outs was wasted making booze for our cars. I'm sure we'll be glad we did that. Since food production is expected to halve in developing nations over the next 20 years, due to environmental constraints, the UN will certainly have more people not to feed. We're warned that unless we lower our rate of consumption of just about everything, millions of people will starve. How much *do* we want that spongebob basketball set? That steak? That beer? Those shoes?
And does anyone still eat industrially produced food? There's botulism in your chili, plastic in your dog food, salmonella in your peanut butter, and ecoli on your bagged spinach. Leaving your food production to corporate America can't just kill you by giving you cancer, heart disease and diabetes - it can do it instantly! Whee!
We're more indebted and our economy is shakier than at any time since right before the Great Depression. China and Japan are showing signs that they don't want to prop up our economy forever. A new film suggests that without credit cards, many middle class people would be genuinely poor. Up to 60% of the British economy and 70% of the American is directly or indirectly tied up in our housing And there are few people who think we're anywhere near the bottom of the housing market, or the foreclosure crisis.
Now it is perfectly possible that a few or some or even the aggregate of all this information is wrong. It is possible that magic bullets will be found, comfortable forms of adaptation will occur, and that everything will be less severe than the most acute forecasts. And realistically, I think that's even likely - for some of us. The thing is, these circumstances won't hit everyone the same way. Some of us will still be mulling over whether to install the sustainably harvested cork floors in their new "eco kitchen" while most of us are wondering whether the kids will have shoes.
Now some of you are on board, of course, but I'm sure there are plenty of readers here who think I'm overreacting - after all, the world is always going to hell in a handbasket, isn't it? Why not just watch "24" reruns, and not worry about it?
So we come to the question of when and how to act. And I'm going to suggest that everyone who reads this take 10 basic actions to provide for their security right now - this year, whenever possible. I could be absolutely off base, but it seems like the combination of peak oil, financial instability and climate change is going to strike us hard, and soon. Now maybe you disagree - you expect technological solutions, or things to be gentler. But even if you do, there's good reason to hedge your bets, invest a few resources and a little energy into preparation, so that just in case the crazy lady on the blog was right, your family, your community will be a little bit better off.
All of these things are ideas you can implement with very little money, very little time and without people thinking you are a weird-assed loon. They don't even have to notice. So if you aren't yet willing to come out and admit to anyone that you've been reading my site ;-), just do me this favor - make a few quiet plans, spend a little bit of money, and then laugh your ass off at me if I'm wrong. It will make me feel better, and I think you, too. Because, after all, the consequences of my being wrong are pretty small - a couple less dinners out, one less magazine subscription and you wait on the new car lease for an extra six months. The consequences of me being right on your family, however, could be pretty big. Life and death. So why not indulge your own family's security just a little.
At a minimum, you should get prepared to be able to get water from the sky or your well without power, keep yourselves tolerably warm or cool without central heating or a/c, etc... For those who aren't convinced, this can be a fairly low input project - a pvc pipe turned into a well bucket costs about $5. Cap it with a plastic cap, make sure it is smaller than the diameter of your well, and ta da! Or try this
Alternately, get some rainbarrels and a gravity fed filter - camping stores have them. The filter may set you back a bit ($75-100 for camping style, $200+ for a good table top whose filters will last a year (British Berkefeld), but clean water is a good thing.
Make a homemade composting toilet using leaves and a bucket.
For heat, go to yard sales and thrift shops and buy blankets, long underwear, and warm clothing. If you can, you might put in a woodstove, but you *can* live in a house with no heat without freezing to death. People have done it for centuries. Dress warmly, move around during the day, and at night, rig a four poster bed, with cloth covers over your bed and hung for curtains will create a small, tight space that is well insulated and heated by your body. Try not to let anyone sleep entirely alone - kids can sleep together or with parents. Or encourage the cat or dog to join you.
For heat, you'll have to stay outside most of the time, open windows at night and keep them closed during the day. Do your cooking in the early morning and at night, and eat cold things during the day. Don't do heavy exercise during the day, if you can avoid it, and keep a close eye on small children and elders, who are much more vulnerable to heat than most adults. Use cool water to cool people down.
Now the neat thing about all of this is that if you do these things, you'll save some money in the long run, get more exercise, eat better, have better tasting food, a happier neighborhood, and a greater degree of personal security. Most of these preparations can be undertaken for very little money - and some are free. So get too it, folks - mock away, but protect yourselves.