[Note to reader: The REAL Story begins in Paragraph 2.]
A giant sucking sound was heard and with it went the Gulf Oil Spill (or so they would like us to believe). As you've no doubt been reading, one of the major stories this week is: Where did all the oil go? Apparently no one can find most of it. It evaporated, it dispersed, it was eaten by petroleum-crazed microorganisms; many theories are espoused. So they lead us to believe the worst oil spill in this nation's history was not so bad after all? What a nice, corporate feel-good story, and BP shares are up again today (BP even had the guts to announce that it will probably drill into that same deep water reservoir again). So all is well. Did they bother to mention that a huge quantity of oil ended up on the ocean floor and in the coastal marshes, which will pretty well wreck that ecosystem and its fisheries for decades, maybe generations, to come?
Three times this week, I've seen basically the same headline online about "Disappearing oil" and each time this story continues to be much the same. I have to admit I was disappointed each time, because I long for the day when mainstream media will report on THE REAL DISAPPEARING OIL STORY. I'm interested in the story that tells us the world's oil supply is disappearing through our exhaust pipes. The U.S. military's Central Command and the Dept. of Energy have admitted it, the British government has formally studied and acknowledged the problem, Lloyd's of London issued an AMAZING report on it, and it seems that not a day has gone by this summer without a major investment bank or big financial poo-bah issuing opinions on it. All of them agree: the world's oil supply can no longer keep up with demand, the easily available (affordable) oil is just about gone, there are no readily available alternatives that even come close to addressing the shortfall, and the crunch is coming somewhere between 2011 and 2015. This week, Weeden & Co., a private broker serving institutional investors, issued a report saying that oil will reach $150 a barrel by 2015. Lately, even that one seems a conservative forecast.
Can we handle $10/gallon gasoline? Of course not. It will throw the economy into chaos, if not ruin. What we've seen so far is a picnic. With a complete absence of planning at the higher levels of government, it is left to states and local communities to develop their own peak oil transition plans and, ultimately, fend for themselves. Unfortunately, the states are bankrupt and in even worse shape than the federal government, which can always print more money and pretend it was borrowed from one of the banks we bailed out. So local communities have been the major centers of action on peak oil planning, at least those communities that are a little more enlightened than others.
I would like regions and communities to conduct more assessment and planning along the lines mentioned in this article from the Vancouver Sun (link below). The province of British Columbia tends to be fairly forward-thinking, and indeed, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture commissioned a study on the province's food supply during peak oil (even if they tried to hide these results from the public, as the article suggests). What the B.C. report found was frightening. First of all, in case you don't know, B.C. is a land of milk and honey; it has some of the best soil in Canada (sadly, much of the Fraser River delta is paved over) and grows some of the best fruit and produce in North America. Also, the modest population is fairly concentrated into relatively few square miles around Vancouver and Victoria. This report found that B.C. produces 48% of the meat, dairy, and produce that it consumes. I do not have the figures with which to compare this, but I would guess very few American states would be able to boast that they approach 48%. It would not surprise me if many states are in the single digits.
With rising fossil fuel prices, peak oil's effect on food prices will be astronomical as irrigation, processing, harvesting, refrigerating, transporting, and fertilization become impossible to mass-produce. The only alternative is smaller, more localized, regional systems of food production, which will still be viable once factory farming becomes impossible. So what did B.C.'s report find? That in order to provide a healthy diet for all residents of the province, it would have to increase the area of available farmland by nearly 50% by 2025. OUCH! How is this going to be possible, in B.C. or anywhere else? And if this is a monumental challenge in a province with fabulous land and natural resources, a reasonably moderate climate, and less than 4.5 million people (a smaller population than half the states in the U.S.), then how in the heck can other states and regions accomplish this fundamental transition to self-sufficiency?
The only way to get close is to do more ourselves. Remember the # above, stating that B.C. produces 48% of its own food? And my suggestion that many U.S. states probably produce less than 10% of what their residents eat? Well, my BACKYARD produces double digits for our family. I spent this evening expanding our chicken coop, creating space to add more egg-laying hens as the need arises. And I realized that my power drill has become such an indispensable tool for maintenance/expansion of my raised beds, fence, worm bin, and chicken coop, that I would not want to be without it. So I ordered a well-made hand drill on the Internet, which I will try as an off-the-grid backup. I also have a hand grain mill, a machete for brush trimming, and other manual tools that I'll be comfortable using if there is no electricity for extended periods. In case you guessed it, I don't watch much TV; my spare time is spent learning, growing, creating, preparing.
You can't do everything yourself, but you can do a lot. Even if you live in an apartment or small home, there are things you can do to meaningfully increase your food production and your self-sufficiency. My book covers much of this, including an introductory overview of small space gardening, sprouting, fermentation, mushrooming, chicken-raising, and beekeeping. You really don't need much space for any of these at a basic level, but of course the more space you do have, the more independent you can be. If you live in a small home, this book is a good place to begin your voyage toward greater self-sufficiency. Beyond it, there is much, much more. I'm getting into cheese making right now. If only I had the space for a couple of goats….