Life After Oil

This interest group was the Unity with Nature related activity that I enjoyed the most. Topic doesn’t sound like fun to you? Well, I admit I was only mildly interested in the topic but I knew the leader would make it fun.

I think Carl Magruder, the leader of the interest group (formerly referred to here as C.), is one of the shining lights among younger Friends in my yearly meeting. Some Friends think he’s “preachy” (and I do quote). They’re right. He is preaching a gospel of sin and salvation: sin against Gaia Earth and calling people to admit we have sinned, ask forgiveness, and resolve to make radical changes in the way we live that are only possible by the grace of God. [Note: this is my interpretation of his message, not his actual words. He may or may not agree with my interpretation, I don’t know yet.] He combines this with a sharp sense of humor and a gentleness and intelligence that makes it possible to tolerate him.

So here’s what I learned in the session:

What is Peak Oil? It is the point at which we have pumped out half of all the oil reserves that ever existed on Earth. After that point, oil will become a scarcer resource and increasingly more expensive. Estimates point to somewhere between the years 2010 and 2050 as the likely moment.Our increasing demand for oil will just hasten this moment. Some folks think this will be a major turning point for our fossil-fuel-based, capitalist economy.

Why does Peak Oil not really matter (according to Carl)? First, because the shift after that point will be gradual and it will take a while before we really notice any difference. Second, because in many cases we will just shift to other fossil fuels, notably coal, which is plentiful but a dirtier energy source. Third, because other ecological damage will be more noticeable sooner.

What can we do about it? One thing is of course to reduce our personal dependence on oil. Carl said that the U.S. military has already converted its entire operations to diesel motors because they can supplement it with alternative forms of diesel, so as to not be so dependent on petroleum. I haven’t bothered to research any evidence for or against this fact. Another thing is we can always do is educate ourselves, blah, blah, blah. The real answer will be in building communities that sustain themselves. The best ways to lessen our ecological footprint are all about living locally: public transit, buying food directly from farmers, sharing household resources from dining rooms to hedge clippers to swimming pools. [If you have to have one, share it!]

My own example is about car ownership. My husband and I didn’t either of us ever own a car until shortly before our second child came along. We live in a city with pretty good public transit, compared to many places, and for years we both walked to work but I said soon after the first child that “I wasn’t going to be schlepping two kids around on the Muni. I see women doing that, and they’re the ones we all think are bad mothers, yelling at their kids, grabbing them by the arm, etc. That would be me, and I don’t want to go there.”

So we finally got a car, a VW Golf, barely three months before kid #2 arrived, and things were fine. Then about a year later, my husband got a job about 30 miles/two-hours-by-transit away, and soon he was taking the car every day. So where was I? Schlepping two kids and all their stuff on the Muni.

What really made this work was that not long after that, an older Friend from Meeting offered to loan us her car on the days when I needed to take the boys to the dentist, or whatever. She didn’t drive it often during the week and she really made an effort to take public transit, even when it would have been more convenient for her, even though it was her car. On top of that, there were friends and Friends who listened to me bewail my transportation woes and still others who said “yes, I can pick up your child on a day when you need to be in three places at once.” In other words, community.

The sad fact is that we don’t live in a system that is set up to work without private transportation, and I finally decided that, compared to the therapy that would be required to restore my sanity if I didn’t have my own vehicle, it would be cheaper to have a second car. So this summer, when my oldest child was seven and my youngest three, we bought a second car. A station wagon with a third seat that folds up or down in the back and can hold up to seven people. It gets 25 miles to the gallon so it’s not the worst option, but still, I see it as a defeat that we have to have two cars. But without our community, we’d have gone that way long ago. And it is only by building strong local communities that we will change this fact of life for many families.

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Blogger Robin M. said...

Another perspective on Peak Oil is available from Karen Street at A Musing Place

8/15/2005 3:54 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Thanks for this, Robin. A number of Quakers live within 2 miles of us, and we often call upon one another to carpool to and from the monthly meeting, the worship group, special events.

I especially loved reading about how the community pitched in and loaned cars (and drivers!) for you and your family. This implies (1) a sensitivity to what the needs are within the community; and (2) a willingness to switch around one's schedule in order to accommodate someone else's, to create a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Stories like yours plant seeds in folks like me who can't quite seem to figure out a certain situation.

May we always have our stories to share with one another so that we may always have our hope for better days... and act from that hope and loving kindness.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

8/15/2005 11:40 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I think the main thing about real community and/or life after oil is that it is going to be a lot more work.

8/16/2005 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spoke with C. at Yearly Meeting as well. His idea is a powerful one and would provide a good discussion starter, as in, "Wanna come to my place for dinner?"
"I can't, you live too far away for me to walk to."
"We'll give you a ride."
"No, I don't get in cars at all. Ever."

But as for it's applicability in my life...I live in Las Vegas. I drive 10 miles from my home to my son's preschool. I drive 12 miles in the opposite direction to get to work. I drive five miles from the preschool to the university. We're suffering from urban sprawl.

Las Vegas is hot. The buses are often late, or so early you miss them, or crowded so that you can't sit down. There's no subway or light rail. (No, the monorail that runs between the casinos doesn't count!) And I have a five year old.

I just can't see me lugging the kid, the kid's stuff, my books, and my computer to the nearest bus station, piling on the bus, and transferring all around town with a whiney five year old in tow.

I intend to replace my car, when I graduate and get a job, with a hybrid or something that runs on biodiesel. But giving up my car? As appealing as the idea may be, I don't see it as a possibility for my life.

8/18/2005 3:34 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I think Jennifer C. left out that the idea (which she and I have talked about quite a bit) is that a number of Friends (in my Meeting especially) are observing a "car fast."

Like food fasting that can range from abstaining from meat to taking water only, car fasting can range from "I don't own a car" to "I don't get in cars at all." For a limited time or forever, depending on the person.

I don't know how widely this idea has spread but it is challenging to think about what changes in the infrastructure of our communities would be required to do this on a large scale. What comfort would we be required to forgo? Speed? Air conditioning? Ease of transporting heavy stuff? Privacy during children's or mommy's tantrums and tears? (That was an important factor in my desire to not car-fast anymore.)

And most importantly, I think, willingness to live our lives in a smaller circle: to accept that we can not take a job thirty miles from our home, to accept that either we will not move 350 miles away from our parents or we will not see them more than once a year, to accept that we can not go to Meeting and a music festival in the park and a dinner at someone's house on the other side of town on the same day. A single adult might have to choose two out of three. With little kids, we might have to choose just one (whether or not we have a car:).

8/19/2005 12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin M. said... I think the main thing about real community and/or life after oil is that it is going to be a lot more work.

This is an assumption. However, if you look at the lives of those cultures who live with less (need) you will find they effectively challenge this assumption.

10/20/2005 5:18 PM  

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