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20 June 2008

Preparing for energy descent

It's going to get worse before it gets better. With the cost of petrol continuing to rise in Australia and around the world, which also increases the price of food and everything else made and delivered using oil, Hanno and I are looking for more ways to cut our use of oil based fuel and products.

Here where we live, we're trying to ready ourselves as best we can for a world with far less oil. Energy descent. I know a lot of the readers who come here every day, like Hanno and I, are learning as we go. I've been reading about the concept of Peak Oil for a few years now and nothing I've heard from any politician or oil "expert" has convinced me there is nothing to worry about. To the contrary, their reluctance, until recently, to acknowledge there is a problem has made me even more convinced the problem is a big one. But finally the elephant in the room could be ignored no longer - world wide oil prices spoke the truth, oil supplies are dwindling.

In preparation for this new world we are trying to create as much as we can at home. We grow some of our own food in an organic vegetable and fruit garden and get eggs from our chickens. We harvest rainwater from our roof. We make our own soap and cleansers, bread is baked here, clothes are mended, dishcloths knitted, seeds sown, old products modified and recycled for another life. We squeeze as much from each dollar spent as we can. In the past five years we've cut our living expenses to less than a quarter of what they used to be. We did that by being mindful of our place in this fragile ecosystem and by reskilling and making do with what we have.

At the moment we aim to reduce our trips in the car, stop buying anything plastic or wrapped in plastic and not use the airconditioner to heat our home in Winter, but we need to do more. In his wise article, Retrofitting the Suburbs for Sustainability, David Holmgren states:
"So what do we have to do to make it work? Basically, the answer is “Just do it!” Use whatever space is available and get producing. Involve the kids – and their friends. Make contact with neighbours and start to barter. Review your material needs and reduce consumption. Share your home – by bringing a family member back or taking in a lodger, for example. Creatively and positively work around regulatory impediments, aiming to help change them in the longer term. Pay off your debts. Work from home. And above all, retrofit your home for your own sustainable future, not for speculative monetary gain. In an energy-descent world, self-reliance represents real opportunities for early adopters of a permaculture life style:
  • Rises in oil prices will flow through to all natural products (food, timber, etc);
  • Higher commodity prices will be a stimulus for self-reliance and organic farming;
  • Local products will be more competitive than imports;
  • Repair, retrofitting, and recycling will all be more competitive than new replacement;
  • There will be rising demand for permaculture as life-skills eduction; and
  • There will be a resurgence of community life, ethics and values."

In keeping with what David is advocating, one of the things I will be doing soon is to help reskill people in our community. There are many people who need to learn the skills of baking, soap making, gardening, sewing and knitting. We are already teaching some of these skills at the Centre where I do my voluntary work. I hope to teach all of them soon. I will also work with my local groups that are working towards building stronger local communities - communities that are able to sustain themselves during the coming years when the oil we have relied on all our lives is no longer cheap and freely available. I encourage you to seek out your local sustainability or relocalisation groups and see what is happening in your area.

Whether you believe the Peak Oil premise or not, you can't deny the price of fuel and food now. I encourage all of you to change your lives in ways that will help you live well in the future. Learn all you can about providing for your own needs, connect with your community and support or implement new and innovative sustainable ways for your region to cope with energy descent. And read what you can so that you'll be prepared. David Holmgren's Future Scenarios is a good place to start.

I am not trying to scare anyone I am encouraging you to prepare yourself and your family for change. It's still small steps, it's still doable and it's nothing to panic over, but you need to start now. Gone are the days of listing what we are doing and thinking it's enough. We need to move it up a notch and make sure that what we are doing is working for us now and will continue to work in the future.

There was a very good interview on this subject on the ABC's 7.30 Report last night. The transcript of the interview with Richard Heinberg is not up yet but check during the day and read what he said. It's very interesting. I just checked and the transcript is still not there. Hopefully it will make an appearance tomorrow. In the meantime, I found this BBC article.


  1. I just want to tell you how much, I continue to enjoy your blog. I always look forward to each new post.

  2. Thank you for this post. Peak oil is something many people do not want to think about because it is truly frightening to imagine a future with far less oil than we are accustomed to using. But, we shouldn't let fear stop us from learning more. And I think that the best way to begin to feel better is to do things to help yourself. Saying that "they" won't let us run out of oil, or "they" will find another form of energy so we can still have all of our cars and comforts, or "they" will do this or "they" will do that only serves to help us ignore the problem.

    It is getting harder to ignore though with gas prices going up every day. But, by learning how to get along without things now we empower ourselves instead of giving into a victim mind-set.

    I went to the grocery store the other day and was so proud of myself when I came out. I had bypassed over a dozen items I used to purchase because I have learned how to make them myself. It really is a good feeling when you learn each new step on the road to independence. :)


  3. I agree with you. I think the world will change and it's better to prepare our skills ahead. I feel very encouraged when I read your blog. You do so much. It's one of the reasons I keep coming back. I need that fresh boost of encouragement to realize there are some people wanting to do better and make a difference. I tried to start just with my apartment complex but no one is interested and I can't even get management to provide recycling containers even though recycling has been made a law here where I am. I get a lots of, oh yes, we're going to do that and nothing happens. It's really disheartening. I'm still having trouble with bread and honestly I'm kind of thinking about a bread machine. I'm not sure if it's a luxury if it will save me money in the long run but then I don't feel great about the energy expenditure. I have almost everything in the apartment on power strips so they can be shut off when not in use. I don't need the video player sucking energy just to tell me what time it is for example. It's really easy to just turn the strip on and off for all the things around the house. The only thing full running is my alarm clock, the answering machine and some lamps that can be turned off by hand. I'm doing pretty well at careful shopping. I'm using what I have for now including a ton of soap gifted to me so I haven't tried soap making yet but some day when I start to run out maybe I will. Thanks for your blog and the constant encouragement.l

  4. Rhonda,
    It may interest you to know that only 45% of the world's oil supply have actually been tapped.


  5. katef - www.picklebums.comJune 20, 2008 2:51 pm

    I am a new comer to your blog and I love it!
    I am one of those too scared to read too much about peak oil - but regardless it is obvious that our family can not afford to use petrol like we used to and can not afford the rise in prices of other things as a result... so whatever the theory/idea behind it, we have to change something, now.

    We are lucky in some ways that we bought a ten acre property so we have lots of room and opportunity to grow our own food, have chooks etc etc. But it also means that we are a long way from everything, so just dropping the kids at kinder three times a week is costing us a lot in petrol and is not something we can simply do less of.. in fact it will be more when they got to school....

    So reading your blog, getting more ideas and inspiration is just wonderful - I wish I could come learn how to bake bread and knit from you as I am terrible at both things!

  6. Rhonda after reading Choosing Eden, I have been actively reading, researching Peak Oil. I have been aware of Future Scenarios for some weeks now, excellent site. I have been given the DVD A Crude Awakening which I will watch this afternoon. Also I have ordered the new DVD to be released at the end of the month - Australia Pumping Empty which I am sure will be most informative especially to all of us Australians. If you would like me to send you these DVD's to watch I will gladly do so on a return post basis. Keep up the good work, I am slowly educating my children in the urgency of becoming more self-sufficient. Joy

  7. So true Rhonda. I don't know if you've read on my blog lately, but I began to take steps toward just that this month by offering to my community some free classes on organic gardening. My hope was not only to pass on some of the knowledge that I have on the topic, but to learn a little more myself. I also wanted to begin building a network of people that are interested in learning and preparing themselves in the same way.
    It has been very rewarding so far, and I actively encourage all of us to do what we feel we can to move toward this end. The more secure out neighbors are, the more secure we are too!

  8. Rhonda, a second note really quick on DVD's comments. If we assume, that 45% of the oil has been tapped, then we are merely 5% from "mid way" through it, or in other words, peak oil. From here on out, production will diminish slowly and reserves will only diminish. It's not like a glass half empty that you can just tip over to pour out when you want it. After peak, it get's harder and harder to get out, so in a way DVD may be making your point for you. Just a thought.

  9. Hi there Rhonda,

    I saw the interview on the ABC last night as well. I have also read Choosing Eden. I agree with the stance you are taking and believe that we should all take steps to reduce our reliance on oil and oil based products.
    There is so much debate out there it confuses the issues and you wonder what are facts and what is merely propaganda. The good thing is that if you believe in the concept of peak oil and take appropriate steps and it all turns out to be nothing, you have wasted all your time and effort becoming healthier and wealthier, building communities and encouraging sustainability! LOL
    I can't see any downside to taking appropriate action.

  10. Your blog is an inspiration and has been much-referred to on a forum here in the UK which I belong to. Forum members are like-minded individuals who make stuff from scratch, sew, knit, make soap, preserves, bread, have veg plots, hens etc (it's called Creative Living by the way). Now it appears that we have almost been "in training" over the years, to face a world where living won't be as easy as it was.

    For the past 20 years, my family and I have lived on a smallholding in rural Wales. We have our own water supply, and were intending to downsize as it is a huge old rambling farmhouse which cost an arm and a leg to keep warm long before oil prices doubled. We are now having to look at alternatives for keeping warm, and thinking twice before we make a journey in the car. But hey-ho, we will survive! Meanwhile, keep up the good work.

  11. I find it also important to learn abouth health and the effects of food and herbs so you can be more independant of the pharmacie industry and you can help yourself and others.
    We use this knowledge every day. For example, take a cup of camomile when you are stressed. When you feel a cold coming up then you take a herbal tea with anise and liquorica (in Holland we call that starmix). Italian herbs work very well with steaming and is antiseptic which also helps with cystitis.
    Because of my chronical fatigue syndrome i cannot do a lot of fysical things but i can learn myself a lot of usable knowledge.

    In the media here there are more hopeful things such as a developement of cars driving on electricity, small windmills for the roof, new inventions for solarenergy, more attention for living a life more simple.
    This morning i read an article about holidays. A lot of Dutch people went for holiday to the south of France. Now more people choose a holiday closeby because of the high fuel prices. So they go to Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.
    For us, this year is probably the last year a child is coming with us for the holiday. We are going to Scotland. A cottage nearby the lake of Loch Ness.
    Next year it will be Germany (my favorite country) orf perhaps a moving house :)

    Annikka from Holland

  12. In response to DVD...yes we still have a lot of oil left but the whole point is that we are close to the end of cheap, easy to extract oil. The oil that is left, no matter how much of it there is, will cost more because it is more difficult to get at and at some point it just won't be worth the effort of doing so.

  13. Jennie,

    Can you give us a link to the Creative Living forum based in the UK?


  14. I tried to get onto the creative living site and it appears to have been closed down.......shame if it has....

    OH's birthday, I had a disaster day with chocolate cake yesterday, so went and bought a chocolate one this morning, we went to the lottie and picked 13lbs of strawberries, so I now have about 9lbs to make into jam for the store cupboard...........we have the strawberry tea later, will take photos and post them on my blog......

  15. I'm a member of the Creative Living forum too. here is the address for anyone interested. Do come and have a look around and join in, we're very friendly.


  16. Well here in the UK diesel is about to hit the £6 a gallon mark this weekend, which means I will put just 4 gallons a month in the car, when its gone, we will be going nowhere. As it is we only use the car if it is essential....if it goes up any further we will have no alternative but to sell the car, we just cannot keep going on in this way. We are paying road tax and insurance for a vehicle which spends most of the time sitting in the car park, what a waste of money that is......

    This time last year £20 would almost fill the tank.........

    We have struggled so hard to keep the car, it is our one luxury, it is the only means of visiting my quilting friend, and our younger daughter who lives 30 miles away...

  17. Very worrying times indeed! Thank you so very much for your blog, I am learning so much, just wish I could attend some of your classes.

  18. It is a very interesting blog and knowledgeable also because of the fact of using peak oil instead of petrol. I am very afraid of peak oil but in the current situation where the prices are are rising, I think you blog will help us.

  19. I would love to have someone like you (or you!) heading up a local group here to educate people about these things. We are trying to locate drums so we can make rain barrels, but keep striking out. Hopefully hubby will locate some this coming week. We are expanding our garden (going through your archives encouraged this via some pics I found of your raised beds). With our current struggles due to the rising costs of everything, hubby is finally "getting it" more than he used to.

  20. Your words are very wise. I myself am questioning whether we are really running out of oil or whether loosely controlled speculation practices are artificially driving costs up. But either way, it all speaks to the same practices and values you write about. And we could all sure use a bit more community spirit in our communities!

  21. katef, can I encourage you to look at home education? Many people simply never even consider it as an option for their kids. While a lot of 'homeschoolers' are 'religious' more and more people are doing it for purely 'secular' reasons (more time together as a family, more wholistic child-rearing, better educational outcomes, etc etc). I can affirm that the home education community is full of delightfully counter-cultural people, many of whom are trying to live lightly on this earth.

    Definitely worth doing some research into it and at least putting it on the list of options - even if you do end up by crossing it off! I don't know where you live, but in many countries it is perfectly legal, and in New Zealand we even get an educator's allowance from the government.

    By the way, thankyou Rhonda for your blog. I am quite new here, but am enjoying it very much! it's nice to read a gardening blog that is mostly in sync with our own seasons, and I am really enjoying all the other info you have on here!

  22. I really enjoy your blog. We live alot like you do, here in the USA.
    Stop by and see us sometime.


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