There were two articles that I read yesterday that struck a cord with me. I've had to think on both of them, let them ferment, if you will, before being able to really put to words what my thoughts are.
The first was this article written last year by Dr. Clifford Wirth of Surviving Peak Oil - which is a really good source for great information.
I completely respect this blog author and the opinions he has developed based on his years of researching the Peak Oil phenomenon. Afterall, he is an expert in the field, and not some suburban housewife, like me, who's just read a couple of articles and formed an opinion based on what might actually be very one-sided information.
My concern comes from his description of the future, and how life here in the northeast may not be possible absent the inputs of cheap energy. He argues that "things wear out" and without cheap energy, there will be no replacement parts. Yes, it's true. All of it. All of the stuff he says about asphalt shingles and batteries and transportation needs. All true.
But what's also true is that asphalt shingles have an life expectancy of thirty years, which means I still have more than a quarter of a century to be thinking about what I'm going to do about my roof when the current materials wear too thin to be of use. And those people who might be building new structures twenty years from now might be encouraged to consider something other than asphalt.
What he says about how difficult it is to heat our homes in this part of the country and the fact that woodstoves wear out and how getting replacements might not be possible is all true.
But what's also true is that as people started moving from Europe to the "new world", the first places that were settled were areas in the northeast, and one of the major cities in the new world (and even four hundred years later) was Boston, Massachusetts, which is, in the northeast. If this part of the world were so inhospitable in a low energy world, I'm fairly certain that it wouldn't have been the seat of a new nation.
The second article was Jackie's Tips for Hardcore Homesteading, and like Dr. Wirth's article referenced above, I can not disagree with anything she says. For instance, I don't disagree that it is improbable that I could grow all of the food we'll need to eat on our quarter acre - even with "intensive gardening."
My concern with her article is not that I think she's misrepresenting anything, because I don't. My concern is that the average suburbanite will read that and think there is no hope, but to move out to an "acreage", and I don't believe that it is either possible or advisable to do that.
My concern is that the average suburbanite, having read that article, will just think, "Well, f*&k it then. If it can't be done, then why even try?"
And the answer is, because it doesn't have to be all or nothing. There are other options. I could probably grow all of the tomatoes my family will eat for an entire year. I could probably even grow enough to sell at the Farmer's Market.
But we will, probably, want more than just tomatoes to eat.
I can grow lots of tomatoes. My neighbor could grow lots of potatoes, and then, we could swap. That way, we both have all of the tomatoes and all of the potatoes we can use.
But I'd probably want more than just potatoes and tomatoes.
There's a neighbor across the way who has a nice, level lot. He could, easily, grow zuchinni. His neighbor could grow cabbage. Their neighbor could grow carrots ....
You get the picture. *I* don't have to do it all.
I can also walk four miles to the dairy farm for milk and beef, and while I'm there, I can visit the goat farm next door for cheese. I'm fairly certain there is something I could barter for those products, especially if I'm able to walk four miles (which I am).
Of course, my neighbors aren't growing potatoes right now, and it's unlikely that they will start in the very near future, which means, for the time being, I, kind of, do have to be self-sufficient, but I don't.
I have other options.
I live in a richly, diverse area, where we have a lot of food choices - wild food. The challenge is to be able to distinguish what I can eat, but what I'm discovering is that there are a lot more "can be eaten" things out there than there are "will kill you" things. So, while I'm waiting for my neighbors to start their potato field, I can grow a few potatoes, but I can also go out and gather acorns.
Both articles make some very important points, and the one piece of advice they both give that we all should heed is that there is a "too late to start" point, but there's never a "too early to begin."
Learning to grow something, anything, your family will eat is a good idea, right now, and doing the mental work necessary to consider lower energy alternatives should be a daily task, right now.
But most importantly, and what both articles seem to discount, or just fail to consider, is that few of us live alone on an island, and while my ultimate dream life would be to live completely self-sufficiently, I know that it's not going to happen - at least not in the foreseeable future. I've accepted that fact.
Jackie says that it's not possible to be a hardcore homesteader with less than an acre of land to cultivate. Dr. Wirth says that life in the northeast will become tenable in a low energy future.
I say, nothing's impossible. A hundred years ago flying from the east coast of the US to Europe wasn't possible, but, now, people do it every day.
I say that most of us aren't going to have the option of living someplace else, and that if we wish to survive in a world without abundance, it's never too early to start cultivating a skillset that will support a less energy-denpendent lifestyle.