Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Twenty-One Days - The Warning

I opened up the Internet the other day to read the news. The first headline that grabbed my attention was:

Police Canvass Ocean Park for Signs of Theft.

According to the article, copper prices are higher now than they were "pre-Recession." In fact, recent news articles point out that the prices on most metals is increasing. I don't rely solely on the news media (which is often biased), however. I look around me. The other day, we were in the grocery store, and I noticed that the price of 250-foot roll of aluminum foil was $7. I thought that was a lot and said as much. Deus Ex Machina quipped that the price of all metal is increasing. The industry in which he works is heavily dependent on precious metals. He would know something about that.

Then, I noticed the heading:

Heating oil prices continue to climb.

We haven't had a heating oil delivery since 2008, when we replaced our old, inefficient woodstove with our new one and started heating solely with wood. So, I don't notice fluctuations in the price of heating oil, except as a kind of "Oh, looky there" when I'm reading the news. I have noticed that the price of gasoline has been creeping upward for quite a while now.

I looked quickly at the oil price widget I have on my blog. The price per barrel for oil is over $90 today. It's normal for gasoline prices to have seasonal increases, and we've come to accept and expect prices to go up with the beginning of Tourist Season, but it looks like, this year, we're a few months early.

Apparently, the season has nothing to do with the price increase, however, as the next headline read:

Protests in Libya put oil industry on edge.

Three years ago the world as we know it shifted, suddenly and violently, and we all felt it. There was a wave of panic that washed over us all, especially those of us in the blogosphere who'd been writing about that very sort of possibility for months (and in some cases, years). There was a lot of sitting back with arms folded across chests and heads nodding as if to say, "See? Isn't that what I said?"

It got bad. It got better ... or so the news wanted us to believe.

Something happened to boost morale, for sure, but I'm still not sure what. My guess is that the warm fuzzies we've been enjoying for the past year and a half were artificially injected into our lives thanks to our federal government's willingness to exercise its rights under Section 8 of the US Constitution, which reads that Congress has the power to to borrow money on the credit of the United States and the power to coin Money, regulate the Value thereof ... and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.

From where I sit, seems like nothing really got fixed with regard to the economy. It's harder to get a loan. Prices on everything (including chocolate ... hello!?) are increasing. Foreclosures are still happening ..., but jobs just aren't.

We don't hear a lot about unemployment these days. We don't hear a lot about companies adding jobs, either. In fact, it looks like another community in Maine is losing sorely needed jobs at a time when they can least afford to. Official unemployment numbers are still hovering around 9% - no better and no worse than at the height of the "recession." Unofficial (and perhaps more realistic) numbers put unemployment above 20% - which is putting us near the Great Depression range - when there was no official way to accurately count unemployment like we have today.

When I was a young graduate student, one of my (favorite) classes was early 20th Century American literature. We were studying the "realist" movement of the 1920s and 1930s and read the classics like Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath , which brought to light the sad plight of the migrant farm workers during the Great Depression.

The novel that's stayed with me and haunted my dreams was Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie . It wasn't the title character's rise to fame and fortune that held my attention. Rather it was Hurstwood's fall from grace that was so fascinating, because it wasn't all at once (even though he made some very stupid choices). It's like he was walking downstairs backwards, one step at a time with a pause on each step. And, really, when the book opened, Hurstwood, a highly successful, financially and socially affluent man, had a long way to go to hit bottom - which he did.

The scary part is that Hurstwood isn't all that different than the typical middle class American. He was at the top of his game. He was impervious and powerful. And he had everything to lose ... and did.

If he hadn't been blinded by his lust and his greed, he would have seen the proverbial writing, and perhaps not made such imbecilic choices.

Or maybe he would have.

How many of us have been watching what's been happening for the past three years (and before!) and done nothing to change the way we live?

How many of us (are still zombies and) are still watching (and caring about) the latest Dances with the Stars or Survivor or the current season of whatever-prime-time-soap we follow as if Dr. Hard-body-cold-heart's latest sexual conquest and miraculous surgical (and completely fictitious) procedure really matters in the greater scheme of things?

How many of us are still waiting for IT to happen, that one event that will tell us that the end is here and that we need to activate Plan TEOTWAWKI - *now*?

But until that one event happens, we'll continue living as if we have all of the tomorrows we'll ever need to get ready.

But what if ....

The following is an excerpt from the Preface of the soon-to-be-released Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: The Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil

While I do not believe that we can prepare for every possible scenario, nor do I believe that it is possible to store everything we might possibly need forever ..., I do believe ... we can mitigate the effects of an economic disaster by changing some of our habits.

Let’s pretend. Let’s pretend that we are like Noah, of Biblical fame, and we have been forewarned that there will be a catastrophic event in a specified period of time. We are told that we have 21 days to prepare.

Let’s pretend that we know that in 21 days life as we know it will come to an end. It does not mean that life will cease to exist, and it does not mean that humans will be obliterated from the Earth. What it means is that all of the things we have come to expect, all of the luxuries we enjoy, all of the accoutrements of modern life that are part of our day-to-day existence will be harder to get or just no longer available. Things like on-demand grocery stores with fresh strawberries in December when there is a blizzard raging and oranges in places where oranges would never grow, an unlimited supply of gasoline, municipal water, continuous electricity, passable roads, emergency medical care (even for those with health insurance), the Internet, cable television – anything that is part of our “modern” life will be gone.

So, let's do it. Let's pretend.

Over the next month, for the next 21 posts leading up to my 500th blog post, I will explore the things that I think we should be thinking about for preparing for a lower energy society (and I might even give away a few things here and there ...).

(book excerpt)

...our survival is often dependent on an incredibly unreliable and fragile system.

And we do not even acknowledge it — probably, because most of us do not think there is anything we can do.

But there is.

And the first step is to pretend that we know the event that changes our modern lives forever is going to happen in 21 days.

We have 21 days to prepare.

What are you going to do?

Twenty-one days.

On your mark …

Get set …



  1. But, Wendy... Can't I just sleep in and ignore the signs? Pretty please? ;-)

    Looking forward to your series.

  2. Wendy, this is going to be very interesting...looking forward to your next 21 posts. I don't think in Arizona we even had the "warm fuzzies"...I think we are the last builders left standing in our area...our saving grace was that we were debt free. I don't do good on growing our own food but I do think we might make it for a year or so from our stored stock. I have not read Sister Carrie but will pick it up soon...

  3. I don't do don't think that's right!lol,,,

  4. I am right there with we go again. I look forward to following you on the next 21 days.

  5. Woot! Excited to see what you have coming for us!!!

  6. Looking forward to this next month of posts even more than I usually do.

  7. My crystal ball tells me that we have 23 days. So your call-to-arms is two days too early. LOL.

  8. This could be fun. Can't wait for more.

  9. I'm looking forward to the posts and your book. And I'm hoping that sharing and community, as well as stocking up, are parts of the plan.

  10. Chile - you *can* ignore the signs, if you wish, but I think I know you better than that ;). *Can* and *will* are two different things ;).

    Ain't for City Gals - I don't think Mainers ever really believed any of the BS about the recovery, either, but Maine's economy has never been what it was in some other parts of the US. Ha! Ha! I love that you corrected your own grammar. Very funny!

    Hey, Fleecenik - It should be an exceptionally fun month ... lots of free stuff will be in the offering ;).

    Lace - thank you :). That was really sweet, and I hope I don't disappoint.

    Russell1200 - Crap! I'll need to recheck my astrologic charts and chicken innards, but I'm pretty sure it's 21 days ;).

    Mrs. D - I'm hoping it will be a lot of fun!

    Laurie - I think you'll be particularly interested in Days 15 and 19. Lots of sharing and lots of community ;).

  11. Found your blog thru Fleecnik Farm and am joining to follow this blog. The next 21 days sounds very interesting.

  12. You hit it right on the head:

    "But until that one event happens, we'll continue living as if we have all of the tomorrows we'll ever need to get ready."

    Sad, even scary, but true....time to get off our soapboxes and buts and walk the talk...good to know we are not alone, but all have each other for this trial run ;)

    Great article, Wendy, really looking forward to reading your book :D Julie

  13. This is going to be even more of a challenge for me, as the next month is going to be full of preparations...I'm going to be starting an at-home child care, hopefully by the end of March. Lots of preparations! Since I have older children, the house isn't exactly baby-proofed.

    But I'm going to try to follow along as much as I can - and of course, if I miss anything, I can always come back and re-read it, right?

  14. Hi! It sounds like fun. As far as Beans Bullets and Bandaids go, I think we're doing really good with the Beans part, but there are some gaps still in the bandaid and bullets parts.