Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Question Du Jour

Like most people, I have a routine. Deus Ex Machina hops out of bed at some ungodly early hour - I swear a rooster wouldn't be up that early. Anyway, he gets out of bed, and then, I get to actually spread out AND have some covers, so I snuggle into the spot he vacated and get all comfortable and warm and just about when I start to snore softly, he wakes me up.

So, I, grudgingly, get out of bed and hurry to find something warm to put on, because it's freakin' cold back in my bedroom - the furthest room in the house from the woodstove - and I stumble out to the warm room where I stand in front of the woodstove trying not to fall over and burn myself.

Then, I have a cup of tea and wake up a bit and read the news on the computer.

Recently, I read an article from a European online news source, which first prompted this post, but after reading the article a little more thoroughly, I wasn't sure I agreed with everything it said, and I decided to rework the post.

The article was about the threatened sanctions against Iran, and the author of the article stated, basically, that sanctions were a silly idea that has never worked - for either party.

Perhaps true, but for my purposes in citing the article not relevant. The beginning of the article dealt with the possibility that the US and Europe, in imposing sanctions against Iran, might create for its citizens a repeat of the 1970s OPEC oil embargo. I remember that time. Wages were impossibly low. Unemployment was impossibly high (with the highest being in 1980 or so), and gasoline prices were about the same as they are today (but remember that incomes were significantly lower).

It, roughly, coincided with the end of the Vietnam War, soldiers were returning to the States and leaving the service, but they weren't finding jobs, because no one had any jobs.

News from the White House was all about austerity and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And President Jimmy Carter, from Plains, Georgia, was completely honest (to the detriment of his polictical career), and he told us all that things were bad, but that we did have some control over what was happening. The answer was to reduce and begin investing in alternative energies. In attempting to lead by example, he installed a solar waterheater on the Presidential home.

There were gas shortages all over the place with rationing and gas lines. There was even a McDonald's commercial about the gas lines. Leave it to McDonald's to try to profit off of a miserable situation ;).

One video I found from 1979 or so showed that the price of gasoline was $3.58. Using this very cool inflation calculator, I discovered that if we were to be paying the equivalent today - that is, if gasoline prices rise to the levels we saw in 1979, one gallon of gasoline will cost $11.16. I think that will "curb" a lot of us.

One of the other results of the oil embargoes had to do with supply lines. In an oil-dependent society, diminished supplies means that things can't be transported as easily from one place to the next, and theree were shortages of basic grocery staples in some places.

So, my question du jour, after reading just the beginning of that article was, "Did those people living in the 70's have as much advance notice about impending oil shortages as we have?"

Which, I guess, needs to be followed up with the question of, what did the average person do about it, if they did suspect something might happen?

Or did they do nothing, because it wasn't the US news reporting the possibility of oil shortages in response to the sanctions we're proposing for Iran, but the European news, and how many Americans read foriegn news sources or even know what it might mean - in the greater scheme of things - if Iran decides to close down the Strait of Hormuz through which one-third of all of the crude oil in the world passes daily? Or considering that we've been playing chicken with China for just long enough that they're starting to get a wee-bit irritated with us, and guess who's Iran's new BFF? And guess who's our biggest competitor for oil reserves ...?

Obviously we, the average Joe, can't control what our "leaders" are doing. They are all loose cannons out there doing as much damage as they can do, unheeded, and certainly not concerned about what We, the People want.

But we can control what "We, the People" do, and we're in a very good place to make changes on a very small, very local, very personal level - changes that could, ultimately, mean the difference between weathering this latest potentiality and finding ourselves drowning with no Coast Guard in sight (because as much as we want to believe otherwise, it's unlikely that our government will be much help for us little guys).

So, what can we do (besides complain and gnash our teeth, because we're all doing that, too ;)?

While you can, scout your local area for bike and/or pedestrian-friendly paths and/or mass transit systems. How far are you from a bus or train line? Are you near a water way that might have boat transportation?

Start practicing conservation with driving. That is, if you tend to jump in the car to run to the store for even the smallest thing, learn to do without that small thing until you're driving for a few other reasons. If I don't have to drive, I don't, and I always combine trips.

Get ready to plant a garden, even if it's just a few plant pots on a patio or a sunny window with beet greens and arugula. You never know how valuable even the smallest bit of food might be.

Learn to fix things, reuse, make do and do without.

Start learning to live with less dependence on money. The less money you need, the less you will have to work, and the less you *have* to work, the less you *need* that car or that [fill in the blank]. What we *need* is a lot less complicated than what our modern society claims we need.

If you can afford it (and even if you don't think you can, because you don't want to spend any of that nest egg), consider installing even a very small alt-energy system and/or an alt-heat system (if your heat is at all dependent on oil, that is). Not having to pay for electricity and heat will significantly reduce one's dependence and expenses.

Of course, there is the possibility that nothing happens, and that we just keep muddling along. It's possible that someone in power will read that same article I read and realize that all of their chest-thumping bravado and threats and sanctions will do nothing more than hurt everyone, and so they'll find an alternative solution to address their differences.

But that doesn't really matter, because if we make changes to reduce our individual dependence, but nothing happens, the result will be that we've saved a LOT of money and we've freed up a lot of time we used to spend making money so that we can pursue other, more interesting, hobbies/activities.

And if we make changes and we end up with a repeat of the 1970s, those of us who aren't dependent on oil for our survival will be in a much better position.

Either way, it's a win/win situation for those who choose to act. Those who don't ... maybe there'll be a McDonald's near your gas station, too ... and maybe you'll even be able to afford to buy a Big Mac*.

*Yeah, knowing my family's eating habits, certainly not the best example, because we don't eat at McDonalds. In fact, my daughters were joking the other day, and Little Fire Faery said, in effect, that she wouldn't take her dog to McDonald's for lunch :). Smart girl.


  1. I've often advocated what I call the "20% solution" — reduce whatever it is by 20%. For example, work at home one day a week, thus reducing your commute miles (and gas consumption, CO2 production, etc) by 20%.

    We're trained to overuse resources to the point that cutting back that much can actually improve our quality of life. Given that the general populace reducing their driving by 3% in 2008 caused oil prices to drop by nearly half, imagine what reducing 20% could do…

  2. Sounds like a really awesome solution. Are you familiar with the Riot4Austerity? The goal was that everyone would get their usage down to 10% of the current average - so a 90% reduction. I think 20% is certainly a much easier goal to start with.

    I really love the idea of reducing work days to four in the office with one at home. I'd even love to see some other, more creative solutions - like three day work weeks, job sharing, more flexible telecommuniting options. There was some research done back in the early 20th century that showed a shorter work week (32 hours as opposed to 40 hours) increased productivity, decreased unemployment AND resulted in overall higher wages.

  3. I remember those gas lines. I was in high school and we'd sell coffee and do-nuts to motorists in line. Always one to find that silver lining in the clouds I suppose. SJ in Vancouver BC

  4. This whole thing has been making me crazy. Here we are with hubs just retiring from the AF and a hopeful move... So we just cleaned out the freezer and the pantry is almost bare.... And this happens. Fresh hubs needs to find a job so we can get settled and restocked!

  5. Dear Wendy
    as far as the actual price of gasoline during the first Iran scare - I'm pretty sure it was only a jump to about 75 cents a gallon in 1979, in Texas at least... and I recall getting pretty darned angry about it, too!
    But the media assured us that if only we waved U.S. flags around, everything would somehow turn out all right... and this was long before Fox "News" erupted out of whatever sulphur-scented hole the network was destined to hatch.