8 Ways to Prepare for a Low-Energy Future

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8 Ways to Prepare for a Low-Energy Future

The stories keep showing up. Oil prices keep rising for a variety of reasons from greed to war. In the meantime, all of the products derived from oil keep getting more expensive. The obvious petroleum by-product is gasoline but there are other petroleum by-products that are both surprising and things we don’t always think about.

In the meantime, we keep driving our cars and wondering when new oil reserves will emerge to save the day. But there’s a problem. Since the onset of the industrial revolution our energy needs and usage have expanded exponentially. It gets to the big question confronting all of our natural resources: when and will they run out?

The unfortunate answer when it comes to oil is that we have a tipping point when our demand for oil begins to exceed the available global supply. This tipping point is commonly referred to as “peak oil.” It’s the time when we use more than we have available. There are many opinions on when this will happen but there are a couple of well regarded studies that have reached an alarming conclusion…

…We Already Have!

According to one study, peak oil occurred in 2018. Another study concurred. Peak oil has happened and our hopes that prices will go down and new sources will be found are pipe dreams touted by politicians, and promised by oil companies anxious to drill every acre of the planet.

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What Will Be Affected?

The obvious impact will be on the price of gasoline but there are more impacts beyond driving our gas guzzlers with general disregard. Here are some of the more dramatic impacts:

  • Fertilizer
  • Heating Oil
  • Diesel, kerosene, motor oil and other fuel variations
  • Synthetic rubber for tires, gaskets and other rubber based products
  • Plastics and fiberglass
  • Polyester and other fabrics for clothing
  • Asphalt for road construction

The list goes on and in actual fact more than 6,000 products are made from oil and natural gas that we use every day in every way.

And natural gas is also reaching its peak. That’s what has led to the controversy about fracking to release more natural gas from the ground in addition to elusive oil embedded in shale.

Beyond Skyrocketing Prices

It’s not just about inflation and the need to pay more and more for petroleum based products. The impacts will be far reaching and widespread even on our food supply.

Most fertilizers used today are derived from oil. These fertilizers include ammonium nitrate, super phosphate and potassium sulfate. Higher fertilizer costs lead directly to higher food prices from the global/industrial farming industry.

The impacts from increasing diesel oil prices will also have a significant impact on the price of everything as trucks and trains continue to pay more for diesel fuel, and as every penny of that increased cost is passed on to the consumer.

But in some instances products simply won’t be available. The price will rise to levels so out of proportion to what people are willing to pay that the products will simply be unmarketable.

Solutions?

There are a number of things you can do to prepare for a future without the luxury of inexpensive products and goods derived from cheap oil. Maybe the most important thing is to start with a new mindset. This begins with an awareness of the daily and common activities that we pursue and will need to change or adjust to live in a time when energy resources like oil become increasingly scarce.

Here are 8 things to consider as both direct actions and lifestyle changes to successfully live and survive in a world with dwindling energy resources:

1. Think Beyond the Car

The obvious solution to ever rising gasoline prices is always defined as a shift to electric vehicles. What everyone seems to miss is that energy will still need to be generated to recharge those electric vehicles, and many of the parts and pieces of any vehicle are made from fiberglass and plastics.

And those rubber tires? Those are made from synthetic, petroleum based rubber. We stopped harvesting rubber trees for rubber long ago.

The real solution is to rethink how, when and why we drive.

  • Car pooling can and should become a more frequent habit.
  • Public transportation should be seen as a better, smarter, cheaper alternative to cars and trucks.
  • When we do use a car or truck regardless of how it’s powered, we would be wise to use them judiciously and combine errands and destinations to minimize total mileage.
  • Purchasing a more fuel-efficient vehicle makes sense and an electric vehicle can help a bit, but cars and trucks may become an expensive luxury our grandchildren simply can’t afford.
  • Many cultures survive on bicycles. If you don’t own a bike, buy one. And it’s worth thinking about a way to attach a carriage or cart on wheels that you can attach to a bike. If a bike becomes a primary mode of travel you’ll eventually need to transport more than yourself after a visit to a farmer’s market or store.

2. Think Local

We may find that we evolve to a society that is largely defined by local resources. As the costs of trucking, manufacturing, and mass production and marketing become more and more expensive –simpler economies defined by local production and supply will become a necessary and smarter alternative.

The farmer’s markets we sometimes visit will become new destinations for shopping for everyday items and goods.It will evolve beyond the current farmer’s market offerings of overpriced fruits and vegetables and too many homemade jewelry tables to genuine marketplaces for local products once shipped from thousands of miles to today’s grocery stores.

It may cause us to rethink how and where we shop.

3. Think Beyond the Garden

Growing your own vegetables is smart and makes a lot of sense whether you’re adding a few raised beds to your backyard or starting a new bucket garden on your apartment patio. But there are other foods we should consider making and for some of us, this will be a foray into new territory.

It may be time to learn about all the foods we can make.

  • Making cheese is actually easier than most people assume. Mozzarella is the easiest and other cheeses are not far behind.
  • Yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese are also easy to make and can be made while you’re experimenting with your cheese making projects.
  • Anyone with a maple tree and many other trees can easily tap sap and make syrup. It may seem like a bit of work but when even a bottle of caramel colored corn syrup posing as maple syrup becomes too expensive we can find a way.
  • Learning how to bake bread can and should become a standard practice. It may even be worth learning how to grow and harvest seeds to make your own flour. You don’t have to, but when a bag of flour costs $10 and a loaf of basic white bread is 5 bucks we may need to bake our own more often.
  • Animal husbandry from a few chickens in the backyard to some pigs or rabbits if we have the room is not out of the question. We all saw what happened to the price of eggs and beef during the pandemic. That may soon become a common occurrence with many meat and dairy products in the years ahead
  • If there are other foods you can make –learn how to make them. This includes ways to ferment foods, dehydrate foods, grow food indoors/year-round, brew beer and wine and how to convert them to vinegar. When everything is unavailable or more expensive we’ll all need to be able to improvise solutions.

4. Stockpile for emergencies and shortages

Another lesson from the pandemic was the sight of empty shelves. Worse, while many shelves appeared full there were many products missing that we simply didn’t notice because they weren’t there. Get used to it.

Shortages have happened throughout history for reasons ranging from war to pandemics. In a time when energy resources are increasingly unavailable, shortages will become a regular event.

And by the way, the Internet will not save the day when it comes to shortages. Internet commerce is totally dependent on the supply chain and delivery of every single package. As costs related to shipping and trucking products and packages spike, shortages and higher costs will come to the Internet as well.

The best way to survive a shortage of anything is to store some in reserve. This is particularly important for “staple” products that you can use to make other things. And this isn’t about storing a 2-week supply of food. That might not be a bad idea but in an environment where you have to do more and more things yourself, you’re going to need the resources to do it.

Start to think about staple products you use all the time.

This list will grow longer as time goes on. What’s important is to think about things that you regularly buy to make other things, and start to think about how you can stock up. If you notice something in short supply it may be time to buy more. We can improvise a lot of things but if there’s something difficult to make from scratch –stockpile it.

5. Learn to Fix Things

Products manufactured in many parts of the world (particularly Asia) always show up cheaper on the shelf due to the low cost of their labor and typically lower-quality raw materials. When the cost of shipping those products across oceans spike their prices, many of those imports will disappear and so will the lower costs.

It’s not an argument for “buy American,” it’s a fact. The prices will still be higher and the variety of offerings will be less, but the reality is that as shipping costs skyrocket, many imported products will be long gone.

The new behaviors that a lack of cheap imports may create are largely in the area of repairs and refurbishing. It’s probably worth taking the time to learn more about how to fix things that may be too expensive to easily replace.

Start to Think About What You Need to Know to Fix Things.

6. Think About How You’ll Create Your Own Energy

How much you can create your own energy depends a lot on where you live and the available resources. Everyone has access to the sun to generate solar power, but many people living in a city may not have regular access to a steady supply of firewood for heat.

There’s a good possibility that the grid will become unreliable at a time of low energy resources.This can affect everything surrounding our life and lifestyle and the ability to generate some degree of electricity or heat will be a growing challenge.

Determine Which Energy Alternatives You Could Pursue.

7. Move to a Small Town

The one environment to feel the greatest impact from a drastic reduction in energy resources will be cities. Life in the city is dependent on cars, trucks, deliveries, the supply-chain in general, and the cost efficiency of just-in-time-everything. In a time when little or nothing shows up on-time, every day will be a growing challenge.

On the other hand, small towns, villages and compact communities will feel less of an impact as people turn to their local resources for most everything they need. Better yet, small towns are defined by small distances that make traveling easier on foot, bike or the occasional road-trip in a car or truck.

Small towns are also quick to develop a sense of community driven by caring and sharing that can make life at least a bit more secure if not comfortable.

It May Be Time to Think About Moving

  • If you live in the city, think about what it would take to move to a small town or rural location. Everyone can’t afford it and it may seem like an extreme step, but even if you think of it as a second or vacation home, or even an acre or two in the woods –it’s a step towards a place where life will be easier when energy resources dwindle.
  • Move in with family in a desirable location. This could be temporary or permanent. A lot depends on your family. Many families are sharing a house or property to save money these days. When everyone has to think differently about how they live, It’s a possibility worth pondering.
  • At the very least, at least think about where you would want to live to pursue a simpler and more self-reliant lifestyle. If events make a move to a new location a necessity, you’ll at least have a head start on where to go.

8. Be Prepared for A Radical Change of Life and Lifestyle

An organization that identifies as LATOC or “Life After the Oil Crash” put together a paper outlining many of the possible events associated with the effects of a low energy future.

They identify significant change driven by economic collapse, failure of the power grid, and a general failure of effective commerce and the availability of basic necessities from food to water to medical services and supplies. Their recommendations are simple and terse:

“Get as self-sufficient as possible, as soon as possible. Get off the grid, out of debt, out of the city, learn to grow as much of your own food as you can, and get ready for some very interesting times.”

Is This For Real?

Like so many things it’s hard to believe that some of these doom and gloom predictions could actually take place. Then again, climate change has been dismissed for years and the weather events around the world seem to be indicating a significant shift in weather patterns.

Peak oil with all of its ramifications is claimed to have occurred in 2018. It’s now 5 years later and things still seem to be somewhat normal. However, gas prices continue to rise and while our politicians continue to point fingers and blame each other, it’s quite possible that we’ll miss the obvious fact that our natural resources are rapidly diminishing.

Like so many decisions affecting disaster it all becomes a personal decision. What’s alarming is that the credibility of many of these studies is hard to dismiss. In a world that seems hell bent on its own destruction it may be left to the wise to simply prepare for the worst, all the while knowing that the best may be far behind us.

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