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Friday, February 08, 2008

FAR Future, Episode 22: Why Are We Still Here?

A brief interlude as part of the story. I’m about ready to start the next cycle.

Sunday, April 7, 2013
Why Are We Still Here?

It’s a nice spring afternoon out here today. I’m sitting out front with the laptop. Stuff is growing, the sun is shining, the windmill is turning slowly… I’m not exactly feeling gloomy, but I’m not nearly as sunny as this day has turned out to be. I guess the word is “introspective.”

The right-wing spins one way or another these days, like an old Chevy stuck in the mud, looking for traction wherever they can find it so they can get back in the race. They end up slinging mud everywhere, spinning their wheels, and sliding around. Their talking points still work with the most delusional among us, but not even their old crazy base is safe territory anymore. The opinion polls that came out after the bill to kill heating assistance last winter, for example, showed a 3-point drop in support for the goplets.

Even the most un-evolved knuckledraggers seem to have accepted that “they” just can’t pump more oil now, or enough more to make a difference. Therefore, rationing makes sense — nobody gets all the gas they want, but everyone gets some and there’s a way to get more if needed (on the exchange). They accept not driving the SUV unless they need the cargo capacity, and that their beloved NASCAR is changing their format to reward the most fuel-efficient vehicles. They’ve even (on the whole) accepted climate change and the need to address it, although many believe that declining fossil fuel usage will do the heavy lifting.

So it’s been a rough couple of years for the Spewers of Spin. The latest attempt to gain a little traction goes, as Shotgun Sam put it yesterday: “We’re interconnected, more than we’ve ever been in history. Push on one thing, and you create a ripple of push one way, and a ripple of pull the other. And this so-called ‘peak oil’ is, if you believe the liberal liars, is a mighty big push. They tell us that oil is the lifeblood of our economy, and we have to do all these Big Brother type things — rationing, h– [I think he barely managed to catch himself before saying heating assistance, which would have turned off his listeners big-time] mortgage relief for people who weren’t responsible enough to live within their means, tax hikes, draconian regulations on our automakers, all that. It’s killing jobs, it’s killing your jobs, and if we’d just let the free market handle things, we’d be fine.”

Predictably, this didn’t exactly resonate with the listeners. You can’t train people over the years to not think very hard about what they’re hearing, then hit them with something that complex. All the callers were nit-picking about whether the free market would have supplied enough gasoline for everyone, or why it was so bad to keep people in their houses, and completely missed the first point about how everything is interconnected.

Sam’s was a classical tactic: start with the truth, say “therefore,” and then tell a pack of lies that have little or nothing to do with the first part of the statement. Yes, this is a highly interconnected world — and yes, dwindling oil supplies gave it one hell of a push. But every time I hear the word “interconnected,” I think back to the good ol’ days of the Y2K wars. Among those who were paying attention, there was a pretty solid rift between “doomers” (Y2K is going to kill us all) and “pollies” (Polyanna, maybe a few disruptions but nothing earth-shattering). It would have been easy — but facile — to put right-wingers on the doomer side and lefties on the polly side. As it turned out, there was some weighting in that direction, but you could find plenty of people representing the entire political spectrum on both sides. I met CPR after I came over to the polly side, and he was a bulldog & a major Bush-league supporter. I participated in the endless flame wars, and watched and listened to arguments on both sides, and finally identified the dividing line:

Y2K doomers considered interconnections to be a weakness.
Y2K pollies considered it to be a strength.

Of course, it turned out the pollies were right — a domino falling was caught and supported by its neighbor, rather than knocking that neighbor into the next domino. But we’re not dealing with a fixable bug in a computer’s date programming, we’re dealing with something much deeper and more far-reaching. Fuel shortages have knocked over a bunch of dominoes. Fortunately, there’s still enough resilience in the system to keep things (mostly) upright — most people really didn’t feel a direct pinch until we had to give up almost a fourth of the fuel we used to consume back in Y2K days.

What’s falling, is falling slowly — small comfort to those who froze to death last winter, or died of less direct causes — but it’s up to all of us to make sure those people didn’t die in vain. Go look up that “Coming Together” article that ran on Time’s website last month — unemployed people went around to check on their neighbors, offering to “share the fire,” or brought chunks of a dismantled house to people who couldn’t get firewood for whatever reason. Some lives were saved, probably thousands more than what the media wrote about. Others pooled their grocery money, sent one or two cars to get groceries for the entire neighborhood, and made sure everyone had food. From what I’ve seen and heard, the bonds forged in winter’s cold furnace aren’t being broken now that spring is here — in what’s left of the 'burbs, they’re starting community gardens.

That’s a huge difference nowadays: people are getting to know their neighbors and make sure they’re OK, then work together for something — anything — instead of whining about someone painting their house the wrong color or having too big an antenna on their rooftop. When energy was so plentiful that anyone could drive their own car, nobody needed anyone else and the far-right was able to exploit our selfish streak to their own ends. But now, people know they have to depend on each other to get by… and selfishness has gone out of style. Way out.

One of the major chains down in Atlanta has started a “neighborhood pickup” program — the neighborhood picks an abandoned house and leaves it intact. People pool their grocery lists, and the store delivers to the pickup house. Then everyone walks in, pays the driver, and collects their food. It’s proving to be wildly popular, and the other chains are trying to get in on the action too. (How many people live within walking distance of a supermarket?) A lot of large developments are encouraging dwellers to park their cars near the road and leave the interior streets to bicycle and foot traffic now. You don’t have to convince the kids that it’s a good idea, and the parents are slowly coming along. One of the stories in that Time article talked about some kids who realized a particular geezer wasn’t chasing them off the sidewalk; they told the parents, who ran over to find the guy fighting for his life with the flu. He lived, and the kids were heroes. Doesn’t mean the geezer is any nicer to them, though. :-)

So in the long run, I still have a lot of hope. That doesn’t mean I don’t expect major trouble ahead, or that I’ll get through it personally, but things will be OK in the future for our descendants. Speaking of which, Daughter Dearest wants to “vacation” with us this summer after school’s out. It’ll be nice to see her here again.



  1. Hello Far!
    Gee, I like your story of hope! People pulling together to make it work.

    Rationing fuel only makes sense, if people can afford it, correct? Perhaps the interconnectiveness will be 10 people crowded in a VW bug, driving from the suburbs to jobs at McDonald's?

    I really like your thoughts about that you can't train people that over the years to think very hard about what their hearing and then hit them with something that complex. Just exactly where is the interconnection there?

    The resiliency of our electrical system was not demostrated on Y2K but in August of 2003, when 50 million people lost power within hours. This was indeed a domino effect, that could not be controlled in time. That's a fact. It could have been a lot worse. I go into this on my site.

    One thing is certain, it was interconnection that made possible 6.5 billion people on earth. Break that interconnection in any way, and well...

    What will be falling, if it's to be a slow process will be Northerner's falling on you're doorstep packed 10 deep in VW's! ha! They'll car pool down there!

    Thanks, yooper

  2. Great stuff FAR! :)

    The previous poster here, Yooper, is almost certainly correct about the numbers of northerners who will be seeking asylum in warmer climes. Up here in the blizzard belt, you either burn stuff during the winter to stay warm, or you freeze to death. It's that simple.

    Once the fossil fuel flow begins to slow a bit, we'll have to face some hard choices nationally, such as whether we all the northerners enough heating fuel subsidies to stay warm, or whether we devote the fuel to our roads & vehicles scheme?

  3. Hey ho!

    Yooper, migration is a future thread I intend to pick up.

    Also, resiliency doesn't mean things don't break… they just don't break completely. Population wise, 1/6 of the grid went down but it didn't pull the other 5/6 with it. In a situation like what you write about — widespread, prolonged heat wave, natural disasters affecting a region — then it could well all go down. (See "Perfect Storm")

    Nudge, you're certainly correct. I got to thinking about the Inuit, and how they get through winters that are harsher than what even Yooper is used to… or the native peoples of the Midwest. How many UPL'ers could learn those skills?

  4. Hello Far! Of course you're right, I might add that there's a lot of "bend" in this resiliency also. However it happened, and thankfully it was corrected in what three days? Here, we were without power for less than 24 hours, however, we get our power from Wisconsin.

    All kidding aside, I'm not sure how mirgration might play out. I think you're right on spot, five years out about some Northerner's freezing. Of course, I'm assuming a whole lot less energy, than what you possibly are.

    Ha! Besides, you can fit 10 Northerner's in that VW! ha!

    I really like you're idea about neighbor's pulling together. This is an absolute must. People will have to change in a quick hurry and learn to cooperate with each other. Like they did during the Depression.

    That could mean sharing a warmer climate with Yanks from New York. Oh, oh! ha!ha!

    Thanks, yooper

  5. 10 people stuffing a VW… at least they'll be warm!

    Body heat is likely to be one strategy for keeping warm in the winter. I think I might have mentioned this, packing 14 kids in a 15x15 dorm room to play Dungeons & Dragons — we'd have to open the windows and let some -40F air in to stay comfortable.

    Meanwhile, here in the present, I just reloaded the insert and the living room is nice and comfortable. I don't think the furnace has run all week. :-)

  6. Good idea re the body heat, FAR. Glad to hear the furnace has not yet kicked in. Just leave it set at like 50F so the pipes don't freeze.

    In upstate NY my parents' old place used to go through 22-24 cords of wood per year, but then, we didn't purchase any fuel oil for a very long time either. We kept nice and toasty too :)

    Yooper, the stuff on your own blog is pretty good too. I am going to flesh out a future scenario and start playing with it thanks to the fine examples here and in other places. The main problem I'm having so far is that all the bad news is national in scope (mostly) but all the good news is extremely local in scope (mostly).

    Have y'all ever browsed the WWO stuff? Some was good, some was scary.

  7. Hello Far, correction here, you CAN'T put 10 Northerer's in that VW, we've got some pretty big boys up here. ha!

    Yup, I'll be looking to your thoughts about migration. The instructors never onced mentioned mirgration. For that matter war, the cold war was in full swing back then. These were constants, as ever happening events thoughout human history. Their main focus was on the unique aspects of the industrail society or "The Age of Progress" and how that, and the consequences of it, might destroy Modern Man. They were forever questioning human adaptation (we're weaker now than ever before and further removed from a sustainable environment, isolation.), and gestures towards extinction were common place. Waste or pollution was discussed on a regular basis.

    Thanks, yooper

  8. Hey Far and nudge! Glad you're getting used to it Far, that unit should heat your entire home. By placing small fans up high leading into hallways and bedrooms, help drastically. Gotta be up high though as to not interfer with the flow of cool air on the floor. Yup, nudge, that's about what the average home goes through a year here too, 20 to 25 cords a year. Glad you like the site! I've just put up another chapter. Yup, I got a lot of ideas from Far. The radio, plays a hugh part in my scenario, as does the "hams" who are the ones reporting the news.

    Don't be affraid to respond! I'm discussing a very unpopular topic and people are affraid. I've stopped more threads than I can count, so getting little response is what I expected. Far, isn't scared of me! ha!ha!

    Thanks, yooper

  9. The future's so bright I've gotta wear shades. ;-)

  10. Nudge: WWO? Acronym escapes me at the moment, and Google isn't being my friend.

    Yooper, good thought about the fans. I'll have to look into that. As for the hams, I suppose once much of the RF noise is removed from the ionosphere that QRP will be workable most of the time. JMG likes packet radio, although the link layer lacks the store-and-forward capabilities that I think will be needed when power itself is intermittent.


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