Three More Reactions from a 30-Something Philosophy Professor

If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
you got it, you got it
This was a Pizza Hut
Now it’s all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it

I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
you got it, you got it

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
you got it, you got it

I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
you got it, you got it

We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries

(Nothing But) Flowers by Talking Heads

 

Hello Peak Shrink,

I am an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at a large mid-western US university, a 34 year-old male.

I’m not exactly sure where I learned of Peak Oil. There was definitely no conversion moment. Strauss and Howe’s theory of the cycles of history impressed me greatly, and when their prophecy book 4th Turning came out, I was pretty convinced that the US would be going into perpetual crisis mode around 2005. There book came out in 1997, I seem to have discovered in 2001 (before 9-11). But their theory and book left it pretty ambiguous what the nature of the crisis provoking the political and societal crisis would be, financial? military? new diseases? environmental? Civil war? Government shut-down? What? (Y2K never tempted me). I have a record of an letter were I talk about personal preparation for periods of historical crisis, in very similar language to what I would now use, in 2001, but without mentioning Peak Oil. Heck in grad school once, found out that a nearby carol in the library to mine was occupied by an Iranian grad student specializing in oil, I remember giving a pessimistic scenario to him, and him responding with optimism, and thinking, hmm maybe I’m being too pessimistic about this.

By 2003, at age 30, I was married, and had one kid, and I had learned of Peak Oil and was beginning to think about it, but it’s not clear to me that I appreciated its magnitude. Even in 2004, I talked about Peak Oil as one factor among many in our future, and didn’t really think about it much. Getting a job in philosophy, and going on the market each year, is an extremely psychologically distressing experience, and I half suspect I just didn’t have enough resilience left over to try to think hard about our societies future.

By early 2005 I had begun thinking a little about Peak Oil, and I did a little research that summer, but I was not yet a Peaknik. But fall of 2005 I couldn’t really get it out of my head, and I was scared and trying to learn. I was beginning to have trouble with other research, because I was spending my thinking time, trying to wrap my brain around Peak Oil and what it meant for our society. By then I had 2 kids and a tenure-track job, and we thought we might be able to stay in one place, so we bought our first house. We were definitely thinking about Peak Oil adaptation when we bought it, but I didn’t really understand what was important and what wasn’t. I was comforted by the fact that someone lived here successfully in 1902. If I had it to do over, I might have picked a home a little further out, but still in biking range, but with more gardening space, instead of one within (long) walking distance of my job. I was convinced and scared enough, to give all my students one peak oil lecture in fall of 2005, a habit I have continued to today.

In 2006 I was spending a lot of time on Peak Oil learning and processing information. I was extremely scared, and thinking in terms of civilization collapse, but slowly convinced myself that economic collapse, and lifestyles reminiscent of the early 20th or late 19th century were more likely. I began looking on the bright side of peak oil. My Spring 2006 lecture Powerpoint includes a slide entitled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Peak” about the upsides of Peak Oil. I was unaware of anyone else who thought as I did, and that didn’t really trouble me, that’s just how philosophy is. I spent that summer working on research and Wikipedia projects. By fall I would talk Peak Oil with colleagues, but I didn’t think of myself as an expert or Peaknik. By late 2006 my wife is genuinely beginning to grapple with Peak Oil too, not because I have tried to convert her (I didn’t really) but because I seem so convinced. I have wondered if worrying about Peak Oil has taken the mental space that I always used to use for worrying about my employment.

By Spring of 2007 I was becoming disturbed by other people’s lack of fear about peak oil, and their continued worry about minor issues like terrorism. I remember making a chart of terrorist deaths and car accident deaths. My wife and I are beginning to do real adaptations to, and beginning to think of them as preparations for the future, instead of just as things we try to do for morality reasons. In summer of 2007 I thought and wrote about peak oil a lot and discovered the blogosphere and began interacting with other Peakniks for the first time. I quickly became deeply impressed with the thought of Casabaum’s book – AKA Sharon Astyk.

My fear was coming back too. Our society will make it through Peak Oil I’m pretty convinced, but will I or my loved ones? Can I prevent my children from starving to death? From dying in a stupid civil war. But worry, wasn’t really the emotion. Sometimes it would be terror, or helplessness or depression. Sometimes I would begin to grieve for the lifestyle I’ve loved. I often wrote about it and thought about it in terms of the grieving processes. I’m not really a doomer, and have sought hard for equanimity.

Planning doesn’t really help me psychologically much, because I don’t feel like I can plan my way out of the problems I foresee. Its just going to suck and we will all do the best we can. You can divest yourself of dollars too soon, as well as too late. I know the dollar is struggling and is a bad long-term investment, but when exactly is the moment to switch? Likewise, I’ll probably wind up leaving my job, or being fired, or laid off. I toy with the idea of leaving now, rather than later, but I just can’t do it. There are many things we do now that we will eventually have to give up, some we can give up now without much penalty, but for many giving up too soon is as bad as giving up too late.

My wife derives a lot of psychological comfort from knowing that she is doing good, and that she is working on the troubles and that she is trying to help. And I’m impressed by what she has already accomplished and what she is currently working hard on. But it seems like my job is to make money at an already obsolete task, to support my family, so that my wife can do good work, until that dries up and I have to find something else for my whole life to be about. Perhaps I do a little good in the process, maybe. But mostly I’m just trying to get my family by for another year or two.

What would I warn others of? The whole panopoly of the grieving process, denial, bargaining, turbulent emotions, etc. My process has been very similar to my understanding of grieving for a lifestyle. I warn others to expect that.

What was helpful to me? Time, philosophy, religion. When I did the numbers enough to convince myself that even the US wasn’t looking at society collapse or 3rd world poverty, just the kind of lifestyles we lived in the early 20th and late 19th that comforted me a lot. I really do think people will be happier in 2027 than 2007 even though they will be poorer (well most of those that survive, especially the younger ones.) And that is a source of comfort. When I discovered the Talking Heads song “Nothing But Flowers” about a 20Cen guy having troubles adapting to a 21cen Agrarian future, that helped too.

Do I talk to others? yeah, lots of reactions. Adults go into denial mostly, or hope for technology fairy to save them. My students mostly get scared and start to think.

How has my life changed? Hmm, lots of ways and many probably aren’t connected to peak oil. Some are. I certainly bike a lot more and drive a lot less, and eat less meat, and eat a lot more locally and seasonally. A number of people this week have asked me if I’m Amish. I’m far more knowledgeable and interested in agriculture than ever before, and I guess I know a lot more economics and banking stuff too. My wife has changed a lot too, we are involved in the local farmer’s market and working to set up a co-op. Probably lots of other things I’m not thinking of. There are others that are constants. I’ve always been gloomy and gothy, and still am just about different things. I’ve always been very anti-consumerist, and bought fairly little myself, now I think of these in different terms.

Well that was probably too long and I hope it helps.

*************************

I have had a few further thoughts that might more might not help you, or maybe your well past the gathering stories stage. I have experienced many of your common reactions, but have had 3 reactions you don’t discuss, and perhaps have not encountered yet.

I have certainly experienced disbelief, fascination, anxiety, panic, fear, depression, and compulsivity. I’ve never been a paybacky kind of person. As for rage, well, in 2001-03 as I was learning and processing and thinking about Strauss-Howe theory, I experienced a lot of rage at the Baby Boomers for the ways they have screwed up my world and my generation. In time that mellowed, and turned to pity as I became more adept at seeing things from their viewpoint.

When I learned enough peak oil and related issues, it became simply one more set of fucking ways that past generations had screwed over my generation and later ones, and I couldn’t really work up any rage anymore, more like a sigh and a headshake. But various shades of fear, are really my normal reactions.

Unreality of the Present

Ok the first emotional response I’ve had that you haven’t described yet is a feeling of the unreality of the present. Sometimes it seems only partially there, like a mist or a ghost. Like I spend so much time thinking and caring about the future, that situations in the present that are non-sustainable, seem almost already-gone even while present.

I enter a supermarket and it all seems unreal, like a bizarre dream. I hobnob with jetsetters, and it feels like the ghosts of Pompeii, a little fictional vignette of life before the crash. In fact, Dar William’s song, This Was Pompeii, hits it pretty close emotionally. I’ve only started getting this within the last year, and its pretty rare and occasional. It is a neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant emotion, neither bitter nor sweet. Detached and vaguely confusing with notes of curiosity. Its like, OH do things like that still happen? I wonder how much longer that phenomenon will continue … A related experience is when I encounter a topic, say a philosophical question that I know would have fascinated me a few years ago, but that seems insufficiently pressing now, like re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Its not that it seems wrong or unimportant, just vastly less important than other concerns. The absence of expected care, the subjunctive-care, the feeling that I would care about this if things were otherwise, but I don’t gives it this same kind of half-real feel. My sense is that this emotion is partially caused by temporal awareness, and partly by changing of priorities. The future seems so real to me that the present seems almost like the past, or at least half-past in a way that the present does not usually seem.

Likewise as my personality and priorities change, the remnants of the person I have been, and priorities I have had remains a kind of partial filter on my experience of events. I actually kinda suspect that this is indicating the beginnings of moving from disorganization and despair to the reorganization phases of Bowlby’s model of grief, but hey I could be off base, I mostly just trying to describe.

Nostalgia for the Present

A related by quite emotionally distinct reaction I get sometimes is nostalgia for the present. I’ll be in a situation that seems unsustainable, something that I think will be going away soon, say eating a store bought industrial doughnut. And I’ll get wistful. Ah yes, cheap-ass store-bought industrial doughnuts were one of the things that were nice about cheap-energy lifestyles. They weren’t good for you, but they were yummy in a way that homemade isn’t, probably the industrial flavor additives.

The emotion will be both-pleasant-and-unpleasant, bitter and sweet, but usually far more sweet than bitter. Nostalgic, or wistful. But also bizarre, like double-vision, or cognitive dissonance, because I’m eating the doughnut now, I am in the moment I am nostalgically remembering, while also being nostalgic about it. The present is present, rather than fully gone, but it is half-gone enough to trigger emotional responses as if it were gone.

I first experienced this emotion, before I’d ever heard of Peak oil, when I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which created fear and revulsion in females, but also focused on what was good about our present. They watch smuggled copies of Star Wars and try to imagine what life had been like in the bad old days of the free press, when you could have Hindu themes in a movie. I’ve hardly ever experienced this emotion between then and recently, but within the last year I’ve started getting it in my daily life occasionally, usually with mental linking to peak oil. I’m in a situation, I reflect that it is probably almost gone. I wonder if I will ever eat another Krispy Kreme Doughnut or not. Will this be the last time I enter a Wal-Mart? And the situation seems unreal, already half-gone, but it also seems real, sweet, good at some level despite the hidden evil price-tag. And rather than bemused detachment and double-vision, I get bitter and sweet together, I get the emotional whallops. And emotionally it feels nothing at all like the bemused detached half-reality of the present, even if it has roughly the same cognitive basis.

Crushing Guilt

Ok the third reaction you don’t seem to describe is crushing guilt. The mess we are in is largely a result of the bad decisions of previous generations, but I get a share of the blame too, and my small share is almost more than I can bear. I’ve lived many years of high-energy lifestyle, covertly exploiting the third world, stealing from future generations, trashing the planet, and basically enjoying lots of good things without having to pay the real costs of my choices. And some other poor schlub has to pay the staggering costs for my lifestyle as a kid and young adult. In many cases, it is some poor third-worlder that my economic system screws over in my name, to make my luxuries a little cheaper. But hey, our system is built to screw the future almost as much as it screws the third world. Much of the burden for my past luxuries will be my own kids or grandkids, or yours. It’s not like peak oil theory is new, why did I not learn of it sooner? Heck, even since learning the facts I haven’t adapted as quickly or steeply as I should have.

When my children are starving to death in a few years, am I going to think back to that Saturday I recently spent playing video games, wish I had sacrificed harder to prepare and hate myself forever? How will I look them in their starving faces? How will I hold their dying bodies? What about those starving right now in Darfur, because of my video games and hamburgers and economic system. We could feed them right now with the grain we feed instead to cows we slaughter for crappy luxury foods, but there is no economic incentive to feed the starving. And I’m 34 and I have been unable to change this terrible system, and less zealous than I should have been in even trying to change it, so I get the blame too.

You do say (in the mid-life bit) “In the light of Peak Oil, some are shocked to realize that their creative efforts have not served the planet and its inhabitants, and instead benefited only a small elite at the expense of most others.” Well, shock might happen with sudden discovery, my own discovery was more gradual, and in many ways I have known this at least since the age of 18 when I spent the summer in post-collapse Bulgaria, in the summer of 91. But past the shock, you still have to deal with the guilt, and there just isn’t any good technique. Unless perhaps you can avail yourself of supernatural forgiveness via religion, and even that, doesn’t license forgiving yourself, or being forgiven by other humans. When my grandchildren (should I and my kids be so lucky as to survive that long) accuse me and my generation of ruining their world and impoverishing them to have a few luxuries a little longer, I will have no defense except to agree with them and bear my guilt as best I can.

What do ex-Nazi’s say to their grandchildren? I have no idea how people older Americans than me such as the Baby Boomers bear their share of the guilt without going deeply mad. Some seem to be in total denial, and some retreat to a false self-righteousness where they think that their vague liberalism, or vague Capitalist justifications makes them immune to the moral problems. Perhaps they simply never imagine the future making accusations against them. Especially the Monotheists must believe they will face a judgment for their choices.

How the hell do other sane people expect to justify their choices before an honest judge who can see past self-deception, how to they expect to bear the guilt when they face the true costs of their choices? Our system works hard to hide the evil-price-tags of the real costs of our choices to others, so maybe some people really don’t know how much evil they do to others in the course of living their normal American daily lifestyles, but I can’t make that defense. I don’t understand it fully, but I know enough to understand many of the real costs. I am the beneficiary of the tail-end of an age of unimaginable wealth (for the first world) bought a huge cost to the 3rd world and future and ecosystem, and what have we done with our wealth? Some good things, the creation of cinema, and computers, and some decent medical research. But nothing to balance against the staggering costs. Hey, the Nazi’s advanced our understanding of rockets and plastics, but no one remembers to put that in their plus column. What have I accomplished with my life that can balance out the huge evil that I have done to the world simply by living a close-to average American lifestyle for 30 odd years? Nothing. When my sins and just deeds are tallied up, I’m going to envy the moral balance sheet of a humble earthworm, at least it does little harm! And I’m probably doing better than most of the people I know and interactwith and love. We are sooo deeply fucked. How do we sleep when our beds are burning?

Ah, I slip from attempting to discuss emotions into more general ranting, I apologize. Still it remains that struggling to cope with crushing guilt is a big part of my emotional reaction to peak oil at this stage and I am frequently amazed that it does not seem to be for many others, or if perhaps it is and they just aren’t admitting it, this too would be useful information to get out in the open.

Hope I am not straying from the information you are looking for too much, and if I can be of any more help just e-mail.

***************

Have you experienced any of the thoughts and emotions expressed here like unreality of the present, nostalgia for the present, or crushing guilt? Leave your comments here or write to me at peakshrink@peakoilblues.com. Want to read more stories by readers? Click HERE.

About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

Comments

  1. Crushing guilt is definitely something that I’m struggling with.

  2. Professor,

    Your post rings as true as a clarion bell. I experience the nightmarish or surreal moments you described nearly every day, particularly when I’m out around other people who are going about their lives as if it’s 1976, and who seem to live as if they are still wet-behind-the-years freshmen in college – buy, consume, dream, buy, consume, dream… avoiding and deliberately denying all sense of responsibility and reality.

    I think of what we’re exeperience as akin to the slow-motion collapse of the Roman Empire or the fast collapse of Hiroshima when the air raids sirens started up, only what’s happening now is taking place on a worldwide scale. One feels completely helpless, guilty, frustrated in foreseeing what’s coming when others refuse or refused to see, deeply intensely angry at those who put their hands over their eyes and ears, and deeply sorrowful for the innocent and our beautiful children – a mixed bag of emotions that would drive any intelligent person or parent insane. I have had some degree of artistic talent and have had aspirations to create on a level that might bring me financial security and perhaps some egotistically lovely feelings in believing that what I create might bring some happiness or understanding to others, as art is meant to do. Now, this kind of creation feels egregiously self-gratifying and unimportant, fake and meaningless. As I see it now, the attention on this kind of individual aspirations has brought our western world, in terms of tangible, useful, wisdom that will save us – nothing, or not nearly enough.

    As all the great philosophers posed in one from or another is this, the question is this: How do we live our lives?

    All I can do is to realize that this is my life, and it has to be lived, and that yes, I have control over a few things, but not enough to ever feel secure as I did in my youth with my parents still looking out for me. I can only enjoy the rare beautiful, funny, touching, and interesting moments that loved ones and others occasionally bring me, and, as they say, that’s as good as it’s going to get. And I don’t count that circle as terribly big. (Perhaps for some, it’s only their cat, or a dog, or a neighbour. Some have no one, and that is the worst of all.)

    The second part of my thinking is more practical – I’m in the mode of moving to a small cottage that’s more ecologically sustainable, where I can continue to grow a garden, stock up on the essentials, and live much more simply, as I should have all along. Still, I realize this is putting a bandaid on a wound, for it’s probably too late, and also, if everyone around us does not do the same (or cannot), it’s like wading into a tsunami. And they won’t – not even the friends and acquaintances and family I’ve talked to about it. So discouraging.

    What I’m left with is what my now dead father said to me many years ago: the comfort in feeling a solidarity with the silent, knowing minority, and the feeling that some of us, at least, are, by the strange and mysterious coincidences of time and life in that we are on this planet at exactly the same time, are also feeling these same things at exactly the same time, and looking up at the same stars while we do.
    – Peace.

  3. Professor,

    Your post rings as true as a clarion bell. I experience the nightmarish or surreal moments you described nearly every day, particularly when I’m out around other people who are going about their lives as if it’s 1976, and who seem to live as if they are still wet-behind-the-years freshmen in college – buy, consume, dream, buy, consume, dream… avoiding and deliberately denying all sense of responsibility and reality.

    I think of what we’re experiencing as akin to the slow-motion collapse of the Roman Empire or the fast collapse of Hiroshima when the air raids sirens started up, only what’s happening now is taking place on a worldwide scale. One feels completely helpless, guilty, frustrated in foreseeing what’s coming when others refuse or refused to see, deeply intensely angry at those who put their hands over their eyes and ears, and deeply sorrowful for the innocent and our beautiful children – a mixed bag of emotions that would drive any intelligent person or parent insane. I have had some degree of artistic talent and have had aspirations to create on a level that might bring me financial security and perhaps some egotistically lovely feelings in believing that what I create might bring some happiness or understanding to others, as art is meant to do. Now, this kind of creation feels egregiously self-gratifying and unimportant, fake and meaningless. As I see it now, the attention on this kind of individual aspirations has brought our western world, in terms of tangible, useful, wisdom that will save us – nothing, or not nearly enough.

    As all the great philosophers posed in one from or another is this, the question is this: How do we live our lives?

    All I can do is to realize that this is my life, and it has to be lived, and that yes, I have control over a few things, but not enough to ever feel secure as I did in my youth with my parents still looking out for me. I can only enjoy the rare beautiful, funny, touching, and interesting moments that loved ones and others occasionally bring me, and, as they say, that’s as good as it’s going to get. And I don’t count that circle as terribly big. (Perhaps for some, it’s only their cat, or a dog, or a neighbour. Some have no one, and that is the worst of all.)

    The second part of my thinking is more practical – I’m in the mode of moving to a small cottage that’s more ecologically sustainable, where I can continue to grow a garden, stock up on the essentials, and live much more simply, as I should have all along. Still, I realize this is putting a bandaid on a wound, for it’s probably too late, and also, if everyone around us does not do the same (or cannot), it’s like wading into a tsunami. And they won’t – not even the friends and acquaintances and family I’ve talked to about it. So discouraging.

    What I’m left with is what my now dead father said to me many years ago: the comfort in feeling a solidarity with the silent, knowing minority, and the feeling that some of us, at least, are, by the strange and mysterious coincidences of time and life in that we are on this planet at exactly the same time, are also feeling these same things at exactly the same time, and looking up at the same stars while we do.
    – Peace.

  4. The thing that stikes me as interesting about the whole “hating boomers” meme is that I, now one of the hated ones, hated my own parents when I was young for destroying the Earth–and for other things, like thinking it was a good idea to kill southeast Asians. We were laughed at when we created the first Earth day and when many of us dropped out of society and took off to create a new way of life, living off the land (Huh. That sounds familiar). Sigh. It seems there will be no end to this generational hatred until there are no generations left to hate.

  5. Unreality of the present has definitely struck me as the most overpowering emotion. I happened upon some peak-oil literature by accident this past weekend, and I can honestly say that I have not slept well for the past 3 nights thinking about it. Usually when I am worried about something, my mind works on the subject all night long. In the light of day, I feel better and I begin to stop worrying. With the subject of peak-oil, I have yet to find any sense of peace. I wake up and all day long the only thing I can think about it is “this life is just a dream”. I remember speaking with a very good, and very down-to-earth, friend who recently bought a brand new pickup. He tried to convince me that he would keep it for generations and hand it down to his kids. It now seems unreal to me, and I feel almost angry with him. How can you possibly think to buy something that gets such low mileage and expect to keep it for years into the future, especially with oil trending to $100 and beyond. I too, walked into the supermarket and immediately thought that this will not exist soon. I eat breakfast and dinner and feel guilty about it. My work now seems almost pointless to me. I used to be very involved in investing for my retirement, now I can’t bring myself to believe that stashing money away for my future will bear any fruit.

    I’m an engineer, so the nature of my profession will not let my mind simply accept fate. My brain now races throught ump-teen possible solutions and what I could do to help implement them. Yet the realist in me doesn’t see a fix for this problem. Our economy hasn’t even trended toward a fix, so how could this problem ever possibly be solved in time? The lead time is far too great for any remotely-possible solutions.

    My other main sense is one of loneliness. It is unfathomable to my simple brain that we are in the minority when it comes to understanding the impact this event would have on our current lifestyle. Everyone around me goes about their day like nothing has changed, and nothing will ever change. I find myself wishing that I could be that ignorant once more. I finally understand the saying “ignorance is bliss”.

    I dont mean to come on here and only share my current negative feelings, but I feel that if I dont express myself to someone then I will become quite mentally ill. And I say this only half-joking. I hope that I can come to terms with what I’ve learned and continue to live a fulfilling life.

  6. Scott;
    I too have shared your feelings when I first learned of the magnitude of this nearly 3 years ago. I had about 3 weeks of sleeplessness. There is no total solution a country can make to mitigate all of the impacts. All we can do is to draw our focus down into a narrow beam of ourselves and the community(not city) around us. I too have a friend who just bought a Chevy Avalanche, who doesn’t want to hear about peak oil. Most societies for the past several hundred years have had the eat, drink, and be merry mentality for many centuries. There is no sense in trying to blame the baby boomers, or any other generation. The laborers of the 1700′s in Europe could have blamed the previous generations from using up all the good wood, so they had nothing to heat with. We are a nation of the victim mentality, it’s somebody elses fault for my predicament. The truth is, its all our faults. We have had so many warnings about so many things over the last century, that it is hard to decide which are for real, and which are political or cause dejour motivated. Oil was just one of those buried in the pile of concerns. I decided two years ago that I would gather the things that my wife and I would need to try to finish out the last couple of laps of life we are on, and gather things to leave our son and family to go forward with. I refurbished an old Singer treadle sewing machine to leave our granddaughter. I’m gathering manual carpentry tools to leave our grandsons. pocket knives, magnifying glasses(useful for picking out splinters and starting fires), etc. I started writing my history for future generations many years ago, I have re-intensified my efforts on finishing that. It will be important for our heirs to know that we overcame many hurdles on our walk.

    When somebody cuts me off in traffic now, instead of getting perturbed I just chuckle and think what are they going to do to get rid of their agression when there is no car or truck to drive. When I go into a WalMart now, it is with the thought in the back of mind of whether this is something I should acquire now that we, or my grandkids will need later to survive. Yes, the ability to work up much enthusiasm for the job is tough. I need the income and the $$ to facilitate what is ahead. I have started buying $200 of silver coinage every month. I need the job to do that, so I will just continue smiling, put in my time, do what I am told, knowing that most of this will be irrelevant in another 10 years or so.

  7. Scott,

    I’ve thought about that too, envying at times, my educated friends who in these perilous times, and despite (or perhaps because of) their privileged backgrounds, still go about living their lives in deliberate denial as if life is one big never-ending Tupperware party.

    And yes, ignorance is indeed bliss, but it is still full-blown ignorance.

    So I’ve decided that no matter the amount of psychological pain I’d rather live to my last day with my eyes wide open, having tried to metamorphize from the naiive and ignorant child I was to what I hope will be a better, more responsible, fully-developed human being. I don’t feel smug about this. My “better” may be a pitiful compared to others,’ I only know it’s the best I can do.

  8. Oh, one more thing. Here’s a quote from the LATOC (life after the oil crash) discussion site that may give you comfort in knowing you’re not alone in your feeling of unreality and abnormalcy. (It kind of struck me as funny, actually):

    “I had to kill an hour while hubby got his pupils dilated today.
    I tried looking for bargains . . nothing.
    This winter’s apparel held no appeal.

    I tried browsing the local Barnes and Nobles. I walked around
    for 30 minutes, there was only one thing in the whole friggin’
    once highly valued sanctum of bookiness that I found even
    remotely interesting. It was an assault rifle/handgun magazine.
    I wandered and tried to get interested in other books.
    It was an exercise in futility. I passed lots of older folks
    who were enjoying their coffees and pastries and golden
    years. They seemed like ghosts.

    I called my brother in law, “I can’t do it!”
    “I can’t even pretend to be normal.” I wailed,
    clutching a special edition of Guns and Ammo.
    He understood. He thinks I’m cool.

    Sigh. Another aware friend suggested I get a kitten.”

  9. John Richardson says:

    Hi Scott,

    Boy I can really relate to what you’re going through. As they say, we “live in interesting times”. Since I worked for years in energy related technologies, the Peak Oil numbers weren’t really a shock. I actually recall a lecture in a Nuclear Engineering survey course in 1971 where the professor discussed Hubbert’s 1956 prediction of domestic oil production peaking. But I suddenly came to the realization two years ago that the worldwide problem is NOW and the effects on my life were likely imminent.

    I’m also an engineer and the best advice I can give for someone who thinks like a typical engineer is to “define the problem and then solve it”. Sound familiar? A good start is to assess your own current situation identifying specifics that need to be addressed (in no particular order such things as food, fuel, profession, location, friends, family, knowledge, and tools). Follow this with an action plan and get to work. I laid all this out on spreadsheets so I could track progress and update as I put more thought into things. I lost sleep for a couple of days, and then got to work felt a whole lot better.

    Another response to Peak Oil that has really helped my attitude a lot is to inform and discuss the issue and possible consequences with those you respect most. I’ve done this over the past two years with a number of my colleagues. Although not all agree with my assessment, all have contributed useful and relevant comments (and asked some tough questions) that have helped me refine my thinking.

    Best of luck to you all.

  10. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you, professor and commenters, for being real despite how surreal it all feels.

    I have absolutely experienced unreality of the present, nostalgia for the present, and bone-crushing guilt. I find myself looking at artifacts of the oil age (plastic packaging, cars, electrical equipment, you name it) and imagining what they will look like as they molder in heaps, or rust in place, or whatever they end up doing. I see the objects simultaneously in the present, functioning in the current paradigm, and in the future, in a state of neglect and disrepair. When I go to work, I see the road as it is now, and I also imagine it full of huge potholes and big weeds and some saplings growing out of it.

    When I look at my baby daughter I am wracked with guilt thinking of my ridiculously profligate and oil-marinated life and the price she will have to pay for that. I imagine her dying in my arms and it’s often more than I can bear. Even though I have changed my life significantly, even though I was unaware of the sins I was committing as a child, teenager, and young adult (I am now 35), I can never undo the impact of my actions, all the car trips, all the plane trips, all the consumption.

    Gardener, thank you for the comment about comfort in solidarity with the silent, knowing minority. It is a genuine comfort to me to think of everyone who has written here, as well as those who are reading and not writing but perhaps nodding and thinking hard. I imagine us gathered together in a field, standing silently in a circle, gazing into each other’s faces with profound recognition and compassion. Whether the awareness has dawned days or weeks or years ago, the pain is familiar. The loneliness and grief is familiar. I have been peak-aware for years now and I still feel the pain of the first few days of awareness.

    I wish you all moments of rest and joy in between the moments of despair and seeming-insanity.

  11. Thank you, Jen, for your thoughts.
    I will try to find more of those moments.

  12. I too have had nostalgia for the present and reading the excellent description of it elicited strong feelings in me.
    My bittersweet wistful feeling might be when I’m in a supermarket looking at a big display of bananas,a fruit I love and eat daily. I sigh and say to myself, I remember bananas, as if I hadn’t seen one in a long time and might never again.
    And walking through the supermarket I feel like an invisible time traveller who dropped into a distant time to mingle with the locals. I feel sorry for them that they don’t know that this world of theirs will soon end, and they will feel as if the carpet has been pulled out from under their feet.
    Driving down the main street of my town I see a busy typical business and shopping district but I also see the same street with half the storefronts boarded up and decrepit with weathering and signs of vandalism. Litter and garbage are strewn about and what few people are on the sidewalk are ragged and rough looking.It feels creepy to me to indulge in this nightmarish daydream but I persist somehow feeling like I am connecting with something that is real and that will help me face what is surely in my future.
    Thank you for the opportunity to write about feelings, so much of the peak oil dialogue is about everything but feelings.

  13. Unreality of the present, or leaving the matrix. I seem to flip back on fourth between two seperate realities 49% of me wants to take the blue pill and plug back in but 51% of me will not allow it. It’s strange because both realities offer me comfort, one of business as usual and everything is fine and the other of preparations and planning. It’s the transitions between the two realities that brings on all the anxiety, guilt and other ill feelings. I suppose I just have to pick one reality, unfortunately it is the one in which most of the people I know will think I am crazy.

    Speaking of guilt, the other day I was at a strip mall returning some shoes with my girlfreind. The parking lot was jam packed with people bustling about doing there holiday shopping. The store was equally as packed with bins of stuff cluttering the walk way. So much stuff it fell onto the floor, people trampling on it, kicking it. Just massive amounts of worthless stuff that nobody really needs. Looking around at all this I suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous. Guilt and anger quickly rushed through my body and shook me to the core.

    I guess we who get what most likely will be bestowed upon civilization in the near future should feel lucky that we are getting these feeling out before the mass panic comes. When it starts to get ugly we can be the guides to our loved ones who may be panicing and scared. I think in the coming months 6-18 we are surley going to see some big things happen.

    I really hope this site persists, when I found it 2 days ago it was a breath of fresh air.

    Good luck every one.

  14. I’m another one who has been in this mode since about 2001 when I read a comment on a bliog somewhere that said “the next few years will be a race between peak oil and global warming. The only way to avoid the latter is for the former to kick in soon enough.

    At that point I started reading Peak Oil stuff and have been slowly working on the plan, including shifting closer to “home” and work, getting into gardening, reducing energy consumption, layijng in emergency supplies and buying tools that will last.

    I’ve had nostalgia for the present since about that first moment when it was totally clear that the present was slipping away, although it has mostly stopped since oil moved reliably above about $70, the present of abundance and ease is now firmly behind us as people start to deal with the realities of costly, scarce energy, even if they don’t yet understand what the cause is.

    For what its worth, my strategy is to become a centre of knowledge and practise in urban sustainability and become a resource for my neighbours and friends and relatives as the pressure goes on.

    I’m also assiduously building relationships with the people among whom I live. I know more of the neighbours aftger 3 months in my new home than I knew in a decade in my last. I can name all my neighbours, including those over the back fence, and tell you what most of them do for a living. Totally new.

    Thanks shrink for having a place for us to drop in.

  15. The feelings of guilt for actions done or not done are symptoms of SURVIVOR GUILT. The crewman aboard the sunk vessel, who sees his friends and mates taken to the bottom of the sea asks “How many lives could I have saved by changing my own actions?”, “Why didn’t I MAKE the authorities fix the problem I knew about?” “Why did I live? There were better ones aboard than me, why am I here and they aren’t?”

    There’s no one to blame, really. Every culture, every civilization, meets its end eventually. Those are part of the rules of human existence — we didn’t make them; we aren’t exempt from them either.

    The survivor shoulders the guilt, and comes to terms with it. Sometimes, just saying to yourself, “There must be a reason I’m still alive” (or, in peak oil’s case, “There must be a reason I know and so many others don’t”), and then just going on.

    That’s what people have done throughout history after every civilization-crushing disaster. It’s only because they did that, that we are here at all.

  16. To anyone reading this:

    I have decided to change jobs to one that will alow me to say goodby to all the places I have heard of but never seen…truck driving! Selling insurance is kinda hard now…even selling Medicare Advantage plans to those guilty as Hell Baby Boomers…a REAL “growth” market, ha-ha!

    For those striving to become part-time farmers as part of “the solution”: good luck fending off your THIRSTY neighbors that are stealing from your water well you already have installed…(you do know food crops need water, right?)

    The likely outcome is that most of the people writing and/or reading this will NOT survive the down side of Hubbert`s peak, including myself.

  17. The unreality of the present is only magnified by Peak Oil. It was always in your head. The present has been crowded out of our minds by the science and ritual of marketing and religions. You are always going to be happier in the future when you ‘buy’ their product, which never really delivers the pleasure that it promises. It cannot because pleasure is a “here and now” feeling that comes from moving and doing. Money is another tool which we have been sold so that we make promises for future work to receive things now (indebtedness). Though the mindlessness of marketing a future ‘heaven’ has been around for thousands of years, the time and expense of living kept it at bay except on rest days (Sabbaths). With the advent of cheap energy and ‘modern’ communications, even the workday is filled up with time sinks and news and promises rather than the here and now of conscious manual work. Thanks to science, there is no time for connecting our mind and our living work to have a sense of the real and the now.
    To paraphrase the Shredded Wheat commercials: “‘No’ is the best part of innovation.”

  18. …and then there’s the loneliness. Save for a handful of faceless internet comrades, I feel alone in carrying this burden. Building community has only helped somewhat — because isn’t it slightly disingenuous to start a gardening club or encourage friends to take an emergency preparedness class if they don’t share the burden of knowing why?

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