Dear Peak Shrink,
I love your website and what you do for people.
I have spent some time here reading the site and mostly I have been taking things in, but I have never expressed anything outwardly about my feelings surrounding peak oil, climate change, resource depletion, economic collapse, overpopulation or any of the many other ways I feel we are headed for decline.
I first heard about peak oil nearly 3 years ago after being bored and randomly watching a Netflix movie called A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash. From there, the bottom of my world dropped out from under me and I was quite literally shocked, astonished, upset and obsessed with the idea peak oil and nothing being as it seemed.
At first I spoke out, who wouldn’t? I spoke to husband and family – sister, mom, etc. But then quickly learned like a slap in the face that no one wants to hear about this. Everyone thought I was crazy – I was dismissed. My sister rolled her eyes at me like she knew so much more than me and I was an idiot to fall for such “liberal media attempts” to control my thinking and that we are never going to run low on oil. It was the most preposterous of suggestions; she wouldn’t even give me the time of day. I’ve never really forgiven her for that, although she doesn’t know it because now I keep my mouth closed about my thoughts, beliefs, and world view around just about everybody.
Even my husband, who is pretty even keeled (if extremely traditional and not always open to new ideas) was turned off and completely shut out my alarmist freaking out at the thought of what is going to happen to us. This was around the time when oil was hitting its all time high in 2008 and every day in the news seemed to creepily reinforce what I was learning about from the web and books, and mostly just extensive, extensive reading. He wouldn’t even consider it. I freaked out and put it away but never really forgot it.
But the issues brought forth and my new view of what we were really doing would not stay put away. I secretly worried about a crazy collapse like everyone running around with no food or money and no clean water, crime (I live in the city), real mad max scenarios. How would I take care of my now 6 year old daughter? I continued to frequent website like energybulletin.net for news about what I couldn’t understand wasn’t on the front page of every newspaper because this was seemingly the only thing that mattered. Why wasn’t everyone talking about it?
I’ve gone through the most intense self doubt and feelings of absolute craziness – am I crazy for thinking something so counter to the world I inhabit or is everyone else crazy? Basically ever since finding out about peak oil, I have experienced this low level sense of unreality, like how can we just go on like this? Uncaring? Unchanging? And yet this isn’t very helpful because this describes me as well to an extent – I have not shown pervasive, broad changes in my life, although I dream about and worry about what we should do –where and how would we be safest? Where/how do we establish ourselves in a community? How come the whole idea of community seems so foreign? I mostly resign myself to small changes and inaction on any large scale because how can we know what the future holds? Where should we live? Should we buy our own house? We are living with my mother in her paid for home in [large city in TX], which is going pretty well, but I long to make bigger changes than just starting a small garden and it is understood that we are only staying for a while. How do I get my family on board with me? The issue has not gone away, obviously, my husband recently admitted in a huge blowout fight we had that this is the thing he hates the most about me – what he perceives as my unending negativity about the future. He wrote to me in anger that no he does not want to watch another movie with me or read another article with me about how bad the world is. He said it depressed him and makes him feel helpless. He did say he would be willing to listen if I didn’t overwhelm him all at once.
I have been trying harder recently to climb out of my insulated way of worrying and thinking and come out to meet my husband where he is – our relationship is terribly important to me. Although I have had at times felt like he was a hindrance to doing the things I thought I might do with my life without him, I no longer believe that to be so.
The hardest part is talking to him – I’ve etched away at him over the years – we have talked about energy and overconsumption, the damage we are doing to the earth. (He brought that one up in a strange conversation in bed when he asked me if I ever thought the earth was like kinda trying to heal herself – if that’s what things like crazy hurricane that kill so many people are all about. We have hurricanes in our part of the world the last bad one was “Ike”). We are of like mind on so many things – but not everything. The heart of what I think and worry about is still mostly out of view, because it is so unpopular, so decidedly not mainstream, so radical. What do you do with the knowledge that our way of life cannot continue – this is the message I carry at its most basic level. I hardly know what to do with it – the changes we’ve made are good but are really way, way too little. Perhaps it is too little too late.
I feel this urgency to do something, to ready ourselves somehow, but I’m so fearful of making a stand and really getting to the heart of why I am a proponent for all of the simplicity I try for – for considering homeschooling, for, frugality, for considering farm life – which is a pipe dream for our family now. It is something we all kind of think would be cool but have never really addressed seriously. And is this even right for us?
I’ve never had that frank conversation with my husband; I so much prefer not to alienate him. I like him when we are on the same side as we are now. But at the same time it is painful and hard to live this way sometime – going to work and continuing the daily grind for what? Why are we working so hard and for what? Where are we going? How do I sell my husband on the fact that we might not live in a bigger home than our parents and make more money than they did and be able to go on fancy vacations? I know he just wants to be productive and useful – he’s said that to me a lot lately. I know he just wants to enjoy life as much as he can as well.
So, how do you approach the end of growth? How do we change our perceptions and wants? Are we evil for putting it all away and watching Netflix? For stuffing it with cocktails at happy hour? For forgetting and diverting ourselves with insignificant externalities? Should I be facing this more squarely?
The times I do face it, I run into so much resistance – there’s rancor between my husband and I. I feel like we are in holding pattern – what is going to change soon? Where are we going? Where do we want to be going? And how do we get there? I think I need clarity more than I need harmony right now. What do you think?
Am I too late in the game for it to matter? What can I do? How can I convince my husband and family to change with me?
I apologize for the length of this letter and thank you so much for allowing me the space to write this.
Blue Jay from Texas
Dear Blue Jay,
The questions you ask are value questions. They are the kinds of questions everyone needs to focus on right now. What do you value in your life? Where will you put your time and attention? If you just accept what is currently being talked about by the MSM, you have a lot to be talking about, you and your husband. And he’s told you something very important, which is that he, too, is thinking about how he can be productive and useful. I think you need to keep that goal of his front and center, because he means so much to you.
So how does a person begin to sort all of this out? Where do they begin?
Pragmatically, they have to start by taking out a map, drawing two circles around their home, one 5 miles out and one 10 miles out, and start to ask very very basic questions:
- Where does our water come from? Is there enough of it that falls every year? Are there laws that prevent us from collecting rainwater? Do I need electricity to get access to my water?
- Where are the toxic dumps near me? How do they impact health and food growing?
- Are their ports or railroads? Is there another way for products to get into my area other than trucks?
- What does the government say about the quality of my land? Is any of it designated as farmland or livestock land? Is any of it fit for food production?
- Who are my neighbors? Do I know them? Do I have any shared history with them? Do we have any common problems we all live with (like speeding cars, poor schools or destructive teenagers or break-ins?) How are they ‘like me?’ How are they different than me? What skills do they have that I lack? What skills do I have that are useful to them?
- What family do I have? How far away do they live? What skills do they have? What “hobbies” do they enjoy? How many are within that 5-10 mile radius?
- What raw materials and products are produced within my area? Will these materials still be needed as we power-down?
- What cooking skills does my household have? Can I make food from scratch? Do I have a basic cookbook that teaches me how? (one that doesn’t say “take one can of mushroom soup”) Do I cook like this at least once a week?
- What basic homemaking skills does my household have? Can we put on a button? Sew a tear in our clothes? Make a simple shirt or pants? Knit or crochet? Do we know how to can or dry food?
- What basic household skills does my household have? Can they do basic carpentry, plumbing, electrical?
- What basic mechanical skills does my household have? Can we fix a simple motor? Change the oil? Clean a carburetor? Do simple bike repairs? Do we know how the machines we use every day work?
- What basic emergency medical skills does my household have? Has anyone taken a basic Red Cross Emergency Preparedness course? Nursing classes?
- Are we healthy? Have we kept up with dental care or medical check-ups? Do we follow the advice we’re given to maintain our health?
If you start any of these projects, you are going to feel better emotionally, and you are going to know that you are gathering important information and developing necessary skills.
Blue Jay, this is not an “all or nothing” project. Enjoy your movies every once in a while, but if you like wine, watch wine making videos. Choose which YouTube videos to watch. Not this one, unless your husband wants to learn the song and the moves to sing to you when the electricity goes out. Maybe outdoor stuff, if it’s alien to you. It’s okay to have fun. You have to live in your world as it is today, while preparing yourself for tomorrow’s changes. No one calls someone taking a Red Cross Emergency Preparedness course a “nut job.” Anyone on a hike would me mighty glad you did, if they needed you. The issue is not “can I do it all today?” You can’t. The issue is whether you are starting to take responsibility for examining your situation squarely and weighing what you need to do in what order. If you are frozen, start where you just “feel like” starting. You’ll quickly know if that works for you.
Your sister doesn’t have to “believe” in Peak Oil in order to help you learn to sew, if she can do that and you can’t. Your husband doesn’t have to be a “doomer” to get interested in putting up emergency supplies for the next hurricanes. There is so much to do, start anywhere. But start. Assess where you are and where you want to go, and until you can do the big stuff, do what’s doable.
Thanks for writing!
“The Peak Shrink”