Economic Collapse Brings Greater Simplicity to This Mom

Hi Peak Shrink,

My name is {removed} and I live in small town Ohio with my husband and 2 small children. I stumbled onto ‘peak oil’ via the back door…it started with food recalls which lead to investigating factory farms which lead to researching homesteading…you can see where this is going. Learning about peak oil has been a true blessing for me…a blessing in that it was the kick in the seat I needed to rally the troops and get organized. Peak oil became marching orders for my family and now we’re on the way to living simpler, more self-sufficient lives.

In the past year and a half, our garden size has tripled. We’ve added an orchard, berry patches and a flock of laying hens. We’ve found local sources of necessary goods, added rain barrels, composters, learned practical skills. But most importantly, we’ve connected with other like-minded families in our area to share successes and failures, ideas, produce, laughs. We’ve began to power down, simplify, declutter and really get to the core of the life we want to lead.

It’s kind of strange, but somehow, things are becoming so much more clear-cut for me. All the noise of modern life is falling to the wayside and the important matters- good food, good health, happy children- are so much clearer and easier to attain. It seems like the more desperate our economy becomes, the simpler my life becomes. It’s no longer a matter of keeping up with the Joneses or driving the largest car, attending the most elite preschool, owning the latest gadget; it’s becoming a matter of survival. While I’d never wish for the worst, events of the past year have been life-altering for me and in the best way.

Best wishes.
Simply Mom

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Dear Simply Mom,

Thanks for your touching story.

I think most of us would say that we are glad we learned about peak oil, (after we recover from the initial shock and horror of the discovery). For myself, I went down various lines of reasoning, only to come back, over and over, to the same conclusion: I can’t keep living my old way.

Peak Oil, as you know, is just one of the many Peak Everything’s we’re living with. I agree that one’s life priorities come into clearer focus, with a clear understanding of what Peak Everything means. Survival simplifies things, no doubt. If I could give one bit of advice to those who are reading your story, it would be “stop holding on to the side of the river,” by that I mean stop trying so hard to maintain your previous lifestyle.

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift, that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.”

This will only cause you greater hardship and more pain. Embracing the great wave of change, as you have done, Simply Mom, allows you to flow with the current. It allows you to look for like-minded families, instead of being torn between two value systems, fitting neatly into neither.

If we can all see the gift in whatever life brings us, we will find true gratitude. Gratitude allows room for contentment, and contentment allows moments of exquisite happiness.

I wish you and yours a productive, safe New Year, filled with gratitude, contentment and moments of exquisite happiness.

Thanks for writing.

Peak Shrink

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Do you have a story to tell about how knowledge of Peak Oil, climate change, or the economic collapse changed (or is changing) your life and values systems? Share it with others by emailing your story to PeakShrink AT Peakoilblues DOT com.

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Sleepless in The Big Apple

Dear Peak Shrink,

0325, and I can’t sleep. I’ve had a notion about a collapse for nearly 30 years. It’s something that has stuck with me since I was a child, and it seems to be gathering legs now. I am not prepared despite decades of personal capital development….I have a lot of life skills and have had many experiences that will lend well toward survival. However, I’m not prepared mentally for what could possibly befall my tender family. I recently decided to remarry after my first marriage imploded after 9/11. I now have a small baby girl and we live in New York City. I’m tired of living in a target and watching every armageddon scenario begin in my neighborhood. It’s making me paranoid.

It’s incredibly difficult to prepare for any type of disaster in this city. The laws suck, there is no space, money gets stretched thin. I make progress everyday, and it seems to help me mentally, but there are huge gaps in useful literature regarding urban settings beyond the cursory “they’ll get hit the hardest.” It’s disturbing as it makes me think there really isn’t a solution. Unfortunately, simply leaving here isn’t really a viable option today, and I’m starting to feel like I’m quickly running out of time.

I end up swirling through a sort of free radical reaction of paranoia, second-guessing, and wishing things were different. I find that the long emergency ahead is about the only thing I can focus on for any length of time, and all things I do are somehow related to this preparation. It seems to be silently defining me, as I rarely talk about it to anyone. When I do, most people either go off the deep end quickly or just stare at me. It’s been easier to ignore in the past when it seemed to be in the distant future, but the future seems to be unfolding in the now.

Underprepared Urbanite

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Dear UU

“Unfortunately, simply leaving here isn’t really a viable option today…”

Here is the heart of your letter, UU. It is the cornerstone of your poor sleep.

If I told you that NYC would be under water in a week, you’d find leaving a “viable option” because staying would be a “non-viable option.” You are a gambler, and you know it. You’ve been winning the bets so far. The only problem is, the stakes are getting higher, and climbing so much that your baby girl is up for grabs, if you lose. She doesn’t have the time to develop the “life skills” you’ve obtained, and rioters don’t dodge the kids.

The stuff you read about a city like NYC being the target, is because a city is a place where, by definition, is unsustainable. It relies on other places, other resources, outside itself, to survive. Like the child’s poem, when it is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad, it is horrid.

I’m sorry to confirm the difficult fact that just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you, as the joke goes.

If you move away, it will be one continuous hassle, I can see that. You may lose money on a condo or you may have no job prospects. You may find that you could have happily lived your current life another four years, no problem, and you will kick yourself that over that time, you would have accumulated more assets to make the transition so much easier for yourself and your family. You are a gambling man, and you may be walking away from a really big win. I know this because, despite having a notion about collapse for nearly 30 years, you chose to construct a life in a place that’s the scene of “every Armageddon scenario,” and then to make the concept of leaving that self-professed dangerous place “non-viable.” There are reasons for the “huge gaps in useful literature regarding [survival in] urban settings,” but instead of bucking up, and looking at those reasons with a steely gaze, you prefer to explain it as a “gap.”

What do you imagine people should say, when you tell them what you know? “Boy, you are right. I’d better change my entire life around in a hurry. Thanks a ton for that info, friend!” You know what you know, and YOU can’t even believe it.

The “long emergency” relates to oil, my friend. Unfortunately, we are facing a “short emergency” related to economic collapse. You are ignoring instincts, and you do so at your own peril. You are gambling that the risks are manageable, but your gut instinct is telling you otherwise.

Good luck.

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

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Postscript:

I’ve had a number of things happening in my own life, including a badly sprained ankle, a business that has to close, a new household ward struggling against a serious addiction, and a husband who’s crippling headaches have returned. But I have to admit something to you, my Dear Readers: UU’s letter really made me realize how darn lucky I am.

I’m free of the delusion that tomorrow will be brighter than today. I won’t be disappointed if President-Elect Obama doesn’t solve the world’s problems. My goal is to live a life just like those who spoke at a local talk about the Great Depression: They never really knew it was happening. Oh, of course, they read about it in the newspapers, but they lived such a simple life, working only with the basics of growing food, and maintaining a goal of community–free of expectations of government bail-out–that they just went ahead living a life, helping out a troubled neighbor, getting by with even less. Just like the title of a book on the Great Depression: “We had Everything but Money.” As I’m coming up ‘real close and personal’ with that lifestyle, I keep in mind a saying my mother repeated to me over and over: “I cried because I had no shoes. Then, I met a man who had no feet.”

Thank you, UU, for the gift of your letter. It came at the right time for me, just when I started to believe that I had nothing left to say, or that I was so overwhelmed by my own problems, that I had nothing more to give.

And thank you, Shy Wolf, for noticing my silence, and telling me you noticed and felt the loss. Means a lot to me, friend.

“Poor Peaker” Wonders about College, Jobs, Relocating

Hi Peak Shrink,

I’m in my early twenties, living in California, conveniently in an area that’s being hit very hard by the collapse of the housing bubble. After high school, I did not have the resources or support to go to college. Taking out a loan by myself was a scary proposition and seemed almost like a trap, so I just went to work.
I’d say that I have a pretty good skill set for my job (sysadmin/IT), but unfortunately I have no formal education. While I can make a decent amount of money (~$45-50K per year), it’s not going to be enough when faced with the rising cost of everything and competition from my college-educated peers.

I take a pretty dim view of California’s future in light of the energy problems, financial problems, and overcrowding that’s plaguing the state. Moving is expensive and I honestly have no idea where to go!

The places that seemed most desirable to me (Oregon, Washington) due to the compact urban environment are now looking less and less attractive due to the mass migration (and consequently ever increasing prices) there from other states, especially California.

Taking out a student loan seems even more risky right now, especially considering how it seems to me that almost every single thing I could study is meaningless or will soon be meaningless. What kind of future does a tech geek have in a world where people’s focus will shift from “we have to go global” to “we have to put food on the table”? On one hand I’m late to the party, but on the other hand I’m glad that I didn’t dive into the whole college thing right after high school.

Any advice on how to prepare with minimal resources but few obligations?

-Poor Peaker

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Hi Poor Peaker,

To be honest, you aren’t in a bad situation. Firstly, you have your youth. Are you healthy? Fit? If you have both of these things, combined with youth, no debt, and motivation, you don’t have to worry too much about the future, in my opinion. Put yourself in a situation of high income and low overhead, and accumulate assets now. If you aren’t sure where to go or what to do, accumulate cash at first, and determine where’s the best place you can put that cash to retain its value.

In most other states, 50k is quite a substantial income, even for a middle-aged professional. You should realize this, just to put things into perspective. In many states, you can buy a house, outright, on 5 acres of farmland for $50-60k, and keep yourself in that “no debt” state. But there is no hurry to own real estate at this point. Just as happened in CA, we’ve seen housing price adjustments in many markets across the nation, and some shifts in prices have only gotten started. Sock away your cash, and there’ll be a buyers market out there, as more and more aging Boomers try to cash out their homes for something smaller, or out of financial necessity.

If you don’t know where to go, consider the places that others have rejected as undesirable, and see if they meet your needs. What do you want out of your life, if you had to list them? Make a dream list, and see which ones are contradictory (lakes and mountain tops, for example, can be hard to combine…). Read various books that describe the types of places that are likely to manage well in tough times, and avoid the ones those folks specifically mention, unless you want to be part of the crowd. Read a variety of opinions from people who give this sort of advice for a living, and try to make sense of what the principles behind their thinking is. Do they always mention your own water source? A certain distance from population centers? A specific number of acres? Do they included forested areas? Small towns? Do they mention areas where the population has been stable for a long time? On a rail line? Stress the need to investigate toxic waste dumps in the area before buying? Gather up those types of generalities, and then make your own list, as well. Divide the sheet in half, with “Wants” on one side and “Definitely Avoid” on the other, and see what you come up with as you just brainstorm.

Finally, talk to people about where they live, what they like and don’t like, and why. Grab a train ticket and spend a vacation checking out new spots. It is amazing what you’ll find. Some landscapes just feel “right” even though they aren’t what you’d imagine might feel like “home.” Others will just feel strange and unwelcoming. Walk into real estate offices, even though you have no plans to buy at that point, and ask about the place, the industries, the schools, the agriculture, and the people. The first few times, you’ll not be clear about what you are looking for, but as you repeat the experience, you’ll hear things you like, and other things you’ll definitely not like. You’ll be narrowing your list.

In real estate, the important three factors are “location, location, location.” In the future, as everything will become more radically local, this priority will be even more important. Listen for phrases like “people take care of each other here” or “we have a lot of people, but it feels like a small town.” It might take you longer to be a “townie” in these places, but at least there is community. Places that are social connections like a spider web, overlapping and intersecting, will fare better than those where there are isolated enclaves of different (and maybe warring) subsets.

Training for the future is a tricky thing even in the best of times. Many can tell you of heading back from one obsolete or outsourced job into “high tech,” only to be outsourced there again. We are all playing ball on running water in these challenging times. Therefore, what are your current skill sets and natural inclinations? What would you do in your spare time, even without pay? If you like your job, ask yourself what are the features of the work that you most enjoy? Problem solving? Creative solutions? Investigation? Interfacing with other people? Then, allow yourself to consider what other work these skill sets come into play.

As far as employment goes, stop thinking about being one “thing.” Take up “hobbies” that will expand your skills into other areas… hands on, practical skills such as gardening, cooking, carpentry, plumbing, raising livestock, or small engine repair. Pick up a book like “What Color is Your Parachute” and get a sense for how to think of this “job thing.” Read some history books about the Great Depression and ask yourself what were the foundations of the culture back then–things that everyone, even in the worst of times, needed and wanted–and those things they could easily live without. Some things might surprise you, and you’ll develop some ideas for how the next one will be similar, and different.

Put yourself in volunteer situations that will allow you to meet new people who are doing things that are quite different than what you are doing now for work. Food pantries that prepare meals might give you a chance to learn cooking for large numbers of people, and put you into the “helping personality” circles that will be quite beneficial to you in difficult times.

Right now, I know of several farmers that would give their eye teeth for a set of youthful, motivated hands, as they have more work than they can handle, and no heirs. Farming now is considered either a profession for the very wealthy or for the “dirt” poor, but that could change in the future, and even today, some smart marketers have made a moderate income doing the sort of work they adore, keeping their own schedules, being their own bosses. I’m not suggesting that farming is right for you, only that in the view of many aging Boomers, you have a ton of resources, and not the minimal ones you say. Cash is only one criteria. Skills, youth, exuberance, smarts, people skills, these are also vital resources.

Let me know if any of this rings true or if you have other thoughts.

Fond regards,

Peak Shrink

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Hi Kathy,

Thanks for such a quick reply! Your advice is really appreciated and it’s probably the best advice I’ve gotten so far.

I should mention that my salary seems high, but it’s really only because of the cost of living here. In any other place in the US it would probably be around $30k (still better than nothing). I should also mention that I recently quit my job due to overwhelming stress and depression, due to both work and family pressures (my family is basically falling apart, which leads to lack of support). My main issue is inaction — I am frozen by fear because I have no parental safety net and no backup plan. Whatever path I choose has to work, otherwise I am certain that I won’t be able to recover quickly enough to make another move, career choice, etc. Basically, it seems like I have one shot to get it right otherwise I will fail.

My second issue is with college. My peers are all away at fancy universities, some partying and some studying — but all of this is possible only because of their parents’ financial and emotional support. I was always told that if I didn’t go to college then sooner or later I’ll be broke, living in a trailer park or under an overpass.

It’s irrational, I know, but that though seems ingrained in my mind and I can’t shake the feeling that I am already on the road to failure. My job skills are good but aren’t formalized and I am already beginning to see that it is going to be a limiting factor for me. A lot of companies believe that the “Bachelors Degree Required” line in job postings is completely non-negotiable, and I don’t have a lot of bargaining power since there are many of my college-educated peers eager to slave away for half price just to get their foot in the corporate door.

Will such strict education requirements still persist in 5 or 10 or 15 years? Keep in mind that the IT field is evolving very quickly, and the main thing that really matters is experience and the willingness to learn. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to filter through to HR and all I see is degree degree degree. I feel like I am already being relegated to the position of persona-non-grata within society. I don’t think life is horrible and I am thankful for the things I do have, but I am becoming increasingly concerned for my future.

In conclusion, I can either move and hope I don’t screw up, or stay where I am and go to school (in a couple of years when I can get financial aid) and risk crippling debt. Neither of those choices seem good! Even if I do move and live a sustainable lifestyle, I’m going to hit that college glass ceiling.

Thanks again for your advice!

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Hi PP,

I just want to say that I disagree with several things you’ve said here, for what it is worth.

First off, you do NOT only have “one shot.” This is “stinkin’ thinkin,” and its terrifying you, also. You must make many, many decisions, and self-correct as you go. If you are frozen, trying to make the “right” one, you will be doomed. You get to advance and retreat from any position, from any decision you make. Bad choices will teach you good things. I just want to be straight with you, on that one. The successful CEO makes MORE decisions than other people, not necessarily better ones. A fair decision made now is more valuable than a Great decision made later. Decide, jump in, and change your mind. It is your right and your duty as a young person.

Secondly, if you are expecting to land a job via the HR department, you are looking in the wrong place. These are the WORST people to go through, and you are right, they are looking to exclude people, and a BA is one way to do it. No, if you can truly DO SOMETHING, you need to network and let people know that. Though my own experience, I know people without a BA who are making a six figure income in IT, because they are highly skilled with lots of experience, personality and drive. Focus on developing a lot of “on the job” training, PP, and then decide what other areas you need to train in, and speak to those people who are already doing it.

Finally, getting a college education is an expense, and one that, if you think it is more valuable than, say, a house or a nice car, then fine, save your money and go buy one. Higher Education is also a business (that I’m involved in, by the way, as a professor). Our culture teaches us that getting a college degree is a “right” not a “privilege.” You are going to see a lot of your peers coming out of school, no smarter than you (if you keep up the on-the-job training), but a heck of a lot deeper in debt than you are, and, after a year or so, realizing that they have traded 4 years for 40 years of debt–some of which is more crushing and inescapable, than taxes.

Student loans are a very scary proposition, and I would read my posts on them carefully before I’d sign up for doing that. I could never suggest to my daughter to ever, ever get a student loan. I’d tell her to use a credit card before I’d tell her to do that.

High cost of living or not, scale down, and if you really want college, save for it. Then, you can start out with a clean slate, and be free to make other decisions. If you end up in a high debt student loan situation, and jobless, you will NOT be able to escape that debt, and will find yourself buried by it the rest of your life. Go go to college, if you can sock the money away to do so, but in the meanwhile, get as much “on the job” training as possible, network with those outside the HR departments, and actually get good at “doing” something.

I’m sorry you are without parental support. I’m sure that is very scary. It might, however, be a head-start in helping you to make the most sensible decisions you can make, having no illusions of a “safety net.” Remember that you can pay for one college course at a time, and test it out, usually for about 9 credits, without matriculating. This way, you can figure out if it is for you.

Good luck and stay calm!

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

Odd Man Out

This letter had a lot of “back and forth” communication, and I tried to reconstruct it here, for ease of reading. I hope Odd Man Out doesn’t mind…

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Dear Peak Shrink,

I found your site very recently, via a link off of one of the peak oil forums, though the name of it escapes me. I’m glad I did, however. I’ve heard about peak oil many years ago, when I was in my teens, and it terrified me and shook my world. Panic took over, and then somehow I got my mind off it and went back to normal life and forgot I ever came across it.

And then with the current economic issues and oil prices, it crept back into my mind and I started to research it more and more again, until I was spending more or less every spare minute of my time researching it. I still thought about it constantly, even when I couldn’t research it.

That was a week ago. I’ve gone from panic, to outright hysteria and now? I’m not quite sure what sort of state I’m in. I suppose I just feel very numb, and now I can’t look at anything in the same way. Everyone else seems to be blissfully unaware of what might as well be the coming apocalypse.

It’s confusing in a way. I think the worst part of it all, though, is knowing that I’m very likely to die in the coming crisis. Death has always terrified me, more so because of psychological problems I suffer from. I also have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, though I am on the upper functioning end of the scale.

I require lots of support to live even in today’s world, though I’ve always been fascinated with the goal of trying to live as independently as possible. I often see lots of uproar about benefits, or welfare as I think it’s called in America. I am currently on it, though I have been trying my hardest to become a fully functioning member of society so that I can support myself. But it makes me think, if people don’t like it now, then what will it be like when economic collapse happens? I will be dead weight for everyone, as the main skill I’ve taught myself all my life is computers, and nobody will need someone who knows about computers around. Learning new skills is very hard for me, with I guess some kind of learning difficulties.

I see all these people preparing on peak oil forums, some more so than others, and I feel overwhelmed by the effort needed and then I think that I can’t do it. Although it sounds really morbid, I’ve started changing tack now (I think I really must be a ‘doomer’), not trying to prepare for survival, but to prepare for death. My fear of death largely comprises the fact that it will most likely be painful, slow, or both. I still haven’t quite figured out how to work my way around that. For now, it just sits in my mind. It’s become a case of not ‘if’ I’m going to die, but ‘how.’ Other people are figuring out how to stockpile supplies, and I’m figuring out how to stockpile sleeping pills for an overdose when the collapse finally comes.

I guess all my babbling says I’m confused. I read all these survival guides, and I think, is this for me? It almost feels like I have some kind of concussion, like I’ve just been smacked over the head with something hard, because I honestly don’t know if I can ‘make’ it if I tried. Feels more comforting knowing my fate is certain, even if its death, than having that little shred of hope only to have it snatched away at the last moment.

I think my big hope is that I can some how handle this like another situation I faced. At one point I tried to turn a working relationship that was going to end at some point into a friendship, and it didn’t work out, so I backed away and just tried my hardest to enjoy things the way they were. The person left eventually, as was intended, but I had managed to have such a nice working relationship that it didn’t really feel so bad that we couldn’t be friends when they left. Things had taken their course, and I had enjoyed it to the best of my ability, and I still look upon that time fondly.

Maybe that’s the right course of action? Live my life as enjoyably as I can, working on my novel and paintings, even though they’ll just be trash sooner or later, without excessively destroying the planet or driving up the price of oil (I’ve been trying to cut back on more or less everything non essential at the moment), enjoy things the way they are, so that when that painful death does come, I can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I made the best of things.

But as I said, that’s my big hope. It might not matter that much, if I’m lying in a ditch, having been mugged for my small bit of food and left starving to death. I’m praying, however, that it doesn’t come to that. There’s one thing I am coming to accept, and that’s live or die, the world is going to change. I just hope that the change is gradual, and doesn’t become a total collapse. Even if I die, I don’t want to see everything humanity has worked for go to waste.

The idea of change is a big thing for me, especially for someone with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, I suppose. I have difficulty adjusting to simple things like transport running late and the like, so the logical extension of that for me is to think that if I have difficulty with that, then how difficult is adapting to the future going to be?

Odd Man Out

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Dear OMO,

It usually is not the best time to assess your situation when you are in an upset state. Give yourself some time to consider your skills, what you might like to do, and what you are drawn to. Talk to friends about what they see as your strengths and weaknesses. Are you in good health? Have stamina? Eat well? These basic things will be important to focus on for the future, and are a good place to start.

I’d suggest you consider the “in-between” times, the times between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times, because these “in-between” times may be much of your lifetime. How will you make enough money to pay your rent, increased heating bill, food bill? It is one thing to worry about the “golden hordes” stealing your stuff, but the concerns you should be focused on may be much more immediate.

Try to expand your options in your current job, and ask yourself what aspects of your work will still be needed in the next 6 months, 18 months, 5 years. No one, no matter how certain they sound, can predict the future. A willing, helpful attitude, a strong body, and an openness to learn (even if it comes slowly) is a valuable asset. Also remember that many of the skills we’ll need in the future may be a great deal LESS complex than the ones we need now. I feel certain that if you can make it in this crazy environment, you’ll probably do fine in the next one, as long as you stay helpful and willing.

It is easy to get grim when the full impact of Peak Oil hits you once again. These are only feelings, and they will wash over you in time, I promise.

I’d be delighted to dialogue with you more, if the spirit moves you.

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

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Hi Kathy,

I hadn’t thought about the period between the good and the bad, and that’s an interesting point. I guess if it’s a slow decline, then maybe that period is going to comprise the majority of the time. It’s harder for me to envision an in-between than a good and a bad, for some reason. At the very least, I think I’m starting to calm down a bit now, though I’m still very anxious about the future. I’m hoping I can make the shift to a more positive attitude, regardless of whether I’m preparing to try and make it in the world or not. I feel that going through a phase of self pity and feeling sorry for myself is probably a natural process, regardless of how weak I might appear to the more macho survivalists, but it’s not a healthy feeling like that all the time, and it’s not constructive.

I’ve started trying to make some kind of plans for the future. They’re very simple at the moment, such as seeking advice from my mother about plants and growing food and deciding to stockpile a little bit of emergency food just in case things got really bad. I guess if I try to look on the bright side, I’ve got a few little things going for me, in the sense that, while not being in athletic shape, I’m not physically handicapped in anyway except for my hearing. People say I can be very determined, as well, so maybe that will count for something in the hard times ahead.

I tend to swing, much like my mood, from deciding to prepare for my own death, which is inevitable at some point or another, to clinging to the idea that I want to live. I’ve been talking to my mother about the situation, and I think she agrees that the current situation is not sustainable, but we tend to differ in our views of what will happen. She seems to be an extreme optimist, perhaps believing that technology will save us or we’ll all power down slowly and safely, while I envision “Mad Max.”

I think I’m still in some state of confusion to some extent, though. There’s so many conflicting views, and some people hold to their views with so much conviction, saying that peak oil isn’t real and that growth can continue forever, but then I look at the scientific evidence and it seems so clear and obvious. And yet people still seem to ignore, perhaps conveniently, all of that stuff. I kind of wish in some ways that I could simply bury my head in the sand like most of the other people around me, but then the shock would be even worse and I am very dependent on preparing for things in advance, so I guess that’s an advantage not being able to hide from it all.

In some ways, I kind of want to get the collapse all over with, even though there’s still time left to enjoy what we have. It’s… draining in some ways just having it on the mind all the time, kind of like mental exhaustion. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been trying to read practically every article on the internet that I can find vaguely related to peak oil, regardless of whether it has been on sites promoting political ideas that I just can’t agree with.

Thanks for listening, anyway, and I apologise if my last email was whiny in any way. I tend to whine and then try and get it together. Might just be my method of coping with all the anxiety as I try and cling onto life as I know it, rather than what life is going to be.

Still waiting for some peak oil theorist to slap me in the face and say “haha, fooled you!” But I think I’ll probably be waiting until I’m on my death bed for that.

OMO

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Dear OMO,

It is easy to feel overwhelmed, regardless of what difficulties you have. We all feel that way. We all have a very tough time learning new skills, or knowing what direction to turn in, first.

Well, whatever difficulty you have just doesn’t come out in your writing. You sound like you are dealing with the kinds of issues I hear from everyone who writes to me. Emotionally, you are on the same page, as well. Mood swings are common. Going from “preparing” to goofing off is common. Wishing you “didn’t know” is common too, but also being glad that you do know. Try your best to think practically whenever possible and do things piece-meal.

One suggestion: Give yourself “news break” days, although I know it is hard when so much is happening. Get outside, grow something, get your hands dirty, and hang out with friends drinking beer (or whatever) and cracking juvenile jokes. This is life. This is YOUR life, and you get to be happy living it, regardless of what the rest of the world is doing.

If you’re putting up food, put in a “smore’s” box with chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows, or whatever goofy thing reminds you of being a kid.

Hey, I don’t know…you could be a creepy person in real life, but I doubt it. From your emails, I’D want to keep you alive in a downturn. My hunch is other people feel the same way, not the least of which is your mother.

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

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Dear Kathy,

I think over the internet I can come across like anyone else, and perhaps that’s what I really like about it. My difficulties in functioning in environments with other people is mitigated in the sense that even though I’m communicating with people I’m still safe in my room. People say I’m very intelligent, even though I didn’t manage to complete much schooling because of my difficulties in functioning in a ‘normal’ situation. Most things I’ve learnt have been self-taught because I wanted to learn, but I didn’t want to go to school because people would hit me and make fun of me because I was different and odd (Amongst many other reasons). Maybe that might be helpful in someway, being self taught in a lot of things, because it might make it easier for me to learn things on my own outside of a formal educational environment.

I think there can be a bit of confusion about Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and even I get confused sometimes. My experience has been that people seem to think that a lot of people on the Autistic spectrum are like Dustin Hoffman in the film “Rainman,” but I don’t think that is really the case. I am lucky, in some ways, that I am on the high functioning end of the spectrum, which I think they call Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s Syndrome can be quite bright in some cases, but there are also those who are just like the average person in terms of intelligence.

It’s reassuring to know that other people are experiencing similar things to me. I guess it’s trying to get the right combination of living the life that I have now, and preparing for what’s coming, whether that be death or somehow surviving.

For me, one of the strange things coming to terms with peak oil has brought along is something of a shift from being a die hard atheist to Christian beliefs. I don’t think I can really call myself a Christian, given that although I’ve started trying to follow the beliefs and teachings, I’m not feeling like I’m doing a very good job. I see all the work other religious people are doing, and the self-sacrifice and I feel rather petty, then. I think, even if I’m not good enough to be saved, it still provides me with a sense of comfort, trying to have a relationship with God.

I expect will be or are a lot of people with similar feelings to that, when material things start to loose their value because they’re useless without energy and things. Yet I don’t think it’s a simple fix to all the fears as some people might make out. What happens if people are starving, and you only have limited supplies? Do you share it all out and essentially kill yourself? Do you hand a little bit out, in which it might then be the case that nobody gets enough. Or, do you horde it all for yourself? These I suppose, are some of the questions that I have really been pondering, and I don’t think I’m any closer to having a good answer. Maybe it’s something that I’ll have to just wait and see on, even though I don’t want to see anyone perish.

I think part of what has made me turn to faith, despite my prior convictions is taking a look at things in the past. I have a really big interest in the Medieval period, despite all the horrors and brutality in it, and I was often curious as to how people managed to cope back then, when death was so near. I guess I came to the conclusion that it was faith that saw them through it all.

I like the idea of a news break, by the way. I think I could really do with one right about now. That quote about people only being able to take so much reality springs to mind.

OMO

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Dear OMO,

Being self-taught in a lot of things, and having the capacity to learn things on your own, will definitely make it easier for you. Definitely. (smile)

“I have a really big interest in the Medieval period, despite all the horrors and brutality in it…”

If you like to write, I’d suggest writing your own story, after researching what life was like pre-fossil fuel. Figure out who you’d be, if you lived back there. Do you have any good novels about that period that describes life? Even if it sounds corny now, make yourself a hapless hero of sorts in your tale, someone who might not realize how important he is in the lives of other people, not realize that he’s making such a vital difference to them, in their hopefulness about living, in their trust in their own ability. As they do, consider what I said about writing your story, in future time. Notice the parts you like about your hero the best. These may give you comfort and guidance about how and where to proceed.

“I’m worried that my problems in fitting into society and communicating with people face to face will spell the end of the line.”

Yes, I understand what you mean, especially if you’ve been physically abused and taunted in that “normal” environment. I think it might help to appreciate that your capacity to DO SOMETHING USEFUL will be more important than how you’ll socialize. Your capacity to hyper-focus is also a definite advantage. There is a guy in my community who doesn’t interact much with people. He doesn’t like to socialize and doesn’t talk too much. He can fix anything, and I mean ANYTHING that is broken. He’s brilliant at what he does, and I like him a great deal, although he’ll probably never come over to my house or socialize with me in any way. I wish he would, because he’s smart and has a great wit, but I’ve come to accepted the fact that he really doesn’t really like people all that much, and tolerates me to the extent that he’s willing to fix stuff for me.

OMO, that’s enough.

It will be even more “all right” in the future, when he’s the guy who can help you do stuff you can’t otherwise afford to have anyone else do. That’s what I mean by being helpful. Just learn to do a few practical things that no one else can do or wants to, and just be willing to do them without expecting something in return (at least for now.) It is a “favor bank” world out there, where you don’t want to hurt or alienate the guy in your neighborhood who can really help you. Few of us are THAT stupid.

I also think some communities are more tolerant of people being loners or odd or what have you. I know that’s true where I live. If you wear purple and carry an umbrella, they’ll say “That’s Joan. She wears purple and carries an umbrella,” and if anyone should say “What’s wrong with her?” the answer is likely to be: “I guess she likes that color and umbrellas.”

I like Bob Dylan when he says “you have to serve somebody. It might be the devil or it may be the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The right church will be a very important thing to be active in, OMO. Find one where you like the people well enough, and the preacher, especially, and then do stuff to help out, over and over, even if you’d rather not. The right church will make you feel like family. That’s how you’ll know. And a place that never brings up the question of whether you are even good enough to be saved… just my opinion.

Keep the faith,

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

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Do you feel like the “Odd Man Out”? Have you felt a sense of hopelessness and helplessness after reading all of this stuff? Have you been listening to people tell you that you were “crazy” for worrying about Peak Oil, now that the price of a barrel has gone down? Do any of these letters resonate with you? Write us at PeakShrink AT Peakoilblues DOT com, and share your story.

Body-Awareness Response to Peak Oil

Hi Peak Shrink

Congratulations on a great idea for a website! Peak oil blues are a reality. I know because I live it almost on a daily basis, wavering between denial and acceptance, immobility and action, pessimism and hope.

It was heartening to hear the recommendation in the latest blogpost that one way to deal with stress is to bring awareness to the body, to feel how the body responds to stress in the here and now and, in doing so, activating the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

After having taken a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course recently I have become much more aware of the tension in the various parts of my body and how the awareness of the tension just naturally leads to its release. After the eight weeks of the course and faithful daily practice I am a significantly healthier and happier individual. I have chosen to make mindfulness a way of life and not just a course that I took. I recommend Joh Kabat-Zinn’s books (especially Coming To Our Senses) for an accessible introduction to mindful living.

I was excited to notice that biofeedback was also mentioned in the blogpost. I have experimented with both Wild Divine’s Healing Rhythms and Heartmath’s Emwave Personal Stress Reliever and have been amazed at the positive calming effect that their use helps facilitate.

Maybe with the use of tools like these we can learn to be healthier and happier in our own bodies. Perhaps we would be less reliant on the surrogates for happiness like our often mindless consumption that is so wasteful in terms of time and energy. Imagine large numbers of people so satisfied and content that they no longer need the monster home, the yearly vacation, the large SUV at 65 miles per hour and the long commute. Now there’s energy efficiency!

Just some thoughts. Thanks!

Learning to Wake Up and Take It Easy

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Thanks WUaTIE!

I used to teach biofeedback years ago to people, and they were amazed at what a little attention could do to impact their bodies and experience!

Learning to relax and “vacation at home” is not just going to be a good idea, it is going to be a necessity for many people in the upcoming years. Learning to establish daily or even hourly rituals of relaxation or meditation, even for a few minutes a day, will bring new clarity and focus to life for many. How we do this will vary, won’t it? From prayer, meditation techniques (there are many out there…) a walk in ‘nature,’ reading or even cooking or ironing! Those few minutes you stop, clear the clutter and chatter in your brain, clean out the commercials that replay over and over endlessly, or the songs that torture some of us as “mind musak” (“‘Hey, there Georgie Girl, swinging down the streets so fancy free…’ ‘Hey wait…I HATE that song!!!'”). For some of us, our mind runs our thoughts, and it feels like The Invasion of the Mind Snatchers. Where the thoughts come from, always an area of interest to psychologists, play second fiddle to whether we can control how much real estate they take up in our minds at any given time, without paying rent.

People write to me saying “I can’t stop thinking about these things…” and this means that the thoughts have become repetitive and intrusive. They wake up in the morning thinking of them. They wake up in the middle of the night thinking about them. The thoughts have stopped operating a part of their consciousness, and have begun to consume every bit of it, where love, happiness, contentment, enthusiasm, or pride could be, to name but a few.

How can you be happy knowing things are “as good as it gets” and the future is going to be grimmer tomorrow? According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal recent poll, 65 percent say they feel less confident that life for their children’s generation will be better than it was for them. And among those who believe that the nation is headed on the wrong track, a whopping 81 percent believe it’s part of a longer-term decline and that things won’t get better for some time. Just 12 percent think the problems are short-term blips. So isn’t it delusional to feel positive energy in times like these?

A bit, yes. But the human animal has always benefited from a bit of self-deception, a deliberate focus on one set of assumptions, in favor of another. It is what makes for happy marriages and families. Take this for example: The number one coping mechanism families use to survive difficult times is ‘reframing.’ An example of this would be: “‘Oh no! You’ve gotten laid off from your job!’ ‘Well, this is good because I’ll have more time to do household repairs, and I’ve been thinking of looking for another job, anyway…” “‘Frank is an incredibly selfish boy, look how he refused to share his candy with his brother.’ ‘Well, he’s got a sweet tooth. He isn’t that way with his vegetables…'”

In marriages, the way one views the “chronic points of contention.” that happen between couples, will determine whether they are “happily” or “unhappily” married. The happy ones, even with the exact same set of complaints, can joke about these chronic fights, neutralize them, by not personalizing them, or otherwise put them within a wider context.

Personally, we’ll need to adopt these skills in assessing ourselves, as well. It is a difficult lesson to learn that we really DO need to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch on the the affirmative, don’t mess with Mr. In-between.” Such focus on what we have been able to successfully accomplish keeps us trying, instead of giving up. Focusing on what we’ve accomplished so far, instead of what we’ve failed to accomplish, keeps us motivated. It really does matter to your peace of mind whether you are acting out of fear or acting out of a genuine desire to live more frugally, using less energy, and being more self-sufficient. Moving toward something rather than away from something. Sometimes it starts as fear, however, and transforms as it progresses.

But extenuating the positive isn’t the same as being blinded to what’s happening or what’s coming. It is the firm believe that whatever is thrown at you, you can handle it, and they’ll be times when only one member of your group believes that, when others are feeling hopeless. Stick with it, and share that optimism. Talk about the positives that you all have going for yourself, until someone else in the crowd picks up on it. We aren’t talking “cheer leaders” here. We are talking about a genuine belief that living in a colder house, or moving from a house to an apartment, or eating more grains because you can no longer afford meat, has a ‘good’ side. As one of my friends once said “We aren’t poor, we just don’t have any money.” That sort of ‘delusional’ thinking keeps people looking around for what’s happening and how to get money again (something “poor people” will never have).

But the first home, of course, is our bodies, and the capacity to live comfortably in them as WUaTIE points out. You can control that crazy monkey brain of yours, freaking you out, scaring you out of your wits, making it difficult to eat or sleep properly. You can learn to control it, and still be fully aware. We can learn to live comfortably in our own skins, if we make that a priority. Sometimes, it is learning to recognize and accept the deck of cards we’ve been given when born into that skin. This one has chronic pain they need to learn to manage. That one is prone to depression. These are the “hand” you were dealt, and you can learn to play an interesting game of life with those cards, or not.

Sometimes the first step is just “noticing.” Make a list of each thing you do, from the moment you open your eyes: How you get out of bed; your feelings when you toilet; the pleasure you take in showering; if you smell the soap; if you’ve left enough time for breakfast, and whether you gulp or actually enjoy that cup of Java. These moments, and how you react to them, will make the difference between being “happy” and being “miserable.” The human mind has an incredible elasticity when it comes to accepting and adapting to “what is.” If you’ve learned to enjoy the smell of that fancy soap, you can find a perfectly good (and enjoyable) cheaper alternative. If you can really be happy with that Java, you can find a mellow local alternative. Beyond the truly basic needs for survival, all else is ‘negotiable.’ This minute is your life, not some imaginary tomorrow or a yesterday you can’t possibly re-live. This minute is what makes you glad you are alive, or painfully sorry. Figure out the ways to get your monkey brain working FOR you, and what works for you in accomplishing that ‘relaxation response.’

Thanks for writing.

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Are you expecting a grim financial future? Are you expecting your children’s lives (or your life) to be more difficult tomorrow than today? How have you gone about reconciling yourself to this reality? Have their been benefits to “scaling down, cutting back, re-using, re-tooling, making do or doing without”? Has mindfulness helped? Write to PeakShrink AT PeakOilBlues DOT com and let us know.

Canadian Electrical Engineer Ponders Water-Wars w/ US

Please note: I dug out this 19 month old letter and response. Notice how I was worried about the “sub-prime” mess back then…

Peak Shrink,

Each day I find your website more and more valuable. Heck, I’m an engineer and I rarely have the emotional skills to help people dealing with Peak Oil information, so I point them to your site. Go to the professionals when applicable I always say.

I came across the link to your site from my work with Citizenre, the upcoming solar power system provider. I’m sure you have heard about them and are supportive. I enjoyed the recorded interview on Reality Report. But, my story with the Peak Oil scenario started some 25 years ago with a novel. I’ve been reading through a lot of material today and it is mind blowing. What I see in those that are making adjustments to deal with a society without fossil fuels is the same scenario laid out in the sci-fi novel by Poul/Andersen, “Lucifer’s Hammer”. In the novel a large asteroid hits the earth and wipes out the L.A. basin as one of the catastrophes. What I took away from that novel is, “You better have a redeemable skill that is important to a low tech society.”

Your description of one of your stories about the lady who starts to store books is ironic because one of the characters in the book does the same thing. He buries his book collection so he could have a repository of knowledge after the calamity. There are salient points in the novel for those that foresee the Peak Oil world. I am an electrical engineer, but I try to keep up with my other jack-of-all-trades skills as well.

My second point is more dark and probably a very predictable result given the historical actions of the U.S. Not only will oil availability decline but so will water. The projections for the SW and Midwest U.S. is not good and there is an increasing population in these areas that are relying on a very fragile water source. I expect the U.S. to be “knocking” on the Canadian border within 25 years. Canada has the oil reserves, the water and the minerals, and the U.S. will take them by force.

1812 all over again.

This will be the darkest days for the U.S. and will probably cast the nation as a pariah in the global community. The path of the War on Terror , (which I see as a pretext for the defense industrial complex to propagate business indefinitely), is the way for a continued state of war with ever changing opponents. Life imitates art.

Finally, we do have to do something about it. To sit by and rub the worry beads to the string ensures an early demise. I believe you are about the same age as I and we will live long enough to see these changes. As the old Chinese curse goes, may you live in interesting times.

These are some of my recent thoughts in no particular order:

Disconnect.
As I observe the society around me it’s as if I was one of those ghost characters that get dropped into a scene and everybody goes about their business but cannot see or hear you. Or, its like your are on a slightly different dimensional plane. It also makes me question the inevitability of disruption caused by Peak Oil as I see everyone going about their normal business. Is there a rabbit hole somewhere?

Technology.
I’ve been reading up on the Athabasca Oil Sands lately since I am Canadian and have some personal experience with the project. My brother and past co-workers have worked up there over the years. I’m thinking there are trillions of barrels of oil up there so what are the benefits and limitations? Using current methods the oil sands are very energy intensive to extract, process and refine. We would have to use up our remaining natural gas supply to get all the oil processed into liquid fuel. The real limitation is water supply. So the forecasts for daily oil production seem accurate enough. I thought the Oil Sands would the white knight on horseback, but it turns out this hero has clay feet.

There may be the reserves, but it will be extremely difficult and time consuming to get the production anywhere near the current U.S. demands – not to mention the huge impact to GHG’s. Therefore, depending on the Oil Sands is a suitable for long term minimal sustainability of the North American fuel supply and may be just enough to get us over the hump to sustainable energy sources. I think it will dampen the harsh impacts of Peak Oil. I don’t believe the U.S. will invade or try to overtly control these resources. The Americans like dealing with the Canadians, as they do in existing joint ventures, and know that whether Canada has the resource or the Americans the costs to produce and distribute the product will be the same. To take aggressive action would be a large net loss. However, water may be a different issue. There the two nations can be quite a distance apart on the distribution of that resource.

Prognostication.
The graphs and data give us indication of trigger points but who can really predict the impacts. The best way to describe this situation as I’ve told others this is like forecasting an earthquake. I can tell you its coming and approximately when, but I don’t know if it will be a 5.0 tremor or a catastrophic 9.2. We’ll just have to keep our eye closely on the ball and act accordingly. My sense of the matter is that it will probably fall somewhere in the middle. It won’t be the way it was, but there will be a mix of our current technological infrastructure and an agrarian way of life – say 1890 to 1910ish. Well, that would be after all the s**t has hit the fan and the dust has settled.

Couplehood.
My wife seems to be taking the news rather well although she is still reading books on long term wealth planning. We have put moratorium on major purchases and have a good idea of where to relocate. She is really on board with my realization of stopping the spending and paying down the debt a.s.a.p. since that’s what she has always wanted to do. The one point she doesn’t seem to grasp is the post Peak Oil way of living. She said she had no problem with our location and a move to more self sustainability but she still wants the convertible BMW (we used to have one). I said so long as it runs on a biomass fuel product, no problem. But I had to inform her that the road infrastructure would start falling into serious disrepair and a BMW convertible may not be the best vehicle for that environment – although you may get them real cheap at that point. I’m thinking an Argo eight wheeler with a light 3-cylinder diesel engine modification. This is the ideal survival vehicle.

The Word.
Sometimes I want to tell anyone I can. But I realize that you just can’t drop a bomb on people and have them say O.k. thanks a lot, now I’m going to restructure my life, goals, and expectations. I’ve been working on ways of trying to introduce it slowly and painlessly – kind of like giving a colonoscopy probably (o.k. a little graphic, but not a bad analogy). I don’t want to come off sounding like a zealot. I find its always easier to refer to a third party source like the documentary The End of Suburbia and then start with the information flow after that – I think. My parents seemed to be quite accepting of the information. They had to get over the “work for one company and retire with a good pension” paradigm a while back so I guess they are ready for anything new now. I’m going to start a discussion group in our area and I hope that will help us as much as it helps them.

Thanks for listening,

Canadian Electrical Engineer

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Hi CEE,

Thanks for writing. I haven’t heard about Citizenre, but we surely need solar power system providers in large numbers.

I agree with what you are saying about the disconnect. I feel it internally as well as externally, even though I’m now in a large sustainability group in my area that is excited and anxious to start action. Our primary source of family income is as a builder-distributor, and as the news of a 37% drop over the last quarter by the largest home builder in the US, Toll Brothers, washes over me and I see our own numbers dwindling from a once and recently very successful business, I find myself shocked once again that I wasn’t just “playing at disaster,” and that the wolf is actually knocking on the door. Ultimately, the depression will be felt very personally, don’t you think? Someone you love loses their job or their homes, your local real estate market dries up and stores start to close…

How much our minds want to tell us that what we are experiencing every day–the media, the glitter, the booming stock market–IS reality, and we’ve made up all the rest of it. I often find myself, like your wife, thinking along a particular line, and suddenly realizing “Nope, that just isn’t a possibility without cheap oil.”

In the US, there are just so many ways to social collapse, and the mortgage companies are just one of them. You can also pick the falling dollar or rising energy prices. Jim Rogers, an investor who’s work I’ve read and appreciated, believes that the mortgage sub-prime market will be heading us quickly downhill, and he’s planning on moving his entire family to China, and selling his Manhattan condo. This guy has taken several trips around the world by car, (a modified Mercedes) and has a good grasp on the pulse, I think.

I can’t comment on the oil sands, except to say that I read somewhere that Canada is expecting the companies that mine there to pick up the cost of the social programs to the tune of some huge amount. It seems to be all a matter of scale. We only get 15% of our natural gas from Canada, but it’s 50% of what Canada has! It all feels like a choice between a rock (Iraq?) and a hard place. We get coal, we get climate change, etc etc etc. And yet, we still have people, who, after hearing someone voice the need for sacrifice said “I don’t believe anyone should have to sacrifice.” Give up? Cut back? Why should all of us, the special few at the top of the world heap, have to give up anything? Let’s all eat cake, if we run out of bread!!

And, of course, ultimately, it will come down to a few uber-rich doing quite well no matter what happens, although no one will truly “escape” when the world tumbles.

As far as the “word” goes, I’ve taken to looking at those around me as potential lifeboat buddies. I look at character, now, and things like dependability and pragmatic good sense. I think that anything that gets people interacting more with each other, helping each other out on a regular basis, thinking community thoughts together, whether in a town meeting or a religious institution, all of these things are “Peak Oil relevant.” One foot in front of the other. I’m trying to get a friend of mine who is very handy building things to be interested in building wind turbines from car alternators. I’ve purchased the detailed instructions and handed him the book. He said he’d give it a shot if we’d supply the equipment. I see a business growing out of it, as we’ve got lots of wind here. Just throwing a lot of seeds around and seeing which ones grow on what kind of soil.

Thanks again for your thoughts, and drop me a line anytime. I appreciate the mind of an engineer, as I think it has a unique perspective that psychologists miss. We need all kinds of ways of thinking, don’t we?

Best to you,

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

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Postscript: I’m even more convinced now, that building a local community, something I’ve spent a lot of time at over the past few years, is vital to surviving any sort of calamity. Lifeboat, also, is not a good analogy, because we can’t survive in a boat on the water, waiting for someone to rescue us. We need to ground ourselves in the Earth, and invest in a patch of soil, linked by geography to a group of people, intent on living a lifestyle that will sustain us for the millennium, not weeks or decades. We simplify as a choice for the way we live, not in “preparation” for some future disaster.

After the US gets through this next election, expect (…pulling out my crystal ball…) that those new oil rigs coming online will seem like a distant (happy) memory, and the price of a barrel of oil, maybe sinking as “low” as $70, will begin to creep back (-breakingly) up to the $250 range. You may have a bit of a respite, in gasoline prices folks. Use it wisely, because the rest of the US economy will not be so kind to you. Here’s where you get involved in your (radically local) politics and decide the direction of public spending now. Here’s where you practice your gardening and food saving skills, as you watch the cost of food rise, in a step-wise fashion. Here’s where you can still afford to pay for and drive to that class in carpentry or permaculture or first aid. In this period, you work on getting a home business off the ground, serving your local community. Cut expenses, save money, build your skill and reduce your energy costs by insulating, localizing, getting up those heavy curtains, sealing those door and window jams. Don’t be the grasshopper, lulled by a few warm days, convinced that winter will never come. I’ve looked back and seen just how much “free time” I had 19 months ago, as the decline housing industry slashing my family’s income. This change has forced me to work more and left me less to learn new skills, volunteer, etc. My advice to you is not to wait until you are personally impacted dramatically by what’s happening. If you haven’t, so far, make the changes to live a different sort of life now, when it is a voluntary lifestyle choice. If you give it up, as I’m fond of saying, it can’t be taken away from you!

Consider what things were like just 19 months ago, and take action today. I’ll check back here in 19 months and see how predictive this post was!

Bigfoot Heads for the Hills

Dear Peak Shrink,

I am a fifty-year-old single guy who finds himself washed up on the shore of peak oil. “Washed up” is a pretty good description because I’ve never been one to look for disasters and such. I stumbled upon the concept of peak oil a couple years ago while searching for ways to explain the political and economic deterioration I was encountering. I was stunned I could have been so blind that I did not see this earlier! It made me question my mental faculties, When I did, it seemed as if my whole life had been engineered to keep me from understanding the reality of peak oil.

At first, I tried to disprove the idea. This didn’t work. However, perhaps advanced forms of nuclear energy would be developed, I thought. Perhaps scientific geniuses would find new and unknown sources of energy. Perhaps Martians will land and teach us their secret of universal power. I still hope some way to mitigate the energy and social crisis we face will be found, but I don’t think I should bet my life on it. The conclusion I am forced to come to is that human civilization is facing its most serious threat since the last ice age–and I find this very depressing. I believe it is totally ‘off the scale’.

How can I be a normal, happy guy anymore, when it appears to me that most of the people in the world are going to die? My emphasis here is not to argue the exact nature of the peak oil event, but to explain its affect on me. However I do not see how people–who aren’t even paying attention–can possibly survive. The political and social realities associated with peak oil are going to sweep them away like a tidal wave that drags the hapless vacationers from the beach.

At first, I tried to tell people what I was discovering. I showed the people I worked with charts and evidence. Even though I was worried sick for my friends’ well being, they would often respond that they were not willing to change their lifestyles, and they didn’t want to hear about gloom and doom. Others said they understood what I was talking about, but there was nothing they could do to protect themselves. In fact. so many people indicated to me there was nothing to worry about, that I began to doubt my own sanity. Somebody, I thought, had to be crazy! I often think to myself–if only I were just insane–the doctor could give me a pill, and I would wake up and everything would be OK again.

Well, unfortunately, I don’t think I am the one who is crazy. My response–so far–has been to quit my job and isolate myself from my old friends. I have made a decision not to go down with the ship. Because I am single and I don’t own a house, or have debt, I am in a good position financially. I have converted my savings into gold and gold shares–in an effort to survive the crisis that appears eminent. And I am researching ways to move to a sustainable piece of land located away from the city.

Between studying organic farming techniques, and trying to get in really good shape, I am keeping myself busy. Luckily, I really like gardening and the wilderness. Because of social concerns, I have never invested much in “the American Dream”. There is a chance I might make it through this mess! However depression hangs over my head daily. The old world is gone. I feel a great loss, guilty and responsible, but mostly a profound disappointment that my friends are going to let themselves be washed away.

I hope my story will be of benefit to others. Perhaps, if they read that some are moving to protect their lives, they will consider doing the same, in their own way. It is sad, but when t he storm surge comes in, only the strong will survive.

Bigfoot

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

Dear Bigfoot,

I’d like to remind you that even as you “run to the hills,” you will still “need somebody on your bond” as the old song goes. We crazy monkeys are social animals, and we need the very same relationships that drive us crazy at times. You love your friends, that’s why you are upset and worried about them.

I know you wrote this letter to me some time ago. You may, emotionally feel like “everyone is going to die,” but keep in mind, as you have said, these are just emotional reactions you are having. You can’t “change the world” but you can focus your attention on your little piece of it.

It may be time to go back again, and check in with your friends on their current attitudes. Conditions and consciousness may have changed among your them. You may have company in your wilderness retreat now, or maybe you will in several years. Prepare extra places at the table, my friend. Put up extra food. These are not times for the solitary creature, the loner. You are fit and in good health now, but this will not always be so. Keep checking in with those you care about, and keep the invitation open. Invite them for a “gardener’s week-end,” or to help you plant or harvest the crops. Show them how the life you are leading gives you pleasure and satisfaction, not misery.

Let me know how your plans have developed over the past 17 months, and whether your friends remain so skeptical still. Thanks for writing.

Best,

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

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

Sorry, all. I have not forgotten Bankruptcy: The Board Game. Life has intervened, as have “broiler” and “fryer” chickens that have lived a good life eating grass and bugs and now will become future dinners. After this sort of “real life” is behind me, I will return to assembling the rest of the game for your playing pleasure. Believe me, it’s all here!! It just has to be organized, so it remains fun! fun! fun! So stay tuned!

Peak Oil Ping-Pong and Dodging the Consensus Trance

Dear Peak Shrink

I’ve devoted today to exploring the Peak Oil Blues site. As part of that, I’d like to share with you and other readers my trip down that road. There’ll be commonalities and differences.

I stumbled across the peak oil issue earlier this year, probably eight or nine months ago. It seems that a lifetime has gone by since. I was Net-surfing, following up on my then current interest – velomobiles. I was reading up on fuel efficiency, when I saw a link that warned it would lead me somewhere scary. It did. It took me to Life After the Oil Crash. (not a Neil Young album)

Instantly I was convinced – no denial, no doubts, no dilly-dallying. Rather, I was dismayed that I hadn’t seen the writing on the wall much earlier. It all clicked. I grokked it. How could I have been so blind! Another emotion I felt at the time was exhilaration. Some ‘doomsters’ refer to their visits to P.O. sites as a peak oil pornography fix, and I can understand why they would do so!

I underwent a period of frantic exploration, tagging sites, half-reading articles, joining groups, meeting up (online) with others and viewing documentaries. Like a ping-pong ball, my state of mind bounced to the tune of whatever the predominant psychological slant of the author was. And yet . . . what about those advertisements they posted for books and devices that would help you weather the apocalypse? What were the webmasters’ vested interests? I had to weigh up, evaluate and sift through information that was not always impartial. (one site had a link that led to a spiel which urged me to invest in Uranium!)

To cut a longer story short, I tumbled a turbulent ride for a spell. Luckily my wife came aboard quite soon – in contrast to another writer to Peak Oil Blues. I’m extremely relieved about that. You see, I haven’t the knack of explaining and convincing other people. My best guess is that I have a highly-functioning form of Asperger’s Syndrome which ain’t all bad – in fact; on the whole I am glad that I have it! But it does mean that I have to put up with quite a high level of free-floating anxiety. You get my meaning? Peak oil doesn’t exactly help with that!

At this stage there are specific preparations that I can make (I have the ability, opportunity, know-how and our mortgage is almost paid off). For all of my life I’ve been interested in voluntary simplicity and self-sufficiency. I can live off the smell of an oily rag (ha-ha) and have kept myself in excellent shape (I’ve walked one hundred miles non-stop). In 2008 I’ve elected to work part-time only, so as to allow me to research and effect further changes to my lifestyle.

I live in one of the few regions of the world that is not in population overshoot, and within a year or two we’ll move to that part of the country that I’ve ascertained will probably be best in terms of climate, resources and population. I’m convinced that community is the key factor to consider.

As with Asperger’s, peak oil comes with – or it did for me – many positives. That may sound surprising, but after having read over two dozen books by people like James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Jared Diamond and others, I have a much better understanding of global economy, geopolitics, history, civilization etc. I’m very stimulated by the ideas of Daniel Quinn, Dimitry Orlov and Ran Prieur, and that has vastly expanded my world. I’m glad peak oil has brought me into touch with minds of their caliber.

On the other hand, I am determined not to let peak oil take over my life. On the universal scale it is, according to my perspective, a trivial matter, ultimately.

I see life quite differently to most other people. Eckhart Tolle, Neale Donald Walsch and maybe a few others also have an inkling (think “What the Bleep Do We Know?”) but I’m trying to extend their thinking further. I feel it is of the greatest importance not to seek the meaning of life, but to live personally according to the implications once you’ve discovered that meaning. Peak oil spurs me. It has jerked me out of the consensus trance.

At this point you may well wish to pass me over to another shrink . . ! Sorry for going off on a tangent. What I’m trying to say here is that I’ve dealt, or am dealing, with peak oil and that now I’m trying to maintain a balance. I refuse to let it dominate my life, and I guess that this is the message I’d like to leave for others here, that you endeavor to live your life in spite of, or in the face of, or within the confines of that problem.

It’s funny, but I haven’t looked at a velomobile website for ages!

Stabilizing Balance

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

Dear S.B.

If I could emphasize two points from your story, it is the importance of balance, and finding one’s own moral center in all of this transition. For months now, I’ve been increasingly concerned that as things get economically tougher here in the USA, there will be individuals or groups offering various forms of “salvation,” whether it be spiritual, economic, or cultural. Miracle “solutions” will be offered for a price. The simple, cost-free, step-by-step, boring, incremental answers may be disregarded if we’re promised a chance to “help the world AND use our fuel!”

Consensus trance can also occur among alternative communities, as well as mainstream ones. Even on the Earth, upheavals come in different forms–drought in this place, downpours and flooding in that one. Many people will offer “answers,” but if they offer “universal” answers, run, don’t walk the other way.

Thinking for yourself is difficult, that’s why so few people do it, as a great wit once said. However, thinking for yourself, investigating your own circumstances, learning all you can that relates to your own values, locale, climate, crops, family life, is not only important to do, it will allow you to come to an answer that fits you better than any book, guru, or website can promise. It will be the answers you’ve developed, after struggle and confusion, that fits you AND your family, with their input. It will be the solution you’ve reached, after listening to the critics, the ones you strongly disagree with, the ones who’s values you reject. Allow yourself to be exposed to all of it, and from it, let a complicated, unclear, confusing, “good enough” solution come out of it that you are willing to live with.

And what you say is usually a good rule of thumb: Cui Bono–follow the money. This is not to imply that anyone who is making money is “bad,” but just that as money comes rolling in, there can be an investment in continuing to make that happen, even in the face of contradictory information. That is human nature. I have met very few people in the Peak Oil community who have “cashed in,” because of their involvement in Peak Oil. Nonetheless, it is useful to ask yourself whether there is a vested interest in promoting a point of view. I’d be particularly skeptical of those who refuse to even offer you their name, while asking you to accept their advice. “Fancy Pants” might have valuable things to say, but you have no idea who he or she is and who they work for. What’s more, that handle tells you that they choose to keep their true identity hidden (sometimes for very good reasons.)

None of us have “the answers.” Each of us have our own answers, or our piece of the puzzle that we can put together with other people to see a broader view. Thanks for adding your own piece.

Kathy aka “Fancy Pants” Peak Shrink

PO Psychologist Ponders: Have I Gone Off the Deep End? Living with Mass Denial?

      We’ll return to “

The Bankruptcy Game

    ” on Monday, after we hear from Brian Merchant tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Today, another fellow PO Shrink sends in thoughts:

Hello Peak Shrink-

I heard your interview on C-realm* today. It was heartening to hear you talk about how those who acknowledge PO are marginalized. It is a very strange feeling to be certain that in a relatively short period of time, no part of my life will be the same- yet to also be aware that very few other people are thinking the same thoughts. I have to constantly ask myself if I have truly gone off the deep end. Furthermore, I can’t talk about PO with many people, even my husband, without imagining some sort of snickering in the background. If it were not for KMO and forums like yours I would feel much more isolated.

In order to understand our times, one must absolutely understand mass denial. However, I have found in my practice as a psychologist- yes I am a clinical psychologist too, that my clients are much more willing to discuss their thoughts about how to survive post PO than I would have expected given the atmosphere of ridicule that seems to follow PO proponents. Could it be that most people are really thinking about PO, and what to do about it on one level and on another level denying the possibility that it might occur?

Perhaps in the context of a healing interaction, folks are much more able to put the denial aside- as long as there is no one else in the room to hear their views. Could it be that under the right conditions, there could be a breakthrough of the denial and a shift to the much more proactive consciousness in a relatively short period of time (like one year?)?

I agree with you that it takes a stretch to get used to the idea of PO- what helped me was hearing Mike Hagen talk about his experiences with magic mushrooms and how he has detected a Presence that is guiding the current convergence of emergencies. Since I have been in touch with similar presences, perhaps not as strongly, I can envision the notion of GAIA protecting herself through effecting changes in mass consciousness..

Thanks again for the opportunity to connect with you, for your forum, and for your healing messages.

Another PO Psychologist

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

Hi APOP,

Thank you for your letter. It is an amazing state of denial our culture lives in, isn’t it?

Even when the president of GM says “We are running out of oil so we need electric cars” we can still marginalize PO folks. When oil hits almost $150 a barrel, then drops down to $120, we can marginalize the very same people, when, just a year earlier, we mocked them for suggesting that it would ever get above $100 a barrel. The mocking also appears to intensify as the economic conditions here in the US continue to worsen. This is noteworthy to me, as a psychologist.

That’s why I wrote “Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder?” to turn the entire issue of “who’s seeing reality clearly” on its head. The PO community loved it because of the affirming humor. We’ve learned something about “mass delusion” and the power of the “norm” to allow people to believe that the “unthinkable” has to be “impossible.” Oh, if only that were true. I wrote the companion piece, Three Types of Doomers and Fantasy Collapse to let us know that we can still be living in a dream world by imagining sudden horrors, instead of the slow, insidious sort we are experiencing her in the US. Like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, what’s coming might be quite “in-between.” It will still be very, very nasty.

I’ve been waiting for more psychologists to step forward and contribute to the discussion, and I welcome your input. In isolation, we can be ridiculed. As we unite in a common viewpoint, a common understanding of what we see is happening and the impact it has on people, we’re taken more seriously. It is powerful to be the listening psychologist, having gone through the experience, and affirm your client’s perspective. It doesn’t make them “sane” but it does make their vision rational. Psychological Terrorism does just the opposite. It calls a perfectly logical reaction “nuts.” I started this site to fight that very phenomenon.

Thanks for writing, and I look forward to hearing more from you.

Regards,

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

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

      Are you an aware PO clinician? Do you bring up the issue of PO with your clients? Do they bring it up to you? Have you written down your thoughts on this topic?

 

    Write us at PeakShrink AT Peakoilblues DOT com.

* You can listen to the Peak Shrink on the C-Realm Podcast Episode 73 Cui Bono (and hear the tail end of James Howard Kunstler), Episode 74 Big Hat No Cattle, Episode 110 A Crash Course in Burning Bridges (with my fellow Doomer Zach Nowak), and Episode 112, Stop Digging

Cop’s Wife Sleeping with the “Bad Guys”

Dear Peak Shrink,

What thoughts do you have on being part of a family that will become one of the “bad guys” in the future? You know… the husband who has to knock on your door and take your guns? The guy who limits your freedoms based upon what the (horribly corrupt) government tells him to do? The man who puts bread on the table by handling weapons and events that you’re afraid of?

Yup. I’m a cop’s wife. And an anarchy-minded, hippie, peak-oilist as well, but I’m afraid the label Cop’s Wife is me, first and foremost.

How does one balance their beliefs versus the very real necessity of him continuing to work? Obviously, building a community of like-minded individuals is, um, shall we say UNLIKELY. Because you know we don’t hang out with civilians very often and you know that most officers aren’t really down with the “government is going to screw us in the end” kinda talk.

Any thoughts?

Cop’s Wife Sleeping with the Enemy

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

Dear Cop’s Wife,

First off, this is your marriage you are talking about. It may be time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart about what you see is coming and why. If you respect and love your husband, he will reflect on these things. You have to start there, on a one-to-one, deeply personal level. If you can’t reach some congruency in your own home, between you, the anarchist, and he, the civil servant, you won’t move beyond that stage.

In a large city, “the cop” may be quite unlikely to influence things, but such is not the case in the small towns across America where a few local fellows who’ve remained in the town over generations, pass down the job from father to son (or more recently to their daughters.) These police officers have a stake in that ground. They have a loyalty to see their villages survive in hard times. They know the people in that town, and everyone knows them. They are much more likely to “overlook” things they might know are there, than their huge departmental counterparts. The “civilians” are the guys and gals they eat lunch with, went to high school with, shared the Boy Scout Troop responsibilities with, helped deliver the fast-birthing baby. They “know” those civilians much more intimately than they “know” the State or Federal officials or the FEMA team.

If the division between “us” (cops) and “them” (civilians,) is the size of the grand canyon, maybe it is time to reconsider where you are living or how you and your husband relate to your community. You pray someplace? Eat lunch someplace? Coach softball someplace? Take yoga classes someplace? Buy your milk someplace? Does your husband remain “Officer Frank” even when in a tee shirt? Do you remain “the cop’s wife” with your most intimate friends, or do they see all parts of your personality? We all have social roles, but some of us wear the mask, out of loyalty, much more than we need to. It may be useful for you to define what a “cop’s wife” means to you, and start fracturing that role at will.

Do people in the community get to see the many faces of your husband’s life roles: husband, father, community member, congregant, neighbor, friend? The many faces of YOUR role? I’m not suggesting that their aren’t special pressures on those in law enforcement, but I am suggesting that the scale of the place you live (5,000 vs 20 million) will impact the answers to these sorts of questions. So will your personality, your community connections as a family, and your personal activism. You will remain the “cop’s wife,” just as I remain the “psychologist,” as long as we keep our distance.

You don’t have to be simply “pro government,” you have to be blind not to catch on that increasing financial pressures are building in the lives of some people and not others. Police officers see, up close and personal, the face not only of corruption, (which destroys morale and pride), but also the tremendous human suffering that goes on all around them. They see how poverty destroys the heart and soul of people. They have to pull the husband out of the home and the face of the battered wife who’s pleading “Don’t take him! It’s alright! He has to go to work in the morning!” We can sit back and judge the “men/women in blue” because we don’t have to lead their lives. We pay them to do our dirty work, and then blame them for getting hardened, insensitive, cruel.

This makes not only “bad cops,” it makes for miserable, disheartened men and women, the majority of whom, really did go into the force with good intentions. The social pressures are enormous, and yet, in every military-like organization, there are still individuals who hold up a higher standard, refuse to sink with the rest of them. If you can’t believe that your husband is among that crowd, capable of answering to a higher authority than his superior, than you have a bigger problem than differing politics. If you do see him in this light, than that is the side of him that you must support and remain loyal to, become a confidante to, strengthen any way you can.

But ultimately, you first have to straighten out your own house, CW. Then, from that understanding, if you are in the right community, you can bring that goodwill outward. If you are in the wrong community, and are benefiting from the harm that your husband and his force are doing to the people around you, you ARE responsible and are benefiting materially from that tyranny. You can’t step back and cry out “Those weren’t my politics!” and expect to be relieved of the responsibilities.

But if you remain in the spot you’re in, believing your husband has sold out his soul to the devil, you’ve got a home that is rotting from the inside, out, slowly, perhaps, but insidiously. You’ve got a soul, sleeping with the “enemy,” that’s rotting right along with it. Face into it, CW, and take responsibility for doing the impossible and changing it, until it meets your standards, or get out.

It’ll all get increasingly “in your face” and personal as time goes on. There are times when history demands a great deal from ordinary citizens who choose to put on a uniform and represent that symbol of power and authority. There is a person behind that clothe, however. There is a family behind that person. There is a community behind that family. We can take responsibility, at each level, or not, but we have to live with the choice we make. This is not a time for sleep-walking, or for hiding behind stereotypes or “job descriptions,” or the need for a paycheck.

Make sure you can look yourself in the mirror and say, without flinching “I’m not ashamed to die because I did everything I could for humanity.”

Thanks for taking the time to write.

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”