When Mental Health Becomes an Economic Issue (and what to do about it…)

Crazy for Comfort  

During the last Great Depression, financially desperate people ended up entering convents, seminaries, prisons and mental hospitals, when homeless shelters had no room for them. If the goal was three “hots and a cot,” being admitted to an insane asylum allowed you to eat well, sleep off the streets, and get free medical care. And most of those admitted didn’t have to feign their afflictions…being homeless remains an extremely stressful life circumstance.

Pushed Off the Tightrope, but Ignoring the Net              

Social security “safety nets,” put in place by F.D.R., have changed some of the options available when facing difficult economic times, especially for those with psychological disorders. We now have Social Security Insurance, (SSI) for the truly impoverished and disabled among us, and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), an economic survival option for the previously employed working- or middle-classes.

The challenge today is to learn how to identify the need for and to accept help with emotional problems quickly, and to recognize that not doing so could mean taking an economic as well as psychological hit.

You do not need a long history of hospitalizations to qualify for SSDI, and this fact surprises many.  “Extreme” impairment is not a requirement, either.

Mental distress impacts earning potential, and getting help in a timely way is economically as well as emotionally smart. A colleague of mine said she expected most of her clients to improve their earning capacity as a logical outcome of working with her.

Disability Payments You’ve Been Paying For All Your Working Life

But if despite your best efforts, your emotional well-being deteriorates, you need a licensed provider to help you document the type of help you’ve been getting, and the “functional impairment” that requires you to tap into the existing economic insurance policy you’ve been paying 8.4% of your income, (perhaps as much as $9000. a year for…) all of your working life.  That insurance policy is SSDI.

And time is of the essence, because you’ll need financial resources to wait it out.  SSDI payments often kick in 2-4 years after you’ve apply, but the payments back-date from the time of the initial application.  For many, this means getting a check for between $15,000-$20,000, even after all expenses are paid.  That can truly ease the pain of mental distress.  And your benefits will continue until your retirement, as long as your impairment continues to be documented, typically every 3-5 years.

Knowing Your Options

This post is about knowing your options. My readership is a group that by and large values financial independence, and has a deep distrust for all things governmental.  But they also plan for the worst, and are deeply pragmatic.  The “sin qua non” of mental health is often the capacity to sort out reality from illusion, figure out who to trust and who to be suspicious of, and determine ahead of time actions that will help you, from those that can prove more damaging.

So here is information to tuck away in case you ever need it.


I’ll begin by discussing the differences between SSI and SSDI, and the related increase in both unemployment and disability claims.  I’ll go on to describe the professional players (lawyers & psychologists) who usually assist people in filing these mental health insurance claims, and provide an overview the required steps to document a “functional mental impairment.”  Next, I’ll looks at different social and economic attitudes of those applying for SSDI vs. SSI, and the impact it has on their overall financial well-being.  My work in the inner city over the last three years helping clients get SSI will inform this discussion.

I will end by arguing that those in the working- and middle-classes are often the most reluctant to seek psychological care when they develop functional emotional problems that impact their working life.  This is unwise, not only from a social and emotional perspective, but also from a financial one. No one with a work history and financial assets should impoverish themselves before seeking government assistance, because you have directly paid into these funds through FICA contributions, and these funds are designed to buffer you from this very situation.

Unlike the urban poor, who use government monies as a baseline income, the middle classes errs in the opposite direction.  They refuse available resources, and instead spend down their savings and retirement.  Their invisible illness often negatively impacts their professional relationships. Only in desperation, when all other resources are exhausted, do they consider what has been available to them all along.

Had they been more pro-active, and known their options, they might have prevented the catastrophic hit.  I provide a story of one entrepreneurial  family who prevented financial ruin as an example of how this can be done.

What is SSI and SSDI?

Social Security is a federal insurance plan that pays for someone’s “total disability” including mental health impairment. “Disability” under Social Security, is based on your inability to engage in consistent productive work. The difference between SSI and SSDI, is in who pays for it, and whether the applicant has “resources” (e.g. cash, a home, cars, or investment accounts) or not.

Resources and Who Pays

Think of SSDI as ‘Worker’s Disability.’ Paid out of the Social Security trust fund, it is available to those who have worked and paid 4.2%  (or 8.4% for the self-employed) included in FICA taxes, for a required minimum number of years. The amount of SSDI payout, is linked to your employment history, is paid out of workers’ tax contributions. Eligibility does not take into account one’s assets. Owning assets does not affect your eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI, on the other hand, is a need-based program for people with low income and few resources. Individuals can apply for SSI if they aren’t insured for SSDI, or are insured for SSDI but are only eligible to receive a fairly small SSDI monthly benefit. A person may potentially be eligible to receive both SSDI and SSI. This is known as a “concurrent disability claim.”  Currently, the cap on assets for SSI is set at $2,000 (or $3,000 for a couple). But some assets, like the house you live in and the car you drive for basic transportation, aren’t counted toward the cap on assets.

Substantial Gainful Activity
Being “disabled” means being financially, as well as physically or mentally disabled.  “Substantial Gainful Activity” is work that monthly brings in over a certain amount of income.  The amount changes year to year. Make more than that amount per month, and SSA says you “are able to engage in competitive employment in the national economy.”

Disability Rises with Unemployment

Here is a chart that shows REAL unemployment statistics, courtesy of Shadow Statistics:

Now let’s look at the rise in disability:

Rise Seen in Social Security SSID Benefit Lawsuits

Appeals Tell the Tale

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (27 Jul 2012):

“…the latest available data from the federal courts show that in June of this year there were 860 new SSID (not a typo) Title XVI lawsuits filed, most under US Code Title 45 Section 405 which allows for judicial review when Social Security supplemental security income (SSI) benefits are denied. The number of filings for each of the last four months (March through June 2012) is higher than for any other month in the past five years. Overall, the data show these filings are up 19.4 percent from a year ago and up 62.6 percent from levels reported in June 2007.” (emphasis added)

These are tough times.  And how does that compare to pre-2007 numbers?

Social Security claims that “the share of the U.S. population receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) benefits has risen rapidly over the past two decades, from 2.2 percent of adults age 25 to 64 in 1985 to 4.1 percent in 2005.”  

Three in 10 workers between the ages of 18-64 will be disabled, according to SSA.

Why Are Lawyers Involved?

Disability is a steady stream of income for lawyers, who are able to collect up to 25% of all back-payments owed to the filer, starting from the date of first filing, should they win the claim, with a cap of $6000.  That adds up to considerable money, as lawyers can handle quite a few claims at one time.  The lawyer charges nothing up front to the disabled person, so the cost of entry is low.  And attorneys who do nothing but disability cases know how to approach the claim, to maximize the odds that their clients win these claims.  They will usually aim for winning 80-95% of the cases they take, so if they take your case, you probably have a solid chance of getting disability.

Therefore, charting SSID, or law suits arguing for disability clients (SSI), is a quick and accurate feedback mechanism for charting the rise of SSI filings.

What Do Psychologists and Other Mental Health Professionals Do?

In the case of those who are filing for mental impairment, they typically fall into those qualifying for SSI, and those qualifying for SSDI.  In the agency I worked for, we only took SSI cases, because we only accepted publicly funded insurance.

Those aiming for SSDI will typically want to hire a private diagnostician, rather than go to a public mental health clinic (although many public health clinics take all types of insurance).  You want to ask them “How many workman’s comp and SSDI/SSI assessments do you do a year, and do you measure your success rate?”  In my agency, we seldom had a client who was ultimately found ineligible (but that may also be due to the multi-problem families we worked with.)  I believe there was one in the three years I was there, and that case was currently on appeal.

What to Expect from the Psychologist

Psychologists conduct an interview, and perform a diagnostic assessment. This provides the Social Security Administration (SSA) with psychological testing, such as IQ tests, Projective or neuropsychological  instruments, to document the nature and extent of the functional impairment. It is best if the psychologist conducting the evaluation is not the same professional who is treating you on an ongoing basis.  Many psychologists do nothing but these types of assessments to be used in disability cases. They know how to write an effective report that meets SSA requirements.  A comprehensive psychological report, which clarifies the current diagnosis, and documents functional impairment is required to make a clear case determination.

There are nine diagnostic categories that qualify a person for disability because of mental impairment: Organic mental disorders (12.02); schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders (12.03); affective disorders (12.04); mental retardation (12.05); anxiety-related disorders (12.06); somatoform disorders (12.07); personality disorders (12.08); substance addiction disorders (12.09); and autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders (12.10). Each of these, with the exception of mental retardation and substance addiction disorders, requires both a statement describing the disorder(s), including a set of medical findings such as those diagnostic tests given by the psychologist, and a set of impairment-related functional limitations.

SSI Recipients in ‘Deep Poverty’

The case I’m presenting below isn’t an actual person, but it is a composite description of hundreds of families very similar to Ms. James’, that I supervised over my three years working in the inner city with those in deep poverty.  We classify families as living in “deep poverty” if they have three elements: (a) severe poverty – an income less than half the median income for poor families; (b) long term poverty – being poor for 5 years or longer; and (c) concentrated poverty – living in a neighborhood in which 30% of families are poor (Wilson, 2005):

Ruby James, (26 years old), has been out of work for 6 years.  She is intelligent, but functionally illiterate and probably has an undiagnosed learning disability. Her children, ages 2, 5 and 7, are all on social security disability (SSI) for various reasons including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism, and physical disability. Each child has a different father. The oldest child’s father, Mr. Clarke is drug addicted, and there is a restraining order against him by Ms. James for domestic violence. The whereabouts of her second child’s father is unknown.  The youngest child’s father is in prison.  

Ms. James is currently fighting with her mother over custody of her three children.  Her mother, Ms. Thompson, has charged that her daughter is an “unfit parent,” as she alleges that there is no food in the house, and that her daughter is once again living with her former partner and father of her oldest child, Mr. Clarke.  She further alleges that her daughter sometimes leave the children home at night alone, “to party with friends,” claiming that the 7 year old is left to “babysit.”

Ms. James denies living with Mr. Clarke. She admits that she is clinically depressed, (the basis of her own current disability claim).  She is, according to her own report “a caring and devoted mother.”  Ms. James counter-alleges that her mother is fighting for custody of her children “only to get their benefits.”

Ms. James’ children’s benefits, in addition to her aid to dependent children, food stamps, public health care, and subsidized housing costs, are her only sources of income.

All-Out War on Black and Hispanic Men

Her boyfriend, Mr. Clarke, is not working, and if he is living with her, he is another drain on an otherwise overtaxed family system.  I was left convinced after my three years working in the inner city, that there is an all-out war against Black and Hispanic men in this country.  The education they get in this city is abysmal, and the pressure to stay safe by joining gangs is enormous.  The availability of decent jobs is negligible. When they could be found, they were often secured by others through nepotism or outright prejudice.  Often, the inner-city applicant lacked even the most basic of job skills.  As a result, the intact family, where the father is present, caring, and not abusive, is exceptionally rare in this clinic population.  Fathers are essentially absent, abusive, or imprisoned.  That is the norm.  And it convinced me that families need two loving parents.

Domestic Violence a “Bad Reason” to Land in Prison

Ongoing domestic violence is also quite possible, as her mother alleges, and witnessing that violence puts her children, as well as Ms. James, at risk.  Women in these communities expect adult men to spend at least some time in prison. Children visit family members in prisons from a young age. Domestic violence, however, is considered a ‘bad reason’ to be there, although it is often tolerated in the relationship. Children also witness violent murders commonly, and attend funerals of loved ones they’ve lost.

It is the traumatic norm.

Ms. James may also be correct that her mother could indeed have complicated reasons, including financial motives, for wanting custody.  She’s raising several other grandchildren, is herself on SSI, and feels she “has the time”  and greater “skill” to raise her daughters’ children.

A Seriously Broken System Turns Children into Economic Assets 

Conservatives rail against this type of social benefit payout, and it has become “politically incorrect” to paint such a dreary portrait of the lives of those living in “deep poverty.”  There is no question in my mind that the system is seriously broken, and serves no one well, including the infrastructure of service providers and state workers that now do home-based services.  It is a multi-generational problem that needs multi-generational intervention. In a down-turning economy, this help is unlikely to be forthcoming. What we see in this “Culture of SSI” is that this insurance becomes seen as a sole avenue for financial stability, and given how meager this allotment is, families fight over children who have SSI, as valuable economic resources.

Be that as it may, in a time of increasing economic turmoil, and rising costs of living, the inner city is becoming a nastier place to live, and a tough place to work for those charged with helping families like the James’.  In my last year at this agency, I saw many more incidents of violence or threats of violence toward clinicians than in any other previous year.

Middle-Class Disability

Regularly, I was asked to review psychological testing reports and co-sign paperwork for those being evaluated for mental health disability.

I have come to realize that in contrast to the “Culture of SSI” as a foundation of economic security among the urban poor, many working-class and middle-class families in trouble have no idea how SSDI works, or that they might be eligible for it. There is larger stigma about seeking out mental health services among the working and middle classes than among those in ‘deep poverty.’  This could be a financial mistake.

Those who actively seek treatment when in distress, even if only periodically, create a ‘paper trail,’ which enables them to easily accumulate all of the necessary documentation, should a ‘marked’ impairment in cognitive or psychological functioning arise.  Those who are more economically successful, better educated, or have a prior history of unbroken prosperity often wait before they get help.

Take this hypothetical case example:

Ralph Albertson, and his wife, have run a small business from their home successfully for many years.  However, during the economic downturn, they were unable to sustain it at a viable level.  The couple began first to live off their savings, and finally their retirement income, hoping the economy would “turn around.”   The impact to his suffering business took a severe toll on Ralph.  He became clinically depressed, and at the urging of his wife, was treated by a psychologist, and referred to a psychiatrist for medication.  Despite these interventions, Ralph never fully recovered his capacity to work.

He filed for SSDI.

In order to qualify, he was referred by his treating psychologist to a colleague, who gave Ralph six common psychological tests. His psychologist helped Ralph get his paperwork in order, and contact a disability attorney.  Ralph  was referred to an attorney, because he was self-employed, and these cases can sometimes be difficult to win.  Ralph was granted SSDI, after a long waiting period, and two appeals.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) denies 65 percent of the initial claims filed, and appeals are the norm. It also can take a long time to go through the system, on average two to four years.

This application and income, although not a large amount to the Albertsons, cleared the way to other benefits, such as state offered health insurance, food stamps (SNAP) and fuel assistance, that the Albertsons might not otherwise have been aware they were eligible for.

What does “residual impairment” mean to Ralph, who works in his own business from home?

While Ralph is able to continue working in his business, even after receiving SSDI, and the couple continues to receive monthly income from it, Ralph is no longer as effective as he used to be.  Once a capable trouble-shooter of customer complaints, for example, Ralph no longer has the “patience” to cope with these calls.  He has had to hire part-time help.  

While he has “good periods” where he is feeling hopeful and effective, these are punctuated  by deeply depressed mood, where he “talks incessantly about economic, environmental, and energy declines that are”, in his words “sweeping the country,” according to his wife.  When he’s better, he’s a tireless worker in his community in the Transition Town movement.  When he’s not doing well, he barely functions. During these dark periods, he works actively to manage suicidal thoughts, with the help of his therapist.

How Long Does SSDI or SSI Last?

Ralph is 47.  At this age, if he continues to be eligible, he will receive SSDI benefits until his retirement.  The Albertsons would prefer to be off of SSDI payments, and have a successful business once again.  But Ralph and his wife have found out what many poor recipients have discovered:  the jump in their income must be quite substantial, if they are to maintain their current ‘subsidized’ lifestyle.  This is no easy task in this economy.

Simple, Sustainable Living

The Albertson’s lifestyle is by no means a lavish one.  Most would not even call it a “comfortable” income, but the Albertsons have paid off their modest  home many years ago, insulated it well in preparation for tough times, cook from scratch, and for environmental reasons, are not avid consumers or intentional tourists. They even have a wood stove,  and harvest their own firewood.

Vacillating Functioning

This modest, lower-stress existence has helped Ralph enormously.  When his mood, concentration, and attention improves, he is able to work effectively at his desk, and accomplish his work.  He will engage easily in meal preparation and housekeeping during these times.

Consistency of Functioning a Key Consideration

These periods of better functioning are not a problem for SSDI, however, because these improvements are not consistent.  Consistency in “residual functional capacity” (RFC) is important, to prevent his depression from impacting his ability to do “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).  Without his wife and part-time help as back-up, the business would not continue to function, and this has been made clear to SSA.

He demonstrates that need for continued assistance by faithfully attending his therapy appointments, despite these emotional ups and downs.  His psychologist is able to give accurate and competent documentation that attests to his need for continued disability payments, when his review comes up every 3-5 years.

“Marked” vs “Extreme” Impairment

Ralph is not a severely impaired individual who is regularly hospitalized for his condition.  Social Security Adminstration is clear that this is not a requirement:

“Where we use “marked” as a standard for measuring the degree of limitation, it means more than moderate but less than extreme. A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with your ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. See §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a.”

They continue:

“We do not define “marked” by a specific number of different behaviors in which social functioning is impaired, but by the nature and overall degree of interference with function. For example, if you are highly antagonistic, uncooperative, or hostile but are tolerated by local storekeepers, we may nevertheless find that you have a marked limitation in social functioning because that behavior is not acceptable in other social contexts.”

Stopping the Downward Economic and Psychological Slide

If Ralph’s situation doesn’t sound serious to you, if you feel he is “bilking the system” for benefits, it is likely that your own idea of living in hard economic times is accompanied by an elevated tolerance for depressive symptoms as an “acceptable reality of modern life.”  Clearly there is a correlation between depression and stress, as there is between unemployment and increased alcohol consumption. But clinical depression is not the same as feeling “bummed out” or “blue” about a loss of income.

Stop-Gap Answer for an Ongoing, Deteriorating Economic Climate

The question remains how many of us would be as pro-active as the Albertsons and take the steps necessary to contact a professional and seek help in a similar situation?  And how many psychotherapists would be familiar enough with the SSDI process, or integrate the necessity of economic help, as part of their treatment plan?  In Ralph’s case, that help was not totally successful in alleviating his symptoms, to enable him to return to his previous high-level functioning.  If it did, he might have found other ways to generate income for his family, even in these financially challenging times.

However, his lingering depressive symptoms, which impact his capacity to function in this present hostile economic environment, prompted his psychologist to encourage Ralph to consider SSDI, as a stop-gap measure to alleviate his family’s ongoing and deteriorating economic condition.  And SSDI was successful in helping Ralph to keep his home, as well as his sanity, intact.

The Shame of Reaching Out

Ralph had steadily paid into FICA, 8.4% of his income, once he became self-employed.  Still, it took supportive counseling before Ralph could see that it was the economy, not his entrepreneurial skills, that were failing, and to accept depression as a diagnosable mental disorder, not a personal weakness.

SSDI now serves as a financial support, partially restoring the steady income that both the economy and Ralph’s depression has taken away from him.

Unwillingness to Accept Crippling Emotional Distress

In fact, one might argue that the Albertsons have actually adjusted quite well to their circumstances, by being unwilling to accept Ralph’s depressive symptoms as a “normal” reaction to economic hard times.  And there are many indications of this intelligent adjustment to difficult circumstances:

  • Ralph is still happily married;
  • He’s resisted the lure of abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with his depression, and;
  • He has maintained his community contacts.

He should be applauded for being pro-active.

If we were to ask him what he thought of this experience, he might say something like this:

I wouldn’t recommend depression to anyone.  I felt so terrible, I wanted to die to stop it.  I can’t see anything positive in my life, past or present, including my wife, when I’m depressed, and I used to take it out on her, but I’ve learned how not to.  

She was the one that insisted that I get help. I was resistant because it was the worst possible time to shell out money for something I’d always considered a waste of time and money  I was also ashamed of what I considered a personal failure, and the last thing I wanted to do was talk to someone about it. But now I’m glad I did.  If I hadn’t, I would have continued like that for… I don’t know how long, and eventually our savings would be gone and we’d have to sell our house.  And I’d keep telling myself to “snap out of it,” but I never would.  I couldn’t on my own.

I know it sounds bad, but I have more freedom now to live my life in a more normal way.  I can respond to the pressures more realistically now, and take a break when I need it.  There are some days I sit in the sun or take a long walk, rather than sit in the office, because I that’s all I can do, and I don’t beat myself up over it anymore.  And the chunk of money, over $18,000 when it finally came through, after the lawyer was paid, really came in handy.”

Forward Into the Past

There is a time, and many say it is coming soon, when families like the Albertson’s will have no other recourse but to sell their house and remain as destitute as any family once found roaming the country during the 1930’s in search of work, with their possessions loaded onto their station wagon.

But that time is not now.

If you, or someone you know is suffering… is just not getting through the day without enormous effort, encourage them to get them help, and keep careful records, when they do.  If their functioning is impacted in a marked and prolonged way, consider disability as a financial, as well as a therapeutic option.

The financial life you save might be your own.



In the Garden of Your Mind…

Scientists have a particular kind of limitation that’s used when applying imagination.

The whole question of imagination in science is often misunderstood by people in other disciplines. They try to test our imagination in the following way. They say, “Here is a picture of some people in a situation. What do you imagine will happen next”. When we say, “I can’t imagine,” they may think we have a weak imagination. They overlook the fact that whatever we are allowed to imagine in science must be consistent with everything else we know; that the electric fields and the waves we talk about are not just some happy thoughts which we are free to make as we wish, but ideas which must be consistent with all the laws of physics we know.

“We can’t allow ourselves to seriously imagine things which are obviously in contradiction to the known laws of nature. And so our kind of imagination is quite a difficult game. One has to have the imagination to think of something that has never been seen before, never been heard of before. At the same time the thoughts are restricted in a straitjacket, so to speak, limited by the conditions that come from our knowledge of the way nature really is

The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty.”

The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. II, 1964, p. 20-10. (thanks to Michael   A. Gottlieb   from www.feynmanlectures.info for the original  citation)

Sometimes, however, the unconscious, as in sleep, can assist in this imaginative endeavor:

Elias Howe was one of many people who worked independently to invent a sewing machine. Exhausted, after working intensely on the invention, he fell asleep and had the following dream:

He dreamed that the natives, in a jungle, threw him into a large stew-pot. He was trying frantically to get out while the natives poked at him with their spears.

Later the next day, he recalled his dream, and with a start realized that the spears poking at him in the dream had holes at the point. This unconscious realization shook up his operating paradigm, which framed a needle as a hand-held instrument with the hole at the top. Through reflecting on his dream, he realized this needed to be reversed in the invention, the “sewing machine.”

Another story I’ve heard involves James Watson, one of two men who won the Nobel Prize for conceiving of the DNA double helix. According to the tale, Watson also fell asleep, this time napping, after being stymied about this problem, and dreamed of two snakes intertwining in an ascending helix, biting their tales.  He now had the visual design.

Good ideas, like the one my friend, Robert Beartsch has been working on, require creative imagination combined with scientific know-how. Watch this video and imagine a rail system that’s cheap, sleek, and solar powered:

With a little more imagination, we can remove the roadways and autos altogether, and envision bike paths instead.

When scientists dream, they also need the general public to dream along with them.  We need to be able to imagine putting ourselves in the dream.  These Skytran allow no more than one or two passengers, which enables them to float as they do.  Can you imagine no more traffic jams?  No more smog?

Learn More.

2008-2011…Back to No (Affordable) Gas Future

March, 2011 Menlo Park CA

2008 Re-Do ?

“There’s not a single Westside station listed here for less than $3.99 a gallon,” said Johnson, a 28-year-old Los Angeles homemaker, after she pulled her Prius into a Mobil station in Santa Monica and found regular gas selling for $4.09 a gallon. “That’s just shocking.”                                            Source

The average price nationwide is now $3.43.   The last time we saw prices that high was in October of 2008.

You remember the summer of 2008, don’t you?  Here are a sample of news articles:


DALLAS — It’s a scene that gas station workers say is becoming increasingly common and frightening: Customers angry over gas prices nearing $3 a gallon storm in and decide to take it out on the employees.

“They just yell and scream,” said Selam Berhe, assistant manager at a Dallas Tetco station. “They think it’s only us that are high-priced.”

Incidents of consumer anger and gas-station crime have made headlines across the country, including the murders of gas station owners in Alabama and Houston by drivers attempting to steal gas.

Berhe recalled the particularly belligerent behavior of a man who ranted about the prices to everyone in the station.

“He walked in the store and said, ‘Do you work here? This is ridiculous,’ ” Berhe said. “He was telling each and every customer. I was like, I don’t make the prices.”  Source

That quote was from August 2005, when Texas gas prices jumped from $1.80 to $2.56 in one year.


I think it’s a rip-off myself, but we can’t do anything about gas prices.” Customer

“Most people seem to deal with the price changes well.”  Gas station worker in Manitoba

“We are all optimistic that prices will come down…” “It’s kind of scary,” “I can’t believe it.  It’s just horrible.”  Source

Across the country, everyone is feeling the dull pain of rising gas prices. “It’s hard to pay for gas when you don’t have a job.”

“For people just to get to work, it’s just too much money altogether,” he said. “We’ve got mortgages and bills and kids to take care of.”  The cost to fill the tank on his Hyundai Sonata is “outrageous.”

“You can imagine what the company’s fuel bill is like. I’m putting in 700 litres of diesel and I do this every day,” he said.  “Let’s just say they’re not chasing us down the road to give us a raise.” Source

Creeping Poverty on the Expressway

You can say that again.

According to Shadow Statistics, the rate of inflation has ranged from 6-13% per year since 2008.  Even using the lowest figure as a yearly base, how many of us are making 18% more than the last time gas prices soared?  Most of us have probably lost income over the last three years.  The good news is that just 2 percent of companies are planning across-the-board salary freezes in 2011, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and 31 percent in 2009.  Still, even those getting pay raises seldom got more than 2.5-3%, and this year will be no different.

The US population has become dramatically poorer as they face into the next petroleum price shock that promise to stay with us for a very long time to come.

In  June 2008, they were torching their cars in Europe, when Germans saw gasoline prices hit $9.40 a gallon.

It’s $8 a gallon now in Germany, and all appears quiet both there, and in the US.

Any opinions why?



How to Be Maladaptive: Fourteen Tips for Mental Activities Guaranteed to Enhance your Misery during Bad Times

Those who learn about Peak Oil, climate change, and economic hard times show a series of short-lived symptoms of stress over several months, but these are normal and expected reactions to these stunning findings.  Roughly 50-60% of adults in North America are exposed to traumatic events, but only 5% to 10% develop maladjusted PTSD and related problems.  What sorts of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors promote the development of longer-term traumatic reactions? Read on:

1. Mess with your sense of agency:

Put yourself into double-binds where you are either totally responsible for everything that happens to you or totally helpless to modify the course of events.

“I’m Totally Responsible!”

If you choose this route, you should entertain any and all thoughts that suggest your culpability and negligence or that will intensify your feelings of guilt and shame: “I should never have gotten into so much debt! What could I have been thinking?!? I am such a loser!”

Let others in on your asinine behavior, prepping them with lines such as “wasn’t that really stupid of me?”  Choose people (such as those who hate debt) who will be more than happy to assist you in believing that you are, indeed, a loser, lazy or stupid. Their help will reinforce your thinking, making this a particularly easy option to accomplish.

“I have no control!”

Or, if you prefer to be totally helpless, repeat “I have no control over anything,” whenever you begin to feel a sense of direction, possibility, or purpose. This should be repeated like a mantra.  “I have no control over anything. I have no control over my feelings or thoughts. I have no control over my actions. I have no control over (fill in the blank.)”  Focus on ignoring the basics that are most impactful to people right after a disaster, such as food, water, shelter, coordinating the reunification with loved ones, and health care supplies.  Don’t think out possible outcomes, alternatives, and the like.  Remain as ignorant as possible to the areas of control you do have.

2. Perfect your paranoia:

Don’t let down your guard! Be hyper-vigilant, ruminating, and brooding.

There are two versions of this option you can choose from, depending on your natural bent. The first is the milder form and involves entertaining thinking that goes against countervailing wisdom just BECAUSE it is contrary.  Act counter to expert advice, even in cases when it agrees with your own best evaluation. Then, worry that you aren’t doing anything constructive.  Repeat.
The second version is for the more hard-core. This involves monitoring the “doomer news” multiple times every day and searching for deeper “meanings” or patterns in past and current events that will help you uncover the “why” questions for which there are no satisfactory answers. As an adjunct to this, continually share your most outlandish theories with family, friends, and strangers, especially during times of intense conflict and stress between you. Be sure to talk as fast as possible, as loudly as possible, as insistently as possible, and connect every conversation back to your theories. Be single-minded.
As Churchill reminded us:  A fanatic is someone who won’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
Emulate this.
As your family, friends, and acquaintances begin to avoid you, tie this in as evidence of their involvement in the conspiracy or blame it on their utter “sheeple-ness.”  Feel free to share this opinion with them.

3. Focus on the personal “unfairness” of the situation:

Make yourself the victim:

“I’m a walking target!” “Other people have it better than I do. Why is my life so much worse than everybody else’s?” “Why do I have to have problems other people don’t have to have?” “What did I do to deserve this?”  “Why me?”  “Why now?”

Look at others whose situations appear better than yours and envy or blame them. “That jackass! He’s an idiot! What did he do to deserve a doomer retreat in the hills and a Prius while here I am stuck in a crappy suburb driving a gas-guzzling SUV?” You have to be capable of lots of self-deception to do this one well; rationality is your enemy.  If they have no retirement accounts, resent them that they’ve got nothing to lose if the market crashes.  “Ya, sure.  It is easy for them.  They’ve never had anything to lose, so what do they care!”

If you have ever engaged in sports or watched them on TV, you will have incorporated the winners and losers mentality, the competitive drive, which will assist you in this endeavor. Just feel your “Inner Loser;” this will motivate you to feel victimized, because after all, we all want and deserve to be winners.

Believe nothing positive will result from the experience.

4. Assume you are worthless or incompetent:

Emphasize how incapable you are of dealing with the new reality and how you can’t rely on yourself for anything. Reiterate over and over that you have no skills and couldn’t, for example, grow a garden if your life depended on it (and when you realize your life does depend on it, go on to Number 5).

Believe that anything you do to try to mitigate the effect of hard times will be inadequate, wrong-headed, and counterproductive.  See yourself as continually vulnerable and dwell on how your inability to cope will bring you and your family to the brink of utter destruction and beyond.

Reject any attempts at goal-setting as fruitless and if you do make a “Goal, Plan, Do, Check” approach, lose the list or don’t follow through with it.

5. Engage in “head in the sand” behavior:

Persistently pine for the days when you were ignorant of what was coming and believe that this ignorance was bliss.

Better yet, refuse to believe any evidence of current financial, cultural, political, or environmental degradation or devolution. When you have to come up for air, be sure to keep your eyes and ears covered; after all, as long as you can’t see or hear it, it is not a reality in your world.  TV is safe to watch, even the nightly news.

6. Don’t allow yourself to feel bad:

Instead, medicate stress

Drugs, alcohol, sleep, or lots of ice cream (or chocolate, if you prefer) and any other avoidant behaviors you can devise. Then, assume that you are overreacting to the stress that everyone else is effectively coping with better than you. Use more drugs, alcohol, sleep, and sweets to keep yourself from feeling bad about that.  You will have bought into a perfect circle of feeling bad, self-medicating, feeling bad, self-medicating…

Ignore relaxation-based interventions such as controlled breathing techniques or mindfulness strategies that have proven to be effective.  Ignore your ‘body wisdom.’

7. Focus on what other people think of you:

Be preoccupied with their opinions of you and be sure to assume the worst.

If there are people in your life who think well of you, you must discount their opinions, cut them short, reject a  complement, look down, and walk away with a scowl. It should be obvious they either don’t know you very well or they aren’t very bright. If they do know you well and they are bright, assume you have hidden the worst from them. Focus on the people in your life who you imagine think badly about you; hyper-focus on them. Then, be angry or rejecting toward them for what you imagine they must be thinking.  As you acquire more evidence for their negative opinions, obsess even more.  And, finally, allow what you imagine they think of you to dictate your behavior, so that you are acting counter to your own intuitions and truths. This will help to divorce you from your internal beacon of what is right or wrong and will  cause you to flounder about in indecision and confusion. It will cause you to distrust yourself. It will also help to deaden you emotionally.

8. Project future doom:

No matter how bad things get, always assume the worst is yet to come.

If you still have a job, imagine joblessness.  If you still have family who love you, imagine their death or abandonment. If you are hungry, imagine starvation will soon kill you. If you are cold, assume you’ll freeze to death.

This is the slippery slope option. Climb up and start on down.  Make no distinction between “then and there” and “here and now.”  Overgeneralize.   Assume an endless state of doom, a huge on-going collapse that will keep you in a permanent state of terror.   See yourself as the father in the movie “The Road” who never reaches the coast. Imagine not only what might happen, but how you will be particularly susceptible, vulnerable, AND helpless to impact it.  Don’t try to rein in your imaginings; really let yourself go.  Share these flights of fantasy with your nearest and dearest, especially those with tender sensitivities. This will hasten your abandonment and bring you evidence that you are right. And it is always nice to be proven correct.

9. Convince yourself that you are on your own:

Assume no one is safe, predictable, or trustworthy, especially those closest to you.

Include your spouse, relatives, and best friends. Better yet, assume that everyone is acting against your best interests. Give no one the benefit of the doubt. Twist something you overheard into a damaging accusation of you. Be courageous in your convictions. If  you can find no bad intentions or untrustworthiness, you can at least  believe that everyone around you is stupid and/or ignorant and makes bad decisions, so that you would be unsafe if you followed their ideas or advice. I mean, chances are excellent that those closest to you are incompetent and worthless, since they are associating with you, so that makes it doubly imperative that you rely on no one but yourself. And, I know there must be some people of your close acquaintance who are moody, volatile, changeable, and just flat out wacky. Assume you must come up with all the answers by yourself, must do all the work yourself, are all alone in the midst of a maelstrom with no anchor.

Ignore those who have survived hard times and don’t listen to their accounts of how they felt and what they did to survive.  Grieve and memorialize in private, assuming no one could possibly help you by engaging in social problem-solving or exploring meaning.

10. Be vigilant against change:

Believe nothing good will come from any attempt to improve any situation.

Counteract any thought that there could be positive benefits from making changes by projecting even worse outcomes for those actions. Be vigilant. Vigilance in this instance implies rigidity. Stand unbending; do not sway in the breeze like a tree. Rigidity means not just rigidity of posture; it means not just rigidity of action; it also means rigidity of thought. Keep your same beliefs, your same opinions, your same values, your same routines, your same activities, your same skills, your same abilities regardless of what changes in your outer world. After all, those changes are always for the worst, aren’t they? You’ve got plenty of evidence for that; just marshal your data and start spouting.  It follows, does it not…that change is a bad idea in ALL instances? Rigidity is the way of the vigilant future warrior who makes war against the future.

11. Be guided by meaninglessness:

Believe that life has lost all meaning and value.

Most of us have some family or cultural history, and some have religious faith to bolster our self-confidence.  Reject these as meaningless to the situation at hand.  Assume your higher power has rejected you. Wallow in depressive “What’s the use?” thoughts while lying on your bed and staring at the mottled ceiling. Count the cobwebs in the corners. When your loved ones try to roust you out of bed, tell them to  leave you alone; fight with them; drive them away. If you are of a studious inclination, read Nietzsche; embrace nihilism; throw out your moral principles; lose faith in everything. Or, alternatively, if you haven’t got the energy to give up, watch TV.  The twin goals of propaganda and distraction will dull you. Embrace shallowness, and allow meaninglessness to permeate your environment and your thinking.

12. Perfect the fine art of blame:

Whenever anything bad happens, don’t waste your time trying to come up with solutions; instead, ask whose fault it is.

Blame others by actively targeting your anger. Whose fault is it? The government’s fault?  The oil companies’? The corporations’?  Your employer’s?  Your in-laws’?  Your spouse’s fault?   You can while away many happy hours in this pursuit. Surround yourself with other people who share your villain, so you can reinforce each other’s beliefs.  “Those g-damn mother-f-king sons a-itches! If it weren’t for them, we’d still have a good life. We’d still have jobs; we’d still have houses; we wouldn’t be living in this tent city waiting for the next measly food hand-out.”

But, in the sad event that you can find no one else to blame, turn your hand around and point your finger at yourself; at least that way, you can feel guilt, shame, and humiliation and won’t lose out entirely. Whatever you do, don’t plan to take any action or cause any trouble.  Just complain.  It’s easier and safer.

13. Shun social support:

When facing crises, deny to others that you are experiencing any negative feelings.   Make up weird excuses as to why you are crying, kicking things, refusing to leave your room. If you get on a weirdness loop and stay on it, you will soon feel really crazy, and then you will act crazier, and then you will feel even crazier and, well, you get the picture. Or, alternatively, blurt out your feelings and thoughts without regard to the setting, picking the most unsupportive people to confide in, thus guaranteeing that they will fail to understand or empathize with you.

Cultivate an air of indifference, criticism, and “you’re an idiot” reactions to others. When they act in like manner to you, use that as evidence that you were correct in your loner stance.

Don’t tell your story about what happened to you and how you felt about it.  Assume you have nothing to learn from others and nothing to offer them.

14. Control every emotion & thought or none of them:

Actively attempt to control all unwanted thoughts either by dissociation, suppression, by engaging in repetitive undoing behaviors, or through magical thinking.  Alternatively, lose it emotionally.

Think positively no matter how negative the situation may seem. Let nothing less than perfect sunshine enter your consciousness. Use addictive substances, if necessary, to paint reality with a rosy glow; stick with your normal routine even though, by any objective standards, it has become irrelevant; continue to believe nothing bad can happen as long as you don’t believe it can.  Assume you are going crazy if you are unable to dissociate, suppress, or otherwise keep at bay these unwanted thoughts. At all costs, refuse to think about the possibility of lack of abundance, discomfort, deprivation, insecurity, pain, disease, or the death of yourself or a loved one.

Refuse to come to terms with any aspect of reality; this might lead to living in the here and now and enjoying the time you have, which is certainly not maladaptive behavior and, therefore, cannot be allowed.

If you can’t control all of your thoughts and emotions, try to control none of them.  Model emotional dis-regulation.  Laugh hysterically; then, cry pitifully.  Demand attention for no real reason. Make a nuisance out of yourself by taxing everyone’s patience and then crying out “Everybody’s mad at me!” Freak out under pressure, lose it over the slightest difficulty. (“We’re all going to DIE!)  Refuse to accept what is right in front of you and show little tolerance for things not being perfect.  Focus on the past or the future, but don’t focus on what is immediately in front of you.  When things begin to calm down, stir them up again by doing dangerous or thrill-seeking or sensation-seeking actions because “nothing matters anyway…”

But if you aren’t really into being miserable…

In a real crisis, survivors keep their heads while other people are losing theirs.  They set important personal goals and take incremental, purposeful actions to achieve them.  They not only offer help to other people, but they seek help themselves when they need it.  They engage in acts of kindness, connect with others, and don’t reject help.  They tell themselves they can get through it, while acknowledging full well that they may not make it.  They believe in themselves.  They see all experience as offering them something they can learn from.  They aren’t afraid to look at awful feelings, the worst in themselves, and still believe in the best they have to offer.  They actively prepare themselves for what they can realistically do, and prepare to the best of their abilities, incrementally.  They aren’t afraid of change, because they accept that it it inevitable.  They savor daily pleasures that they never knew were valuable before the disaster.  They see the disaster as having unexpected benefits like bringing people closer, accepting responsibility for other people, recognizing their personal limitations, and how things could have been worse than they turned out to be.  What is important to them changes.  They see new possibilities and goals to work on.  They learn about strengths they never knew they had, and chose life instead of death.  They don’t see themselves as ‘victims,’ and they don’t expect other people to rescue them.  They see their survival as having a purpose, and accept the responsibility to keep alive the memories and stories of those who did not make it.  They don’t see themselves as heroes or villains even when they did heroic or less than positive things.  They can put to words or in some other form of expression what happened to them without minimizing or hiding important parts.  They have learned how to be compassionate with themselves as well as others.  Their religious beliefs have been strengthened, not weakened, and they appreciate their lives more than ever before.

Footnote:  Donald Meichenbaum, professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, wrote a great article  on resilience in children and adults facing traumatic situations.  This post owes major credit from his section “A Constructive Narrative Perspective of Persistent PTSD.”

Ordinary Fears, Extraordinary Times

Peak Oil, Climate change and the Greater Depression will pose many challenges to our way of life but let’s get real, for a moment: Golden Hordes aren’t one of them. At least not now. We’ve got a few years to go yet (think 50-350) before we can actually say that the USA is no longer a viable culture. Bikers with shotguns; crashing waves drowning our cities; evacuating your house on a moments notice, because the government has come to confiscate your precious metals; a mass exodus as the violence and mayhem, and the deterioration of the buildings becomes too great to live there anymore—all of these things should not be on the top of your preparedness list. So what should be?

Well, economic depression brings with it a host of serious problems, and yes, I think you can say quite confidently, without being a chicken little, that most of the world is in a Greater Depression. Job loss is up there. We’ve already seen retirement accounts deteriorate, leaving us less money to live on in our aging years. Our elderly today, like that 93 year-old who froze to death in his kitchen, will face real challenges in keeping themselves drugged, warm and fed. It may be time to get concerned about the old folks who live on your street, and start having tea with them on alternating days. The rising price of everything from food to fuel is likely to be a serious problem for a lot of us. Managing depression–emotional depression, that is, should be up there. We’ll also have to deal with the harmful side-affects of worry and fear, not brought on by the FBI tapping our telephones, but because we have no clue where the money’s going to come from to pay off our credit cards. Domestic violence will be on the rise. So will alcoholism and drug abuse. Food pantries won’t be able to feed all of the people who need resources from them, and those that used to give generously to those same pantries, might now be lining up for help.

Our towns, cities, regions, and States will face continued serious problems, if they haven’t already. They will increasingly have trouble funding basic services like police, fire, education, sanitation collection and health services. More sick people doesn’t mean the re-introduction of the Avian Flu/Spanish Flu, killing 1 out of every 3 people, but it does mean more of those killer colds and flu’s that wipe out a great number of little kids and grandmothers. The evaporation of the housing bubble will mean fewer property taxes in a year or so. They will need more tax dollars, and yes, those who live within their jurisdiction will be the ones they’ll tap, and you’ll also be asked to contribute more money toward things that used to be paid for by your governments. Rising taxes will mean less money for food, fuel, etc. Higher taxes will mean fewer dollars in your pocket through which you can support local businesses. More failing businesses will mean less tax revenues for basic services. Repeat. What we really have to fear is desperate towns and cities selling what they have, like fire protection services and water rights, to multinationals, in an effort to raise short term cash. That’s something to be afraid of. When that happens, you’ll see escalating prices for basic utilities more frightening than UFO’s hovering over your town hall.

Given how many people work for some branch, or are funded by the US Government, they might be deciding whether or not you get to keep your job. Yes, there will be protests and some riots. Yes, some cities, already suffering from years of unemployment and poverty, will rage at being unable to make ends meet on the social programs that use to be barely adequate.

I’m not saying don’t worry about the new ice age that will leave one mile-thick ice throughout North America and much of Europe. I’m just saying it should be lower on your priority list than the greater chance that your basement is going to flood more often and that your insurance company is no longer going to cover it or tell you so. Yes, keep 50 gallon rain buckets, but not so you can live another week, as Yellow Stone’s volcano erupts wiping out life as we know it in the US, but so you can water your garden as you get less rainfall each year.

Crime will increase. But you won’t have 40 inner-city youth with oozies ransacking your living room. The kid who lives down the street, the one that couldn’t get a summer job, he’ll steal your stuff. Grocery stores will get “tough on crime” as our “voleurs par faim” (thieves by reason of hunger), who might have been generally tolerated in the past, will now grow to intolerable numbers.

Dreams will die: the dream of a vacation, a college or private school education, career advancement, a comfortable retirement. Marriages and relationships will end, because they’ve never known hard times, and one or both will turn away from the other, in response to the troubles, instead of growing closer. Small businesses will close, taking all the owner’s sweat equity and all the long-time employees with them. We’ll have to travel a longer distance, or pay the shipping costs for things that we used to be able to get in our neighborhoods. And the gas to get there, or the shipping costs will start becoming more expensive than the stuff we are buying.

The lost dreams that we will feel most acutely will be those where we’ve failed our children or grandchildren. As H.S. Sullivan (who started his professional life during the Great Depression) has written:

Marked economic disturbances usually have either general or specific reasons, and have very marked effects on the course of personality development. Parents almost always aim their children at something, which the children either seek or avoid at all costs, but big economic change may lead to tragic revision of the parental ambitions with corresponding effects on the children’s goals and so on, and may leave permanent marks.

The age of your children will impact the effect the change will have on them. If they are under age 8, the parental utterances they hear around your home, will be most impactful. The family establishes the worldview, sets the tone. Like a light mist surrounding the child, they either uplift or cover with despair. Unlike during the Great Depression, however, when employers were willing to hire children at slave wages, and children were able to help in real tangible ways, this avenue will not be available. No, this will not be your grandmother’s Great Depression.

Instead of trying to explain why your children have to become cobblers, practice saying things like: “No, Tommy/Jane, I won’t be buying you that this year, because we are all needing to cut back on our spending. I know you are disappointed, or even angry. I can understand that. I wish it were different, but it isn’t. You’ll always have what you need, but that item isn’t a necessity, and we can’t afford to buy it for you.”

If they are heading to college, these plans may be dashed. If they are active in a profession, they may find themselves having to financially support a larger social network.

And things will start to look older and shabbier: Cars that we drive, clothes that we wear, homes that we live in. We’ll stay home a heck of a lot more, especially when the car breaks down, and we don’t have the cash to fix it. We’ll understand the word “decaying” in a whole new way, when we can’t afford to replace our roofs, or repair our driveways. Most of us will continue to find the cash to watch television, while we eat cheaper food, and we’ll hear it reinforce the message that while some people are suffering, everything is still dandy.

Wars will increase, no matter who is President. We will fear for our young people, more of whom will find the military the only option for a “secure” job. They’ll fight over oil. They’ll fight over land. They’ll fight parents and friends, just like their own, in different States, where they’ll be deployed to keep order. More of us will wait in absurd traffic lines to be “checked,” without knowing or caring what we are being “checked” for. Our military budget will continue to increase, while our domestic budget will continue to decrease. Fancier electronic ways will be developed by the government to separate us from our money–automatically.

We’ll find ourselves with less time and more work hours, to pay for a lifestyle that’s barely equivalent. We’ll spend more of our week-end or vacation time doing chores and repair work we used to pay someone else to do. Our children will see more of us, as we will cut corners in daycare, but there will be less of us to see. Despite our best intentions, our emotional and physical fatigue will leave us little left over for the types of religious, social or charitable work we’d assumed we’d continue to do. Our grandparents, a much more religious and social group than we are, dropped out of their community involvements in huge numbers, during the Great Depression, because of the oppressive forces they lived with. So will we. We’ll learn the lesson so many African nations have learned, that under-nutrition impacts our ability to cognitively process, produce healthy children, and fight injustice. We should be fearful that people who need food stamps and school breakfasts and lunches won’t be getting them. We have to target our priorities with a laser focus, stick to the basics, and keep our priorities straight. Full bellies make better neighbors.

We will find ourselves with a lot less energy to pretend we’re someone we aren’t, and a lot less money to keep up that illusion. Those times we told other people that we ‘just couldn’t live without X,Y, or Z,’ we’ll learn that we can. The longer we keep trying to convince ourselves that everything is the same, that nothing has changed, the more battered our souls will feel. After a period of loud protestation, and beating of the chest, cries proclaiming how unfair it all is, and how this can’t be happening to us, we’ll quiet down. We’ll have to swallow the news that most people who don’t live in the “developed” world already got: “we aren’t automatically entitled to be wealthy, have life be easy, be constantly amused,” and for some, that fact will make life absolutely miserable for them. For others, it will be a great liberation. Take a quote from Studs Terkel’s book on the Great Depression:

I never liked the idea of living on scallions in the left bank garret. I liked writing in comfort. So I went into business, a classmate and I. I thought I’d retire in a year or two. And a thing called Collapse, bango! socked everything out. 1929. All I had left was a pencil…There was nothing else to do. I was doing light verse at the time, writing a poem here and there for ten bucks a crack. It was an era when kids at college were interested in light verse and ballads and sonnets. This is the early Thirties.

I was relieved when the Crash came. I was released. Being in business was something I detested. When I found that I could sell a song or a poem, I became me, I became alive. Other people didn’t see it that way. They were throwing themselves out of windows.

Someone who lost money found that his life was gone. When I lost my possessions, I found my creativity. I felt I was being born for the first time. So for me, the world became beautiful.

With the Crash, I realized that the greatest fantasy of all was business. The only realistic way of making a life was versifying. Living off your imagination.”

We’ll start doing what we want, because we won’t have the opportunity to do much else. Some of us will be surprised to find out that we don’t miss the things we were so sure we couldn’t live without. We’ll be surprised to find out that the “poorer neighborhood” we were forced to move to was filled with decent people. We’ll learn to eat ‘Soul Food,’ which I recently learned was all the parts of the animal Black folks learned to cook with, because White folks wouldn’t touch it. And it will taste good, and we’ll be grateful we have it.

And no, of course not, it won’t be this way for all of us. Some of us will have to hide our excessive purchases in plain paper bags. Some of us will put on less elaborate cocktail parties. Some of us will watch the worst of this Greater Depression from the comfort of our “still working lives,” and will retain much of what we need to get by, in a comfort that we now appreciate a great deal more. Some will keep their neighborhoods intact, while watching others be bulldozed. Many of us will learn the comfort of prayer or group worship. We will “get it” that there exists something greater than ourselves-whether it be G-d, community or family. The concept of who makes up our family, will grow for some of us and shrink for others.

But if there is anything at all we need to be afraid of, it is our sense of hubris that won’t admit to ourselves that this “everyday dreariness” is the worst of it or the best of it. It will be our desire to cling on to a group or a leader promising to restore our former glory. What will give us inspiration will be our capacity to see the great gift in the every-day tragedy, the blessing inside every misfortune, the spirit inside every hardship that will pull us through. The gift will be in our capacity to recognize that the “hard time” we are living with, right now, IS real, and that our struggles are shared by thousands, soon to be millions of other people world-wide. And, while we are unlikely to end up in some governmental concentration camp, any time soon, we might easily end up in a hell of our own creation, if we don’t accept how ordinary and ‘just like today only worse’ it will all be tomorrow, making today ‘just like tomorrow, only better.’

I Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Transition Was in: Part III – Rejecting Survivalists?

In Part II – Context, I wondered whether there were distinct cultural differences we needed to pay attention to, between the UK and the US. In this post, I spell out one of them that I see as pertaining directly to the Peak Oil community: the perspective on ‘Survivalism’ as a philosophy.

I had initially thought it was just a matter of personal prejudice on Rob Hopkins part, when I disagreed with him so vehemently in his September 4, 2006 piece entitled: “Why Survivalists Have Got It All Wrong.” He displayed pictures of pseudo-cavemen, and made reference to selfish survivalists hording lifeboats on the Titanic and an “every man for himself” behavior in a house fire. He was responding to Zach Nowak’s piece that had earlier posted in Energy Bulletin. He wrote:

    “I have very little time for the survivalist response to peak oil…”

I couldn’t imagine how he could so easily dismiss such a large group of people who were not only savvy about Peak Oil, but were also, in my community, among some of the most active members of our sustainability group.

My response:

“I read what you wrote with interest, but I’m afraid your photos and tone might be undercutting your message. It may be easier to stereotype and point to extremes in a community than it is to look more carefully at what wisdom their philosophy might offer to all of us. If we are interested in building community, we may need everybody, including those who have chosen to keep the basic arts of preparing for difficult times a living, breathing art form. These same people teach others how to hunt or butcher or breed animals; how to can or grow or harvest food; how to weave or sew or preserve fabric. While we may not choose to do all of these things, a move toward greater self-sufficiency might be the unifying message we can all embrace.

Survivalism, in its more moderate form, is also social commentary that requires the adherents to “walk their talk.” When we teach our children at home, it is commentary on a loss of faith in public education. When we choose to grow our own food, it is because what is sold as ‘food,’ is often tasteless and lacks nutrition. When we slaughter our own animals, it is because we know they haven’t eaten hormones and chemicals, have been raised with care, and slaughtered gratefully.

There is also an implicitly political message in making a caricature of the “survivalist,” as it suggests that there is nothing in our environment that we need to adapt to and “survive.” If we embrace any notion of having to “power down,” we may want to consider a different message.

Such ridicule isn’t deserved by many people I could label ‘survivalists.’ A true survivalist has gone into that ‘dark night’ and realizes that the notion of isolation is an absurd one.

One final point: when the fire breaks out, the true survivalist has already taught their families to prepare for it, which exits to use for escape and to crawl, not walk to them if the smoke is heavy. And also, I doubt you’d get most survivalists to buy the notion of an “unsinkable” ship. The best would have taught their families to swim, and what to do in the event that there was no room on the lifeboats. That event happened because of a lack of planning. I doubt a ‘survivalist’ was to blame.”

What Survivalists Got RIGHT

The Transition Handbook has a chapter highlighting Post Petroleum Stress Disorder. Here Rob mentions the “irrational grasping at unfeasible solutions.” Also included is a single paragraph that continues to create a caricature of nihilists and survivalists. Hopkins drags out stereotyped examples designed to ridicule these movements, suggesting that, unlike his own, they have no real contribution to make. As I mentioned in my response to his article, my experience is distinctly different. Far from having nothing to contribute, many people in these movements strongly embrace not only the need for community, but offer preparedness skills, insightful, and valid criticisms of our culture, and its predicament. It was difficult for me to understand, then, why in a book filled with encouragement to reach out to the widest possible audience and teach tolerance in community-building, he would stereotype and reject potential allies, who shared his concerns. In addition, overlapping communities with some differences appeared to me to make a movement MORE resilient, not less. It was disappointing to read.

I also wondered why he would be so hostile to the very same folks who will be some of our most skilled community members in the future. Why a parody promoting intolerance for those who “think differently?” Was the goal to “brand” TI as a more “mainstream” movement that’s “not like them?” At the time, I saw such derisiveness as mean-spirited, and marginalizing the dedicated efforts of those who identify themselves in this way.

I’ve come to look upon this as yet another cultural difference.

Fighting off Invaders with a Shake of the Fist!

While I could find dozens of US sites that covered many different perspectives on Survivalism, I could find only one UK site devoted to the same theme. In one of them, a humorous response by one reader was this:

“In the event of the world turning upside down, I think most folk in the UK will dig trenches behind their privet hedges and be prepared to fight off invaders with a shake of the fist and a harsh letter to The Times…failing that, Capt. Mannering and his brave brigade will restore order and justice from GCHQ at Walmington-on-Sea

…as long as we have tea, we will prevail!! “

Capt. Mannering is a character from a popular British sit-com about a military official who keeps order in the UK during WWII.

The only other item about “Survivalism” in the UK, spoke of a 1975-1977 TV series, about a small band of survivors who emerged from a pandemic that wiped out more than 95% of the population. In sharp contrast to our own more recent gun-toting holocaust TV series “Jericho,” the protagonist here, Abby Grant, and her ad hoc group, remained reluctant to arm themselves, even after being confronted by armed adversaries on numerous occasions.

Guns have traditionally been shunned in the UK, and even police did not carry them until recently. One person attributed the spread of hoof and mouth disease to the fact that UK vets aren’t allowed to carry guns, and therefore could not kill the animal on the spot, when they learned they were diseased. As previously mentioned, the UK has, what “is believed to be some of the strictest gun legislation in the world” while the US has some of the most lenient.

Guns and Butter
The very notion of a “survivalist” evokes a distinctly American image of the Wild West, or Appalachian folks with shot-guns in the hills with hidden moonshine stills.

This pervasive spirit of individualism, or the more poetic sentiment that “good fences make good neighbors,” is much more uniquely American. Like the automobile, that allowed us to ‘take in the wide open spaces,’ a majority of Americans believe that they have a right to own a gun. About half of the U.S. population actually live in households with guns, but there is a broad geographical difference between these folks and those who do not. The bulk of gun owners generally live in rural areas and small towns, while the strongest advocates of strict gun laws tend to live in large urban areas.

These rural areas and small towns also enable other features embraced by survivalist thinking, such as raising livestock, farming and creating root cellars. Far from being isolationist, these areas recognize the inherent need to rely on others. Our urban cousins (sometimes referred to as “city-zens”) might have less interest in these arts, given their limited space, zoning restrictions, and easy access to shopping.

Natural Disasters
In a fairly mild climate, like the UK, it is more difficult to remember that there exists in the US, and many other countries around the world, a need for preparations as protection against “the weather.” This winter, my neighbors and I were without electricity for a week or more. My preparations allowed me to have light, keep warm, and to cook hot meals from food storage for my family. We were both the givers and recipients from neighbors, of food, water, and other necessities. We checked up on those that might be facing problems. These preparations are part of our rural lifestyle. Like many of my neighbors, I have pets and livestock to care for, and can’t allow a little ice storm to threaten my life or theirs.

Many survivalists I know have become so, after they’ve lived through a variety of natural disasters or climate conditions such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes or blizzards. Some have had to survive the more mundane problems of unemployment that required them to live off their food storage when money was in short supply. A weeks worth (or even three months worth) of preparations doesn’t make you a wacky reactionary, or anti-social when you live with such threats. It makes you sensible.

These preparations can be as simple as following Red Cross and FEMA recommendations by keeping a first aid kit, shovel, and extra clothes in the car, or maintaining a small kit of emergency supplies in the home and car, containing food, water, a space blanket and other essentials. A “bug out bag” can enable your family to preserve precious photos, medicines and a few non-electric toys, when you are forced to flee in a wild-fire. Basic skills, such as knowing how to drain your plumbing, or shut off your gas, can leave you with a home to return to, once the danger has passed.

Preparation: Community AND Individual Solutions

But still, unlike our ancestors, who simply assumed that it was smart to be skilled in basic arts such as canning, preserving, chopping wood, raising livestock, and yes, even killing an animal that posed a danger to your children, these are lost to a great many of us. They aren’t required of urban dwellers. Even those who should take an active interest in “surviving” presenting dangers often do not. They simply assume that government officials will rescue them when the worst happens. This is a decidedly “non-community” focus, that taxes the common resources of all of us. Hurricane Katrina is a teaching tale in this regard.

More worrisome, those who were well-prepared during this disaster experienced the hostile attitude Rob typifies, and were often looked upon with suspicion by relief workers, when they preferred to stay put, after the initial danger had passed. One writer believed that the relief workers assumed that these inhabitants must have stolen what they had, so rare was this notion of being “well prepared.” He believed that these officials were convinced that public shelters were automatically a better solution, than remaining in one’s home, and some homeowners reported being threatened when they refused to go.

I would like to suggest that in the US, we should be emphasizing the need for more of our neighbors to be well-prepared, rather than mocking those who are.

Beyond Cliché: Toward Embracing Commonality
I, therefore, would ask that we, here in the US, take a more sober approach to our writings and our attitudes toward those who might identify themselves as survivalists. We can begin by promoting sensible books like Kathy Harrison’s now classic “Just in Case.” Such books make basic notions of surviving a wide variety of disasters, whether you live in the city or the country, good common-sense.

The current edition of the Transition Handbook is a manual now being regarded as the blueprint for the future. Unfortunately, his prejudice against survivalists is now officially part of the TI perspective. It is unfortunate that Hopkins is incorporating this second-hand cliché of the American survivalist movement, as a truism. Having no first-hand experience of how large and diverse a community it is, he is doing a disservice to spread this bias. I attribute this to another example of how dangerous cultural blinders can be, when we seek to transplant a set of ideas from one culture to another.

American “Survivalist” movements straddle a vast array of attitudes and opinions, from deplorable notions of white supremacy, to accepted wisdom of community self-sufficiency that bear a great resemblance to the best aspects of TI. They do, however, emphasize skills, stores, and self-defense, whether on an individual or community level. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” could be said by a survivalist, but this does not automatically mean an individual approach. This preparation often encompasses the community; advocating notions of generosity and charitable giving, while simultaneously stressing individual responsibility.

The single most popular and widely read blog of its kind, SurvivalBlog, emphasizes the values of community, sharing knowledge, the necessity of faith, and the importance of charity, while stressing the need for “bullets, Band-Aids and beans.” It has approximately 124,000 unique visits per week, 208 million+ hits since it was founded in August of 2005. “Survivalism” is a growing force in the US Peak Oil movement, and might be the dominant American collapse- preparation paradigm, currently having a far greater number of adherents in the US than the TI movement.

We can all have a good laugh pointing out their “folly,” or we can be sincere in investigating where we share common ground. The choice is ours.

The Invisible Women of the Great Depression

As Featured On Ezine ArticlesDuring the Great Depression, women made up 25% of the work force, but their jobs were more unstable, temporary or seasonal then men, and the unemployment rate was much greater. There was also a decided bias and cultural view that “women didn’t work” and in fact many who were employed full time often called themselves “homemakers.” Neither men in the workforce, the unions, nor any branch of government were ready to accept the reality of working women, and this bias caused females intense hardship during the Great Depression.

The 1930’s was particularly hard on single, divorced or widowed women, but it was harder still on women who weren’t White. Women of color had to overcome both sexual and racial stereotyping. Black women in the North suffered an astounding 42.9% unemployment, while 23.2%. of White women were without work according to the 1937 census. In the South, both Black and White women were equally unemployed at 26%. In contrast, the unemployment rate for Black and White men in the North (38.9%/18.1%) and South (18%/16% respectively) were also lower than female counterparts.

The financial situation in Harlem was bleak even before the Great Depression. But afterward, the emerging Black working class in the North was decimated by wholesale layoffs of Black industrial workers. To be Black and a woman alone, made keeping a job or finding another one nearly impossible. The racial work hierarchy replaced Black women in waitressing or domestic work, with White women, now desperate for work, and willing to take steep wage cuts.

Survival Entrepreneurs
At the start of the Depression, while one study found that homeless women were most likely factory and service workers, domestics, garment workers, waitresses and beauticians; another suggested that the beauty industry was a major source of income for Black women. These women, later known as “survivalist entrepreneurs,” became self-employed in response to a desperate need to find an independent means of livelihood.”

Replaced by White women in more traditional domestic work as cooks, maids, nurses, and laundresses, even skilled and educated Black women were so hopeless, ‘‘that they actually offered their services at the so-called ‘slave markets’—street corners where Negro women congregated to await White housewives who came daily to take their pick and bid wages down’’ (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:246). Moreover, the home domestic service was very difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate with family responsibilities, as the domestic servant was usually on call ‘‘around the clock’’ and was subject to the ‘‘arbitrary power of individual employers.’’

Inn Keepers and Hairdressers
Two occupations were sought out by Black women, in order to address both the need for income (or barter items) and their domestic responsibilities in northern cities during the Great Depression: (1) boarding house and lodging house keeping; and (2) hairdressing and beauty culture.

During the “Great Migration” of 1915–1930, thousands of Blacks from the South, mostly young, single men, streamed into Northern cities, looking for places to stay temporarily while they searched for housing and jobs. Housing these migrants created opportunities for Black working-class women,-now unemployed-to pay their rent.

According to one estimate, ‘‘at least one-third’’ of Black families in the urban North had lodgers or boarders during the Great Migration (Thomas, 1992:93, citing Henri, 1976). The need was so great, multiple boarders were housed, leading one survey of northern Black families to report that ‘‘seventy-five percent of the Negro homes have so many lodgers that they are really hotels.’’

Women were usually at the center of these webs of family and community networks within the Black community:

“They ‘‘undertook the greatest part of the burden’’ of helping the newcomers find interim housing. Women played ‘‘connective and leadership roles’’ in northern Black communities, not only because it was considered traditional “woman’s work,” but also because taking in boarders and lodgers helped Black women combine housework with an informal, income-producing activity (Grossman, 1989:133). In addition, boarding and lodging house keeping was often combined with other types of self-employment. Some of the Black women who kept boarders and lodgers also earned money by making artificial flowers and lamp shades at home.” (Boyd, 2000)

In addition from 1890 to 1940, ‘‘barbers and hairdressers’’ were the largest segments of the Black business population, together comprising about one third of this population in 1940 (Boyd, 2000 citing Oak, 1949:48).

“Blacks tended to gravitate into these occupations because “White barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians were unwilling or unable to style the hair of Blacks or to provide the hair preparations and cosmetics used by them. Thus, Black barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians had a ‘‘protected consumer market’’ based on Whites’ desires for social distance from Blacks and on the special demands of Black consumers. Accordingly, these Black entrepreneurs were sheltered from outside competitors and could monopolize the trades of beauty culture and hairdressing within their own communities.

Black women who were seeking jobs believed that one’s appearance was a crucial factor in finding employment. Black self-help organizations in northern cities, such as the Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women, stressed the importance of good grooming to the newly arrived Black women from the South, advising them to have neat hair and clean nails when searching for work. Above all, the women were told avoid wearing ‘‘head rags’’ and ‘‘dust caps’’ in public (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:247, 301; Grossman, 1989:150–151).

These warnings were particularly relevant to those who were looking for secretarial or white-collar jobs, for Black women needed straight hair and light skin to have any chance of obtaining such positions. Despite the hard times, beauty parlors and barber shops were the most numerous and viable Black-owned enterprises in Black communities (e.g., Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:450–451).

Black women entrepreneurs in the urban North also opened stores and restaurants, with modest savings ‘‘as a means of securing a living’’ (Boyd, 2000 citing Frazier, 1949:405). Called ‘‘depression businesses,’’ these marginal enterprises were often classified as proprietorships, even though they tended to operate out of ‘‘houses, basements, and old buildings’’ (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:454).

“Food stores and eating and drinking places were the most common of these businesses, because, if they failed, their owners could still live off their stocks.”

“Whites Only”
These businesses were a necessity for Black women, as the preference for hiring Whites climbed steeply during the Depression. In the Philadelphia Public Employment Office in 1932 & 1933, 68% of job orders for women specified “Whites Only.” In New York City, Black women were forced to go to separate unemployment offices in Harlem to seek work. Black churches and church-related institutions, a traditional source of help to the Black community, were overwhelmed by the demand, during the 1930’s. Municipal shelters, required to “accept everyone,” still reported that Catholics and African American women were “particularly hard to place.”

No one knows the numbers of Black women left homeless in the early thirty’s, but it was no doubt substantial, and invisible to the mostly white investigators. Instead, the media chose to focus on, and publicize the plight of White, homeless, middle-class “white collar” workers, as, by 1931 and 1932, unemployment spread to this middle-class. White-collar and college-educated women, usually accustomed “to regular employment and stable domicile,” became the “New Poor.” We don’t know the homeless rates for these women, beyond an educated guess, but of all the homeless in urban centers, 10% were suggested to be women. We do know, however, that the demand for “female beds” in shelters climbed from a bit over 3,000 in 1920 to 56,808 by 1932 in one city and in another, from 1929 -1930, demand rose 270%.

“Having an Address is a Luxury Now”
Even these beds, however, were the last stop on the path towards homelessness and were designed for “habitually destitute” women, and avoided at all cost by those who were homeless for the first time. Some number ended up in shelters, but even more were not registered with any agency. Resources were few. Emergency home relief was restricted to families with dependent children until 1934. “Having an address is a luxury just now” an unemployed college woman told a social worker in 1932.

These newly destitute urban women were the shocked and dazed who drifted from one unemployment office to the next, resting in Grand Central or Pennsylvania station, and who rode the subway all night (the “five cent room”), or slept in the park, and who ate in penny kitchens. Slow to seek assistance, and fearful and ashamed to ask for charity, these women were often on the verge of starvation before they sought help. They were, according to one report, often the “saddest and most difficult to help.” These women “starved slowly in furnished rooms. They sold their furniture, their clothes, and then their bodies.”

The Emancipated Woman and Gender Myths
If cultural myths were that women “didn’t work,” then those that did were invisible. Their political voice was mute. Gender role demanded that women remain “someone’s poor relation,” who returned back to the rural homestead during times of trouble, to help out around the home, and were given shelter. These idyllic nurturing, pre-industrial mythical family homes were large enough to accommodate everyone. The new reality was much bleaker. Urban apartments, no bigger than two or three rooms, required “maiden aunts” or “single cousins” to “shift for themselves.” What remained of the family was often a strained, overburdened, over-crowded household that often contained severe domestic troubles of its own.

In addition, few, other than African Americans, were with the rural roots to return to. And this assumed that a woman once emancipated and tasting past success would remain “malleable.” The female role was an out-of-date myth, but was nonetheless a potent one. The “new woman” of the roaring twenties was now left without a social face during the Great Depression. Without a home–the quintessential element of womanhood–she was, paradoxically, ignored and invisible.

In reality, more than half of these employed women had never married, while others were divorced, deserted, separated or claimed to be widowed. We don’t know how many were lesbian women. Some had dependent parents and siblings who relied on them for support. Fewer had children who were living with extended family. Women’s wages were historically low for most female professions, and allowed little capacity for substantial “emergency” savings, but most of these women were financially independent. In Milwaukee, for example, 60% of those seeking help had been self-supporting in 1929. In New York, this figure was 85%. Their available work was often the most volatile and at risk. Some had been unemployed for months, while others for a year or more. With savings and insurance gone, they had tapped out their informal social networks. One social worker, in late 1931, testified to a Senate committee that “neighborliness has been stretched not only beyond its capacity but beyond human endurance.”

Older women were often discriminated against because of their age, and their long history of living outside of traditional family systems. When work was available, it often specified, as did one job in Philadelphia, a demand for “white stenographers and clerks, under (age) 25.”

The Invisible Woman
The Great Depression’s effect on women, then, as it is now, was invisible to the eye. The tangible evidence of breadlines, Hoovervilles, and men selling apples on street corners, did not contain images of urban women. Unemployment, hunger and homelessness was considered a “man’s problem” and the distress and despair was measured in that way. In photographic images, and news reports, destitute urban women were overlooked or not apparent. It was considered unseemly to be a homeless woman, and they were often hidden from public view, ushered in through back door entrances, and fed in private.

Partly, the problem lay in expectations. While homelessness in men had swelled periodically during periods of economic crisis, since the depression of the 1890’s onward, large numbers of homeless women “on their own” were a new phenomenon. Public officials were unprepared: Without children, they were, early on, excluded from emergency shelters. One building with a capacity of 155 beds and six cribs, lodged over 56,000 “beds” during the third year of the depression. Still, these figures do not take account the number of women turned away, because they weren’t White or Protestant.

As the Great Depression wore on, wanting only a way to make money, these women were excluded from “New Deal” work programs set up to help the unemployed. Men were seen as “breadwinners,” holding greater claim to economic resources. While outreach and charitable agencies finally did emerge, they were often inadequate to meet the demand.

Whereas black women had particular hard times participating in the mainstream economy during the Great Depression, they did have some opportunity to find alternative employment within their own communities, because of unique migration patterns that had occurred during that period. White women, in contrast, had a keyhole opportunity, if they were young and of considerable skills, although their skin color alone offered them greater access to whatever traditional employment was still available.

The rejection of traditional female roles, and the desire for emancipation, however, put these women at profound risk once the economy collapsed. In any case, single women, with both black and white skin, fared worse and were invisible sufferers.

As we enter the Second Great Depression, who will be the new “invisible homeless” and will women, as a group, fare better this time?


Abelson, E. (2003, Spring2003). Women Who Have No Men to Work for Them: Gender and Homelessness in the Great Depression, 1930-1934. Feminist Studies, 29(1), 104. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Boyd, R. (2000, December). Race, Labor Market Disadvantage, and Survivalist Entrepreneurship: Black Women in the Urban North During the Great Depression. Sociological Forum, 15(4), 647-670. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

A Different Sort of Hummer

Hmmmmmmmm, here comes the Hummer

That’s the sound of my initial attempt to provide for alternative transportation in the coming declining oil environment, an electric bicycle. As I studied the ramifications of the peak oil argument over the last several years, it became obvious that one of the nice-to-have items living in the city was some form of transportation that wasn’t fossil fuel powered.

After looking at all the alternatives, I decided to go the cheapest route to see whether this was a viable choice. Looking at several motor in the hub designs, I went with a 600W conversion kit off of e-bay. Acquiring a $100 cruiser bike from Wal Mart, and putting the motor on it was a pretty simple process, the whole conversion taking under 3 hours. In the process I built a bike trailer from plans off e-bay that will easily carry up to 100 pounds of cargo. Now was time to see what was possible.

I felt like Thomas Edison getting on it for my first ride, not knowing whether this will be a successful experiment or a flop. I am happy to say, it was a great choice for my 240 lbs of person. I am fortunate that where I live is flat as a tabletop with some mild hills for the most part, not much for scenery, but great for bicycling.
I found that the choice was a good one for what I needed to do.

It is Hmmmmm to the post office to mail a package, hmmmmm to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, hmmmmm to the grocery store to pick up some groceries, hmmmmm to the hardware store to pick up parts to fix the toilet, hmmmmm to the discount store to pick up assorted articles.

So far I have had it out on a 21 mile round trip at 20mph with the battery still running strong. Recharges cost about .05-.07 and take about 5 hours. The feeling of freedom is great, knowing that when fuel becomes tight again, and it will, I have an option to get around. Now the wife wants her bike electrified so she can join me in Hmmmming.

So what do I do when the snows or rainstorms come? As long as fuel is available we will hop in the car to get to our destination, otherwise we will stay put until the weather clears. Our goal is to replace as many errand trips as possible, eight months of the year, replacing up to 20 errands a month. Will it make a huge difference in the energy use for our family? No, but it gives us an option we didn’t have before. From what I have concluded, providing as many options for daily living now will be key to surviving and thriving in a declining petroleum world later. You get the best of both worlds, turn off power to the motor controller and you ride it like a regular bike for exercise, flip on the power and you have a pretty efficient mode of transportation at 20 miles per hour for 25 or 30 miles.

I was surprised at what little time difference there was between the bike and taking the car for errands. Our pharmacy is 4.5 miles away, by car the trip is about 12 minutes, by bike, it becomes about 16 minutes. Not a bad trade off. A greater satisfaction is knowing that I have another option to get around when fossil fueled vehicles become fossils themselves. Plus there is the satisfaction of looking people in the eye and saying you got there driving a Hummer, and didn’t use a drop of gas!


UK Revolutionary Socialist Fears Growing Racial Hatred

Dear Peak Shrink,

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that what you are attempting to do here, by allowing me and others to vent our deepest fears, is nothing more than a form of liberation.

Living with Peak Oil is like having HIV/AIDS, you know you’ve got it but your hopeful that with modern pharmaceuticals that maybe you can live a long and healthy…When it finally hits you that all comparisons to illness/disease are foolish because as personally devastating as this can be, it doesn’t have the truly global reach of PO, then something akin to transcendence occurs. It’s as if you have been living a version of George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ where all about you are simple carrion, waiting for their allotted time.

This smug suicidality soon passes, as you start looking, as I was forced to, at those around you that perhaps don’t deserve to be left to die. Having a grand-daughter was a primer for me.

I am 44 years old, was born and raised in London, UK and am a qualified graduate social worker. I discovered PO just after September 11th and it was a long slow process of self mis-education and knowledge. I have been a revolutionary socialist from about the age of 16, seeing clearly that Capitalism was illogical and potential, world destroying. But along the way, children, work and responsibilities took me further away from activism and into the safe arms of subscription whereby somebody else (preferably a younger version of me) does the activism and I get to read all the classic Marxist text’s and pontificate at large, sounding very profound and empty at the same time.

PO shook me out of my intellectual lethargy. At first, I went through the usual PO PTSD, but this was tempered by my politics, which looks firstly to the working class to lead and change and certainly not to the likes of Prime Minister Gordon Brown or his more powerful master, George Bush.

It is interesting that as a colony of the US, Britain waits to see what it’s formerly powerful master wants then decides how to agree to it; PO is going to really stretch that notion of imperial dependency and may force this small island to face up to its true historical role, which is, as a small island off Europe, to which the Romans frankly could hardly see a point in, other than to claim some real estate.

Anyway, I still look to the working class for leadership to both emerge and develop but then I realised that the time frame had changed and that I was now dealing with an energy catastrophe that meant that even in a successful socialist revolution, there would be massive shortfalls and potential mass die-offs. It has been a devastating realisation and it led me to start thinking about my own skin (and those around me) and how best to protect them.

Of course, I started to actively do the things that we all do. I started speaking to my then girlfriend, someone who still cares deeply for me but was starting to find it hard to look me in the eye without flinching, seeing in me a deep sadness that defied loving, attention and humour.

My anger was omni-directional and pathetically I tried to hide my sorrow for at least seven years with alcohol and drugs, hoping that when I woke up, that some ‘solution’ beyond geology and physics had miraculously appeared, saving me for another bout of revolutionary activity against a newly restored capitalism. In a tragic way, I wanted this way of life to continue so that I could destroy it. She, rightly couldn’t live with this ‘Remote Man’ and left me, which of course made me more hopeless and angry. Hadn’t my daily, weekly, monthly rants been enough? Why couldn’t she understand that this self-pitying character in the living room was the living embodiment of Noah and that I was trying to save her and all those other worthless people who didn’t have my incredible insight!

This must have been terrible to live with and of course it’s the ‘rear view mirror’ effect that I now employ to understand how to approach people around me. Having said that, I don’t say much to those around me. I have found that the nicknames that have attached to me do not help in the explanatory rubric: ‘Doom Baby’, ‘Noah’s Knob’, ‘Jeremiah Jackass’ are a few that I have been told are used when I am barely outside of the room.

Events though have a way of backing us Peakers up and now it appears that I have more friends in the room. It is much easier to talk to others about this now as people start to vaguely recognise that there is something structurally wrong and that the problems they face may not go away on an economic cycle. ‘The Interregnum’, as I chose to call the future is going to define the next half of my life, assuming my life expectancy is still 78, something which I don’t really hold to anymore.

In the UK, there are the nascent transition towns like Lampeter and others. These are brave efforts to deal with the universal shortfall of energy and food but I fear that the millions, who will be starving and hungry in the cities, will not sit still and wait for Tescoes or Marks and Spencers to deliver their daily bread and may find the idea of marching to agricultural lands, up the road, much more attractive. If you have your little ten acre’s of woodland, who is going to defend the land when the homeless and hungry come knocking? What will your gold and precious metals do for you then? It will come down the human connections that you made before Interregnum.

I also have a more immediate fear. Part of the reason that I became a revolutionary socialist was because of the racism that I personally saw and dealt with in the 1970’s, in East London. I grew in a part of London called Stratford (where the London Olympics is ironically hoping to be held) and Nazi’s openly organised in the neighbourhood around me; poisoning everything and making my life grim at times. My brother’s and I vowed that we would never be willing victims again and that when we had the tools to fight, we would.

Now I see my sometimes stressed but often banging along multicultural London is going to be potentially split as desperate people start blaming whoever they can for what’s happening. I often think that the Jews of Germany, Austria and France had been there for over a thousand years and they were almost wiped out by the Nazi’s. In the UK, there are currently less than 3% of the total population that describes itself as ‘black, asian or other denomination’. Now I’m sure that the British National Party know this and this explains why their leader, Nick Griffin is licking his lips, looking forward to the Interregnum because they can only grow in the medium of despair and inter-communal hate; look at the 1930’s if you don’t believe that. Unfortunately, some who should know better, have been paid to sit down and talk with these Nazi’s and this is depressing because with the emphasis on population theory and Malthusian numbers, this is heading us in a dangerous direction. A barrel of oil is equivalent to 200 energy slaves I have read and heard, well nobody I know is going to go back to slavery: unintended consequences indeed!

Anyway, for a while I started to seriously think about Jamaica (Mum and Dad land) and in the last six years begun ferociously to look at what opportunities it could offer. I personally love the place to bits but it is on the margins of the world economy and already the Great Credit Unwind is seriously affecting life expectancy there. Coupled with the growing instability in the weather system (Hurricanes, Tropical Storms) and the increasing salinity in the soil as the sea levels begin their inexorably upward climb, I have accepted that life there would be hard and unforgiving, as it will be everywhere but with added twists which I cannot even face in writing. Basically, there is no escape from this and you have to look to those around you to help in beating a terrible destiny.

About a year ago I began my ‘Cool Destiny Pose’ which basically is a form of stupour where everything is ok and what will be will be. Of course this was a form of defeatism but it made me feel like this was a new species of coping. But with a two month old grand-daughter my cosy dreaming has become, once again, redundant. Funny that, how children concentrate the mind.

Anyway I now think that the friendships and bonds formed from childhood and now, will form the basis of my personal survival. Ultimately I believe in humanity’s ability to adapt in the present circumstances and that really is the best you can hope for. That second home in the Caribbean is on permanent hold.

Once again, thank you for having the political and therapeutic foresight to create this wonderful site and I can only hope that others are lucky enough to be directed here or like me stumble blindly until they find some kind of light.

UK Revolutionary Socialist


Dear UKRS,

You did a really wonderful job of tracing the many emotional changes you found yourself going through over the years, and people’s reactions to you, in response. I also deeply appreciate the fact that you gave yourself some “empathetic slack” as you looked back. The rage, the numbing through drugs and alcohol, the alienation, the remoteness, the “Cool Destiny Pose” as you say. How many of us have gone through many of those same stages? You clearly have a sense of humor, as well as perspective, and we can all use more of that.

In time of economic hardship, people look for scapegoats and easy answers. You are right on the mark about this. Would you be the “mark” in Jamaica, the “wealthy Brit” who was taking up resources, despite having Jamaican parents? Will you be the ‘non-Brit’ despite having grown up there your entire life, because of your skin color? Your politics? The movie “Life and Debt” did such a good job describing how the World Bank destroyed Jamaica’s economy, including its local agriculture. Such sociopathy, those WB policies.

Ultimately, you’ve reached the same conclusion that I have, which is to dig in your heels and create a community of people who will watch your back, and actually care whether you live or die. People who know you very well, and have learned to rely on you, trust you, find you funny or clever or handy or solid. People who find it well worth their time to spend a long evening engrossed in conversation with you, and believe they had a delightful time.

Those of you across the pond appear to have something we Americans lack: a sense of class consciousness, a realization that maybe those of a similar social class do have things in common. I’ve been struck by social research here in the US that said that as immigrants moved from their poorer, working-class enclaves out to the more prosperous suburbs in a later generation, they reported being wealthier but more often plagued by depression, isolation, and alienation. Those immigrant families may have been “restrictive” or “in your business,” but they were also there to have a cup of tea with you, give you a ride, watch your child (or their grandchild.) We may well see a future where those of us who pride ourselves on “not needing anybody,” will be in much worse shape than our working-class counterparts who never had the “privilege” to be so self-determined.

I thank you for your kind words about this site, as well as your willingness to examine yourself and share that insight with all of us.

Warm Regards,

“Peak Shrink”

Southeast Journalist Weighs the Debt Question

Dear Peak Shrink,

I found your blog through the Energy Bulletin and after skimming through it I new I had to add it to my favorites. I am at the stage of peak oil awareness where I am trying to figure what next step I should take and it is quite a paralyzing and confusing place to be. My husband and I learned about peak oil at the same time in late 2006 and it didn’t take us long for the message to sink in (I was already disillusioned at the time with American consumerism).

I happen to be a reporter in the Southeast who has tried to educate people about peak oil in the short time I have known about it. In fact, I was able to do a peak oil series for the daily newspaper here and I have a personal blog that mentions the subject from time to time. I have also educated my church by showing End of Suburbia.

But my husband and I are trying to figure out where to live in the city (we agree that there is not much sense in moving; we have a few distant relatives in the city and I have some other family about 90 minutes away). We keep going back and forth on whether to try to live as cheaply as possible with our infant daughter to pay off debt, even if that means living in an apartment, or to rent a house or buy a house. I garden in a community plot about five miles away and it is difficult to tend because I work full time and have to squeeze in waterings in an out of the way location. My husband and I want to expand gardening and do some other things and we feel a house would be best. In fact we’ve found a neighborhood downtown that is affordable in terms of house-buying, but it still needs some work.

On the good side, I know residents there who are sustainable-minded and garden, there are two community gardens (one I participate in), the neighborhood is racially and age diverse, there are two parks, a small business district and a community center focused on democracy-building, etc. It’s also walking distance to a public university and about two miles from my and my husband’s jobs. On the down side, the neighborhood still deals with crime issues (break-ins and occasional drug-related shootings), although it has improved in recent years because of support from city officials and a strong neighborhood association. I get people who say they love the neighborhood and others who say make sure you know what you are getting into. So then it comes down to renting and having flexibility or buying and saying this is where I’m going to ride it out. My husband and I also are worried about the recession and possible layoffs.

I guess we’re torn between making an investment in a neighborhood that has a lot of momentum, but whose outcome is unpredictable, or mainly paying off debt and saving, even if it means I can’t garden, ride my bicycle, etc. because of the location. What do you think?

POA journalist


Hi POA Jounalist,

I say “Don’t take real estate advice from a psychologist or counseling advice from a real estate agent.” That’ said, I’ll throw in my two cents anyway, but this is under the heading “For What It’s Worth. (Which is not much…)”

The housing market lost 15.9% of its value in the US, nationwide, last year. That figure doesn’t seem to me, IMHO, to be “bottom.” In fact, after hearing the description of one Ohio city, where the foreclosure rate began a series of cascading “bad effects” and copper theft, banks decided to bulldoze the homes, instead of leaving them standing. You have lots of vacant lots now, where houses used to be. You should check on how many homes in your city are in foreclosure, and then ask yourself if you can guess how many will be NEXT year.

I go back to a definition of a city by Derrick Jenson that made sense to me (paraphrasing): A city is a place that relies on resources being shipped in from another place.”

So if you use that definition, where does the “stuff” your city needs come from? How does it get to the city itself? Is there a railway (good), waterway? (really good) or is it trucked in? (not so good). Has the city functioned quite well prior to the advent of fossil fuel, or is it a new city that manifested after the fossil fuel population boom? What was the population prior to the fossil fuel boom? What is it now? Where did the foodstuffs come from prior to fossil fuel? Where do they come from now?

Next, you have to look at the economics of the city. A city’s finances are nothing more than the income it gets from other sources: people via taxes, Government aid, investments. How balanced are the books right now? What type of jobs do the people who live in the city hold? As the economy contracts, will people still have these jobs? Will you? What sort of businesses are THESE jobs reliant on? What kind of services are they? Are they essential services or not? What is the current unemployment rate of this city and when you begin to eliminate the “non-essential” jobs, what does it climb to? Take a look at these statistics:

Core Consumer Price Index 2002-2004

Housing 14%+ (2002-2004) -15.8% (2007)
Food 7%+ (15% 2006-7)
Health Care 9.5%
Education 5% +
Gasoline 20%+
Taxes -1%
Cars 2.3%
Other computers, clothing, DVD players & microwaves -10%+
Home heating 22% (2007)

Read “Shadow Government Statistics” to figure out why you can’t rely on the current gov’t figures released. But let’s look at inflation, even based on the US governments own figures: In 2002, that $200 food shopping cart now costs $243.25. The actual figure, once you cut out all the “phony baloney” dance, to keep these numbers artificially low, is $358.28. This means that unless the folks living around you are going to see a steady, quick-paced increase in their incomes, or have substantial savings to rely on, they are going to be hurting financially. Elbow-to-elbow, all trying to figure out how they can keep their kids fed.

You’ve already told me that there is crime in the city. I assume you don’t mean the white collar sort of stuff in which wealthy investors steal your retirement funds. I assume you mean the lower classes, barely making it, who rely on their wits, drug money, or public funds to get by. Drug trafficking will likely increase as the economy worsens. Unless you fully grasp where drugs in inner-city neighborhoods come from, and why they are a revenue stream for the characters you might least expect (see picture below), you will be at a disadvantage in your decision making. Read “Narco-dollars for beginners.”

richard grasso with farc leader

richard grasso with farc leader

In June, 1999, Colombia’s president Andres Pastrana arranged for Richard Grasso, head of the New York Stock Exchange, to meet with Raúl Reyes, the head of FARC finances, in the cocaine-producing DMZ of Colombia. The two were caught in an infamous embrace that saw very little exposure in the media.

Schools keep kids off the streets. What are the school systems like, how modern are their heating facilities and how air-tight are the buildings? How will these schools be impacted by falling tax revenues and raided pension funds/government bonds be impacted by an economic downturn? Four day school weeks are already being proposed in some communities to tackle financial problems. Will the parents of your new neighborhood have the resources to care for their children an additional day a week? Will they be hanging out, instead, when the adults in the neighborhood are at work, trying to entertain themselves? Spend a few Saturdays hanging out around the kids in the neighborhood. Listen in on the things they talk about, how they engage with each other, how they resolve fights. These will be the kids your daughter will be playing with in a few years and this is how she’ll learn how to relate to her peers, here’s where she’ll learn about sexuality. If you decide to send her to a private school, she’ll remain a foreigner to these peers, always a bit of an outsider. Figure this into your planning, as well.

Visit the food pantries in that neighborhood and ask them what sort of volume increase they can weather. Ask them how the needs have increased over the past year. Ask them how the population demographics have changed, and what that tells them about what stresses are on your neighborhood.

Examine the public transportation system and how regional as well as local it is. How much of an increase in ridership can it handle without strain? Is the city committed to beefing up that system?

Ask yourself whether your socio-economic status puts you squarely in the middle of your neighbors (higher than half, lower than half), in a narrow spread of social standing, or whether you are contributing to the “revitalization” of the city, which is a code-word for replacing the poor and working class with wealthier tax payers. If I were a poor person, who had lived in that neighborhood for generations, and I saw a “wealthy” person moving in, fixing up the house all nice, putting in alternative energy, planting a big garden, etc, I personally know what I ‘d think. Ask yourself what YOU would think, if you switched places. Now ask yourself what you’d think if you couldn’t get by financially.

Also, consider the gun question. You’ve already told me that some percentage of the neighborhood you are considering is gun-savvy and is quite capable and maybe even experienced in killing people. What about you? How handy are you with firearms? You or your family, of course, would want to be able to dodge that miss-directed bullet, as you get accidentally caught in a cross-fire, but what if you are directly threatened? Can you protect yourself and your family from your less-than-friendly neighbors?

These are only a few questions that, as a journalist, you should be asking yourself, when trying to decide how to proceed. There are also the more obvious personal decisions about the property itself, such as the presence of soil contamination, water purity (and source…ask yourself where the water comes from and what public cutbacks will mean…), energy efficiency of the home, etc.

The best advice I can give you is that the future is increasingly uncertain, so any decision you make must INCREASE your range of options, and not DECREASE your options. You have decided, for a variety of reasons, to remain in the city. Should you decide, at some point, to change your mind, how will the decisions you make today impact your flexibility in doing so? You will also hear me tell you to GET OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT! NOW! if you have other debts that are with you currently.

And don’t worry if all of this research takes time. The houses in the neighborhood you are considering will likely become more “affordable” in the meantime…

All are welcome to chime in with opinions and experience via comment.

Thanks for writing, and let us know what you find out.

“Peak Shrink”

Do you have big decisions that are weighing on you? Share them with us at: PeakShrink@peakoilblues.com