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Energy Descent Plan

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Energy Descent Action Plan for Chapelfields, Coventry.

I am well aware that this article sound like any other stupid claim on Utopia. But most of it is just a description of the world as it was sixty years ago when I was very young and our world looked fit for endless expansion and we really though justice was achievable. But we have created far more problems than we have solved. We have filled the world full of mostly useless trinkets but real advances in standard of living are illusory at best. Do women really like having to work full time and bring up a family? I doubt it. We certainly did not have to. Is this progress? I think it sounds more like voluntary enslavement. The point is our present lifestyle is clearly unsustainable: We need and alternative.

Colin Walker 8 October 2012

Peak oil is due any day now, if it hats not already arrived. It may help to relieve the worst excesses of Carbon Dioxide pollution but in every other way it will be a nightmare. Action now will help those who are still around in twenty years time to live a reasonable life. The old people of that time will hardly believe what they have been through. The youngsters will take it as it comes and will read the history books with wonder. Their life will be little like ours.

Some of us remember Britain at the end of World War Two. The country was bankrupt. Everything was rationed and in very short supply. The lights often went out in winter. Bedrooms froze as did toilets which were mainly outside. Everyone went around switching lights off and they were few and far between anyway. The gas street lights stuttered when the wind blew and did not really light the streets. Life was grim.

The world which we are about to enter will be very similar. Technology has moved on apace but much of it has been devoted to trivialities which will disappear. Good technology, well applied, might help with solar or wind driven heating and electricity but it will be insufficient to sustain today’s prodigious waste. Gas will be very expensive and coal and wood will almost certainly become the house warming fuels of tomorrow. Petrol will be so expensive that few will be able to afford to fill up their cars. Jet planes will be scrapped and foreign holidays become a distant memory.

This is the benign future. We just have to hope the coming shortage of oil and gas does not start major wars. In any event you will need to learn to live a totally different kind of life.  You will not need management skills or professional qualifications. Much more use will be practical knowledge and experience of building, carpentry, sewing, cooking, gardening and baking. These were the things that most people knew before oil and almost unlimited energy perverted our lifestyles.

Forgotten allotments will once more be dug and produce food for hungry families and the national obesity problem will all but disappear. Gigantic farms, based totally on oil, will be sub-divided and sold to small farmers who can still remember how to farm. Horses may once again have a practical use instead of being simply toys for middle class girls.

You do not have a choice in this. It is going to happen and is going to happen very soon. The price of petrol is about to start a climb that will not stop for forty years. After that what happens is anybody’s guess but we are in no position to withstand the loss of oil and gas and maintain our current rate of energy use.  Farmed oil substitutes will be very expensive and will push up the price of food and may lead to hunger and even to starvation

Those who truly desire to survive the coming troubles will do so by planning for a drastic reduction in their use of energy and a transformation of the way in which they generate it. But even though technology may help it will not replace oil. We may return to a standard of living above that of 1945 but not by much. The exotic foods we now take for granted will all but disappear. The huge choice of goods now available will be much reduced and prices will increase beyond belief as imports become too expensive to transport and local goods have to be paid for at local prices.

The Energy Descent Action Plan is an invention of the Transition Initiative. It aims to enable people to adapt to the coming changes and rearrange their lives to suit the oncoming conditions and endless challenges we are about to face. We dragged ourselves out of the post-war depression by using hard work and oil. This time there will be no oil.

The big corporations, ever ready to make a buck, are telling us that they will solve the problems with carbon trading, electric cars, the hydrogen economy, magic batteries, solar panels, windmills and wonderful sea monsters that generate electricity. Nuclear power might help but it is still at least twenty years away for Britain. Nuclear Fusion is still a pipe dream. None of these things are sufficient to replace oil. Even if they were, we will need thirty years to build the infrastructures for their effective application. The problem is now. We are out of time. We need to act now. The only sustainable way forward is by local action.

The Chapelfields Transition Initiative aims to bring the knowledge base, experience and practices of other Initiatives into this area to enable the local people to make sensible choices fro their future lifestyle.

The first tasks is to explain just what is going on. The problem has been that the availability of cheap oil has led to the development of huge transnational corporations  whose operations depend almost entirely upon oil. They have, with our willing support, transformed our way of life but it will end when the oil runs out.  They have built a dependency culture where they provide and we consume. This will not continue without oil. The other unfortunate side effects are that the population of the world has increased far above any value sustainable without oil and the oil has produced a correspondingly large amount of carbon dioxide that is changing our atmosphere. This initiative does not attempt in any way to address the last two questions directly.

The second task is to set up an Initiative to perform specific tasks. We aim to enable people to have sustainable water heating from solar of ground geothermal sources. This will not replace oil but it will be better than nothing.

Then we can help enable the generation of electricity from sunlight and wind power. This will not run a cooker or central heating but it might keep on a few lights and a radio. While refrigerators will remain highly desirable, freezers will probably be out of the question.

We need to prepare to convert gas heating to coal or wood. When the North Sea Gas runs out and Russia starts quadrupling its prices you will need something else to heat your house. Good thermal insulation will cease to be a desirable and become a vital necessity. That is if you can afford to buy insulation. Much of it is currently based on oil.

There was once a Power Station in Abercorn Road. Maybe we could burn local rubbish to generate local electricity. It will be utterly uneconomic in present terms, but then, that is what our future is going to be.

We need to set up a training school to teach people building, workshop practice, welding woodworking, carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, cooking, baking, sewing, tailoring, repairing machines, gardening and animal husbandry.  We now buy most of the products of these trades from abroad. When the price of oil quadruples and then doubles again this will no longer be an option. You don’t think this is going to happen to the price of oil? Explain to me in detail why not. More importantly explain it to yourself.
We need to encourage local businesses that will be highly desirable when we do not have a car to carry home our essential shopping. The supermarkets will probably not survive the coming very high cost of electricity due to their reliance on cheap transport and freezers. We will need local shops to gather and sell local produce. I remember the days when Mr. Bentley drove his horse and cart every day from Meriden to Coundon with about six milk churns on the back and delivered milk into a jug on our doorstep. Soon he changed to pasteurised bottles but his horse remained with him for many years. Many goods were delivered round the streets by horse and cart; King’s green groceries, Suttons bread, Co-op milk. Your children will probably experience similar deliveries. The Rag and Bone man was endemic.

We need to encourage local businesses to provide local food and services as well as manufactured goods. We also need small businesses to train our youngsters in the new realities of a changed way of life.

An Oil Sheik is alleged to have said “My father rode a camel, I drive a Bentley, my son flies a jet plane, his son will ride camel.” That is the future we face. If you think I am talking rubbish, do nothing. If you agree with me, join us and start planning your escape now.

Come and join us as we learn how to survive in this new world of expensive energy. Learn how to make your home livable without central heating. Learn how to live with lukewarm water instead of endless showers full of hot water. Learn how to live without five televisions blaring across empty rooms. Lean how to live without thirty light bulbs illuminating five empty rooms. Learn how to tend your own garden and grow your own food. Join with others in co-operatives to share the growing and distribution of food on sensible levels. Learn how to grow without endless bags of fertiliser and poisonous chemicals. Learn which vegetables grow best in your locale. Learn which plants can be useful and which dangerous. Find out which insects can help and which need to be dealt with. Find out how to keep hens to lay eggs and even pigs.  You will have to learn how to kill and pluck a chicken. You can’t do that? You will starve. Learn how to draw water from a well and make a bucketful last all day.

You think these things belong on the devastated wastelands of tropical Africa? I am just describing the life my grandparents and parents (and I) lived just sixty years ago before the exploitation of oil. That is the life you will live. If you embrace it now you will be much better placed to ride the oil escalator back down to the ground. Ignore the warnings and you will have to reach the ground by your own means and they may well be quite violent.

Learn how to sew and tailor a dress or pair of trousers. Make a cupboard or table and learn how to make joints in wood (no, not the type you smoke). Learn how to lay a foundation for a building and mix mortar and lay bricks. Learn plumbing and rudimentary electric wiring to keep yourself safe and able to keep the lights on for at least a few hours per night.  Learn to grow your own potatoes, carrots, beans and peas. For a bit of fun you might even have time   to grow a few flowers to keep the house bright and scented. Learn what weeds have useful medicinal properties and should be gathered and processed. The Health Service uses vast amounts of energy and you will not be able to afford their very expensive services.
Learn how to bake bread and cakes and to prepare and cook all the food you need. Those few supermarkets that survive will be very expensive as they move everything by oil and keep it cool using oil. The food you will eat will not look anywhere near as pretty as that you now buy at the supermarket but neither will it be soaked in herbicides and insecticides and stuffed with E numbered chemicals.  

Learn how to scavenge materials from tips and wastes and put them to good use. Learn that very little goes into the tip, partly because you have very little to start with. Learn to live with a wealth index that would place you at starvation level by today’s standards. Tomorrow’s standards will be quite different. Oil has been a good friend on the way up.  It is likely to be a vicious enemy on the way down. Join with us in learning how to deal with it.

You will learn to awake to the crow of the cock, even in the middle of cities. You will learn to ride a bike and use it for most of your journeys. You will need to know rudimentary maintenance for it and how to use it to carry your shopping back from the store or allotment. The big corporation you work for now will long since have gone bust and you will find the available jobs quite different to today. They will almost all involve manual labour. But         you will be able to manage on part item work or even none at all as you will become much more self-sufficient.

Marriage will become a much more useful tool than it is now. The division of labour carried to extremes within the big companies will be very useful in a relationship. Old fashioned marriages were little different to modern ones. There was just as much arguing and shouting. The difference was that dividing the labour between two people made much more sense then. Single parenting was virtually impossible unless you wanted to starve. Obtaining and preparing food and fuel was a full time job and it probably will be again. But it will keep you fit. You will not need a gym. That is a good job because you will not be able to afford it.

We don’t know all the answers. We know a few of the questions. Our answers will not necessarily be your answers. We do know life will be much easier in a self-sufficient community that can provide all the basics of living for its members. The application of modern technology should help a bit but 100 inch televisions, and virtually every other bit of technology we now depend upon, will be gone. The only one really worth trying to keep will be the refrigerator. I would vote for the microwave, too.

That is the future you face – and it’s coming now. Join with us in facing up to it and ride with us down this very slippery slope. We need your ideas and your energy just as we hope we will share ours with you. Together we can build a new society. Leave it to Big Brother and we will be in serious trouble. They cannot even get it right when presented with a vast amount of materials and wealth. In the energy poor future we face only we can get it right together. In this future we will need real community activity to survive.

In reality feedback will kick in and the descent will be modified by many factors. The primary one will be the price of oil. This will increase regularly and at a much higher rate than ever before. Youngsters will take this, and its consequences, for granted. Older people will find the process very traumatic as it will involve the loss of many of the consumer goods and services that we take for granted. Your lifestyle will change radically and being prepared is the best way to face it.
We will almost certainly see the prices of food in our supermarkets increase very rapidly. There are several reasons for this and they are likely to make locally produced food much more competitive. The first is that supermarkets use large amounts of energy in their operation and in the way they source food. All that energy is going to get much more expensive in real terms. The second is that they jet lots of produce around the globe. That is inevitably going to get more expensive and beleaguered governments are highly likely to start taxing their operations much more than now. The third is that the Western World has, since the Bretton Woods agreement of 1945, exploited the third world and that exploitation is likely to reduce in future. The method has been that large corporations have negotiated supply contract with small countries and the World Bank has given them loans to invest in the facilities needed to fulfil the contracts.

All this has been organised by the International Monetary Fund which has its headquarters in Washington next door to the World Bank. What happens then is that the country starts to produce the agreed product in huge quantities and the world market is suddenly flooded with excess product. The market price falls through the floor and the large corporations – including the supermarkets – buy the produce at ridiculously low prices. We have been getting our foods and other products at very low prices. We appear to have benefited but here are consequences to any such action. Alternative sources of supply have been put out of business – including some of our own farmers. Indeed, much the same process is going on here. You don’t have to be a third world country to feel the lash of the big corporations.

The products are often grown outside their natural habitat and need high levels of chemicals to keep them free of bugs and diseases. The big corporations buy up huge swathes of land at knock down prices and devote them to cash crops that they can jet around the world. This means the local people either work for them at slave wage rates or eke out a living on the scrub land or jungle not wanted by the corporations. Their standard of living has almost always been seriously devastated. It is no wonder that large numbers of people world wide hate us in the West. They have good reason. The disappearance of cheap oil will change all this.
Action Strategy.

* The first action is to let people know what is happening so that they clearly know what their future will bring. The government, all governments, are petrified into inaction. They have no idea how to handle this crisis. They are comprised of politicians and politicians stay in business by telling people nice things. They will tell any lies to hide this inconvenient truth. I have used this last phrase to indicate the fact that although Senator Gore has made a reasonable movie about Global Warming he failed to mention peak oil, a problem that will hurt people much more quickly than carbon dioxide. Yes, the world is important, but the world will ultimately look after itself. It is mankind that is at risk. You could argue that we deserve whatever we get but we are still entitled to struggle to survive.

* People need to be scared and angry. They need to face the initial disbelief and the process of understanding and reconciliation to the simple awful truth that the oil bonanza is over. They need to rant and rave at the people who have failed, and are failing, to inform them of the truth. They need to understand they have been on a hundred year binge based firmly on a finite and very precious oil bonanza that has been squandered by politicians to make them look good and by businesses to make their directors filthy rich.

* Then they need to recover their composure and face up to this depressing future. Then they need to identify the positives that may come out of this. There are plenty of them. Firstly we shall have to abandon our hedonistic philosophy. There will be little time or energy available to indulge ourselves. Then the population will almost certainly start to decrease. A lot of that may be due to starvation or pestilence or war.  Many would argue that this is not a good thing – but the world is a finite place and can support only a finite population. If you want infinite expansion of the human race than you will have to move out into space. You can castigate me for accepting the probable multitude of deaths this implies but this is your reality just as much as mine. 

People should become physically fitter due to the much greater amount of physical work that will have to be done. They should also benefit psychologically from their closer proximity to the earth and its naturally renewable resources. The need to rely on local sources of food, products and services will ensure the development of genuine communities that have a common purpose – survival. Control of life – and politics – will return to the local level and Big Brother will to that extent have his wings clipped.

Noise pollution should be much reduced both from reduction of traffic and the, hopeful, demise of the electronically modified row that has usurped music. We might have to put up with the smell of horses in the streets again but that should be more than compensated by the reduction in the smell of “muck spreading” the foul substances that have replaced genuine fertilisers within the oil economy.

* The increased emphasis on local employment, farming and manufacturing should also give some hope of reducing the huge number of people who currently live on sink estates without any concept or possibility of work. I was tempted to say “without hope of work” but they do not even know what work is, let alone they might hope for it. On the contrary, most of them hope they never have to earn a living. They are quite happy living off the state.  They will be faced with an ever more poverty stricken central government, itself deprived of oil revenues, and a steady decline in their standard of living. They may well find that participation in a local economy is preferable to life on the dole. The present system has no hope of achieving this or anything like it.

* Next we need to write a new philosophy to define what we wish to achieve and details of our local political system to ensure that we can achieve it.  We need to make our input into a revised national philosophy and governmental structure that will ensure our freedom within a confederation of communities.

* We need to take stock of where we are in our district, or region, and enumerate the various facilities that can be turned to good account to aid our transition. Within the city these will include land to grow food, open spaces for wild life and recreation, shops and businesses that can provide the services we will need when it is no longer economic to import shiploads of products from the other end of the world.

* An audit of Buildings will show the facilities available for use for businesses and schools and colleges.

* We must identify shortages and ways to encourage new businesses and enterprises to fill the gaps and provide local services. 

* Educational curriculum must be removed from central control and concentrated upon the wants of the local community. Education will be, as always, a hot topic. The localised communities in future will have much greater need for tradesmen and shopkeepers than for academics or managers or paper shifters or computer whizzes. A degree will be reserved for those who have a genuine vocation and outgrow their local community. It is to be hoped that lifelong learning can be instituted so that those who wish to have children early can learn a trade or vocation later in life.     

* We could print our own money as other Transition Initiatives have done.  I confess I was amazed that this is legal but when you think about it, it would be impractical for the government to stop you doing it provided only that you do not do it to defraud. Many shops offer loyalty vouchers that are effectively money. Air Miles are one of the biggest debts on the planet. Every loan you take and credit cared transaction is effectively money and is not controlled by the government. So why shouldn’t we do it? It could encourage participation in the local economy and might be much more trusted than a national or continental currency.

A rather superb benefit could be that it will remove significant wealth from the present economic system whose basis is the necessary continued annual expansion of economic activity. We have come to regard this as desirable but the reality is that a body that grows with a continuous percentage increase is correctly caused a cancer. Just maybe we can cut out this cancer and return our piece of the world to sanity. Our standard of living – judged by present economic standards will be much less. But we will re-institute our relationship with the soil and we will survive and our health and sanity will be much improved.

Yes, I know this all sounds like crying wolf and scare-mongering and jumping on bandwagons and beating drums but the simple fact is that the oil will run our and we have little to replace it. Do not believe the politicians who tell you that technological advances will solve the problem. Virtually every technological advance of the last three hundred years has been firmly based upon using more and more coal or oil or uranium. This will not change. There are no other sources of energy.

The only technological solution that might relieve our energy crisis is nuclear fusion. That promises unlimited power. But if it ever comes true then prepare to abandon your life. Man will flood the planet with several thousands of billions of stinking human bodies. There appears to be not one single person on earth who can stop man reproducing and nuclear fusion will give us infinite energy which will give us infinite population. Now that really is a problem.

Colin Walker.
16 June 2009

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