After “peak everything”

There will probably be trains for a long, long time. And there will always be light from above, all the more beautiful through the clouds.

It could have been a coincidence that the next two entries after “Peak everything” were a collection of pretty (?) nature pictures and an entry about religious studies. But actually I wanted to come back to this topic again, and I want to point out how these two are continuations of what I ended that entry with: There are many sources of happiness that don’t depend on having lots of oil and copper.

Of course, most people today depend on such limited resources directly or indirectly to do their job, and earn money to pay their bills, buy food and have a place to live. So to varying degree, even the simple pleasures depend on a civilization that is based on excessive consumption. However, this lifestyle is not set in stone. We can adapt sooner and be seen as weirdos, or we can adapt later and with considerable pain.

If your job depends on driving a lot, you may be in trouble. No matter how intensely you wish for cheap gas, it won’t happen, or at least not without some global disaster that makes the recent debt crisis seem like a walk in the park. On the other hand, electric cars are already available, and hybrid cars, and even gas-powered cars that use much less fuel than average.  So it is not obvious that you will have to change your job. However, you will probably have less money left by payday no matter what. And if you plan to change your job or plan to move, travel cost should definitely be on your mind. There is no reason to react with stunned surprise when the gas price doubles again, which you will definitely experience unless you die an untimely death.

Again, it is not like you wake up one day to a post-apocalyptic dystopia from a horror movie. It is a gradual change, where you have to pinch more pennies than last month, where you have to consider things you did not consider before. At some point you may want to make drastic lifestyle changes. Or you may wait for the government to fix it all for you so everything goes back to “normal”, in which case I hope your sanity gets better soon. But by and large, the end of the golden age is like the end of a spring day here in Norway and the onset of night: So slow and gradual that you can never quite say when the day ends and the night begins, but it still comes eventually.

There are those who say you should grow your own food, and there is nothing wrong with that if it is feasible. It is probably good for you and the planet both. There are those who say you should look for a way to work from home, and that is certainly a good idea if your education and skills allow it. But that won’t be possible for all people, certainly not right away. It will gain wider acceptance over time, no doubt, but if you’re a nurse you can’t work over the Internet any time soon.

What is important at this time is to gain a broad insight in the nature and scale of the changes we face. To not blindly believe that the future will be like the past, only more so. That has never been the case, but it will be even less true now.

Barring some global disaster, electricity will still be widely available at an affordable price. Perhaps not as cheap as today, and perhaps the prices will fluctuate very rapidly, with the price twice as high at some times of the day, but overall it should be widely available. So there should be no reason to prepare for a life without electricity.  Silicon is also one of the most common elements on the planet, so it seems likely that computers and similar electronics will be widely available. They may get slightly less efficient as certain rare metals become scarce, but there may also be new inventions that offset this and then some.

Transportation by car and plane are among the things that are going to be worst hit, as peak oil is already a fact and will only get worse over time. Bulk transport by ship and train however are quite efficient in terms of energy use, so don’t expect China to stop shipping stuff across the Pacific. In fact, even if oil disappeared completely, it would still be good business to ship stuff by steamship or even sail rather than make everything locally. Railroads are also highly efficient, and largely use electricity already. Globalization is not going to fall victim to this scarcity, although I suppose it could fall victim to something else, like an actual war.

Electric cars may replace gas and diesel cars at an extra cost that most people can live with. But electric planes are highly unlikely. If you are young, I would not recommend choosing a career closely associated with flight.

By and large, however, what we can expect is a gradual decline in material wealth. Expenses will increase, income stagnate. All people who depend on sales, directly or indirectly, will be affected when people have less money to spend on what they want. Since resources are more expensive, factories and farms will also give less profit. So everywhere there will be stagnation and a gentle slide toward poverty. Unemployment is likely to remain high, and even increase for a while. New jobs will be different from the old and mostly pay less.

In this situation, it is good to keep in mind that we can live happily without being rich. It is a long way from today’s first world standards down to abject poverty, and there is no reason why we should ever hit the bottom if we as a society live with even a little wisdom. If I am alive ten years from now, it is not certain that I can afford to live alone in a house in the countryside anymore. But I can still find sources of happiness, Light willing. Whether it is potted plants, drawing with crayons or reading again books that deserve a second or twentieth reading, it does not require a lot of money to enjoy oneself. Think back to when you were a child, how little it took to bring you joy!  If anything, you should be better at it now, after decades of living and learning. Start thinking this way before need forces you. That way your happiness will be without interruption.

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