The Long Emergency by James Kunstler shows how American society will undergo upheaval as oil runs out. Suburbia will no longer be viable.
When thinking about the best way to prepare for life with less or no oil, I was distinguishing between traumatic change and slow change. In traumatic change there are sudden shortages of fuel and food and rapid changes in the number of hungry and unemployed people. Where there are concentrated groups of hungry and confused people there will be unrest and violence and in this case survival will be difficult. Even if you have already decamped to the countryside you are still vulnerable to gangs of hungry urban people overwhelming your smallholding while they look for food. A small rural community would be difficult to defend against waves of marauders.
Slow change would mean gentler declines in material comfort and ease, giving more time to adapt to tougher circumstances.
There will be periods of steady, slow and imperceptible change, interrupted by traumatic changes.
Our society is a system which functions within a narrow range of operating conditions. Civilisation is a fragile stratum, like a veneer. Traumatic events can rapidly lead to breakdown – to physical rupture of lines of supply of food and energy; also to emotional and moral rupture: looting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; violent deaths in Athens. Caring is one of the first things to go – for other people and for nature. Perhaps if we are ready our response to change will be less violent, since we will panic less. We might even be able to increase the operating tolerance of our system of civilisation.
So we should ready ourselves now for these risks and changes. Not because the end of oil is imminent. But because today we are so far from being resilient and able to survive the loss of oil that it may take decades to become ready.
We must learn as individuals or within much smaller communities to grow food; to cook; to make and mend things; to fend for ourselves; to school our children. These skills need to be introduced again into our culture so that once again they will be passed down from generation to generation. Even if the skills aren’t deployed in earnest, they need to be re-learnt and nurtured in case they are needed.
It might mean making space for this in the school curriculum. It might mean changing rules of access to land. We might have to invest a significant portion of our GDP into physical rather than financial insurance. These could be big changes. But that is only because our society has moved so far from safety.