Incomprehensibly large things, like say, the industrialized world, take time to change. Richard Dawkins talks about the middle world that we inhabit, somewhere between the incredibly large and the infinitely small and the fact that our brains evolved to understand and predict realities within the tiny range we perceive, Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire narrates a period of hundreds of years, the Titanic took almost three hours to sink. There are things which are inevitable, like the alterations to our lifestyle in the industrialized world due to the increasing scarcity of fossil energy, but the timetable for change may not be predictable by even the most informed.
For that reason I’ve tried to focus my efforts at energy and resource efficiency on areas which do not only make sense in a “long emergency” scenario. I am diversifying my investments, but in very non traditional ways. As a public employee both my current income and my retirement income are totally dependent on the State of Connecticut. I’m assuming that the commitments which have been made to me regarding my pension are overly generous and that I will probably have to live on a much more humble income than the retirement formulas indicate whether through overt cuts or inflationary effects.
My house can be anything from a single family home to a combination of commercial and residential apartments and some things in between. If necessity dictates that I inhabit much less space it can be done fairly easily with the rest of the structure being rented out for the highest demand use. Investments in insulation, new and refurbished windows, on demand water heating, low flow toilets, compact fluorescent bulbs, a backyard garden, fruit trees, grape vines, berry bushes, water barrels, and solar composters all have some beneficial impact on gas use, water use, or food expenses on a monthly basis.
Limited as I am in talents and resources, I am creating relationships with local food producers that I hope will be mutually beneficial in the long run: I have money which can be used to improve efficiency and expand production in the short run, and they have the know-how and the land which has some value now and which could have much more relative value in a paradigm in which local food production becomes more significant.
All of this assumes two contradictory, even mutually exclusive, possible futures. One is a more or less status quo world in which the future looks a lot like today…”only more so”, and the other is a world in which energy and resource depletion completely change everything we do. In scenario one all of my efficiency efforts allow me to live a marginally more economical existence in my urban neighborhood, a neighborhood which will only experience a dramatic turnaround in its fortunes if popular whim makes it so. In the second scenario the city becomes the center of what non-agricultural economic vibrancy exists, and my investments are the difference between a tenuous marginal existence and being in the best possible situation given my resources following an enormous cultural shift.
At the core of my decision making now is the overarching idea that we are in the verge of an epochal shift, but it is countered by the knowledge that I could be wrong. My goal is to do everything within my power to make either eventuality as enjoyable, or at least as livable as it can possibly be. I’m prepared “to go down with the ship”, to experience the further decline of my neighborhood and my city and perhaps document it as Quevedo did that of Spain in his sonnet:
Miré los muros de la patria mía,
si un tiempo fuertes ya desmoronados
de la carrera de la edad cansados
por quien caduca ya su valentía.
Salime al campo: vi que el sol bebía
los arroyos del hielo desatados,
y del monte quejosos los ganados
que con sombras hurtó su luz al día.
Entré en mi casa: vi que amancillada
de anciana habitación era despojos,
mi báculo más corvo y menos fuerte.
Vencida de la edad sentí mi espada,
y no hallé cosa en que poner los ojos
que no fuese recuerdo de la muerte.
If not, if books like The End of the Suburbs and commentators from James Howard Kunstler to Andrés Duany , Michael Klare, and Richard Heinberg are right, and the future of America is returning to its core cities, but perhaps under a more rigid energy regime, I’ll be ready for it.