Sunday, May 20, 2012

Living with less

Just some of the stuff thrown out by my neighbours in a single day 

We live in a throwaway consumer society, in case anyone hadn't noticed. It's often said that people these days are more materialistic than in the past, although that would seem to imply we had some kind of respect for materials, which we clearly don't. I often feel like I am at the epicentre of the throwaway consumer whirlwind, living, as I do, in Europe's most wasteful country.

The picture you can see above was taken this afternoon and represents just a quarter of the stuff that was put in the dump area today not forty paces from the front door of my flat. Tomorrow, lots more stuff will arrive and on Monday morning workmen will put all of it in a giant metal compactor and then it will be taken on a truck to the local incinerator and turned into what the politicians here call 'green energy'.

In theory all the TVs and bikes etc. will be sorted into different piles and processed according to what they are composed of. In practice though, most of it ends up in the same metal container along with everything else. Luckily the prevailing winds are Westerlies so the trickle of smoke that comes out of the incinerator will take it harmlessly away out over the Baltic towards, er, Sweden.

I've always been puzzled how anyone could throw a perfectly good thing away. Growing up, it was hammered into me that you just don't waste stuff. Thus my clothes were 'let out' (i.e. made bigger) by my mum as I grew and we had the same knackered kitchen table with one leg shorter than the other for decades. I also became an expert at scraping the mould off the top layer of marmalade to get at the 'perfectly good bit' underneath – and was taught to judge whether food was edible or not just by using my nose rather than looking at some 'best before' date. Talk about lost skills.

I clearly remember my first bike, which my parents gave me for my sixth birthday. It was a bright red affair with solid rubber tyres and home-made stabilisers salvaged from dead roller skates. My father had cobbled it together from bits of other bikes and painted the frame himself with some strong smelling oil paint. But if you think you can detect an accompaniment of weeping violins as you read that then you'd be wrong: we were a solidly lower middle class family with a detached house in niceish part of town. That's just the kind of bike you could expect to get in 1977, and I suspect some of my friends were even jealous of my new chick magnet.

But whatever you may think of home-made bikes and knitted mittens that were attached by a length of string to one's duffel coat so that it was impossible to lose them (a feature that delighted school bullies everywhere) – not many people are actually willing to go back to the 1970s. Here in the more bohemian parts of Copenhagen one could be forgiven for thinking that we have returned to that era. In what could be termed austerity chic, it's virtually impossible to walk around Vesterbro without bumping into bearded, long-collared fashion victims looking like extras from Starsky and Hutch. Some bars are now decked out in the 'authentic' bad taste of the era replete with yellowing wallpaper and smoke stained furniture. Of course, all the clientèle are speaking on iPhones about their latest vinyl record acquisition and drinking fashionable lager, so the illusion doesn't hold up to much scrutiny.

Bang og Jensen - one of Copenhagen's most tragically hip bars has gone back to the 1970s

But I wonder how many people in our very pampered societies are really willing to go back to the 1970s – or beyond? As austerity begins to bite and graduates start to get used to the idea that they'll probably never get the job they assumed would be rightfully theirs at the end of their studies, more and more younger people are having to face up to the fact that their level of material wealth will never be as great as their parents'. And then some.

All this was a very circuitous and long-winded lead-in to what I promised to talk about this week, namely, how to prepare for the coming energy crunch and all the associated chaos. Here's a confession: I aim not just to get through this mess alive, I intend to live through every moment of it as best as I can. I hope to help any others who are prepared to listen. To that end, this advice will seem pretty damned radical to those who are new to the peak oil blogosphere, and grist to the mill for anyone who has been paying attention over the last few years.

I'm not a fan of 'How to' lists, and neither do I like so-called advice dished out by clueless experts or well-meaning amateur busybodies, so I'll start by saying that the next few posts will be a collection of very important pointers that I have arrived at after much consideration, and ongoing consultations with many other people in the peak energy scene. I personally try to live up to them all, and I'm fully aware that the term 'hypocrite' can kill a well-meaning suggestion faster than a silver bullet kills a vampire. To that end I'll be measuring each of my suggestions against actions I have taken in my own life, with the general aim being to communicate that if a lazy so-and-so like me can achieve it, so surely can you. I stand by all of the suggestions I make and, as you'll notice, I don't use a pseudonym and am hence quite happy to take all the opprobrium I encounter from others squarely on the chin. That's not to say that I think I have 'the' answer. There is no 'perfect' solution and I'm in favour of the idea of dissensus i.e. a collection of different approaches to solving the same problems as a more resilient and, to use a modern term, open source way of doing things.

How to live with less

One of the most important lessons for people to learn today is how to live with less material goods than they have been led to believe is theirs by birthright. In the West we gobble up resources at an alarming rate, and people in former Third World countries are now copying us. But for all sorts of reasons, the party's over. Here are some of the main reasons:

  • Conventional oil, which fuels our expedient lifestyles, has peaked. Forget dreams of shale gas and Alberta tar sands – these are just shadow plays concocted by investors and politicians and believed in by those who want to believe in them. From now on, as we tumble down the far side of the supply curve, we will see steadily climbing prices of everything from food and energy bills to healthcare and technology.
  • Population is continuing to climb, despite the fact that most people are reliant on cheap forms of energy, particularly oil and natural gas, to deliver calories to their bodies. This will not end well.
  • The West is broke. We have lived beyond our means for too long. No amount of money can compensate for a lack of cheap concentrated energy. The East might be playing catchup with us, but they face the same constraints on this small, finite planet, and will face the same future.
  • Technology will not save us. Everything from computing tablets to nuclear power stations depends of processes which are highly energy intensive and prone to supply disruptions, politics and financial bubbles. Some technology will cushion our fall, but in the long run the industrial civilization faces the same fate as every other former civilization: a rapid deceleration in speed and reduction in the level of complexity. Technology = complexity. Complexity = weakness. It's our major blind spot: see it.

Given all that, it's highly unlikely that we are going to see our standards of material living increasing again in the future. So if we assume that we have the choice between becoming poor voluntarily and being forced to become poor against our will, which one shall we choose?

Consumerism, despite what we are told on the adverts, doesn't really deliver. There is plenty of evidence now that a certain level of material wealth is optimal and when we get beyond this we start to become unhappy. We humans are social primates, and when once we acquired manufactured good to meet our material needs, we now seem to purchase them merely to boost our individual status and satisfy the false need that has been planted there by black magicians (aka marketers). The point at which we drifted away from this optimal level of consumption is beyond the memory of anyone under about 40.

The pursuit of stuff is now our be all and end all, and we work on consumer debt-powered treadmills to acquire bigger houses, better cars, more exotic holidays and more up-to-date gadgets. This has never occurred before in our evolutionary history, but so ingrained has the idea become that some people now faced with personal bankruptcy would rather choose suicide as a way out rather than shake the demon of consumerism off their back and lead a life that is actually worth living.

Does anyone remember the first time they heard the term 'retail therapy', meaning buying stuff you don't need as a way of halting depression? In any other society in the world (and there are mercifully quite a few left) this would simply be called 'insanity'. But these days it is something to chuckle about – a guilty little pleasure akin to eating a box of chocolates or watching your favourite film for the umpteenth time. Similarly, people giggle that they are 'shopaholics' in much the same way that people don't giggle that they are heroin addicts or crack-heads. 'I went to Dubai for a spot of retail therapy,' is a phrase I've unhappily heard uttered more than once.

In America, and increasingly here in Europe, you are no longer given the choice of becoming a consumer. If you want to 'get ahead' you're encouraged to attend university and, ahem, study a discipline which, increasingly, is some shade of marketing. Even if you don't study marketing you might end up doing an MBA, meaning that you'll have got yourself into debt right from the start of your adult life. A car follows, as does a modest starter home filled with furniture from Ikea - and before you know it you're trapped in career and saddled with debt. This is known as being snookered.

But there is another path you can take. It's not an easy one, but then nothing truly worth doing ever is easy. This is the path of consuming less and living within your means. It's not an attractive proposition these days, and you'll likely lose a few friends and relatives along the way. But you can take encouragement from the fact that plenty of people are already doing it and having a fine time of it. Here are some examples:

Mark Boyle lives in the UK with no money. He lives in a caravan, brushes his teeth with sticks and eats wild food and food that has been thrown out by others. Read more about him here.

If that sounds just a bit too hardcore, consider Jacob Lund Fisker, who 'retired' at around the age of 33 and lives off USD 7,000 a year despite living a very full life in Chicago. He has an excellent blog packed with advice on how you can do the same here.

And the idea seems to be catching on, with a film being made about a German granny who lives off no money at all after having become 'irritated with the greedy consumer society'. Read more about her here.

Finally, anyone can buy a starter home on a soulless estate, but it takes courage and vision – and not having a 9-5 job – to build something like this.

What the people above have in common is that they rejected consumerism as a path to happiness and instead chose to focus on their inner lives and the things that made them truly happy. Things like learning to play a musical instrument, building your own home, growing your own food and learning new skills cost little or no money, but the paybacks are huge and ongoing.

I myself regard those above as aspirational and inspirational and I'll be honest and say that because I have kids I probably can't get the numbers down as low as they can. Nevertheless, everything everywhere is a work in progress, and I'd like to work towards their example. In my own life I have achieved the following:

Food. At present, around half of the food my family consumes is leftovers from the staff canteen where I work. A prodigious amount of waste occurs here and I could probably feed myself and family quite well on that alone. Of the rest, around 70% is organic – there's not much point buying non-organic vegetables as they contain very little in the way of goodness. About 95% of meals are cooked from the raw ingredients, although we occasionally succumb to the supermarket pizza. I'm 'mostly' vegetarian (since the New Year), although I don't have a problem with eating meat – just factory-produced meat. I describe myself as a 'part-time carnivore'.

I used to grow a lot of our own food when we lived in Spain but now my options are severely limited. There is a small balcony to our flat which gets the sun from around 2pm, so there are some challenges. I grow tomatoes and peas and this year I have a few pumpkins growing. I also have a wormery there which handles most food waste and turns it into compost. There is normally too much compost so I have to smuggle it out of the apartment block at night time and dump it under bushes. We are the only flat with food growing, with all others displaying flowers, and I am frowned at for doing so. My next door neighbour, an old woman, recently described me as a 'foreign pig' for the untidy collection of food plants, which stand in stark contrast to her neat rows of marigolds.

We almost never eat out at restaurants or go to cafés or bars – it is simply too expensive here in Denmark. With the exception of a cheap and cheerful Chinese dim sum place I sometimes go to for a treat, the only restaurants I end up in are the very high end ones. Why? Because I carved out a niche for myself as a restaurant reviewer as a way to get to go to these places. My enthusiasm for it has dimmed in the last year or so, but in the past I have dined out at Michelin starred eateries with aplomb. One memorable meal would have set me back around USD 500 if I'd have paid for it – a fact I considered as I ate a packet of noodles the next evening, coming in at around 1/1000th of the price but with a not dissimilar calorific value.

Transport. I go practically everywhere by bike, averaging around 100km per week to work and back. We do possess a car, although I almost never drive it. My wife regards the car as necessary for ferrying the children around and most journeys it makes are less than 1km. Despite it being the most economical car on the market, getting around 58mpg, it's very expensive having a car in Denmark and, although I'm not against car use per se, we plan to swap it for a cargo bike later this year.

In terms of planes, I try and avoid them wherever possible. This hasn't been possible this year but I hope to make my final plane journey within the next year and stick to ground-based transport after that. I had never been on a plane until I was 21, so I aim to have had two decades of flying with them before quitting. Given that we plan not to go anywhere outside of Europe in the future, it should be a simple case of hopping on trains and buses.

Energy. We live in a flat that was allocated to us by the council when we were broke and as such have little control over the heating, which is set for the whole block (too high, as it happens, and in Winter I have to open the windows or else bake). We use about 5 kWh of electricity a day, and most of this is used by the fridge and on cooking. Wherever possible I use energy saving measures, such as slow cooking with the lid on, putting devices on timers, maintaining the fridge freezer etc. Clothes are washed at 40 degrees Centigrade and dry on racks around the flat. Our electricity consumption is around half the normal rate and we get a nice cheque back each year because our billing is based on the average rate.

Stuff. Nearly everything in our flat is taken from the dump I mentioned above and our whole apartment is decked out this way. Most of the stuff is nearly new (the microwave was still in its unopened box) and the things I have rescued so far include: a pine table at which I am now writing, an espresso maker, three TVs, numerous frying pans and dishes, chairs, two beds, several computers, bookshelves, plant pots (with plants), some expensive designer chairs, lots of artworks, a set of weights, two grandfather clocks, several bicycles, a wood-turning lathe, two seal skins, some giant wooden cats (that hold CDs), a set of Dickenses printed in 1907, numerous stereos and DVD players and a sewing machine. Many of the kids' toys are similarly from the dump and they often accompany me on my forays, regarding such outings as completely normal. I've even found a bag of silver cutlery there, and a plastic bag filled with coins, and a complete wine making set from the 1960s – there really is no end to the treasure one can pick up there.

Clothes. I wear my clothes until the literally fall to pieces. Some of my socks are 20 years old and still going strong. Part of my reason for this is that I hate clothes shopping. After about 10 minutes in a clothes shop I become dizzy and nauseous, so I try and limit the experience to around once or twice a year if I really need something for some reason.

Holidays. The last few years we have taken our holidays in other people's houses while they came to live in ours. House swapping is an excellent – and free – way to have a holiday and we've been lucky enough to have had several breaks in rural France, taking the overnight train to get there. This year we are going to stay on a farm in Greece - our first 'proper' (i.e. paid for) holiday in about six years.

Leisure. Many people buy expensive gear to be able to pursue some kind of leisure activity such as kite surfing or boating or scuba diving. My leisure activities tend to consist of reading and going for walks. It might sound corny, but I can get far more pleasure from watching a beautiful sunrise on the beach, than I would by doing something that required me to buy a load of gear or, gods forbid, join a group of like-minded enthusiasts. That said, I do love photography, and building things. And cooking, and lots more.

Personal grooming. My wife cuts my hair for me and we make all our own soap. I made a pot of shaving soap two years ago and it is still only half finished. I'm also working on making shampoo, which is getting increasingly expensive.

Conclusion. Many people would read the above and no doubt find fault with some of my choices, but for me I am quite happy to be continuously reducing my consumption footprint. Many others will no doubt think that this is too severe and that I should 'live a little'. The thing is, I live more than a little, I actually consider that I live a lot without attending expensive concerts or sporting events or going on costly trips to holiday resorts. Instead of spending money unnecessarily we spend it on things that we consider of much greater value - including holidays.

The amount of money we actually spend every month is far below what is considered the poverty level in Denmark (you are officially 'poor' if you have less than 8,450kr in your pocket every month after tax – that's about USD 1,450) and yet we count ourselves as amongst the richest 1% on a global scale – something to bear in mind when assessing how 'monastic' one might consider oneself to be.

*** Update - in response to several comments people have posted about the above on other websites I should probably clarify that I DON'T regard scavenging as a way of living in a post industrial future. I should probably have stated that it can only be useful when there is a surfeit of 'waste' generated by a consumer system in overdrive and that by taking what's there for free out of the waste stream you can spend your hard earned on more useful things like books and tools and insulation. Neither do I dress in rags and feed my children swill from a bucket. Sometimes things can get exaggerated a little ...***

Peak n'Oil Band Number #8

Led Zeppelin

An easy choice for this week. In the realm of rock anthems about consumerism as a substitute for something more meaningful Stairway to Heaven can't be beaten. There are probably plenty of other Zeppelin tracks that address meaningful peak oil realted subjects too, but the only one can think of right now is When the Levee Breaks.


  1. Excellent ideas for living with less on less.

    I'm 26 year old and unlike all of my peers back home I went wandering instead of settling down for a career, which of course leads to buying a house and getting snookered as you said. I decided in my teenage years on living a stoic lifestyle, free from constraints and shackling commitments. It has paid off.

    I studied for free in Japan (MA degree) and have been between there, India, Nepal, China and Taiwan over the last seven years. Despite coming from a lower working class background where air travel is an inconceivable luxury, I've always had the resources to spare for flights because all my living expenses are pretty minimal. I'd take a boat, but that isn't feasible (yet). Even working minimum wage back home this is all possible provided someone lives stoic and has no children.

    As a borderline renunciate of sorts I often have had the good luxury of living in temples for free, too. The monk's life appeals to me, though I haven't gone that far because it hasn't felt entirely right just yet.

    I discovered that ridding myself of many luxuries (particularly time and money draining relationships) I suddenly had the resources and time to go abroad both as a student and pilgrim. I had the most educating experiences staying in quite spartan chambers in temples in India. In a Buddhist context the stoic lifestyle is actually made easy because you can rely on the good charity of the community.

    Places like this:

    I know this isn't feasible for everything, but I agree with you that times will get thinner as the years roll on, but if you're already living on a shoestring budget and have the psychological stamina to convert hardship into mental training, then the whole process will be rewarding, perhaps even liberating.

    Ironically there is much to be obtained and -attained- by casting off non-essentials.

    1. Jeffrey, you chose your own path. Congratulations!

      I remember walking around some back streets in Chennai once, and seeing all these people working and living in shacks no larger than a walk-in wardrobe. I thought then how superfluous much of the stuff we take for granted is and always compare how much I have to how little I know most other people have (materially).

      BTW I'm reminded of a book called Phra Farang that I once picked up in Bangkok. It's an autobiography of some guy from London who became a renunciant in Thailand. I think it was self-published. Maybe you've heard of it? I found it quite inspiring.

  2. Looking at that picture, and your description of the items in your flat, it would seem Danes are even more egregious throwaway consumers than my fellow Americans. If there was a pile like that anywhere around Minneapolis, there would be hordes of people waiting for the garbage to be thrown out.

    Thanks for the description of your lifestyle. I agree, the less I consume, the more meaningful my life becomes.

    1. William - I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of the modern Danish psyche. The only thing I can say is that I occasionally meet old folks carting away items that have been trashed, and they feel the same way as me. 'Disgust' is a word I heard one old lady use (and not in relation to me this time!)

  3. Jason,

    The more I think about them burning it all, the more I shiver.

    1. Makes me shiver too. I get pangs of guilt when I can't 'rescue it all' - but have just learned to let go. Whatever will be will be.

    2. I used to live in a townhouse in a Seattle suburb--still urban, but a car was required. Our house was surrounded by the American style of apartment complexes: two- or three-story buildings of 8-12 apartments, surrounded by parking lots.

      On walks, I would pass their prominent dumpsters. Two were provided: a huge green dumpster for trash, and a smaller set of blue plastic wheelie carts for recyclables. Both were inches from each other and clearly labeled in English, Spanish, and some other languages as required by the city and county.

      Nobody bothered to recycle. On walks I couldn't stand to pass by and would fish out newspapers, cans, plastic laundry bottles, and loads of cardboard, filling the recycling in about 15 minutes work. Most horrible to me were Sundays, when somebody who delivered papers would dump off their excess. The trash dumpster would be two feet thick with brand new Sunday papers. I would jump in and throw them into the recycle bins.

      I was out of work for several months and would spend about an hour some mornings pulling recyclables out. It was endless work, and I only kept up with one or two dumpsters. The waste was absolutely staggering.

      On other occasions I picked up lamps and furniture that had been set out. There seems to be a common courtesy here to leave things others might use off to the side, in little protective piles.


  4. Hey, thanks for the mention. I actually found this blog from your articles on redherring which a friend of mine (also effectively an expat Dane---as am I) pointed me towards. Small world! ERE was actually started as a "hook" for peak oil preparation (but it's generally intended to have several different goals and benefits). I was a peaknik around 2001-2004; had a website, wrote [part of] a book. To prepare for the inevitable, I adopted a more resilient low [energy and money] cost lifestyle while still having a regular income; then found myself having saved enough money to be financially independent in short order. The resilience works (so far). The financial crisis has turned out to be a non-event. As a result I'm less worried than I used to be about the speed of the collapse. It'll be slow enough for many people to adapt (most just prefer to react rather than act) and, more importantly, it's possible to live a good live with far less resources, most of which can (so far) be achieved simply by reducing waste. The next step is dealing with the World3 (Club of Rome) predictions, but being ahead of the curve and flexible is a big advantage.

    1. Hi Jacob - you're welcome. Actually it was your mention that led me to your blog, if you see what I mean. I agree that the speed of collapse probably won't be as dramatic as many imagine, but saying that I think it'll be a bumpy ride and I don't want to get caught up in a liquidity freeze.

      Interesting to note that I just read a few comments about my post, posted on other websites. The general tone seems to be a sneery 'who does he think he is?' kind of attitude. Apparently I dress in rags and feed my kids slops from a bucket! I'll wager that you've fielded a few of those comments in your time ;-)

      BTW - I'm about half way through your book. A very good read. Just don't tell me what happens at the end.

    2. Such comments/tone/reactions are par for the course and part of the reason I quit blogging. Check out the Wheaton Eco scale (applies to everything when it comes to understanding other people's reactions).

  5. This is an excellent post and I like the idea of practical suggestions on the lines of "peak oil for lazy people", especially as I am lazy myself. I agree with most of the suggestions, particularly about food and clothes, and the "house swapping" idea for vacations I think is excellent and hope to adopt it.

    I feel qualified to comment, as today I got into a car and drove to Walmart, where I bought $100 of stuff, which I paid for using a credit card. I then went back to my hotel, ate a $14 brunch in the hotel restaurant, and then will get back into my car and drive again to a Walgreens, to pick up a stick of butter, which for some reason I couldn't find in the Walmart, and buy gas. If I plan the rest of my day carefully, I could turn the entire day into an example of "how not to live in an era of peak oil."

    Of course, I am in this place, where you need a car to run a simple errand at the pharmacy, on business and the firm is paying for the hotel, rental car, and gas. Most of what I bought at Walmart was enough food to last a week -there is a fridge and microwave in my room- so I don't have to go to any more restaurants. I selected carefully so most of what I can't consume this week can return with me (its a domestic flight so I should be able to take a few canned goods in my baggage). I allowed myself the brunch because it was a buffet, so the $14 bought lunch and dinner, with a fruit later on if I got hungry. The other items were some materials for a project I hope to generate some income off of later, three trinkets/ gifts for my wife amounting to $10, and some toiletries. I can get these things there than in the city where I normally live, which doesn't have a Walmart. I combined the trip to the store with going to church, which is really the main way to get some contact with non-family non-close friends in this place. So I suppose there is a point in adapting your strategies to the situation you are in.

    One thing I actually disagree with is about throwing things away. A commentator on the Marginal Revolution blog pointed out yesterday that the industrialization of China has effectively doubled the world's industrial capacity. This means right now, anything that comes out of a factory is dirt cheap, to the point where getting a new whatever is going to be often cheaper than getting the parts to repair the old one you have. The Walmarts actually make a sort of sense not only as a central distribution point for these ridiculously cheap items (and everyone at the store I went to was obviously quite poor), but in areas where you need a car for any transport, its good to have a central store where you make one trip and load up on everything you need for a month. The cheapness of goods means that if you live in a small apartment, which makes excellent sense for conservation of housing and energy costs, you won't need that many items to "fill it". It may be self defeating go get everything from the junkyard, the costs of getting the item back from the junkyard might be more than getting a new item in the store for most people.

    In the future, rising oil prices will probably shut down Walmart's distribution system and hence its entire distribution model. At the moment, though accumulating things just isn't a problem (actually also food) if you are poor. In the U.S., what tends to get people is the cost of housing, education, transport, and medical care. We seem to be in a phase of the crisis marked most by bubble and rent extraction, and right now the biggest problem is probably whether to do without and how to do without some previously desirable asset that is now priced out of reach due to a bubble.

  6. Ed - when I first read what you wrote about Walmart I thought you were being ironic. Having re-read it I can't say I agree with you. It might seem 'cheap' to you, but that's only because of all the hidden costs. I've never actually set eyes on a Walmart, but from what others say, they can't exactly be described as an organisation that is helping us move to a less painful future. Better, in my opinion, to spend extra money on quality stuff that you really need and try to get it locally. That way you'll be lending a lifeline to people and small businesses who will be your providers when the big boxes are no longer a viable business proposition.

    My point about getting stuff from the dump has been seized upon on a couple of other blogs - not in a good way. When I moved to Copenhagen I moved into an apartment that was totally empty. Instead of maxing my credit card out on new items of furniture, as is the norm, I took some perfectly good items from the waste stream - thus preventing them from becoming air pollution.

  7. Retail therapy for individuals is crazy enough. But the insanity gets worse when economists seriously suggest that all of Germany needs a retail therapy - if only Germans saved less and spent more, the world economy would recover. Apparently it does not really matter what they buy, as long as they spend. As just one of many examples, see the recent article "Germany should follow in the footsteps of China" (

    1. Gidon, unfortunately most economists are one trick ponies. As long as it involves consuming more and keeping the growth wheel turning then people will continue to listen to them.

      Fortunately there are other people who are more deserving of our attention, such as E.F.Schumacher, and anyone else who has taken his ideas and updated them (like Tim Jackson, John Michael Greer et al.).

    2. Medieval royal courts were advised by astrologers. Today's governments are advised by economists.

    3. Yes, and at least astrologers could appreciate the fact that some things in life are unpredictable!

  8. "All this was a very circuitous and long-winded lead-in to what I promised to talk about this week, namely, how to prepare for the coming energy crunch and all the associated chaos."
    Good post, Jason. Scavenging and doing with less are good survival skills, both of which I practice. I would also like to add relationship building to the mix. Unless you are entirely self-sufficient, and who in a city can be, it helps to have people whom you trust and who trust you that you can count on for services and barter. Some of it can be fairly simple such as old-fashioned neighborliness, of helping others out, bringing them food when they are sick, helping with repairs, lending them tools, taking care of their pets or children when they need to be away, watering their plants and so on. They in turn can do things for you. And it helps to have these relationships established while times are still good, when most people could as easily buy the services that you are willing to offer for free.
    A friend of mine tells the story of an aunt who was able to get food during WWII in France only because she knew the neighborhood grocer who would only sell to people he knew from before the times of scarcity. After the war, when looking for a place to live, she would make sure that it was within walking distance of a privately owned grocery store where she could get to know the owner. This was her food security strategy.

    1. Thanks Wolfgang. I was going to get around to the idea of community and neighbourliness in next week's post!

      Anyone who thinks they can be a self sustaining 'rock' should go and visit the more Mafia scarred places in Sicily. There, between villages, you won't encounter a single (literally - single) dwelling. Anyone foolish enough to think they could go it alone tended to find themselves occupying a deep fissure on top of some lonely crag or other. True strength lay in living within a small community.

      That's one thing that worries me about my current situation. Here in Copenhagen society is very atomised and we don't really have friends or people we can rely on. Hell, I only spoke to our next door neighbour for the first time last week - after four years (when she complained about my lovely vegetables)! Feels like skating on very thin ice ...

  9. Hi Jason,

    Great post this week.

    It's very rare to hear of someone who actually practices what they preach. In fact, I suspect that most peak oil-aware folks, including quite a few who blog on the topic, merely talk about the issue but never take any real action.

    However, I do have a question for you. This is also something I want to ask Mr. Greer, whose blog I know you read. My question is this: Do you think that the actions you are taking now will help in the event of a rapid collapse? I mean, does in matter if, say, one has gotten rid of one's car and moved to a small town within walking distance of the supermarket. What happens when the shelves of that supermarket are bare?

    I guess it all comes down to how fast the collapse happens (or if it happens at all). Do you see your present way of life as useful practice for privation? Or, does it also serve another purpose as we head into the era of scarce oil?

    I ask only because I find myself wondering what is the best path to take. Orlov always says it's a mistake to bug out too soon or even start preparing too soon. But, I do wonder - as all peak oil-aware people must - what happens if the collapse is sudden. So, I find myself vacillating between paralysis and wanting to go buy a small plot of land very far from the crowds and start living like an 19th-century farmer.

    Your thoughts?

    1. Hello Anon.

      I will get around to writing about it shortly, but I've actually been through a collapse-lite myself. It occurred when we lived in Spain and everything began to fall to pieces in 2008. It is still ongoing, of course, and it was quite enlightening to watch regular middle class folks gradually lose practically everything and end up living off boiled potatoes and rice.

      What I learned was that when the going gets tough: a) You soon find out who your friends are and b) People with the right mental attitude are far more inventive and resilient than you would have formerly supposed. Suddenly everyone seems to be full of good ideas (only a few of which make it to fruition) and as long as you make the effort to help out and join in, nobody will let you starve.

      I don't anticipate a 'fast collapse' - but probably a few horrible roller coaster years followed by a period of calm and a general realignment of perspectives at a lower level of material comfort.

      There's no point isolating yourself - that's probably the worst thing you can do (see my comment to Wolfgang above).

  10. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the reply.

    How do you feel about buying a cheap house or land, ideally without getting into debt?

    One thing that worries me about a post-peak oil future is having to make rent payments when one's job might disappear. In the States, at least, they won't hesitate to turf you out if you don't pay your rent, and they won't care how bad the economy is. Look at all the people this has already happened to.

    The problem, of course, is saving any money in this economy (to purchase land or a house) and the fact that having a fixed abode ties you to a place that may become unsavory.

    Do you feel that renting in a tightly-knit community and becoming an active part of that community is the best option?

    1. I'd be very into the idea of buying a cheap house on some cheap land. Of course, there are many things to consider. I have a colleague who was interested in buying a cheap house here in Copenhagen. I looked at the pictures and urged her to go for it - it seemed like it only needed minor repairs. Then, she told me WHY it was cheap: it was built on toxic land and you had to wear rubber gloves when gardening!

      So, if you do, make sure you check it out first.

      My theory is that it's best to insert yourself into a community and think about accommodation afterwards. Renting in the short term gives you a lot of flexibility. I'm anticipating some decent property price crashes - so it pays to be 'on the spot' so you can snap up whatever is available.

      Also, moving to a tightly-knit community could have its drawbacks too. You don't want to still be feeling like an outsider ten years down the line!

  11. And here's another one:


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.