In the Event of a Crisis

My son’s science teacher has a nice line in freaking out her pupils. A few months back it was global warming that was seriously worrying him, and then, after a relatively calm period in which the worst he had to face was the kind of biology video that featured a man with a bowl full of diseased organs, she has now moved on to discussing the potential energy crisis that may soon be upon us. The thought that oil reserves could run out as soon as 2011 and the possible consequences this could entail, profoundly troubled my son, with good reason. In the long century that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of electricity we’ve managed to make ourselves entirely dependent on it. One hundred and fifty years ago we would all have lived in communities that were able to assure their own independent survival without much difficulty. Now, without oil, we risk being unable to eat, to stay warm, to work and to travel. Those are pretty serious consequences to face up to. Of course, we all hope that in the meantime, viable alternative sources of energy can be developed, and we hope too that we’ll actually stop and look at the way we live and make the kind of changes necessary to cut back on the use of oil and oil-based products. But here my son had further worries. ‘There will always be some people who just go ahead and do what they’ve always done,’ he lamented. ‘They’re going to keep on using up the oil and we won’t have any left.’ I said that whilst it was true that you couldn’t always force people to do what was in everyone’s best interests, there were also many people out there working very hard for the common good. Rather than worry about what we couldn’t control, the best thing to do was to think about how he and I could make a difference. He was unsurprisingly foxed by this proposition, not having had much chance to make an impact yet at thirteen years of age. But I said that I had always found comfort in the thought that if there was something I cared very much about, I could always write about it and try in that way to encourage and persuade others. And so we decided to compose a blog meme about the potential energy crisis and thus mobilize the might and power of the blogosphere on the side of the angels.

What do I fear about a serious energy crisis? There are many, many things to fear, but I can’t help casting my mind back to the last time there was a petrol shortage in this country because of strike action. There were miles of queuing cars at every petrol station and people getting up at 2 or 3 in the morning to try to beat the rush. What I fear most is the way we become our own worst enemies as soon as our personal comfort and convenience is threatened. Panic buying, for instance, is just crazy in this country as soon as the media reports the tiniest little problem. It was discovered that a significant proportion of the people in those queues for petrol were the elderly who had taken their cars especially out of the garage to top them up because they were so fearful of the situation worsening. If we hadn’t lost so much sense of community nowadays, elderly people might have more trust that someone would take care of their needs in the event of a crisis. I fear the way any situation nowadays can escalate because of contagious selfishness, competitiveness and anxiety.

What would I miss most in a world with rationed energy supplies? For me it wouldn’t be anything tangible; I don’t need to travel, I could live on a restricted diet, I can still write and read (although how we would communicate and publish, I’m not sure). But what I would miss is the sense of security we have worked for in this so-called civilized world. The ease of communication we enjoy, the belief that illness or accidents could be attended to in a safe, well-run environment, no need to worry that there won’t be food available for the next meal. Life a hundred and fifty years ago was harder, harsher and involved a great deal more physical labour. We’re used to life with a surplus of everything, and to adapt to repeated uncertainty and shortages would be unpleasant to do.

What can I do to help? Simple things, like replacing all our lightbulbs with low energy ones, and we’re working through the house gradually. I’m going to try to buy more of our food from local suppliers and make sure it’s seasonal produce. We’ll try also to make consumer decisions that involve the least amount of plastic possible, and we’ve agreed to put a solar panel on the house.

Tagging: I’m going to try to pick bloggers who I know have an interest in environmental issues, although, please, anyone who would like to join in should consider themselves tagged. The general idea is to talk about what you fear, what you’d miss and what you’d like to commit to doing about the prospect of oil supplies running out, but it doesn’t matter what you do, really, so long as you spread the word and tag five others. So, I tag:

The Hobgoblin





And Courtney for an extra sixth as I know she’s on board with the topic, but moving house at the moment, which is not conducive to blogging. So this is just if you can, Courtney.

Finally, as it seems to be the moment for considering apocalypse, I was invited by the blog attached to Sky arts to choose a book to be reading when the world ends. You can read my answer here.

23 thoughts on “In the Event of a Crisis

  1. What a great meme! I will post my answers on Wednesday for sure. I understand your son’s distress. When I was his age I was terrified of global nuclear war. I had nightmares about it. I had scenarios planned out about what I would do if it happened while I was at school, how I’d get home and find my family. I wrote anxious letters to the president and read apocalyptic books which were suprisingly comforting. But the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming. I feel that way too sometimes about global warming and the looming energy crisis. I think you are right to suggest taking personal steps and working to help persuade others. I know that’s what keeps me from going off the deep end.

  2. Good on you for writing to the President, Stefanie! What pioneering spirit! I can remember how afraid we all were of nuclear warfare. There was a drama program on television, a one-off called Threads that terrified the life out of everyone by depicting a nuclear explosion. I can also remember lying in bed when the petrol crisis was on, thinking how best to organise a network for food supplies in the village if it came to it… We have frightening prospects to face if we don’t all make a start, even if just in a small way, towards change. But I really do believe in the power of teamwork. Thank you so much for saying you’ll do the meme.

  3. Emily – that’s wonderful, I’ll look forward very much to reading your answers. Mandarine! I should have increased the tagging to 10, shouldn’t I? I would love it if you tagged yourself, as it’s a subject I don’t think we can write too much about at the moment (and I appreciate your well-informed posts).

  4. Your son is getting to that age where he is more aware of the world around him. It can certainly be an eye opening (and frightening) experience. The meme you two came up with is a great way to ponder these questions. I’m with Sefanie–I, too, grew up in the tail end of the Cold War years and I remember reading all sorts of depressing YA lit about nuclear disasters and all-around bad things happening to teenagers, although I was never so assertive writing a letter to the President (good for Stefanie!). It’s scary to think how completely dependent we are on oil. I think about it all the time, and I don’t think people are going to give up their luxuries (and we have lots of them here in the US) without a fight. I think my not owning a car is my very small contribution to saving a little bit of oil (though one car less is the most meagerly drop in the bucket). I’ll have to think about your questions, too!

  5. I may take this one on (even though you tagged the other Emily) because this is one of the things I think about often. Have you read Octavia Butler’s *Parable of the Sower*?

  6. Great meme, and I’m looking forward to seeing how people respond to it. I also had the experience Stefanie describes of being terrified of nuclear war — I can see why your son gets upset about our current fears. This meme and all the changes you are undertaking is a great way to deal with it.

  7. Such a good idea, litlove, and about a topic that really does concern us all. I think about all the things we take for granted now that might or will become lost in the future. I waver between an optimistic faith in the creativity and ingenuity of humanity and a stark pessimism that people are ultimately selfish and won’t work for the greater good when its most necessary. Sigh.

  8. I don’t know if you heard the news item yesterday, but The National Trust are giving their staff the ‘extra’ day this year (i.e. February 29th) off precisely so that they can go through their homes and take all the energy saving steps that they’ve been putting off – like changing the light bulbs. It’ll be interesting to see if any other employers follow suit.

  9. You have no reason to think I’m interested in environmental issues, but I did live for a year in a sustainable ecovillage, which was exactly the sort of community you mentioned. Of course we had electricity, but I learned wonderful things there, like how to grow my own organic food, and how to build an actual house, out of adobe. I almost learned how to run a diesel car on vegetable oil, but we left before that happened.

    People don’t often think about what skills they’d need if they had to rely on themselves. But learning about wild edible plants in the area, learning how to knit or crochet or weave, learning how to start plants from seeds, learning how to repair things instead of just throwing them away and buying new, knowing how to heat a house passively, and so on, all these skills could be life-saving in the event of a huge energy crisis.

  10. Also: I think the prevalence of apocalyptic fiction is a sign of our fears, just as during the Cold War, the theme of aliens taking us over was big, especially in film.

  11. Bloglily – that is just a brilliant six-word response! And don’t apologise for thinking it might be fun to do – I’d really hope there might be some pleasure as well as deep thought involved! Danielle – I think that not owning a car is a very big contribution! You probably save as much oil as all my intended measures put together! And yes, I remember all that terrible nuclear threat too. I sincerely hope that the worries about oil might ease, but of course, you just never know. Booksplease – I’m delighted that you’ll do the meme – thank you so much! Emily – welcome to the site and thank you so very much for considering doing this. Once you start to think about the problem it gets quite overwhelming. I haven’t read anything by Octavia Butler, but I’m sure I’ve seen her name mentioned very recently by another blogger and I’m intrigued by her. I’ll look out for the book you mention. Adfero – that is one terrifying article. Thank you very much for posting the link and I would encourage everyone to read it. It makes a very clear and lucid case for implementing significant changes right now. There seem to be a lot of sacred cows around this topic – population, transport use and the environmental cost of socalled green solutions. Dorothy – bless you for your support, that means a lot. It is potentially such a scary situation, and it just feels better to do something than nothing. Verbivore – my son is right with you on that! And yes, ‘all those things we take for granted’ is exactly the right way to put it. It’s scary how much we take for granted. Ann -I hadn’t heard that news item but good on the National Trust for thinking of it! If only other organisations would follow suit!

  12. Dew – what an amazing experience to have! If the average village could only take on a tiny percentage of what an ecovillage does, then instantly we would start saving oil and changing the way we think. It’s shocking how many things our ancestors used to do as a matter of course that we’re quite incapable of now. a little information like that for us all would be so very helpful. And I think you’re quite right about the literature. Novels (and particularly those with fantastic dimensions) are brilliant at being creative with anxiety.

  13. Pingback: Energy Crisis Meme « So Many Books

  14. I phoned my oldest today to wish him happy birthday. Thirty-nine years ago on a bitter cold night, crossing Powelton Avenue to what was then, Presbyterian Hospital. Only a few blocks from our apartment… I can’t remember if we walked or drove, or what kind of car we had, but I remember crossing that street and the cold wind and how the next time I was fully aware of the weather, it was spring.

    It was a long labor. His mother made a heroic effort to go Lamaze to the end. Nothing like being a coach over the course of an 18 hour labor (breath.. puff puff puff, breath puff puff puff) to change one’s whole perspective on: men, women, sex–how relatively small a role one plays as a male in the larger scheme of things.

    And nothing so restores one’s place, the reassurance of being needed, as holding that newborn child in the crook of your arm for the first time.

    I am father of two sons, ten years apart. I cannot imagine myself without the history of their presence, their growth–and, oh… it was not an easy passage in either case. If it had been a novel, that long, difficult labor was but foreshadowing of the next 17-18 years! And it didn’t get easier the second time.

    But the firstborn is now head chef in a Center City restaurant, and the younger, like a second heartbeat, … taking courses at Temple, majoring, like his father, in religion–because no other liberal arts major is so liberal in the range of courses it accepts as counting toward the major. For him, it’s a late start. For me–it was my impulsive change of majors every semester through my junior year. That, and time out to serve my sentence as a conscience objector during the Vietnam war.

    All as prelude. In the last few decades I’ve come to profoundly doubt our place in the world… a belief that the emergence of human consciousness and enterprise has been a tragic fluke. I ask myself, if I were young, would I choose to have a child? (As though, when we are young, we do these things by choice) And I am troubled. Troubled because I can’t offer a clear affirmative answer. To bring a child into the world, who will die. For what? Did I think of that when I held my son in the crock of my arms? And yet… I would not change what I have done.

    Tonight, I was tired and thought of going to Mara’s for dinner. Did not want to expend the energy on making a meal for myself. But I can’t afford to eat out. And as I began to work, mincing garlic, slicing onions, making the dressing for my salad, heating the sauce (“gravy,” as they say here in South Philly.

    … something changed. I was doing for myself. I was caring for my most basic needs, and I thought of hunter-gatherers, of the gleaners of the Neolithic age… this too, is nature, I thought. Our nature. To bring forth. To recreate. To pass on what we have done. To die.

    And as always–almost reflexively, when I mop up the gravy with the Italian bread, dip the last crust into the olive oil at the bottom of the salad bowel, sip the last drop of wine from my glass… I hear myself say aloud…

    oh… that was good!

    Somehow, that says something to me about the question your son raised. Of how we go on. And why.

    I’m not sure how… but it does.

  15. Pingback: Acknowledgements « Charlotte’s Web

  16. Jacob – what an incredibly full and moving response you have written. I think it’s inexorably bound up in the human condition that the greatest threats are found in the same places as the most radiant possibilities. Children have a heavy burden on their shoulders as they grow, taking on the world and its problems for another generation, and in many ways that’s no different to how it’s ever been. I like to think that whilst there are many people out there who might well joyride with the planet and freeload on society, there are also the few who stand out and make changes and alter the way we live for the better. And there are many who are simply caring, conscientious card-carrying members of the human race. And having children brings with it great sensual, simple pleasures that there is no reason to deprive ourselves of. I don’t know that this is sufficient response to your comment, but it’s the stuff that came immediately to mind.

  17. Pingback: Energy crisis « Wheels on the bus

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