This month is my Birthday, and I am officially at my 'Peak' age. Below is the card I received from my mother. Thanks mum!
Funnily enough I felt more disturbed by the colourful message I received from google. I don't recall filling in my date of birth, let alone giving permission for them to use it in their sneaky clever marketing ploys! Are there no privacy laws left?
But really, is down hill that bad? Getting up to this point is such hard work. I mean we have to learn everything from scratch, from tying shoe laces to strange social cues. Then we are climbing a ladder, trying to pass exams, get a career, buy a home, raise a family and juggle all manner of urgent issues to keep life ticking over. Maybe free-wheeling down the otherside is going to be the fun bit!? It may lead to a time when I actually get to sit and enjoy my garden, or read a book, or not have to work for money - now wouldn't that be bliss?
What about Peak Oil? Should we be scared to be at the peak looking down? There are so many different opinions on this, ranging from 'technology will provide a solution' to 'we are facing the extinction of man', that it can be bewildering and scary to contemplate. One thing is certain though, oil is becoming harder and more expensive to extract, and prices are going to continue rising.
Oil prices are linked to recession. Almost all productive activity in our economy is reliant on oil, from ploughing a field, to building a house, to trading round the world. When oil prices increase it has a knock on effect on everything else. If you want to find out more about this rather than take my word for it, try reading 'Oil supply limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis' by Gail Tverberg on her blog Our Finite World.
I think we can expect that oil prices will rise to a new record high, which will cause another recession. Some people feel that we are only months away from this happening. Tom Therramus in his post 'Oil Price Volatility on the Way?' suggests that based on the last 10 years the price spikes have had an average of 33 months between them. It is 30 months since the last price spike, so we don't have long to wait to see if he is right.
Governments and financial institutions have not really recovered from the last major financial disruption, and if anything are even more burdened with debt, which is certainly true of the UK, so it seems very likely that there will be more financial wrecks. Whether there is a full global financial meltdown at that point I don't know, but there is likely to be more countries and banks collapsing. If you have savings then I hope you paid attention to what happened in Cyprus. There is so much to say about financial collapse that I will come back to it in another post.
Demand for oil slows down during a recession, so normally oil prices would drop back again. This is why many predict a rollercoaster of highs and lows for oil prices. But I'm not so sure, because at some point the World will wake up to the fact that oil is getting scarce. In these circumstances I wonder whether most countries would put their own needs first and and hold back on selling any surplus until they can extort the best price.
Ok, it is a pretty bleak predicament.... if you are hooked on oil. The best preparation we can make for ourselves and our communities is to reduce our oil dependence fast. That is not just about driving less, it is about adapting our lifestyles to a new reality. One where we don't depend on plastic wrapped 'stuff' imported from the other side of the World.
There are many people around the world who live without oil and all it's 'luxuries', and the rest of us are going to find out what that is like quite soon. I can see that there could be some benefits to life without oil, for rural communities who know how to feed themselves and can enjoy a simple life. I hope they get a better deal without all the oil-fuelled deforestation, and exploitation for resources and cheap goods. Peak oil writers often depict a future of oil wars, but as you need oil and money to fight the war, and war depletes both even faster, I can see a future where wars will peter out. It is really food and water that is central to our lives, along with shelter, basic healthcare and community.
Just as for me, where the attractive side of the slope has slipped away, and crazy eyebrow hairs and wrinkles are what I can look forward to, the otherside of the Peak Oil slope can look rather ugly on the surface too. It's not all as bad as it seems though, because the last 40 years has been about learning and developing. Beneath the superficial view on the surface, there are hidden depths of knowledge and wisdom. Suddenly reaching the peak may be a bit of a shock and need a period of adjustment, but we can adapt to a reduction in oil consumption.
The population is likely to take a hit, but that's another story too. I may have to face that my half-way point was probably ten years ago, because with severely reduced oil-supported healthcare, life expectancy may drop. Dmitry Orlov talks of a shortened life expectancy caused by the financial crisis and break up of the former Soviet Union in his book 'Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects', where diseases spread from the overcrowded prisons and there were middle-aged suicides when people found their lives in ruin. It seems much more likely to me that life expectancy will drop as an impact of the stress of loss of savings, earnings and security, combined with reductions in healthcare and spread of disease, rather than from wars or riots. The BBC ran a news story recently about how birthrate is decreasing in Europe, especially in Southern areas like Spain, because people don't want to have children without financial security.
So here I am trying frantically to unlearn the habits and expectations that have been drilled in to me for the best part of 40 years. I'm training myself to enjoy walking in the countryside rather than getting excited by a cheap flight to Barcelona. I'm learning to grow my own produce for excellent seasonal flavours, rather than buying the flown in exotic foods. I am finding that more choice of clothes only means it takes longer to choose what to wear (Thank you Jo for that insight), and that there is more fun and bargains to be had buying secondhand at the carboot sale, without having exploited factory workers and poisoned cotton farmers on my conscience.
This is downshifting. This is changing down a gear ready for a steep descent. It isn't living in fear, it is being realistic about what the future may hold. This is not hiding away in a bunker, but moving forward with your eyes wide open and your brain engaged. Different people will be coming from a different starting point, but the important thing is to think through the possible scenarios and see how you could be better prepared to face them.