The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Tar Sands Oil Pipelines Update – Restoration Planning at Strawbale Studio May 22, 2014

Site of decomissioned earlier pipeline

Site of decommissioned earlier pipeline; next to where the new pipeline is being dug.

The question of how to respond to events beyond our control, the broader events and decisions that continue shape the world, is an important one. So much destructive and exploitative human activity is taking place (fracking, mountain top mining, tar sands oil) and its hard to respond when we feel so powerless. Its even harder to respond when we know that we are complicit in these events’ creation–by driving cars, heating our homes with gas, and so on, we are shaping the events that take place.

 

The kinds of responses we generate in the face of such events is an issue well worth pursuing.  Each area has its own local challenges, my area being no exception. As I’ve discussed on this blog before, the area in South-East Michigan where I live (less than 3 miles north of my house) has a tar sands oil pipeline being put in (this line is an alternative to Keystone XL, which has generated substantial attention in the media).  While there is nothing that the citizens can do here to prevent the pipeline from being completed due to the history of this particular pipeline and previous permission being granted, we can certainly decide how we respond, how we work with the land, and what we do after the pipeline crews leave.  How we choose to respond can shape conversations about these activities for decades to come, and can demonstrate that there are many ways to work with the land and address change.

 

Pipeline site (where trees used to be)

Pipeline site (where trees used to be)

Last fall, I discussed the Enbridge Oil Pipeline digging project that was going through my good friend Deanne’s land at Strawbale Studio. In the fall, I went and worked with the trees and documented what was happening on her land.  At this point, the land has been cleared for the crews, and the pipeline will be dug within the next few weeks.  Those of us involved with Strawbale Studio been thinking about what to do when the crews leave, how we might encourage sustainable thinking and practices.

 

Last night, 35 members of the Oakland County Permaculture Meetup spent time looking at the site in its current form and brainstorming ideas for restoration once the pipeline project is done. I wanted to post an update about some of our ideas and suggestions to A) document the progress of this project and our response and B) share the ideas if others are facing a similar challenge in their communities.

Exploring Strawbale Studio

Exploring Strawbale Studio

 

We began with a tour of the Strawbale Studio property, ending at the pipeline.  Using principles of permaculture design (observe and interact) we examined the site, explored the margins, noted the existing flows of energy (like a wetland area on the western part of the pipeline and a rising slope on the eastern part of the pipeline).  Deanne also pointed out the existing resources, including a huge pile of mulched wood chips from the trees that were cut (which will likely become a compost water heater in the fall) and numerous logs and stone piles which could be used for various natural building projects. After reviewing the site, we went back to the house for discussion about possibilities. We also noted the distance from the house (about a 3-5 min walk) and noted the severity of last winter would mean that the site might not be accessible year round.  We also noted which areas needed to remain clear of large trees (where the pipeline is) and which areas could be “anything goes” areas (the staging areas where they cleared to have their equipment move in and out around the area where the pipeline is being dug).

 

Permaculture Meetup members at the Oil Pipeline Site

Permaculture Meetup members at the Oil Pipeline Site

Its incredible what happens when you get 35 people in a room who want to make change.  We came up with a number of good and worthy suggestions–short term and long term. I’m not sure yet which ones we’ll decide to move forward with, but I think a number of these are worthy of consideration.

 

Short term suggestions:

Our short term suggestions focused on the immediate needs to restore the land and how to make use of any resources the pipeline company might be willing to provide:

  • Seeing if the construction crews would create swales for water trapping and the like, be willing to shape the landscape so we could more effectively catch and store energy (this would be a first response)
  • Seeing what kinds of resources for restoration the company offers (they are required to offer some, based on Michigan Department of Natural Resources and EPA guidelines).
  • Once the crews leave, we need to immediately get something immediately planted in the bare soil to help restore the land and rebuild the soil ecology.  Ideas ranged from  a cover crop of rye, clover, alfalfa to something with a tap root.  This suggestion is particularly important because the soil ecology has been largely destroyed and now the soil will have substantial amounts of compaction due to the heavy machinery going over the site.  A tap rooted crop will help break up compaction and add nitrogen and other minerals back into the soil.

These three areas are the first we will address in the action plan.  Once we see what resources we have, what, if anything, we can do to shape the land, and how to get something in the soil to restore it, the longer-term projects can get underway.

 

Group discussion indoors about site

Group discussion indoors about site

Long-Term Potential Projects:

The long-term projects ranged substantially, and many have a lot of merit!  Which projects end up taking place depends on the community, the resources, and Deanne’s vision for the site.

  • A camping area (perhaps combined with a yearly gathering) where interns or visitors can camp.
  • A pollinator sanctuary with native wild grasses, plants, flowers, etc., as well as beehives for honey and a cob beehive for wild bees (like mason bees).  We like this idea a lot because it doesn’t require a lot of daily maintenance (like animals would, see below), and it contributes back to the land.
  • The use of the land for natural building materials for other strawbale projects–establishing trees for coppicing (hazels, willows), perhaps other materials
  • Some kind of co-op: wine/grapes, orchard/fruit; goat/sheep; chicken/egg; or herbs.  The idea is that the community would contribute to the work of the co-op and reap some of the rewards.
  • An education area for children/school groups to come and learn about energy and restoration–it would have signs about oil pipelines, what was done and how the oil is used, encouraging reduction of fossil fuel use and teaching about sustainability (this could be done with any number of our ideas)
  • Orchards of fruit and nut trees (Hazels and Apples were specifically discussed)
  • A grazing area for chickens, goats, horses, or the like (we decided that if this were to be, someone would need to be down there in a little cob building as a caretaker!)
  • Alfalfa as a cash crop that can be baled and sold to nearby farmers (to bring in steady income for other projects)

These are just some of the ideas the community came up with.  This was a wonderful meeting, to see so many people invested in planning for the future, in reclaiming the land and in working to put something in that encourages a different worldview.

 

Deanne at the planning board taking notes

Deanne at the planning board taking notes

Final Thoughts

Throughout our country and world, there are a lot of bad things being done to the land in pursuit of cheap fossil fuel energy.  Any of us who participates in modern consumerist society (myself included) is contributing to the problem of the exploitation of our lands for oil.  And most of us live near some kind of activity–from mountaintop removal to fracking to oil pipelines (and many of us live in areas were multiple kinds of activity are taking place).

 

While we can reduce our fossil fuel use and look for alternatives (as many of us are doing), how we respond to these kinds of issues, especially when we are directly confronted with them can empower us and bring about broader change in the world.  That we will turn the oil pipeline site into a sustainable, model site for other kind of restorative work is empowering–and its something we *have* the power to do, while stopping the oil pipeline is something that we really don’t have the power to do (this one was leased in the 1960’s, so its a done deal as far as any of us can tell).  I’d be interested in hearing of any other communities’ responses to these kinds of issues.

 

Strawbale Studio and Tar Sands Oil Pipelines – The Clash of Worldviews, Part I October 17, 2013

Staked out pipeline

Staked out pipeline

As I’ve discussed a few times on this blog, we have an oil pipeline going through our immediate area in South East Michigan. The first “phase” of the project went 1/2 mile north of my home in 2012-2013. This was “Line 6B, phase I” according to Enbridge’s site, and was an upgrade/replacement project for one that they originally put in in the 1960’s to send oil from Canada to refineries in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. The 2nd phase of the project began a few months ago and will continue into 2013-2014; it will create a new, much higher volume pipeline and decommission the old pipeline currently in that area. One of my goals with this blog, as I have done in the past, is to document such issues and their spiritual and environmental consequences (and long-term readers might recall my coverage of some North Dakota fracking last year).  I’m going to start with an overview about the larger oil pipeline and some environmental consequences–then I’ll get into details about how its affecting one local place, Strawbale Studio.

Tar Sands Oil and Environmental Impacts: This is a short (5 minute) video that provides a good overview of the pipeline in the Great Lakes region, specifically, at Mackinac Bridge (where it crosses the straits between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan).  Mackinac is about 4 hours north of here. Its worth the watch:

 

 

I also have mentioned in an earlier post that this same pipeline was responsible for the Kalamazoo Oil spill in 2010, which put somewhere around 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamzoo river. The pipeline spill is still not entirely cleaned up and just a few months ago the EPA ordered Enbridge back to clean up more of the oil still in the river and surrounding areas. Given Enbridge’s history of environmental ethics in this state, the fact that they are making a larger volume pipeline now is particularly concerning.  One of my colleagues, who has the Line 6B coming through his property on my road, has been blogging about a lot of this at his Line 6B Blog.

 

Also of concern is the source of the oil–the Alberta (Canada) oil sands. This oil sands methods of extraction are particularly damaging to the peat bogs and boreal forests that make up much of Alberta. Water usage, and the release of oil-tainted water, very harmful to wildlife, occurs with tar sands oil extraction. Substantial carbon dioxide emissions are also on the rise (which have increased Canada’s emissions in the last 20 years rather than decreasing them, as per the Kyoto Protocol). In all, these oil sands, and the resulting pipelines, represent serious environmental and ethical challenges.

 

Enbridge Workers (out of state plates)

Enbridge Workers (out of state plates)

Going after tar sands oil is an indicator of the fact that oil is a finite and quickly depleting resource, past its peak of production.  Companies wouldn’t have considered mining these patches for oil years ago when other oil fields were still easy to access and full of oil.  These tar sands oil fields are now mined, despite their environmental consequences, because few other options exist to keep oil flowing at the rate of demand. The energy returned on investment (EROI) on tar sands oil is somewhere between 2.9 to 5.1 by more liberal estimates (so for every 1 energy unit we put into the process of mining, we extract 2.9-5.1 units of oil). (Some have suggested its closer to 1:1 if one considers the whole lifecycle of the production of tar sands oil, and things like the upkeep of pipelines). Compare this to conventional oil fields, which today offer a 25:1 EROI (fields of years past offered much higher EROI). In other words, this tar sands oil cruising through pipelines in South East Michigan isn’t even worth much investing in from an EROI, even if one were to overlook the substantial environmental impacts.

One example of strawbale studio's work!  Here is a living roof/wood shed

One example of strawbale studio’s work! Here is a living roof/wood shed

Strawbale Studio in the path…..Back to the matter at hand. Endbridge is now moving onto their 2nd phase of the pipeline project, and this is very unfortunately intersecting with a place near and dear to my heart–Strawbale Studio and Sustainable Living Center (run by Deanne Bednar). Strawbale Studio is a place that, from a sustainability perspective, is doing everything right: teaching and empowering people who want to learn how to live more sustainably, building community, and sharing skills. I’ve been honored to take numerous workshops there and have learned a great deal of information on more sustainable living skills, such as cob building and artwork, strawbale construction and natural building, growing mushrooms, barn raising, rocket stoves, composting, food preservation, candle making, and so much more.  I’ve also been excited to meet so many people from around the world who are interning or taking classes at Strawbale Studio.

Another example of Strawbale Studio's work - A composting toilet!

Another example of Strawbale Studio’s work – A spiral chamber!

On the back part of the Strawbale Studio property spans the old oil pipeline that Enbridge built in the 1960’s; now they are decommissioning the old line and destroying more land for their larger, new pipeline.  A few months ago, we got the word that Enbridge would be clearing the trees near the existing pipeline–about 80 or so feet of trees, 4 acres long. They also required Deanne to dismantle one of the natural buildings that was nearly finished–it was an amazing, quirky guest house. I hate to think how many thousands of hours of labor went into building that guest house.

 

A few weeks ago, Deanne got word that the tree clearing would be occurring at a rate of 1 mile per day, and that it would be occurring soon at Strawbale Studio. I went out to the property to honor the trees and document what was occurring before the crews were to come through. Here are some photos of this patch of lovely forest, thick with many kinds of sacred trees and plants: hawthorn, apple, oak, maple, cherry, brambles, and so much more.

Guest house taken down before logging

Guest house taken down by volunteers before logging

Tree line happy and vibrant

Tree line happy and vibrant; these trees are all gone now

Path through the woods

Path through the woods; most of these trees are gone too

Hawthorn and Apple

Hawthorn and Apple; these trees are no more

I must say, that this was one of the hardest visits I ever had made to a forest.  Why? Because I knew it was doomed and had no hope of survival.  Nothing that any of us could do would permanently stop the great wave of oil that would wash through its path. The trees knew it was coming and had already accepted their fate with a dignity that few humans can ever achieve. They waved at me in the gentle breeze, knowing that they were experiencing their last sunsets, their last ever fall equinox.  When I arrived, I immediately noticed that the workers, in marking up their areas for clearing, had knocked over a small living hawthorn tree, a very sacred tree; we gathered up the berries and will dry them and use them this winter.

Hawthorn torn down to make path for workers

Hawthorn torn down to make path for workers

There is another part to this visit though, the darker part.  This visit was also very hard because I drove there, using fossil fuels that very well could have been extracted and sent down that same pipeline, and I was contributing to the problem even in order to make my visit.  The contradictions were rooted deep within me as I spent time there with the trees.  I’ve been seriously reading on how to reduce my dependence on fossil fuels in an efficient and cost-effective way, but I haven’t yet come up with a solution that I can afford and enact.  So knowing that I was using the oil that is driving this project was particularly difficult.

 

Enbridge clear cuts: A week and a half later, Enbridge did their initial “clearing” of the trees in order to make room for their pipeline. We weren’t sure when exactly was happening when (Deanne was out of town) but when I came back later that week, I was able to document what had occurred this far. Here are a number of photos:

Former oak

Former oak

Machinery clearing "brush"

Machinery clearing “brush”

Former life....

Former life….

Trailer tracks

Trailer tracks

Devastation

Devastation where life once stood

Giant pile of brush

Giant pile of brush

Patch of cleared land

Patch of cleared land with stumps and logs

Where do we go from here? There are ways to be reactive to what is happening and there are ways to be proactive.  This is not just the story just of destruction.  I’ll continue to document what is happening at Strawbale Studio, and talk to some of the people there about the “clash of worldviews” as I am calling it; the sustainable living skills that are attempting to be taught while the heavy machinery rolls ever onward and oil pipeline is built within earshot of our workshops.

 

What this story will hopefully be, however, is a story of what we do with this space after they clear out.  How this space is transformed into something new; how the wood is used, how the land is regrown, and how we all grow in the process.  As they continue to put this pipeline in for the next year or so–and as we brainstorm our next moves in producing something amazing in this space that has now seen such suffering. I hope you’ll follow us and see what happens next.

 

Book review and Personal Response to John Michael Greer’s “Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress” May 4, 2013

In today’s blog post, I’m going to review John Michael Greer’s newest book, Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress. To review this book, I am going to start with an extended personal example from my own family, through demonstrating this example, I can describe how meaningfully accurate Greer’s insights are, and how much they already apply to those living in the USA Rust Belt areas (and by extension, eventually to the rest of industrial society).

 

The city of Johnstown, PA, a rust belt city that has been in decline for decades.

I grew up in a rural area south western Pennsylvania, in a region littered by coal mining towns with names like “Mine 42” that long ago stopped mining coal. The nearest city, Johnstown, was a steel mill town that lost the last of its mill jobs in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Both of my grandfathers worked in the mine and mill industries, but by my parents’ generation, those “good mill jobs” were gone. The skeletal remains of these mine and mill operations litter the countryside, abandoned and rusting away, and give the “rust belt” its characteristic name.

 

My parents decided to take a different route (mostly by necessity) and pursued degrees in graphic design and visual communications from a technical college in Pittsburgh. They eventually left promising careers in the big city to come back to Johnstown and start a family. They started their own business and for a number of years, experienced success, eventually building a home with dedicated office space when I was seven. Their clients mainly consisted of small and large businesses in the area, such as the regional electric company and regional dairy, that needed graphic design services but were not large enough for in-house designers.

 

Throughout the course of my life, however, I watched my parents struggle more and more as time went on, as the late 1980’s moved into the 90’s and then into the new millennium. They did not struggle because they were lazy—they are the hardest workers that I know—but because of larger factors beyond their control. We were living in an area that was experiencing significant economic contraction.  As I grew up, I watched my parents comment on how each and every one of their larger clients either closed up shop or were bought out and relocated to a different part of the country or even overseas. My mother describes this as a “downward spiral” that they tried everything to continue their business, to bring in new clients, but no matter what they did and how hard they worked, the spiral continued. In the late 1990’s, business had gotten so bad that my father had to look for other work to make ends meet. Work was incredibly hard to find anywhere in the region, and even when my father found it, sometimes in his field and sometimes out of it, layoffs were common.

 

I think about conversations with my parents, and how they often wondered what was going on, what they had done wrong, and I watched them internalize those failures and, at points, slip into despair and depression. They would then redouble their efforts and work even harder to make ends meet, only to continue to struggle. They recognized the decline in the economy, but even now, when I speak to them about their businesses and lives, I sense that they feel the fault lies somehow with them. The cultural narrative, of course, would suggest that their struggles were completely due to their own personal shortcomings or inability to work hard (and this continues to be a dominant narrative of our time for any people who struggle and/or are of the lowest socioeconomic classes).

 

But this is very much not the case, as John Michael Greer’s newest title, Not the Future We Ordered, describes. Greer begins his book by describing historical examples where public challenges or ethical issues (such as slaves’ repeated attempts at escaping to freedom) become reframed as individual psychological problems, thereby mitigating any collective responsibility or call to action (p. 1-3).  So while my parents and those around them, who also struggled financially, would blame themselves, the truth is that we were living in an age of industrial and economic decline in the rust belt that started in the 1970’s and continued to this day. These struggles on their part are a microcosm for the larger macrocosm of industrial decline. What Greer’s book has done for me, then, is to help me understand my own family’s challenges in helpful and psychologically understandable terms.

Not the Future We Ordered Book

 

Greer’s The Long Descent provides an overview of industrial decline in the age of peak oil (an outline of his arguments and a video to his talk in Detroit was in my blog post earlier this week); he provides a brief version of this in Not the Future We Ordered in the 1st chapter. The focus of this book, however, is not on demonstrating the efficacy of the concept of Peak Oil but rather examining the psychology behind reactions to industrial decline and how those in the helping professions (and other interested parties) might begin to personally and culturally deal with such challenges.

 

Greer opens the book with a discussion of “drapetomania” and the “50’s housewife syndrome,” wherein cultural problems, like slavery, were shifted by medical practitioners to individual pathology.  In the case of slaves who attempted to escape to freedom to avoid their horrible life circumstances, doctors of the age invented “drapetomania,” a psychological disease that compelled a slave to attempt to escape.  This effectively shifted the issue of escaping slaves onto the individual slave, and provided a convenient way for society to ignore the causes behind attempted and successful escapes.  Greer argues that this is very much what we have today–the collective pathology of the progress narrative, our inability to rationally discuss and enact change concerning peak oil, etc, is framed as individual sickness (oh, she’s just weird because she believes that stuff).  I saw this manifested so clearly in my parents’ coping with the failure of their business growing up.  Everyone looked at them and thought they must be doing something wrong, they must be incompetent, their problems were attributed solely to their individual abilities.  But the truth of the matter was that the area was in substantial and measurable decline, but we didn’t talk about the decline, we only talked about individual challenges.  It was like the elephant in the room–nobody really wanted to address what was all around us.

 

Greer spends quite a bit of time explaining and examining the “myth of progress” of our modern industrial era, which he describes as follows, “the belief that all human history is a linear trajectory that has risen up from squalor and misery of the prehistoric past through ever-ascending stages of increased knowledge, prosperity, enlightenment, and technological sophistication, and will inevitability do so into a limitless future” (p. 30).  He argues that the myth of progress has become a cultural religion and the most important driving myth in industrialized nations.  This cultural religion, along with underlying psychological factors such as the psychology of previous investment (p. 55), is what has caused America and other industrialized nations to continue to plow on while ignoring mounting evidence of decline and natural limits.  The bulk of his book is devoted to understanding why this process is occurring. I think about my own parents’ struggles, and how they were forever living in a state of cognitive dissonance where the progress myth was perpetuating in our larger culture, but where it was very much not visible in our daily lives.

 

In the last two chapters, having set the stage for the psychological challenges we face, he sets up the concept of the five stages of peak oil, which require letting go of said religion requires one to pass through a process akin to the stages of grief (p. 101).  Although he admittedly uses no empirical data on how the stages of grief might be applied to the broader concept of industrial decline (as at the time of the writing no such data exists), the concepts are drawn upon his own experience in the Peak Oil community for over a decade (p. 110).  Although this section is less well-researched than the rest of his text due to limitations in the data itself, I see it as performing a critical function in the Peak Oil discussion—that is, opening the door for discussing—and researching—how we might better understand this process.  Greer’s final chapter concludes with a call to action—for those in the helping professions to understand and overcome their own grief, and for the rest of us to embrace the idea of hope (not unfounded optimism, but realistic hope) (p. 135).   I wonder if some of Greer’s suggestions might also be found in any literature on the decline of the rust belt and the psychology experienced there.

 

One of the things Greer does really well, in this book and in his other peak oil titles, is to blend historical facts and evidence of similar problems and apply them to today’s challenges.  For example, in describing the “psychology of previous investment” which is one reason that we continue to hold onto the myth of progress despite growing evidence, he uses the aftermath of the failed prophecy of Dorothy Martin, a housewife who, in the 1950’s convinced a group of followers that extraterrestrials were going to destroy the world.  Despite Martin’s failures, her followers continued to believe her for quite some time; this same kind of thing is happening with the so-called economic recovery, which hasn’t actually happened from the bulk of the American people.  This kind of approach is used throughout his book (and many of his other works), and this expert blending of historical facts, logical connections and examples to present times, and psychological concepts makes for a engaging read.

 

Although I have read his other works on Peak Oil, I found his newest title a bit more deeply personal because it gave me the tools not only to understand what was happening, but to investigate my own relationship to industrial decline and peak oil in a meaningful way.  When I finished the Long Descent, I felt ready to go out and continue to pursue a lot of what I talk about on this blog (rocket stoves, organic gardening, etc.) but I was (and still am) very much coping with my own understanding of industrial decline. It also, very unexpectedly, allowed me to investigate my own family’s personal history as it related to decline.  So really, what this book did was give me some of the tools to psychologically adapt to what is occurring, and just as importantly, allowed me to understand that my concerns, nor the struggles of my family, are not merely part of a personal psychosis but as a broader cultural phenomena.  In other words, this book is empowering and is, in itself, a glimmer of hope and a light on a path into an unknown, and in Greer’s terms, unwelcome future. I’m planning on buying copies of this book for a number of friends and family, and recommend it without hesitation to my blog readers. If any of you have had the opportunity to read Not the Future We Ordered or have comments, I would love to hear from you!

 

Review, Video, and Discussion of John Michael Greer’s Detroit Community Lecture, “Not the Future We Ordered” May 2, 2013

Recently, our druid grove brought John Michael Greer to Michigan, where he did a book signing and gave a talk on the fall of industrial civilization.  If you are interested in either druidry or sustainability, John Michael’s works (on druidry, esoteri wisdom, and peak oil) are some of the very best you can read (and I’ve recommended some of them before on this blog). I should also add that beyond his books on peak oil, you can read his blog, the Archdruid Report.

 

I wanted to spend a little bit of time today outlining some of his major arguments on Peak Oil/Industrial Decline, posting the video from his community lecture he gave in Detroit, and providing a personal response.  While the arguments and information that John Michael presents  are not easy messages for anyone in the industrialized world to hear, they are necessary discussions that need to take place.

 

Video of John Michael Greer’s Community Lecture in Detroit: “Not the Future We Ordered.” 

This is about the first hour and 15 minutes of his talk, which includes a few Q&A questions (but the discussion continued long after my memory card ran out of space!)

 

Overview of JMG’s Talk – Peak Oil and Industrial Decline.  In a nutshell, John Michael presents evidence and research through his books, blog, and talk that indicates that the world is running out of fossil fuels (our cheapest and most abundant energy supply in human history) and that this will invariably put our modern industrial society into decline. This decline will not be quick, but rather will likely take the path of most societies in the past—what Greer calls a “long descent” over a period of centuries, with smaller crises and upswings, but a general downward pattern.

 

As Greer demonstrates, back in the 1950’s, Hubbert (a geologist who worked for Shell Oil) demonstrated that oil production in an individual field works a lot like a statistical bell curve due to geology—the oil, which can only be pumped out of the ground so quickly—comes out more and more quickly until it reaches its peak, then it slowly declines in production until there is no oil left. Hubbert’s argument (which was proven right in the 1970’s) suggested that just like an individual oil field, the US oil production would reach a peak and then decline. And that’s exactly what happened in the 1970’s. In the 1970’s, Hubbert’s data also indicated that there would be a global peak in oil production (as we do live on a planet with finite resources, a fact that much of industrial society seems to have forgotten). Most researchers who are studying peak oil agree that we’ve already reached our peak of production (somewhere around 2005).

 

Industrial society, built upon cheap oil, cannot be sustained at its current rate of consumption nor standard of living without the influx of said cheap oil.  Since the world has reached its peak already in 2005, we will continue to see oil prices skyrocket.  We’ll also continue to see our government’s ability to provide for its citizens, and people, over time, will be forced to provide for more of their own needs, grow their own food, and learn to live and make do with less. We also see, as John Michael argues in his new book Not the Future We Ordered, industrial society sticking its head in the sand and working hard to ignore the problem, because the idea that progress will happen no matter what (the “myth of progress” as JMG calls it) is our “civic religion.” This means that people believe in progress so strongly, they hold onto this like a kind of religious belief, and no amount of evidence to the contrary will dissuade them.

 

One more important thing—civilizations don’t rise or fall within a day.  Charting human history, John Michael suggests in the Long Descent that this fall of industrial civilization will take time, likely several centuries. We are seeing the start of it now—walk around New Orleans or Detroit and you’ll see the crumbling buildings, the areas that have already been abandoned. In Detroit, however, you’ll also see a thriving Eastern Market where people are shifting to local eating, using pedal power to deliver vegetables, putting up hoop houses, and converting abandoned lots into vegetable gardens. The future, JMG argues, is here in the rust belt.

 

Where do druids fit in all of this? From my perspective, if we accept these arguments as valid (and by all means, watch his talk and read his books yourself to make up your own mind), and we want to do something about it, we have a long, hard road before us. Most individuals living in industrial society haven’t yet even considered this as a problem (and you may recall my earlier post on Stasis Theory and before policies can be enacted to facilitate change, we first must agree that there is a problem and that it is serious). I try not to think about the larger forces that are continuing to drive us on as though our limits to growth aren’t quickly approaching, because that mindset depresses and overwhelms me, especially insofar as it demonstrates my own powerlessness on that national/international level. Rather, I think about what I can do, individually and in my local community, that will make a difference.  And most importantly–I move from thought to action, to doing things rather than just talking, and its in the act of doing things that I feel empowered.

 

JMG suggests, and I fully agree, that if we want to enact such change, Druids can have a special place in this transition. As the potential holders of “oak knowledge,” (to reach back to the ancient etymology of the word “druid”), we can think about what the knowledge of the oaks is all about. The ancient druids held oak knowledge, in the sense that the oak tree was rooted in their survival. We can think about what modern “oak” knowledge means–literally, things like how we might use all those lovely acorns that drop each year to the ground to being resources for others who need help. While we still have access to cheap, abundant oil, we can work to reskill, to learn things that will be helpful in the future, and to preserve basic technologies for future generations (like JMG’s suggestions in his talk for HAM radio, wind turbines, basic printing press technology, etc). We can work to make sure that when things really begin to shift, we are mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared to that we can help others (which is the subject of his new book, which I’ll discuss further in an upcoming blog).

 

And I think that JMG’s arguments and talk further demonstrate why things like reskilling, organic gardening, permaculture, and so forth are so important—its not just about sustainability but about survival in a post-peak oil world.