Peak Oil Preparedness and Your Family

If you’ve heard the term “Peak Oil” and understand what it could really mean for you and your family, you may be a bit worried. How are you going to get to work? How are the kids getting to school and other events? Will food get more expensive? How high will the price of gas go?

As James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency is fond of saying, “we have to make other arrangements.” Gas will become increasingly expensive as world demand outstrips the supply and refining capacity. Food will also get more expensive as petrochemical-based pesticides and fertilizers increase in price, and of course the fuel to manufacture processed foods and ship everything in our stores will cost more too, driving up prices.

All these factors will directly impact everyone. Virtually all of us drive or use public transportation, and certainly everyone eats food. We all send and receive mail, use electricity, have indoor plumbing with hot water and generally participate in society at large.

As we have recently seen in the cases of the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, any disaster causes disruption, and disruption causes prices to rise. In the case of Katrina, some of America’s oil production was damaged, and prices at the pump shot up that same week.

Even if you don’t believe the most dire post-oil predictions of the pessimists, it’s clear that we are at or near the peak production of oil in the world, so it’s high time that we all start to think about what a post-oil world might be like. It’s also time to start preparing to walk the talk and live in such a world, one that could become reality in just a few years.

If you have children, especially young children, be careful how you approach the subject. They see the world in black and white terms as well as in a simplistic way, so a parent that jokingly says “the world is going to end” may cause the kiddies to have terrifying nightmares. There are a couple of ways to ease them into the idea of living a more simple life, and which technique you use depends on your child’s temperament and age.

The first is a more fantasy approach, as seen in the television show Little House on the Prairie. In it, frontier life has its hardships, but overall it’s filled with simple playground games, farm animals, buggy rides, local farmers, small mercantile shops, and community gatherings. You can also see this kind of nostalgic “rose-colored-glasses” world in the film Back to the Future III and many other westerns. Telling your little girl that she may be able to ride in a horse-drawn buggy someday just like Laura Ingalls Wilder will give her a sense of hope, and even excitement, about a post-oil world instead of a feeling of dread.

The second scenario is completely realistic. It works best for older children and those who, at the age of 6, have already decided there is no Santa Claus. Don’t make a lecture out of it, and don’t speculate about the potential die-off of billions of people due to starvation and war. A good way to frame the issue is as a series of wistful comments, perhaps in the context of watching one of the aforementioned programs or visiting a “pick your own” apple ranch. Bake some bread while listening to an old-time radio show, then slip in a comment like: “…and to think that everyone might be growing Victory gardens and baking their own bread again.”

Start to walk the talk right away, and involve your kids. Leading by example, rather than lecturing them about doom-and-gloom, is the best way to help them understand the situation, whichever way you choose to break the ice to your child.

Playing family games together like board games and cards, making your own food instead of buying pre-made dinners or eating out, having a fun “no electricity day” once a month, growing your own food, cutting down on unnecessary car trips and luxuries… all these steps will get you and your whole family closer to the idea of living in a post-oil age. Take it slow, do one thing at a time, and make it fun! Involving your whole family in peak oil preparedness helps empower everyone, including the children, and makes it a lot less scary – you’re all in this together, after all.

Here are some ideas for family activities that will start you on the path to peak oil preparedness:

– Teach your children to prepare foods or even whole meals, based on their age and capabilities.

– Grow your own food, even if it’s one pot of cherry tomatoes on your balcony.

– Visit living history farms and historic sites, “U pick” fruit orchards, your local CSA farmer and harvest festivals.

– Learn an old-fashioned skill like spinning wool, knitting, food preservation, candle making, woodworking with hand tools (watch The Woodwright’s Shop on PBS) and so on.

– Have a family game night with cards, dice, board games, charades, shadow puppets, etc. – you can even make it a “non-electric” night and play by candlelight.

– Watch living history shows together, such as Frontier House, Pioneer Quest, 1900 House, Quest for the Sea, and the other “House” and “Quest” shows.

– Help your family understand that life is not about “stuff,” or the latest fashions, or what some celebrity’s baby looks like.

– Shop locally, at stores run by people in your community, and tell your children why you’re shopping there instead of the big box stores.

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