Friday, November 20, 2009

Peak Oil Prep Strategies

Time for a quick poll: Who's doing what?

A. Urban gardening and community

"I live near family in a reasonably priced or paid-off home, with a stable job. I think where I am is my best bet, although I might have an emergency plan to "bug out" if needed. I am increasing the energy efficiency of my house, and maybe adding solar panels or maybe just some solar battery chargers. I have a good-sized garden, and support my local foodshed by buying from farmer's markets, CSA or Co-op. I have a high- efficiency vehicle like a hybrid, or I could bike or walk to where I need to be. I have stocked food storage of several months, as well as trying to meet needs off-grid if needed (warm bedding, Sun Ovens, wood stove, etc.). I am working with neighborhood or civic groups to build local community and resiliency.

My weak spot is widespread rioting or other urban unrest. In that case I might be toast."

B. Back to the land

"I have started a farm with the goal of being mostly self-sufficient, although this whole farming thing is a little new to me. I've got a large garden and some livestock in a place that might be well out of the way, or maybe fairly close to urban centers so I can get food to market. Rainwater cisterns, root cellars, compost toilets, perhaps even an underground or earth-sheltered home. I'm installing a wood stove, wind turbine, solar panels, even biogas. I hope to be the refuge of last resort for my more-clueless relatives. I may or may not be paying serious attention to security - don't try me!"

C. Amassing wealth

"I think the main repercussions of peak oil and our unsustainable financial system are going to be economic. People who have secure paid-off houses, a good job, cash on hand, offshore accounts, gold and silver, wise investments, and five hundred pounds of MRE's just-in-case, are going to have it made in the shade. I plan to not lift a finger in the near future since everyone else will be unemployed and I will be able to employ maids, chefs, gardeners, and anyone else for close to nothing. Bow down before me ye wretched serfs!"

D. Guerrilla prep

"I am highly mobile with few possessions or attachments. I possess highly-honed wilderness skills, a tent and sleeping bag, rifle (insert specific name and model here), motorcycle/boat/hiking boots, cash and gold. I am unencumbered by illness or disability, pregnant wife, infants, or the elderly. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of edible weeds and know 42 ways to start a fire. Eventually I may settle down, but I can leave at a moment's notice if trouble brews. See ya!"

E. Nothing - I have never used oil or electricity so what's new?

"My parents were hippies or Amish and we never had any use for these new-fangled gadgets. I can make my own clothes from cotton from my fields, fish and hunt, garden and farm, make my own cheese, sauerkraut, yogurt and beer, and can preserve hundreds of quarts of tomatoes and pickles a day on a wood stove while managing my flock of nine children.

We might use a little electricity or oil here and there, but the community I live in is filled with people with similar skills and the ability to laugh at hardship. Although my Internet business selling hand-knitted goods at may shut down, I probably will not even notice when oil hits $250."

F. Nothing - no need to prepare.

"What's all the fuss? Sure, oil may go up in price, but human ingenuity will create alternatives to the amazingly unprecedented energy-dense liquid oil inheritance of 100 million years without any inconvenience to ME. Or the government will intervene and solve the problem, just like they did with that economic thing-a-ma-bob. Surely nothing can change all that much. After all, history is a long uninterrupted chain of progress into a better and brighter future."

G. Some other strategy, perhaps you wish to enlighten us?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

ReEnergize Summit

I'm leading a workshop on "Community Engagement: The Transition Town Model" at the ReEnergize Oklahoma Summit this Saturday at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Here's my handout for the Summit (the non-illustrated version), basically a quick explanation of Transition Towns.


Community Engagement: The Transition Town model

Transition Initiatives focus on increasing the sustainability and resiliency of a community in order to prepare for the challenge of climate change and the inevitable worldwide decline in oil production. Transition Towns work as a community catalyst: helping citizens envision and create a more fulfilling, healthy and satisfying way of life while using less energy and fewer resources.

The Transition Town model is inclusive (non-partisan), proactive and positive, and non-prescriptive. The model uses creativity, playfulness and empowerment to encourage people to participate in the work of creating resiliency - the ability to withstand systemic shocks while still maintaining basic functionality. One key strategy in creating resiliency is re-localization, which can have many tangible benefits to a community and appeals to people across a broad political spectrum.

The “12 Steps” of the Transition model aren’t necessarily a linear progression, but more of a general order. The steps can overlap and iterate, and are designed to be flexible so that any Transition Initiative group can use what works best for their locale. The 12 Steps (which are described in detail in Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook) are:

1. Form an Initiating Group
2. Raise awareness of the key issues
3. Lay the foundations by networking with existing groups
4. Great Unleashing
5. Form groups focusing on various ways to build sustainable, resilient communities
6. Use “Open Space” to engage and empower the community
7. Develop visible practical manifestations
8. Facilitate the Great Re-Skilling
9. Build a bridge to local government
10. Honor the elders
11. Let it go where it wants to
12. Create an Energy Descent / Energy Transition plan

The Transition Town framework incorporates many different kinds of activities that can engage people who have various stages of knowledge about the environmental and energy issues, as well as differing levels of psychological readiness for change. These activities emphasize empowerment and working together, and include visioning, educating, celebrating, building, learning skills, working with community institutions, and planning.

If you are interested in using the Transition Town model, we recommend reading The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins, as there are key differences between the Transition Town process and other, perhaps more familiar, forms of outreach and engagement. Transition Town OKC will offer “Training for Transition,” which will teach participants how to start their own Initiative, in March 2010. Stay posted for updates and events, or sign up for our newsletter, on our website

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Transition Neighborhoods

The Transition Town movement was founded on "towns" as a scale of community where people know each other, see each contribution as important, and can hold each other accountable for their actions. The TT premise is that a community of this size can re-design their own localized and low-energy economy and agriculture into a more healthy and fulfilling way of life. As people take up the concepts of peak oil and climate change, and establish a proactive and positive response to energy descent, they can spread these ideas virally to their neighbors, families, churches, and schools in their community.

Oklahoma City, as a city of more than half a million people, does not exist at that scale. So how do we translate the model?

One approach that Transition Town OKC is trying is the "Transition Neighborhood." Neighborhoods in our area are frequently sized about 5,000 people, approximately the same size as a town and obviously composed of people living in the same geographical area. Unlike towns, neighborhoods are not set up as autonomous operating units with control over laws, and with their own set of businesses and utilities. However, neighborhoods often have associations or HOAs that do have influence over some aspects of neighborhood life.

We believe that a lot can be accomplished at a neighborhood scale, such as:

  • Encouraging and coordinating the building of gardens and orchards

  • Encouraging energy efficiency by giving tours of energy efficient or "sustainable" homes

  • Encouraging energy efficient home improvements by promoting financial support programs to residents (such as via federal and community stimulus grants)

  • Facilitating re-skilling groups and workshops for gardening, biking, sun oven cooking, knitting, poultry, bees, etc.

  • Spreading information about energy descent, transition towns, "going local," sustainability and resiliency through neighborhood newsletters and blogs

  • Establishing emergency and communication plans

  • Creating bartering or service networks and tool cooperatives

  • Encouraging emergency preparedness, including food and water storage

  • Planting fruit and nut trees in public areas; establishing a community garden or CSA

  • Facilitating "Transition Together" groups of people who support each other as they prepare for the energy descent

  • Mobilizing and lobbying for pro-resiliency and pro-sustainability changes such as bike and walking paths/sidewalks, crosswalks, bus shelters and bus stops, and appropriate zoning laws
  • Facilitating more carpooling, sharing, bartering, and using local materials by encouraging networking within the neighborhood, so people know each other and what they need/have
We are in the very early stages of this approach. We just completed the first round of strategizing and brainstorming and we held our first event to share the idea of the Transition Neighborhood with neighborhood and sustainability leaders. We hope that neighborhood leaders will take up the idea and pursue the Transition 12-step model of sustainability and resiliency - starting with at least one "model" Transition Neighborhood.

We don't know if this approach will work, but we are planting seeds to see if they sprout. At the very least, we hope to inform core groups of people in neighborhoods throughout the city who will be able to respond intelligently and appropriately as we progress through energy descent and possible energy shocks. In a more hopeful scenario, Transition Neighborhoods will grow and flourish in response to increasing energy prices and economic problems, helping their residents adapt to changing circumstances in sustainable and resilient ways, eventually forming Energy Descent Action Plans and pressuring the City to do the same.

I hope my neighborhood will be one of the first in OKC to start on this journey!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Top 10 Euphemisms for Peak Oil

Occasionally, you just need to avoid saying Peak Oil. In some company, it's tantamount to betrayal, in others, too much like a fart at the dinner table. Nothing stinks so much as the truth, right? Other people believe peak oil is the realm of cults and conspiracy theorists, and as such, if you want to discuss it without an auto-reflex of denial on the part of your communication partner, you have to use some other terms.

In some company, peak oil is taken as a given and therefore, there's no need to discuss it - just the repercussions. And finally, if you are writing brochures, websites or a book about the peak oil predicament, sometimes you just want to use a few different phrases, instead of the same one in every single sentence. From the vague to the technical to a few indirect references, here are some euphemisms to let you talk about PO without actually mentioning the term, should you ever need to do so.


Use this one when you you are among peak oil friends and need a little dark humor. We all know what happens after production starts crashing. Not the end of the world - just the end of the world as we know it.

9. End of cheap-and-easy-to-extract oil

Too many times, when you say peak oil, people hear "the end of oil," and start having flashbacks to all the times they've heard THAT one before. No, no, you say - just the end of reasonably priced oil that we can get to.

8. Oil dependency and depletion

Alliteration! I like this phrase because it includes the word "dependency." This euphemism is a good way to describe peak oil if you want to start by discussing how we eat, drink, shop and drive oil. After people understand how much they use it, sometimes the implications of the "depletion" half of the term become fairly obvious.


Another inside joke for peak oil followers. As in, "after Cantarell crashes and Mexico stops exporting oil, we'll really see TSHTF" (the s^%t hit the fan).

6. Our energy challenge

Here's the wonderfully vague approximation of peak oil that we have chosen to use in many of our Transition Town OKC marketing materials. Non-specific enough for you? Or does it sound too much like a game show?

5. Oil demand destruction

A way to sneak in some economics phraseology. "Demand destruction" means "you can't afford it any more, so too bad if you wanted to go to work or buy food or heat your house with it."

4. Energy transition

Energy decline is probably more accurate, but let's face it, declines are downers! We'll have a transition instead. The only thing I don't like about this one is that people may start believing that we are "transitioning" to a world of equal amounts of cheap and disposable energy - just produced by solar, wind, ethanol, biodiesel, etc. The transition I'm thinking of involves a lot more efficiency, curtailment, and complete systems redesign than just replacing our oil use with the so-called alternatives, which don't have nearly the same energy density as oil.

3. Global peak and decline in oil production

OK, seriously, this one basically says "peak oil." Still, you manage to avoid putting the two key words together.

2. Foreign oil dependency

The ultimate for communicating with people who have conspiracy theories of their own. As in "Those damn furreners who want to keep our oil under their soil."

1. Elimination of spare petroleum production capacity

MMMMMM, deliciously technical. Another way to say, "we're close to being oh-so screwed." I believe I found this one in Oil 101 - kudos to author Morgan Downey for pages of peak oil discussion without ever once mentioning the actual phrase peak oil.

Here's a nice quote from Mr. Downey: "Even in the most extreme optimistic scenario, conventional oil production will cease to exist well before the end of the century - a fact even the most optimistic oil company agrees with."

Any way you say it, peak oil is a serious topic. No reason not to have a little fun with it now and then, though, is there?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hausfrau goes a tilin'

The floors of our kitchen, laundry room and mud room were previously covered with vinyl flooring and builder's special carpet, which looked horrible after only four years of use. So we had 160 feet of space just begging us to cover it in some decent flooring. We couldn't ignore it any longer, even with a recession at hand. We decided it was time to strap on the knee pads and latex gloves, find the oldest clothes in the closet, and get a tilin'!
New kitchen tile, before grouting

We chose porcelain tile because it seemed to be the best choice for this area. Tile is durable (sometimes lasting centuries), low-maintenance, hard-wearing, invulnerable to moisture, doesn't require a vacuum to clean, and comes in a wide variety of colors. We also considered wood, cork, and bamboo, but decided those options weren't wise with a toddler who likes to pour his own drinks plus a dishwasher and washer (which has already flooded our laundry room once). Hopefully this tile will last us the next 30 or 40 years without having to refinish or repair it. We retained half a case of tiles in the unlikely event that we need to replace a few that ever get damaged.
The best way to save on a tile project: DIY. Tiling may seem intimidating, and true, you can mess it up pretty badly if you don't take care, but if you are careful and plan ahead, you can get a beautiful result at 60 - 80% less than the cost of paying a tile installer, and without the hassle of trying to find someone who will return your phone calls. We have made minor mistakes on some of our tiling jobs (including this one), but often these mistakes can be fixed, covered or minimized.
If you are going to tile an area yourself, my advice is to get a detailed how-to manual and spend quite a bit of time planning how the tile is going to lay out on the floor or wall. The time you spend up-front on planning will more than pay you back later in time you don't have to spend cutting tiles or on regrets that you have a whole wall of 3/4 inch wide tiles.
My husband and I make a pretty good team: he pulls up the old floor, I lay down the mortar and tiles, he measures and cuts tiles and mixes the mortar and grout, and I lay down and clean up the grout. The floor we just tiled was our largest project to date. It took two days of scraping up the old floor, two and a half days of planning and tiling, and one day of grouting - spread over a few weeks. Cost of porcelain tile flooring, mortar and grout: about $400. Cost savings for tiling labor at $6 per square foot: $960. Add that to the cost we saved on demolition and we saved a pretty penny.
Yes, that's me

Of course, that does not include the price of a very vital tool: the tile saw. Usually, my inclination is to try to "make do" with the cheaper option, but I tell you in this case it's a fool's choice! From experience (three floors, a backsplash, a tub surround, and bathroom walls), I can tell you that it is very difficult to do a really good job on almost any kind of tiling project without a tile saw. The tile saw allows more precise cuts, angled cuts, inlaid cuts, and cuts stone as well - making it very useful. If you can't borrow, rent or buy a tile saw, I'm not sure it's worth trying to DIY tile.

We bought a $200 tile saw in conjunction with our in-laws three years ago and we have since used it for five tiling projects between our two families. We also plan to retile our bathrooms in the next two years, since the person who flipped our house decided to put carpet in the bathrooms. Not a very sanitary choice! So we are really getting our money's worth of our $100 investment.
I count myself blessed to have gotten out of this project alive. Unfortunately for my suffering husband, I purchased the wrong batch of tile to bring home. I had selected one tile, taken it home to check it out, and called it good. But once I bought the whole lot, my husband and I brought it all home, and I laid out four or five of the various patterned tiles... I could see that it was much too yellow. So my husband had to haul approximately 680 pounds of tile back to the store. Sorry, lumbar vertabrae!
So, yes, my shoulders and neck and forearm and knees and back ache. My fingers are a little raw from cleaning up the grout. We spent $400 and five days of work. Our kitchen was a mess for quite a long time. But is it worth it to have a floor in our kitchen and laundry room that is easily cleaned, will look good forever, doesn't show dirt, and is virtually indestructible? Is it worth it to have a floor that won't need replacing in ten years - when the cost might be ten times as much? For us, the answer is YES!

Another of our recent DIY tile projects

Quick tip: a staggered "brick" pattern is much more forgiving (harder to see your mistakes) than a straight grid pattern. Take it from me! Quick tip 2 - pick up a bunch of old buckets from your local bakery before you start. You'll need them for mixing mortar (aka thinset) and grout. No reason to waste good used buckets! And finally, of course, never put down white tiles or white grout on your floor. But I bet you knew that already.