Try to imagine – just for a minute – a world without oil. We are so used to living in a world with cheap, affordable oil that it seems hard to envision it as a non-renewable resource that very well may become unaffordable and scarce. There are a number of reasons why we could lose it, but the important question is this – can we survive in without oil?
Petroleum products are such an integral part of every thing we do, from our computers to our lights. And yet, sooner than we may wish, that time is coming. A world without petroleum products, or one in which they are unaffordably expensive, seems strange but not outside the realm of possibility. Do you have the skills needed to survive in a world without oil?
A bit of a disclaimer – while many of use the term ‘a world without oil’, the expectation has never been that the oil will disappear entirely. The issue is that a time will soon come when it is simply not affordable for the average person.
This evening we had a long chat with a friend who works in the Canadian oil fields. He clearly has a bit of guilt about it – about four times tonight, he said, “I know, I know, I know the damage I’m doing to the environment with this job.” However, what I found very telling was the conclusion he has reached. And while he may or may not be correct, it seems interesting that it came from someone familiar with the oil fields.
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We have ten years, and maybe less, he insisted, before we will need something else to run our vehicles. The problem is, he says, that ‘something else’ doesn’t really exist yet.
From my very first blog posts back in 2010, my message has been simple – we are going to need to learn to create a future life without petroleum products, at least in the amounts that we currently use them.
Whether the problem is low supply and unaffordable prices, or high supply with unprofitable prices, we are rapidly reaching the end of the oil era.
Like our friend said, though, we have nothing with which to replace it. Oh, they’re working on stuff, but there’s nothing available that will replace the affordable availability of oil – and it’s quite likely there never will be.
Some people react to this with thoughts of happiness. Good, they say. Get rid of the gas, get rid of the petroleum, create a life without oil and gas, and we’ll all live better lives.
Except we won’t.
If you take a moment and look around, I challenge you to find all of the items that were made out of petroleum, made with petroleum fuel, or transported to you by petroleum. Actually, the list will be shorter if you look for the items that were not.
For ten years, I have been preparing for this and a world without oil terrifies me.
What would a world without oil look like? We can look at those who still rely on horses to give us some indication. The Amish and Old Order Mennonites remain agrarian and local, living simply and self-sufficiently in many ways. While they certainly do not totally live a life without oil and gas, they rely on it to a much lesser degree than we do.
So how have the Plain folk managed?
Living In Community
Too many people – and we were guilty of it, too – have bought into the idea of the lone homesteader and family bravely going it alone in the wilderness. Thank you, Laura Ingalls Wilder, for feeding so many of us with that unrealistic vision.
Technology is what allows us to live in our isolated homes without any obvious, visible reliance on others. Of course, we rely on many others – but they are nameless, faceless and hidden behind brand names.
The truth is that, if we are to transition to a world without oil, we need to live in small communities of likeminded people.
Those communities need people of all ages from infants to seniors. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of older people, even those who are not able-bodied. I know an older lady who, although not physically strong, just loves washing dishes – that makes her welcome at my house any time!
This is one of the reasons that horse-and-buggy Mennonites and Amish can survive – they are in small, multi-generational close-knit communities of people with complementary skills who are all committed to the group’s success. The irony is that they are highly self-reliant people, strong and independently skilled, all relying on each other. Self-reliance while relying on the community – an interesting contradiction that most definitely works.
One problem I see is that modern people have lost most of the skills and traditions necessary to get along with a small group of people on a permanent basis. For example, I addressed the Mennonite practice of reconciliation before their bi-annual Communion. Practices like this are vital when the support network is small and constant.
If our worlds become ultra-local, I suspect we will all find that many of the outdated traditions for which our great-grandparents are scoffed will once again become the norm.
So what are these skills and do you have them?
Hunting and Fishing
Do you have a gun and hunting license?
How about putting up snares and traps that will catch the bunny but not the barn cats?
My father always told a story that I still wonder about. He said that he and his brother were doing some work for an old mountain man in the area, and the man offered them big bowls of rabbit stew – in the early summer. My father thought this odd and asked where the man found rabbit at that time of year. “Oh, they come meowing around the back door every night,” was the reply.
The rabbits won’t come meowing around your back door every night, but it is still necessary to bring home meat to feed the family, and that is where hunting, fishing and snaring/trapping will come in.
Three years of living deep in the woods made me realize how important a gun, and the ability to bring home wild game, is.
A related, and equally necessary, skill is dressing and preparing the animals. Unfortunately, they don’t arrive cut up on a styrofoam tray!
Meat, milk, eggs, fur, feathers, bones for bonemeal, and a lot of manure for the compost – livestock are going to be vital. And don’t forget working animals like farm dogs, barn cats and horses, mules, goats, ox and donkeys.
No matter what people might think of the “dumb farmer”, it takes a lot of skill and experience to keep animals alive and healthy.
I follow a Facebook group that focuses on raising goats naturally, without medications or chemical dewormers.
It is a lofty goal and one that I strive towards.
However, a few weeks ago, someone left the group, posting first that he was disgusted with seeing so many people lose so many goats through an unwillingness to use medications.
While he may have a very valid point, what happens when those chemical dewormers no longer work – or are no longer available? I asked our local vet that very question, since she admitted that goats are showing resistance to the dewormers and her answer was
A lot of goats are going to die. Most of them, in fact.
And so, yes, anyone who is considering a life without cheap oil needs to consider how we will keep livestock alive and healthy without access to modern veterinary medications. It will not be so easy as some thing. Goats are becoming both dependent and resistant to the dewormers.
Medicine in a World Without Oil
When doctors are not easily available, more than basic first aid is necessary – but it’s a good start.
At least one person in your community, and preferably in your household, should be trained as an emergency first responder (or the equivalent in your country)
Modern science has taught us a lot that can be transferred to a world without oil. The knowledge of germ theory alone is profound and does not rely on the grid.
Old-time skills like herbal medicine, using modern scientific knowledge, can be life-saving.
However, a world without oil may well mean a world without hysterectomy, c-sections, brain tumour removal, chemotherapy, cataract surgery and all of the many life-saving and life-improving treatments that we take for granted today.
How can you increase your medical knowledge and ability to prepare for a world without oil?
Food Preservation and Storage
Canning, dehydration, fermentation, curing and more – there are many different ways to preserve food without electricity.
Do you rely entirely on your fridge and freezer?
While we toss around the idea, in the hottest months, of buying a large and expensive propane fridge, the thought of tying ourselves further to propane is actually less appealing than managing without cold food during the summer. In the winter, we freeze everything, and the fall and spring are perfect for outdoor food storage!
Why do I say “tie ourselves further to propane”?
We use it only for our summer cooking stove, even though most people consider propane to be an off-grid fuel. It is, in a way, since it can be shipped in and stored for a long time. It is certainly more off-grid than gasoline is!
However, when gasoline is gone, so will propane be gone.
Do you have a copy of A Cabin Full of Food? Reviewers have lots of good things to say about my cookbook, which is packed full of old-fashioned recipes that will work in any kitchen, even one with a wood stove and a cold cellar! It is NOW available on ‘honour pricing’ – get a PDF copy and pay what you think it’s worth.
I also strongly recommend the latest edition of Putting Food By.
Ice houses, cold cellars, drying attics, smokehouses ….. there are so many ways to preserve food.
Like so many other things, though, the time to learn how to use these things, the time to work out the bugs and figure out what is suitable for each family, is when you are not relying on them for your winter food storage.
By this, I do not mean modern gardening with fertilizers and rototillers. In fact, this gardening can not even include a reliance on organic soil amendments that need to be imported.
And manure, of course, which is just … pre-compost.
Now is the time to start learning to use a composting toilet and to stop being scared of poop. (And by a composting toilet, I mean a humanure toilet. The expensive composting toilets either use water and electricity or they’re disgusting. A humanure system is simplicity itself.)
Let me say this again, because I think it’s important and you’ll see it in other posts by me.
Stop being scared of poop and pee.
Learn to garden now.
Have you watched Wall-E? I love how, at the end of the movie, the people are busy planting seeds in the now (barely) habitable earth and watching those seeds quickly grow into food-producing plants.
Except it doesn’t work like that in real life.
One for the rock, one for the crow,
One to die, and one to grow.
Gardening is hard.
Gardening without gas-powered tools and petroleum products is harder.
Our ancestors had tools that could be pulled by humans or draft animals. Few of us have either draft animals or those tools anymore.
And of course, seed saving is vital. Get a copy of Seed to Seed, learn to save seeds and breed for ones that are perfectly suited to your area.
Living Without Power Tools
This is the point where EJ groans because he’s done this.
Power tools make every building job easier and faster, and a world without oil would mean a world without power tools.
In a world where paying jobs take precedence over working the homestead and where neighbours are less likely to trade labour, faster is often necessary. If you only have weekends to build the shed, barn or other outbuilding, and you’re doing it alone, power tools are necessary.
This is has left many people unwilling to pick up a handsaw, screwdriver or other non-powered tool.
What about digging a well, shoveling a long driveway or driving a team of horses?
For that matter, let us go in the house and discuss cooking meals, washing dishes, sewing and repairing clothes, cleaning clothes and heating our homes.
Do not rely on alternative energy for this unless you have found one that is perpetual, can be repaired without outside supplies, and provides enough to run all of your tools and appliances.
And when you find it, let me know, please. Otherwise, you’re it.
You are the perpetual form of energy.
Okay, so what about energy? What do we need to know about that to survive a world without oil?
Creating and Storing Energy
There are many different types of alternative fuels. While more difficult to create your own, it is definitely possible.
Now is the time to start researching this.
Today, one of the main problems with electricity is not actually generating the electricity – that’s relatively easy. The trouble comes in when we try to generate electricity without using grid-tied technology or, even more, when we try to store that power.
Most people who install alternative energy hire a contractor to come in and put in a turnkey system. Since we had very little extra money when we set ours up, we bought the components – sometimes rather piecemeal – and built it alone.
What I will tell you is – the parts fail and break and wear out.
A huge solar array without a charge controller to send that energy to the batteries is nothing but junk.
A lack of properly sized wire can bring a system to its knees.
And batteries last not nearly as long, or as well, as we would like them to.
Now is the time to start researching DIY solar, wind, biothermal, biogas and more. The knowledge is out there.
There are so many things that can be made at home and, in a post-oil future, must be again.
Candles and soap are two of the most vital.
The American Frugal Housewife, a book I absolutely love, says this:
… in the country, I am certain, it is good economy to make one’s own soap. If you burn wood, you can make your own lye; but the ashes of coal is not worth much.
Of course, that list is almost endless – not just lye, but metalworking, carpentry, barrel and basket making, hand sewing, cobbling, bookbinding, papermaking ….
We cannot all be good at all of these, so if you have a passion that can make useful (even if currently “obselete”) items, work on improving your skills!
Can we survive without oil? It would be extremely difficult. However, now you have 10 skills – and skills that are within the reach of most of us – that will be absolutely essential in a world without oil.