Some Marin residents prepare for brave new world altered by oil and the lack of it

July 16, 2010
Richard Halstead
Publication: 
Marin Independent Journal

 Andre Angelantoni of San Rafael sees a future in which global warming and dwindling oil supplies result in spiraling unemployment, food shortages and rising poverty; that's the bad news.

The good news, said Angelantoni, is that there are steps people can take to prepare.

"As mature adults, we can make plans rather than just get scared," he said.

Angelantoni's company, Post Peak Living, offers a range of Internet classes to help people get ready for the daunting new world he envisions.

"All civilizations decline, no exception," said Angelantoni, 40, a software developer. "This is the beginning of our decline."

Angelantoni is just one of many residents in Marin and Sonoma counties with the same bleak vision of the future who are trying to adapt their communities in advance.

Chapters of Transition U.S., a nonprofit that fosters the joining together of individuals into communities to prepare for coming hard times, have formed in Mill Valley, West Marin and Sonoma. The Mill Valley chapter filled the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley in May and has another meeting scheduled there for Wednesday. Transition U.S. has its headquarters in Sebastopol, and its president, Raven Gray, lives in Lagunitas.

"It's true that we think those changes are coming," said Gray, "but even if we didn't think they were coming we would want to change the way we live and build more resilience into our community, so that we have more creative celebration and fun."

Gray, who helped pioneer the original Transition movement in England, said the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has "generated more interest in the possibility of fossil fuel depletion in general. It's really opened the conversation into the general public."

This week, Angelantoni was interviewed by a Dutch public radio station, and he prepared new versions of two Internet classes: Chickens 101, which teaches people the basics of raising chickens to supplement their food supply; and a course on how to stay healthy in a "post-peak oil" world.

"As medical accessibility declines, our national unhealthiness is going to turn into a huge humanitarian crisis," Angelantoni said. "Quite frankly we're going to have to get used to people dying of things they used to die of in the past."

Angelantoni said a few years ago he was focused on climate change. Then in 2007 while he was investigating the effect that declining oil supplies would have on carbon emissions, he came to a new realization.

"I discovered that declining oil was going to rearrange our society much faster than climate change," Angelantoni said.

All the conventional liquid crude that is relatively cheap to produce was discovered decades ago, and oil that can be extracted from tar sands and shale, at a higher price, can't be ramped up fast enough to compensate, he said.

And Angelantoni doubts that renewable energy sources can fill the gap either.

"I think it is a grave error that people think when oil gets expensive we'll move off of it quicker," he said. "What happened instead in 2007 and 2008 was everyone became poorer very quickly and the rate of penetration of renewables decreased instead of increasing."

The peak oil scenario has its share of critics, however. Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and the author of "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power," has disputed peak oil believers' estimates of the remaining oil reserves, asserting that they are actually much larger than peak oil espousers claim. Yergin maintains that new technology will continue to make new supplies of oil available.

Angelantoni cites recent reports by the insurer, Lloyd's of London, and the U.S. Joint Forces Command that predict the world is headed for the next oil shock by 2012 or 2013.

Neither climate change nor the end of peak oil will cause civilization to collapse overnight, Angelantoni said.

"There aren't going to be zombies in the street. That's not how civilizations decline," he said. "The economy is just going to keep contracting and we're going to get poorer.

"Unemployment is going to reach depression levels and then continue past that," Angelantoni said. "Repeated oil price shocks and climate change are going to start reducing food production worldwide in a big way this decade."

He predicts that far fewer people will seek higher education because there will be no jobs for them.

"Once the contraction begins, you don't need all these educated people," he said.

One of the Internet courses that Angelantoni offers instructs people on how to select a sustainable post-peak livelihood. Students are encouraged to learn to repair or make something that will be valuable in the post-peak world. There is also an emphasis on agricultural skills.

Gray said much of the Transition chapters' activities focus on localizing food supplies by promoting farmers' markets or other programs to assist local agricultural production.

Gray said in Santa Cruz, Transition members removed fences and lawns in some residential neighborhoods and planted vegetable gardens and fruit trees. She said in Richmond, Transition members started a seed lending library that allows people to get seeds for free, if they replace the seeds when they harvest their crops.

"We aren't driven by doom and gloom scenarios at all," Gray said. "We're just interested in designing a better way of living."

- The Mill Valley chapter of Transition is screening a film and hosting a discussion at the Throckmorton Theatre at 142 Throckmorton Ave. in Mill Valley at 6:30 p.m. July 21.

- Andre Angelantoni's website is www.postpeakliving.com

 

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