As attentive readers of this blog know, I was in northern California earlier this week, speaking with Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL). And also enjoying the cool environs, talking about fire ecology, attending a Ukrainian Byzantine Eastern Catholic mass, and hanging out on the beach.
It’s all good. But I’ll give my report in chronological order. That’s how I live, and it’s easier for me to keep track that way.
First up: Speaking with a small group in Ukiah about fire ecology and fire policy. The advance copy of my new book on the topic showed up last week, and it’s scheduled for general release in a few weeks. The conversation was excellent, no doubt in part because we met in a tavern. Although I rarely imbibe, I find the environment stimulating and invigorating. A beautiful thunderstorm accompanied our end-of-evening drive to the motel in Ft. Bragg. Rain is exceedingly rare in northern California this time of year, so the lightning was a surprise to most people. The region’s been in a drought, too, so the lightning produced hundreds of fires at an unusual time of year. Chalk one up to rare events, the likes of which will be increasing in the years ahead. And given the inability to manage fires that do occur, we’d better get used to Living with Fire.
As we write in the book, fires used to be “normal” in ways to which we’ve become unaccustomed (p. 65): “Throughout the nineteenth century, smoke was as common in the forest as it was in the newly industrialized cities.” Dense smoke enveloped us all to Bakersfield. It wasn’t thick enough to obscure the ugliness of Bakersfield, but those days are coming soon enough. I suspect the twenty-first century will resemble the nineteenth in many ways, including abundant smoke in the countryside (but not in the de-industrializing cities).
Because we were spending the majority of our time on the coast, we avoided the lung-choking smoke, which hung over the interior portion of the region like a blanket of doom. Imagine my presence, covering an entire region: That’s how it felt.
Sunday found us at an peculiarly interesting religious service. Although my own faith varies from indifferent agnostic (I don’t care about your faith, and I’m not trying to convince you mine is correct) to militant anti-theist (I reserve this mode for the times you try to inject your faith into public life), I am fascinated by the meaning many people find in ritual. And the simple community meal after the service, attended by the dozen or so people who participated in the service, was superb. I managed to restrict my own views about the apocalypse to the few people with whom I shared a table, thereby ruining the appetites of only a few people.
My presentation to the WELL group was fun and enlightening. They get it, to a great extent. They had plenty to say in response to my titular question, “How will we thrive in the post-petroleum era?” And they are spending enormous energy to mitigate for disruptions in supply, essentially forcing the community of Willits to get on board. It’s an uphill battle, of course, because they must deal with politicians addicted to economic growth. But if any community of a few thousand people comes through the next decade relatively unscathed, it’ll be Willits. This trip confirmed my three-year-old impression that, if I were to choose a post-carbon landing pad in the continental United States, it would be in Mendocino County because of the combination of water, growing season, and people. Unlike James Howard Kunstler, I’m not not worried about Asian pirates (this concern of his seems irrational, considering he has chosen to live a couple hours’ drive from New York City, implying that Asian pirates are a greater threat to the Pacific Northwest than marauding New Yorkers are to upstate New York).
While we were away, the financial sector continued its downward spiral and the price of oil continued to climb, albeit with considerable volatility. During the next few months, I expect to see the stock markets continue their unwinding while supply disruptions in gasoline spread throughout the country (from the six states impacted last summer). By year’s end, the Northeast’s fragile electrical grid is likely to collapse. The price of heating oil already exceeds the price of electricity, and is likely to increase between now and November. The overwrought electrical grid will collapse when a small proportion of the sixty percent of homes heated with heating oil switch to space heaters.
Back in the Old Pueblo, we were greeted by seasonally warm temperatures and a barely functioning air conditioner. The 110-degree heat was alleviated by a spectacular thunderstorm our first full day back. The biological richness of the Sonoran Desert is coming to life, the thirst of spring slaked by the monsoon’s summer arrival. I’ll be spending much of the summer at the mud hut, where preparations for post-carbon thriving continue.
I’ve received a few off-line comments to the report I posted, but I welcome more comments in this forum. Post them to the blog or send them to me via email.