WELL, Then

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.

Comments 3

  • Guy —
    Glad to hear you made it safely through the fire zone in NoCal. I wish I would have thought to invite you to rendevous along Highway 5 or somewhere even closer to where I live in Sonoma County so we could get personally acquainted while sniffing some acrid smoke together. Maybe next time.
    The press seems to be slowly, but surely catching on to the emerging “long emergency” to borrow a phrase from J.H. Kunstler. Still they have not quite figured out that all this unraveling is not temporary, but every day the realization gets more and more inevitable.
    One report on increasing numbers of middle-class homeless people living in cars raised a macabre positive thought in my mind. Maybe this is an area where having a huge, gas-guzzling, but parked SUV is an advantage. The big Ford Expedition provides better sleeping accomodations than the Prius for the new homeless, and they can be increasingly purchased on the cheap. The only driving to be done is from one parking spot in town to the next and then you can live in your former vehicle with certain conveniences that certainly would beat sleeping under a freeway overpass on the ground.
    We gots to think positive, although it is getting harder and harder to do.
    A big thing to monitor moving forward seems to me to be the arrival of tipping points in the economy, the climate, the political scene, and so forth. I think the movement of disintegration will not be linear, but we will lurch and shudder and when things happen, they will tend to be big. A stock market collapse in the foreseeable future may be a good example, and food shortages could be another. Jan Lundberg reported that one day soon, food may be hard to come by and nothing causes panic more than a growling stomach and a couple of hungry babies.
    “Hard Times” ought to be in the planning stages for a new “reality television” show.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • The Tragedy of the Commons theory dictates that the collapse of the northeast power grid cannot be avoided.
    In Hamlet, Claudius tells us,”when sorrows come they come not single spies,but in battalions”.The stock market is collapsing and crude oil is over $142 a barrel as I write this.It is predicted to soon reach
    $170. As a rough rule of thumb if you divide the crude oil future price by 32 you get an approximation
    of the average pump price of unleaded gas.Using this formula we get an average pump price of $5.31, with an average price in Los Angeles of between $6 and $7 a gallon. Wouldn’t this cause a collapse of the California econamy? If so we can look forward to economic death on both coasts.
    Add to this, unaffordable food, home prices declining at an exponential rate,banks folding in numbers not seen since the Great Depression,the dollar becoming worthless,and CCD,Colony Colapse Disorder,so there won’t be enough bees to pollinate the plants we depend upon for food.
    Oh well,it was an interesting ride.

  • Dear Professor Guy,
    Speaking of WELL,”The End of Suburbia” is happening now.The outlying suburbs of Los Angeles are seeing average home price declines of close to 50 per cent. With future gas prices as I expect(see my blog above),that might do it.But certainly by next year as a new wave of home mortgages resets occur of borrowers with good credit.
    Please keep up your great work.