Location, location, relocation

Jean-Francois Bernier of Quebec asked a couple questions in response to a recent post. It occurs to me that I’ve given hints about my relocation efforts, but I haven’t revealed the whole tawdry story in one place. This post corrects the oversight, if it was one, if you’re interested.

Nearly three years ago, anticipating the day when gasoline would not longer be available at the corner gas station, when food would no longer be available at the grocery store, when water would no longer come through the taps, and when the U.S. economy comes crashing to a halt, I gathered a few friends and acquaintances to start talking about making other arrangements. The process of “selecting” people for the conversation was spontaneous, arbitrary, and not exclusive. I’m not sure how some of the people stumbled upon the information, but about thirty of us found our way to an initial meeting at my house.
We met every week or so, but the list of people dwindled quickly. This was expected. The price of oil was about half its price today, everybody was plenty busy with their “regular” lives, denial runs deep in the empire, and a little of me goes a long way (I attended every meeting). We shopped for land, and even came very close to closing on a rural property, with a passive-solar house not far from Tucson. The group declined in size and level of commitment as we came ever closer to pulling the proverbial trigger. Eventually, after slightly more than a year, attrition was nearly complete.
Importantly, my wife and dog were still “in,” at least as much as ever. But we were back to square one, this time on our own.
Shortly thereafter, we attended the memorial service of a friend. Among the guests were two people, along with their four-year-old son, who were in the early group of thirty. They opted out of the process early because they love their current community and the three acres they live on. Imagine our surprise when, at the close of the memorial service, they offered us their west acre.
We declined. But the offer began a conversation that concluded, a month later, with a tenancy-in-common agreement for their three acres. We began building the mud hut and other infrastructure as time and money allowed. A year later, we’ve made a small start toward post-carbon living arrangements. And we’ve learned a lot about growing plants, building infrastructure, and each other. It’s been a wild ride, filled with moments of deep disappointment, simple pleasure, and wondrous, unexpected elation.
Never mind the six-month-old puppy. Did I mention I have a five-year-old in my life? Who’da thunk it?
If you’re thinking about relocating, there is much to consider it. Will your new location have advantages in any or all the important arenas of water, food, shelter, and — perhaps most importantly — community? At this point, you’ll be among the last people into your new area. You’ll be the “other” all humans seek when times get tough. I don’t think cities are survivable in the years ahead, but being a stranger in a rural area poses its own set of problems.
Consider a minor example from my own misspent youth, in the midst of this country’s cultural revolution. Four years after my family moved to a tiny town just the other side of nowhere, we were still the new people in town. I was a typically ignorant 10-year-old walking to elementary school in the morning when a 13-year-old neighborhood bully pointed a gun at my head out his bedroom window. I didn’t run and, in return, he didn’t pull the trigger. When my family moved seven years later, we were still the new people in town. Rurality has its advantages, but don’t expect to become part of the community over night on the strength of your good looks. At least, it didn’t work for me.
This long-winded answer to Jean-Francois’ implicit question falls far short of expressing the heartache associated with the collapse of our initial effort. An enormous investment in time and effort ended in failure because the entire enterprise was far more challenging than any of us imagined it would be. The increasing urgency of this topic demands frank conversation, but the human ego is stunningly fragile. As a general strategy, I would not recommend starting the conversation about relocating with a group larger than half-a-dozen people, primarily because you’ll need to create and maintain an emotionally, psychologically, and physically functional group of people, on short notice, to do things you cannot imagine doing. The future is funny that way: We don’t even know what needs to be done.
And you thought familial relations were tough. Multiply by a billion or so, and then factor in the notion of spending the rest of your life in very close proximity to these people.
My response to Jean-Francois’ other questions are even less complete. The obstacles to creating a community and moving to self-sufficiency are simply too numerous to list here. If you’re interested, I recommend a few books and websites to get you started (a comprehensive list is nearly infinite, but these resources will lead to many others). Books include Aric McBay’s Peak Oil Survival, Dmitry Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse, and Matthew Stein’s When Technology Fails. But there are many, many more, covering relevant issues from many different angles. Websites include Matt Savinar’s Life After the Oil Crash “Prepare” page and the report prepared by a few of my students.
As always,I would be happy to answer questions on- or off-list, and many of the contributors to this ongoing conversation doubtless have excellent ideas. Ultimately, I suspect the longevity of your life depends on making excellent decisions in the absence of reliable information. With that cheery thought, good luck to us all.

Comments 11

  • Dear Professor Guy,
    I feel that for myself, the quality of life is as least as important as it’s quantity.Not hedonism,but the realization that life is tenuous and temporary.Don’t quite know how to say this…the amorphous idea that communing with nature is going to provide your quality of life.You’ll guide your people in putting their nature in touch with nature.This nexus with nature,in all it’s beauty,will give all the strength to survive,persevere,and yes prosper in the spiritual and philosophical sense.
    Thus you and your people will get through the trials and tribulations of living in the post-carbon era.Our essential goodness will prevail.

  • So it looks as if I shouldn’t go to grad school? This would entail being in school until ca. 2013.
    I’d hate to be wrong, and miss the chance, but I’d also hate to die young.

  • In response to Jeremy, I would like to share some of my own life experience and encourage you to pursue your dreams. You can prepare for the worst while simultaneously advancing yourself, I believe.
    I was raised in Texas as a Jehovah’s Witness. I was taught to read by my mother before I ever entered public school, was extremely serious and studious as a young person, and very devout in the religion. In 1968 the Watchtower Society published a book that essentially told all Jehovah’s Witnesses that the world would end in 1975. Intricate explanations based on alleged Bible chronology were given. JW’s were told to prepare for the end of the world and to do everything in their power to preach the message in the interim. I was devout and I did exactly that. All during my junior high school and high school years I engaged in the JW ministry and full time after graduation. At the time JW’s had a strict policy against college education on the grounds that exposure to liberal arts thinking or the sciences would tend to turn people away from god and religion. I was an excellent student but believed the world was about to end and there was no point in defying the religion and staking a purchase in a dying world. So I entered the full-time ministry after graduating from high school in 1973 and in early 1975 I went off to New York to serve a four year enlistment as a volunteer at the world headquarter of JW’s. I left home in the spring of 1975 expecting the world would end that autumn and I told my family and friends I would see them on the other side.
    Needless to say, the world failed to end in 1975. Many JW’s who sold their homes and entered the full-time ministry regretted their rash moves, but they could not complain to the church for fear of getting excommunicated.
    Amazingly, I never became disallusioned about that failure of the church to accurately figure out Bible prophecy, but I did get disallusioned on other grounds and eventually dropped out and became non-religious. I missed out on some of the formal advanced and graduate education I could have probably received on scholarship, plus I was a great athlete at the time and probably could have gotten a university scholarship in one of several different sports. To this day, though, there are several JW’s in Texas who credit me with bringing them into the church and thus saving their souls, though I am non-religious altogether, and probably would have been formally excommunicated many years ago if the church knew of all my “sins”.
    I have become self-educated in fields of interest and had unique privileges to work with, interact with and work for wildlife research and conservation projects, espcecially focused on raptors. That became my passion.
    I remember when I was a kid our family considered whether to plant fruit trees on our property and decided against it because the world was about to end.
    My advice to you is to advance your knowledge on world affairs as best you can, and do what you must to survive, but be aware that today’s reality sometimes becomes tomorrow’s new and improved reality. Paul Erlich warned of a pending population bomb, which is still pending and I believe he was right in concept but a bit off in timing.
    Society wants to survive. Timetables can be fickle and exact predictions can be fickle and effects mitigated to some extent.
    I say if your passion is in graduate school, by all means do it! Be aware that circumstances may intervene, but don’t live a life of regret.
    I look back on my life and know that I would have done certain things differently had I known things then that I know now. But at the same time, I had no interest in biology or raptors as a young man, and now they are an absolute passion and I have worked with some of the great raptor experts in the country in the field and have earned the respect of some of them as a non-professional, self-educated field man.
    In short, be positive. Live positive. Stay active and stay busy. Time will pass so fast that no matter what happens, your years will pass very quickly. And one day you may be like me and wonder how it all went so fast and be thankful that you got to do all the things that you really did.
    By the way, I don’t think most JWs know about Peak Oil and they may see unfolding events with great consternation…
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • I think Stan has nailed this one. I routinely tell my students to pursue their dreams and, if possible, to live them. But recognize they are dreams, and reality might interrupt at any time.

  • Good advice Stan !
    In the meantime the nearby crude contract continues to exhibit a very positive chart pattern,seemingly oblivious to fundamental considerations like hurricanes.I thought $100/bbl would be the floor,but never touched $110.Let er rip !

  • Well, thank you for your astute advice drawn from life experiences. My family and I are in the early stages of talking about what we can do to survive, and I am coming to terms psychologically with the prospect of not pursuing everything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve realized I have done a lot already, and am exceedingly fortunate in life. I have no room to complain.

  • Memo to Jeremy L:
    Well spoken,I feel the same way you do.At 76, I’ll inevitably have to make the choice between the quality and the quantity of my life i.e.if the Doc says no more alcohol,I know how I’ll respond:continue to indulge the drop.
    Carry on.

  • Guy,
    I would argue, I suppose, that we landed in this problematique precisiely because we follow our dreams in all directions and deal with reality only when it chooses to interupt us. The advice I would give is to embrace the tyranny of reality at the get go and chose and follow only those dreams that are in consilience with the boundary conditions of the real world. Remember B. Traven, “This is the real world muchachos, and you are in it.”

  • Jeremy, go to school and finish it all off. For all we know they (Them, you know, bigwigs, THEY) might decide tomorrow to drill the heck out of everything and give us a few more years before it gets tough. I’m sure it’d be real nice for you to have a nice, high paying job and get some money (Be it monetary or otherwise), land, etc.
    Reflecting back on my life, what fraction of experience that I have in comparison to others here, I should have decided not to be a police officer, and become a CEO, Pilot, Doctor, or somesuch. They get paid considerably better! Seriously though, get the degrees! Nobody knows with any semblance of accuracy exactly how much longer we’ve got. Could be ten years, could be one. You will have bettered yourself with education and with the experience you’ll have gained even if something nasty this way comes before you’ve finished.

  • @ Guy, thanks for the reply. I’ve started talking about this to a few friends and family, as well as surrounding myself with friends who have precious skills: construction, nursing, hunting and farming. There is more than enough water here (groundwater, clean rivers and lakes, and plenty of rain/snow), arable land, and game-rich wilderness near the city. I’m guessing my situation is Tucson’s complete opposite. I’ll be checking your suggestions and, reading up and equipping myself. Merci mille fois.
    @ Frank Mezek: speaking of indulging the drop, considering peak oil and the need for self-sufficiency, I really gotta learn to make my own brew and moonshine! Any tips?

  • Jean, there is this site http://www.instructables. com/id/How-to-make-moonshine/ that gives you step by step instructions on how to make your own brew and moonshine. It’s very useful.