Learning to Live Without Oil

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

The past few nights Ed, my husband, and I have been watching a DVD called “The Crash Course.” The title’s double meaning is bitterly delicious.

The DVD  is a three-hour lecture by Chris Martenson on the interplay between what’s going on with the economy, energy, and the environment and how the impending three-way disaster will make life as we know it impossible over the next 2o years or so. It’s a condensation of a workshop Martenson gives, and is  available for downloading, free, because he believes what he has to say is so important. I’ll be writing more about this over time, but for now, if you’re intrigued, you have all the links you need.

One of the things Martenson says is that we’re running out of oil, which was more like news when he made the DVD in 2008 than it is now, but that’s not said to diminish the impact of his lecture. It’s mainly on what’s happening to the world economy (the first of the three E’s he talks about) and there’s probably nothing in that part, which takes up most the the lecture, that you already know.  His prescience regarding the economic crash we’re living through is stunning.   The environmental and energy crashes are yet to come.

I’d be a lot more depressed today about Martenson’s predictions if I hadn’t just come across Jill Richardson’s article titled “Life After Oil,” about how Cuba has learned to live without the stuff. Richardson, recently back from a trip to Cuba, is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore, which is one of those that often informs me and nourishes my mind.

You may think of Cuba as an impoverished, backward country, but if you do that’s because you pay too much attention to what the (I can’t help myself here) mainstream media tell you. When you read what they say about that island nation, our near neighbor, keep in mind that healthcare there has been universal for a generation or more and that literacy is virtually 100 percent. Remember that during the worst of the Hurricane Katrina disaster (which is not yet over even though we forget about it most of the time) Bush 44 curtly declined Cuba’s offer to send medical professionals to the Gulf area to help us.

What follows is a taste of what Richardson has written. Like Mortenson’s work, it’s vitally important — vital in the sense of sustaining life. Remember now, I’m an old Yankee and not given to exaggeration. Richardson begins,

As oil pours into the Gulf of Mexico, providing a painful reminder of the cost society pays beyond the gas station pump for fossil fuel energy, it’s hard to even begin to imagine what a post-carbon future would look like. If you can’t picture it, try looking about 90 miles south of Florida.

Oil in Cuba was plentiful until the Soviet bloc disintegrated. In 1989, Cuba’s access to oil and food imports disappeared. Three years later the U.S. piled on, tightening its blockade and inflicting near starvation on more  innocents than people who wished us ill.

After 20 years of painful transition, Cuba is now a living example of how a society can flourish while treating oil like the scarce, filthy and increasingly risky-to-procure energy source it is.

The United States can learn two lessons from Cuba: first, what might happen if we do not transition to clean, renewable forms of energy before our oil runs out; and second, how we might successfully thrive in an era when oil is no longer a cheap form of energy we take for granted.

Richardson says the US can learn most from Cuba when it comes to agriculture, where our dependency on fossil fuels is almost total.

Oil powers tractors and fuels food processing plants, refrigerators and freezers that store our food. Oil powers the trucks and trains that ship our food to us and we also use oil to make pesticides. As for fertilizer? That comes from natural gas.

The article is rich in practical suggestions, some of which we can adopt now as individuals, many of which require community and legislative support. It would be unfair for me to try to summarize it all. You need to read Richardson’s words, benefit from her experience, and take whatever action makes sense to you.

Make no mistake, though: this is not something to worry about tomorrow. Planning is the antidote to worry.

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One Response to “Learning to Live Without Oil”

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