Although I don’t buy newspapers and I no longer have a tv, it seems to me, from skimming through websites and trawling through the wonderful posts at www.energybulletin.net , that Peak Oil is now fairly regularly being mentioned, along with increasing concern about our obsession with economic growth. There still appears to be a refusal to link the weirding of the weather with climate change, but there is an increasing recognition of the food crisis which we are heading into. Oxfam has just released a report predicting that food might be twice as expensive by 2030 as it is now. That might mean that people in the rich world have to spend 20% of their income on food. Unpleasant, perhaps, but not enough to turn the world upside down. For those in the poorer countries, though, it’s a different story, as they are already spending 50% or more of their income on food. They’ll really be suffering, and that will make good copy for the media, so no doubt it will get plenty of coverage. Global warming, Peak Oil and economic collapse, however, all mean the end of the way we in the rich world live, so we need to skirt around those issues in case we stir up a hornet’s nest, which might lead to companies losing profits. We wouldn’t want that, would we? However, it does seem as if there is more discussion of these topics now. Perhaps we should look upon these four crises as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, aka When the Shit Hits the Fan.
So what can you and I do about them? Looking at any one of them in any depth – and isn’t it the obligation of everyone of us to try to understand what’s happening here? – tends to make you dizzy: looking at all of them together brings on waves of despair. But if you allow that to get the better of you, you become paralysed and are therefore of no use to anyone. It seems to me that we have developed a civilisation which has completely lost touch with reality, to the point of insanity. Because we have developed so many brilliant inventions, and because we have had such towering geniuses unlocking the secrets of the world around us, we have come to think that we can do anything we want, as long as we put our minds to it. Yet there is a gaping chasm between our insights and inventions on the one hand, and on the other the sheer stupidity of being unable to recognise that everything we do ultimately depends upon the health of the environment around us. We’ve strapped ourselves to the runaway horse of economic growth and are so exhilarated by the rush it gives us that we can’t see that we are galloping straight towards the edge of a cliff. More and more economic growth is impossible without more and more energy, which can only be provided in adequate quantities by fossil fuels, which means more and more global warming, which will play havoc with our harvests, which will lead to more hunger, more poverty, and so on ad infinitum. This is insane.
So, we start by looking at what we can do to detach ourselves from this manic joyride. First of all, recognise the insanity. Then accept the fact that you can’t solve any one of these issues by yourself, and that whatever you do won’t amount to much in itself, but also recognise that that is no excuse for doing nothing. On the contrary, it’s absolutely vital that you set an example to others. Readjust your way of living so that if everyone did what you do, the comfortable co-existence of humans and the rest of creation on this planet can be ensured indefinitely.
I try to think of areas in my life which will have the most impact, and one of those is growing my own food organically. I can only spend a limited amount of time on this because I’ve got a full-time job, but there is much that can be done. A big percentage of the fruit and vegetables eaten in Hong Kong were once grown locally. Now hardly any of them are. So, find a piece of land that you can turn into an allotment or community garden, find someone who knows about growing things, contact Kadoorie Farm for advice on growing food organically, or, better still, go on one of their courses. Ultimately, whatever books you buy, or courses you do, you learn best by doing. Get yourself some good garden tools and get to work. The fundamental aim is to restore the health of the soil you’re working by putting lots of organic matter into it. Healthy soil will mean healthy plants, which will mean healthy people. It must be organic and it must be done by hand as far as possible so that you can cut out the need either directly or indirectly for fossil fuels. To learn more about the dependence of food upon fossil fuels see www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html . If you can’t get a piece of land, grow food on your rooftop, or on your balcony in containers – there’s lots of information available, but I like this site http://containergardening.wordpress.com run by Willem van Cotthem who specializes in low-tech solutions for desert areas.
As far as possible, stop flying and driving. I first gave up my car and started cycling to work over 20 years ago, but once I started working abroad, such as in Brunei and Australia, it was virtually impossible to get around without a car. However, here in Hong Kong we’ve got a great public transport system, so it’s quite possible to manage without a car. Alternatively, share one with another family, or resolve to only use it to go on local camping holidays, or such like. For those of us with families in other countries, it’s difficult to give up flying completely. I used to fly whenever I had the chance to get out of the oppressive lifestyle in Brunei. Now I try to fly as little as possible, primarily in order to go back to see my family. At the moment I’ve got it down to once every two years, but I’m finding it a bit tough! This year we’re planning to go to Hanoi by bus rather than fly, and the whole of China is unexplored territory for me, so we’re not totally devoid of choices for holidays which don’t require flights. This is an important area to tackle because the CO2 emissions associated with flying are so great. Three years ago a return flight to Australia was almost exactly equal to all of my other emissions for the year combined.
The third area that can make a big difference is going vegetarian. I went vegetarian largely out of disgust with a system that partly created, and failed to respond to, the famine in Ethiopia. I wanted to dissociate myself from a system that preferred to grow food for animals to feed rich Westerners rather than food for the poor in the South. Not much has changed in that respect, but at least I’m not in thrall to the likes of MacDonald’s and the fast food industry. Dropping beef from your diet, as recommended in the must-see film How to Boil a Frog would be a good first step.
These are all major steps that anyone can take, and they are only likely to cause problems, if at all, for yourself and your family. What I think is much more difficult, but much more important, is being able to reach out to your community and work with others to bring about change at that level. That’s what the Transition Movement is all about, and it’s the reason I started Transition South Lantau (TSL) here in Mui Wo a few years ago. I thought all it would take to get people fired up to do something would be to show a couple of movies like The End of Suburbia and The Power of Community. How naive can you get! Nevertheless, I think we make a little bit of progress once in a while. The idea is to tap into the genius of your local community to move you all towards a future with drastically reduced carbon emissions and greatly reduced dependence on fossil fuels. People have an interest in, say, transport, so they focus on that and try to work out ways of cutting CO2 emissions, whilst others may be interested in education, or farming, or building, and they focus on that area. So you have working groups of people doing what they’re interested in with nobody acting as the leader, because none of us know all the answers for getting us out of the mess we’re in. However, if no one takes up the challenge of starting one of the groups, you don’t make much progress as a transition group! That’s where we are. If anybody would care to join us, maybe just in social evenings catching up on peak oil and climate change issues, we’d welcome you with open arms. Get in touch!