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100 Things You Can Do to Get Ready for Peak Oil

[ Sharon Astyk, as those familiar with her writing here at Energy Bulletin, or on Casaubon's Book will know, is well advanced down the route of low energy living. As such, these suggestions go far beyond the usual stale sustainability tips for consumers, and into the kind of adaptations which can reduce our energy usage not by percentage points, but by orders of magnitute. At the same time they offer rich challenges, good food, and meaningful family and community experiences. -AF ]

SPRING

  1. Rethink your seed starting regimen. How will you do it without potting soil, grow lights and warming mats. Consider creating manure heated hotbeds, using your own compost, building a greenhouse, or coldframe, direct seeding early versions of transplanted crops, etc...
  2. Your local feed store has chicks right now - even suburbanites might consider ordering a few bantam hens and keeping them as exotic birds. Worth a shot, no? You can grow some feed in your garden for them, as well as enjoying the eggs.
  3. Order enough seeds for three years of gardening. If by next spring, we are all unable to get replacement seed, will you have produced everything you need? What if you can't grow for a year because of some crisis? Order extras from places with cheap seed like www.fedcoseeds.com, www.superseeds.com, www.rareseed.com.
  4. Yard sale season will begin soon in the warmer parts of the country, and auctions are picking up now in the North. Stocking up on things like shoes, extra coats, kids clothing in larger sizes, hand tools, garden equipment is simply prudent - and can save a lot of money.
  5. The real estate "season" will begin shortly, with families wanting to get settled in new homes during the summer, before the school year starts. If you are planning on buying or selling this year, now is the time to research the market, new locations, find that country property or the urban duplex with a big yard.
  6. Once pastures are flush, last year's hay is usually a bargain, and many farmers clean out their barns. manure and old hay are great soil builders for anyone.
  7. Check out your local animal shelter and adopt a dog or cat for rodent control, protection and friendship during peak oil.
  8. As things green up, begin to identify and use local wild edibles. Eat your lawn's dandelions, your daylily shoots, new nettles. Hunt for morels (learn what you are doing first!!) and wild onions. Get in the habit of seeing what food there is to be had everywhere you go.
  9. Set up rainbarrel or cistern systems and start harvesting your precipitation.
  10. Planning to only grow vegetables? Truly sustainable gardens include a lot of pretty flowers, which have value as medicinals, dye and fiber plants, seasoning herbs, and natural cleaners and pest repellants. Instead of giving up ornamentals altogether, grow a garden full of daylilies, lady's mantle, dye hollyhocks and coreopsis, foxgloves, soapwart, bayberry, hip roses, bee balm and other useful beauties.
  11. Get a garden in somewhere around you - campaign to turn open space into a community garden, ask if you can use a friend's backyard, get your company or church, synagogue, mosque or school to grow a garden for the poor. Every garden and experienced gardener we have is a potential hedge against the disaster.
  12. Join a CSA if you don't garden, and get practice cooking and eating a local diet in season.
  13. Eggs and greens are at their best in spring - dehydrated greens and cooked eggshells, ground up together add calcium and a host of other nutrients to flour, and you won't taste them. We're not going to be able to afford to waste food in the future, so get out of the habit now.
  14. Make rhubarb, parsnip or dandelion wine for later consumption.
  15. Now that warmer weather is here, start walking for more of your daily Needs. Even a four or five mile walk is quite reasonable for most healthy people.
  16. Start a compost pile, or begin worm composting. Everyone can and should compost. Even apartment dwellers can keep worms or a compost bin and use the product as potting soil.
  17. Use spring holidays and feasts as a chance to bring up peak oil with friends and family. Freedom and rebirth are an excellent subjects To lead into the Long Emergency.
  18. Store the components of some traditional spring holiday foods, so that in hard times your family can maintain its traditions and celebrations.
  19. With the renewal of the building season, now is the time to scavenge free building materials, like cinder blocks, old windows and scrap wood - with permission, of course.
  20. Try and adapt to the spring weather early - get outside, turn down your heat or bank your fires, cut down on your fuel consumption as though you had no choice. Put on those sweaters one more time.
  21. Shepherds are flush with wool - now is the time to buy some fleece and start spinning! Drop spindles are easy to make and cheap to use. Check out www.learntospin.com
  22. Take a hard look back over the last winter - if you had had to survive on what you grew and stored last year, would you have made it? Early spring was famously the "starving time" when stores ran out and everyone was hungry. Remember, when you plan your food needs that not much produces early in spring, and in northern climates, A winter’s worth of food must last until May or June.
  23. Trade cuttings and divisions, seeds and seedlings with your neighbors. Learn what's out there in your community, and sneak some useful plants into your neighbors' garden.
  24. If you’ve got a nearby college, consider scavenging the dorm dumpsters. College students often leave astounding amounts of Stuff behind including excellent books, clothes, furniture, etc…
  25. Say a schecheyanu, a blessing, or a prayer. Or simply be grateful for a series of coincidences that permit us to be here, in this place, as the world and the seasons come to life again. Try to make sure that this year, this time, you will take more joy in what you have, and prepare a bit better to soften the blow that is about to fall.

SUMMER

  1. If you don't can or dehydrate, now is the time to learn. In most climates, you can waterbath can or dehydrate with a minimum of purchased materials, and produce is abundant and cheap. If you don't garden, check out your local farmstand for day-old produce or your farmer's market at the end of the day - they are likely to have large quantities they are anxious to get rid of. Wild fruits are also in abundance, or will be.
  2. Consider dehydrating outer leaves of broccoli, cabbage, etc..., and grinding the dried mixture. It can be added to flours to increase the nutritional value of your bread.
  3. Buy hay in the summer, rather than gradually over the winter. Now is an excellent time to put up simple shelters for hay storage, to avoid high early spring and winter prices.
  4. Firewood, woodstoves and heating materials are at their cheapest right now. Invest now for winter. The same is true of insulating materials.
  5. Back to school planning is a great time to reconsider transportation in light of peak oil. Can your children walk? Bike? If they cannot do either for reasons of safety (rather than distance) could an adult do so with them? Could you hire a local teenager to take them to school on foot or by wheel? Can you find ways to carpool, if you must drive? Grownups can do this too.
  6. Also when getting ready to go back to school, consider the environmental impact of your scheduling and activities - are there ways to minimize driving/eating out/equipment costs/fuel consumption? Could your family do less in formal "activities" and more in family work?
  7. Consider either home schooling or engaging in supplemental home Education. Your kids may need a large number of skills not provided by local public schools, and a critical perspective that they certainly won‘t learn in an institutional setting. Teach them.
  8. Try and minimize air conditioning and electrical use during high Summer. Take cool showers or baths, use ice packs, reserve activity when possible for early am or evening. Rise at 4 am and get much of your work done then.
  9. Consider adding a solar powered attic fan, available from Real Goods www.realgoods.com.
  10. Don’t go on vacation. Spend your energy and money making your home a paradise instead. Throw a barbecue, a party or an open house, and invite the neighbors in. Get to know them.
  11. Be prepared for summer blackouts, some quite extensive. Have emergency supplies and lighting at hand.
  12. Practice living, cooking and camping outside, so that you will be comfortable doing so if necessary. Everyone in the family can Learn basic outdoors person skills.
  13. Make your own summer camp. Instead of sending kids to soccer camp, create an at-home skills camp that helps prepare people for Peak oil. Invite the neighbor kids to join you. Have a blast!
  14. Begin adapting herbs and other potted plants to indoor culture. Consider adding small tropicals - figs, lemons, oranges, even bananas can often be grown in cold climate homes. Obviously, if you live in a warm climate well, be prepared for some jealousy from the rest of us come February ;-).
  15. Plant a fall garden in high summer - peas, broccoli, kale, lettuces, beets, carrots, turnips, etc… All of the above will last well into early winter in even the harshest climates, and with proper techniques or in milder areas, will provide you with fresh food all year long
  16. Put up a new clothesline! Consider hand washing clothes outside, since everyone will probably enjoy getting wet (and cool) anyhow.
  17. If you have access to safe waters, go fishing. Get some practice, and learn a new skill.
  18. Encourage pick-up games at your house. Post-peak, children will need to know how to entertain themselves.
  19. For teens, encourage them to develop their own home businesses over the summers. Whether doing labor or creating a product, you may rely on them eventually to help support the family. Or have them clean out your closets and attic and help you reorganize. Let them sell the stuff.
  20. Buy a hand pushed lawn mower if you have less than 1 acre of grass. New ones are easy to push and pleasant, and will save you energy and that unpleasant gas smell.
  21. Keep an eye out for unharvested fruits and nuts - many suburban and rural areas have berry and fruit bushes that no one harvests. Take advantage and put up the fruit.
  22. Practice extreme water conservation during the summer. Mulch to reduce the need for irrigation. Bathe less often and with less water. Reduce clothes washing when possible.
  23. This is an excellent time to toilet train children - they can run around naked if necessary and accidents will do no harm. Try and get them out of diapers now, before winter.
  24. Consider replacing lawns with something that doesn’t have to be mown - ground covers like vetch, moss, even edibles like wintergreen or lingonberry, chamomile or mint.
  25. If it is summer time, then the living is probably easy. Take some time to enjoy it - to picnic, to celebrate democracy (and try and bring one about ;-), To explore your own area, walk in the nearby woods.

FALL

  1. Simple, cheap insulating strategies (window quilts and blankets, draft stoppers, etc...) are easily made from cheap or free materials - goodwill, for example, often has jeans, tshirts and shrunken wool sweaters, of quality too poor to sell, that can be used for quilting material and batting. They are available where I am for a nominal price, and I've heard of getting them free.
  2. Stock up for winter as though the hard times will begin this year. Besides dried and canned foods, don't forget root cellarable and storable local produce, and season extension (cold frames, greenhouses, etc...) techniques for fresh food when you make your food inventory.
  3. Thanksgiving sales tend to be when supermarkets offer the cheapest deals on excellent supplements to food storage, like shortening, canned pumpkin, spices, etc... I've also heard of stores given turkeys away free with grocery purchases - turkeys can then be cooked, canned and stored. Don't forget to throw in storable ingredients for your family's holiday staples - in hard times, any kind of celebration or continuity is appreciated.
  4. Go leaf rustling for your garden and compost pile. If you happen into places where people leave their leaves out for pickup, grab the bags and set them to composting or mulching Your own garden.
  5. Plant a last crop of over wintering spinach, and enjoy in the fall and again in spring.
  6. Or consider planting a bed of winter wheat. Chickens can even graze it lightly in the fall, and it will be ready to harvest in time to use the bed for your fall garden. Even a small bed will make quite a bit of fresh, delicious bread.
  7. Hit those last yard sales, or back to school sales and buy a few extra clothes (or cloth to make them) for growing children and extra shoes for everyone. They will be welcome in storage, particularly if prices rise because of trade issues or inflation.
  8. The best time to expand your garden is now - till or mulch and let sod rot over the winter. Add soil amendments, manure, compost and lime.
  9. Now is an excellent time to start the 100 mile diet in most locales - Stores and farms and markets are bursting with delicious local produce And products. Eat local and learn new recipes.
  10. Rose hip season is coming - most food storage items are low in accessible vitamin C. Harvest wild or tame unsprayed rose hips, and dry them for tea to ensure long-term good health. Rose hips are delicious mixed with raspberry leaves and lemon balm.
  11. Discounts on alcohol are common between Halloween and Christmas - this is an excellent time to stock up on booze for personal, medicinal, trade or cooking. Pick up some vanilla beans as well, and make your own vanilla out of that cheap vodka.
  12. Gardening equipment, and things like rainbarrels go on sale in the late summer/early fall. And nurseries often are trying to rid themselves of perennial plants - including edibles and medicinals. It isn't too late to plant them in most parts of the country, although some care is needed in purchasing for things that have become rootbound.
  13. Local honey will be at its cheapest now - now is the time to stock up. Consider making friends with the beekeeper, and perhaps taking lessons yourself.
  14. Fall is the cheapest time to buy livestock, either to keep or for butchering. Many 4Hers, and those who simply don't want to keep excess animals over the winter are anxious to find buyers now. In many cases, at auction, I see animals selling for much less than the meat you can expect to obtain from their carcass is worth.
  15. Most cold climate housing has or could have a "cold room/area" - a space that is kept cool enough during the fall and winter to dispense with the necessity of a refrigerator, but that doesn't freeze. If you have separate fridge and freezer, consider disconnecting your fridge during the cooler weather to save utility costs and conserve energy. You can build a cool room by building in a closet with a window, and insulating it with styrofoam panels
  16. Now is a great time to build community (and get stuff done) by instituting a local "work bee" - invite neighbors and friends to come help either with a project for your household, or to share in some good deed for another community member. Provide food, drink, tools and get to work on whatever it is (building, harvesting, quilting, knitting - the sky is the limit), and at the same time strengthen your community. Make sure that next time, the work benefits a different neighbor or community member.
  17. Most local charities get the majority of their donations between now and December. Consider dividing your charitable donations so that they are made year round, but adding extra volunteer hours to help your group handle the demands on them in the fall.
  18. Many medicinal and culinary herbs are at their peak now. Consider learning about them and drying some for winter use.
  19. If there is a gleaning program near you (either for charity or personal use) consider joining. If not, start one. Considerable amounts of food are wasted in the harvesting process, and you can either add to your storage or benefit your local shelters and food pantries.
  20. Dig out those down comforters, extra blankets, hats with the earflaps, flannel jammies, etc... You don't need heat in your sleeping areas - just warm clothes and blankets.
  21. Learn a skill that can be done in the dark or by candlelight, while sitting with others in front of a heat source. Knitting, crocheting, whittling, rug braiding, etc... can all be done mostly by touch with little light, and are suitable for companionable evenings. In addition, learn to sing, play instruments, recite memorized speeches and poetry, etc... as something to do on dark winter evenings.
  22. While I wouldn't expect deer or turkey hunting to be a major food source in coming times (I would expect large game to be driven back to near-extinction pretty quickly), it is worth having those skills, and also the skills necessary to catch the less commonly caught small game, like rabbits, squirrel, etc...
  23. Use a solar cooker or parabolic solar cooker whenever possible To prepare food. Or eat cool salads and raw foods. Not only won’t you heat up the house, but you’ll save energy.
  24. A majority of children are born in the summer early fall, which suggests that some of us are doing more than keeping warm ;-). Now is a good time to get one’s birth control updated ;-).
  25. Celebrate the harvest - this is a time of luxury and plenty, and should be treated as such and enjoyed that way. Cook, drink, eat, talk, sing, pray, dance, laugh, invite guests. Winter is long and comes soon enough. Celebrate!

WINTER

  1. Your local adult education program almost certainly has something useful to teach you - woodworking, crocheting, music training, horseback riding, CPR, herbalism, vegetarian cookery... take advantage of people who want to teach their skills
  2. Get serious about land use planning - even if you live in a suburban neighborhood, you can find ways to optimize your land to produce the most food, fuel and barterables. Sit down and think hard about what you can do to make your land and your life more sustainable in the coming year.
  3. The Winter lull is an excellent time to get involved in public affairs. No matter how cynical you tend to be, nothing ever changed without engagement. So get out there. Stand for office. Join. Volunteer.
  4. Now is the time to prepare for illness - keep a stock of remedies, including useful antibiotics (although know what you are doing, don't just buy them and take them), vitamin C supplements (I like elderberry syrup), painkillers, herbs, and tools for handling even serious illness by yourself. In the event of a truly severe epidemic of flu or other illness, avoiding illness and treating sick family members at home whenever possible may be safer than taking them to over-worked and over-crowded hospitals (or, it may not - but planning for the former won't prevent you from using the hospital if you need it).
  5. Most schools would be delighted to have volunteers come in and talk about conservation, gardening, small livestock, home-scale mechanics, ham radio, etc..., and most homeschooling families would be similarly thrilled. Consider offering to teach something you know that will be helpful post-peak (although I wouldn't recommend discussing peak oil with any but the oldest teenagers, and not even that without their parents permission
  6. Now is the time to convince your business, synagogue, church, school, community center to put a garden on that empty lawn. If you start the campaign now, you can be ready to plant in the spring. Produce can be shared among participants or offered to the needy.
  7. The one-two punch of rising heating oil and gas prices may well be what is needed to make your family and friends more receptive to the peak oil message. Try again. At the very least, emphasize the options for mitigating increased economic strain with sustainable practices.
  8. Get together with neighbors and check in on your area's elderly and disabled people. Make a plan that ensures they will be checked on during bad weather, power outages, etc... Offer help with stocking up for winter, or maintaining equipment. And watch for signs that they are struggling economically.
  9. Work on raising money and getting help with local poverty-abatement Programs. After the holidays, people struggle. They get hungry and cold. Remember, besides the fact that it is the right thing to do, the life you save may be your own.
  10. Get out and enjoy the cold weather. It is hard to adapt to colder temperatures if you spend all your time huddled in front of a heater. Ski, snowshoe, sled, shovel, have a snowball fight, build a hut, go winter camping, but get comfortable with the cold, snowy world around you.
  11. Have your chimney(s) inspected, and learn to clean your own. Learn to care for your kerosene lamps, to use candles safely, and how to use and maintain your smoke and CO detectors and fire extinguishers. Winter is peak fire season, so keep safe.
  12. Grow sprouts on your windowsill.
  13. Now is an excellent time to reconsider how you use your house. Look around - could you make more space? House more people? Do projects more efficiently? Add greenhouse space? Put in a homemade composting toilet? Work with what you have to make it more useful.
  14. If a holiday gift exchange is part of your life, make most of your gifts. Knit, whittle, build, sew, or otherwise create something beautiful for the people you love.
  15. If someone wants to buy you something, request a useful tool or preparedness item, or a gift certificate to a place like Lehmans or Real Goods. Considering giving such gifts to friends and family - a solar crank radio, an LED flashlight, cast iron pans, These are useful and appreciated items whether or not you believe in peak oil.
  16. Do a dry run in the dead of winter. Turn out all the power, turn off the water. Turn off all fossil-fuel sources of heat, and see how things go for a few days. Use what you learn to improve your preparedness, and have fun while doing it.
  17. Learn to mend clothing, patch and make patchwork out of old clothes.
  18. Write letters to people. The post is the most reliable way of communicating, And letters last forever.
  19. Make a list of goals for the coming year, and the coming five years. Start Keeping records of your goals and your successes and failures.
  20. Keep a journal. Your children and grandchildren (or someone else’s) may want To know what these days were like.
  21. Wash your hands frequently, and avoid stress. Stay healthy so that you can be useful To those around you.
  22. For those subject to depression or anxiety, winter can be hard. Find ways to relax, decompress and use work as an antidote to fear whenever possible. Get outside on sunny days, and try and exercise as much as possible to help maintain a positive attitude.
  23. Memorize a poem or song every week. No matter what happens to you, no one can ever take away the music and words you hold in your mind. You can have them as comfort and pleasure wherever you go, and in whatever circumstances.
  24. Take advantage of heating stoves by cooking on them. You can make soups or stews on top of any wood stove or even many radiators, and you can build or buy a metal oven That sits on top of woodstoves to bake in.
  25. Winter is a time of quiet and contemplation. Go outside. Hear the silence. Take pleasure in what you have achieved over the past year. Focus on the abundance of this present, this day, rather than scarcity to come.
Editorial Notes: First published over at Sharon's website in progress 'Our Victory at Home'. More of Sharon's writing is available at her Casaubon's Book blog. If some of these tips seemed overwhelming, and you're just getting started, or haven't really considered moves towards self sufficiency and low energy living, consider getting a hold of Mick Winter's new introductory text Peak Oil Prep. -AF

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