Friday, September 28, 2007

Positioning myself for an energy descent world

Lately I have been thinking more and more about one of the most common stereotypes environmentalists fall into – getting a bit of land and setting up a rural homestead. Unlike most environmentalists who come at this from the perspective that they will be lowering their overall environmental impact and taking responsibility for a patch of earth I am approaching it from a survivalist perspective. Auckland is far to spread out with too high a population to be able to continue without oil, I am also convinced that even with modest reductions in easily available energy Auckland will suffer from major food distribution issues. Living in a poor suburb means that we will be hit disproportionatly by any problems in food supply. As it is we have the most expensive supermarkets in the country according to at least one study and a large percentage of the population finds it difficult to get food. People outside the supermarket waiting for taxis or walking long distances with several children are already a familiar sight and there are increasing reports of trucks selling food door to door at double supermarket prices.

It is incredibly obvious that individualism is not a particularly wise strategy during times of resource scarcity, if you have an abundance of one particular resource say food for example and those around you do not have very much of that resource then you are probably not going to be able to hold onto that food for very long. A communal strategy would be of more benefit but the suggestion that I make my entire suburb productive in terms of food put forward by some of my friends is ludicrous, no matter how much work is put in to increasing the food producing capacity of the suburbs there is nowhere near enough land to produce very much. Also no one in the suburbs has the time or the will power to grow much food because of high working hours and cheap food prices.

If the decline in energy and food supply is gradual then a communal approach could work in the suburbs, neighbours could assist each other to grow food and community gardens could arise. I however think a rapid decline in food supply to certain areas is a very real possibility and problems with soil fertility and supplys of resources nessacary for large scale community food production will prevent a peaceful and rapid uptake of urban horticulture. Eventually the suburbs may be converted to food production but a period of major social upheaval perhaps lasting decades could take place in between.

Infill housing and developments where houses are only a few meters apart quickly dispel the idea that the suburbs could easily grow much of their own food. Entire areas such as botany downs have no real future, half or more of the houses must be removed if any real food production is to occur, completely new food distribution networks must be put in place and hundreds of thousands of people must get used to living without the motor car.

So given the problems facing suburbia I think everyone that takes the problems posed by declining global food production and a declining energy supply should make plans for things going nasty very quickly. For a start learning to eat things not currently seen as food such as weeds, possums and other so called “pests” is a prudent idea. Making friends with people that have land away from major centers could be good. Ideally owning land and putting in place climate change resistant semi wild food production strategys would be one of the best ways of ensuring that no matter what happens you have options. I am taking a shotgun approach learning a lot of skills which will be useful no matter what future is facing us and am looking at getting a base outside of suburbia in the mid term.

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