Beggars Would Ride

Sharon May 14th, 2009

At the end of last year, I predicted that by the end of this year, the US would have experienced an economic collapse into a deep Depression.  Despite the rhetoric about bottoms and “green shoots” my own take is that we’re on target for that outcome - the realities of losing millions of jobs through the auto company bankruptcies (now inevitable, at least in the case of Chrysler and GM), the hundreds of thousands of teachers and state employees on the chopping block, and the expected losses, which even the IMF’s conservative estimates mark as stunning, combined with the deep economic crisis of the states and declining tax revenues and massively increasing deficits means that it is very unlikely that we’ve seen anything like a bottom.

Indeed, my 2009 predictions suggested that the rally brought about by a new president and completely irrational exuberance would probably last until mid-summer - if anything, I may have been too optimistic (not something I get accused of a lot ;-)).  I still may well be wrong about this - others will tell us that we’ll see a recovery.  But I find it very hard to believe we are not facing a major crisis, if not when I expected, not far after.  The recent evidence linking the economic crisis to the oil price spike points out that when/if growth gets going again, we’re likely to see the same boom and bust cycle, only shorter.

Add to that the fact that I don’t see consumer confidence recovering soon - the reason being that price volatility and economic instability are not going away - whether oil crashes further (perfectly possible) or we see a short term recovery, price spike and collapse again, food prices are likely to remain volatile in a tight market, and people will never know for sure whether their heating bills, gas costs and grocery budgets will be small or large.  That kind of economic instability undermines the desire to purchase - even if things seem to be getting better, as they seemed in April, consumers aren’t buying because they are afraid (correctly) of the next wave of instability.

The news that Medicare will be bankrupt in 8 years (and that figure is based on a sustained recovery - we can expect to see it shortened next year, I suspect) means that older consumers, who disproportionately hold the nation’s wealth, have even fewer reasons to spend - they now know they may be struggling on their fixed incomes with heating, gas and food costs, but also with more health care costs not covered by Medicare.  Most baby boomers did not prepare for a future in which more or all of their health care costs have to be paid by them or through private insurance - they are already concerned about drug costs, for example, but Medicare’s economic instability means that they must expect to bear more of the health care costs themselves.

But this post is primarily not about what might bring about a major crisis (and right now I think we are in a minor crisis, although, of course, many people experience it as dire), but about the impulse to put it off just a little longer.

I do not speak here of an abstract impulse that I recognize in other people, but of my own desire to see events, if they are inevitable, delayed as long as possible.  You might think I was immune to this, or that I even gloried in the idea of “ripping the bandaid off.”  I’m not - I think like everyone else, I’m very fond of my comfortable life, and have no desire to face the unknown - and it is unknown, even given the amount of time I spend speculating about it.  And what is not unknown, I do not anticipate mostly enjoying - while I have never lived through a Depression or economic collapse, none of my reading on the subject has left me with the impression that I will be delighted by the experience, even if eventually, in some measure we end up better off for our endurance.  That which does not kill us may make it stronger, but evidence suggests that some of us do get killed, and I’m fairly content as a weakling, thank you very much.

All of which is just a long way of saying that when I see signs on the horizon that our constant running faster just to keep in place is starting to lose momentum, my immediate impulse is bargaining “just one more year!”  I doubt that I’m the only one.

I find I want more time mostly for my children’s sake, although this implies a great deal of unselfishness, and right behind them are plenty of selfish motivations.  I find I want my kids to grow older before they are faced with hardship - I don’t know if that is selfish or unselfish - I hope that perhaps while they are little, they will remain insulated from the worst in ways older children can’t.  And yet, I want them to have as much of the good of modernity as they can before it goes away.  Even if the easy life isn’t always good for them, I want it for them as a gift, and to fill them with good memories of good times. 

I want my oldest son to get the enormous investments that our schools make in disabled children as long as he can - while if we have to, we will do what we need to for him, I have no doubt that we will fail miserably to replace his speech therapists and special education teachers.  We will do what we can - but every year he can have those resources is one that gets him further.

I want these things selfishly for myself - I want the trips to visit family and the internet to roam (I don’t necessarily think all these things will disappear, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford them).  I wan the pleasure of being a writer a little longer - it is still a new profession for me, and I do enjoy it.  I want enough money to continue accumulating books and plants.  Yes, I know I’ll be able to make do with what I’ve got.  And that I don’t especially want to.

I want more security, more time of comparative affluence to put up the hoop houses and build a greenhouse, to get the herb business up and running and master more skills. And I want time for everyone else who needs those things - I want more time simply because I don’t want people I care about to be hurt.  I think about all the people moving slowly, gradually, in their comfort zones, the ones who only just now see trouble on the horizon, and I want them to have time.

I want more time for all of us, sometimes badly enough to consider seriously - should I personally use my tiny influence on strategies that mostly just buy time, even at a price, so as to make this easier.  Should I fix on strategies that allow us to adapt more smoothly, to move more by baby steps?  I realize that I will not make policy, that for most people the choice is out of our hands, and yet, I still wonder what I should do, if it mattered?

I know that I will never have time enough.  And the part of me that approaches this subject rationally (not that much, actually)  recognizes that there is a compelling case for *not* wanting more time. Not because I want my predictions to be right, not because I want suffering, but because if we were to put the crisis off another ten years, we risk facing it further ecologically degraded, further down the energy curve, in a warmer, more dangerous, hungrier world, with fewer choices and resources for mitigation.

In the 1970s, when I was running around in pigtails, oblivious to the discussion, there was a great national discourse about the state of our ecology and resources.  Nearly everything we know now, we knew then - that is, we knew in the 1970s that the oil would eventually run out, and indeed, many of the scenarios offered then have turned out to be surprisingly accurate.  We knew by the late 1970s that Global Warming would be one of the great challenges of the 21st century.  We knew that we were rapidly degrading our ecology.  We knew it, and many courageous people tried very hard to push us to living our lives then as though these crises were immanent.

That we did not listen, that we chose to believe it was morning in America will turn out to be one of the great human tragedies of all time.  In the 1970s, there was still time to shift our resources to renewables, time to build a sustainable economy, time to mitigate the worst of our climate shift.  When I was a child and had no power to change things, when my parents stood in the place I am in now, holding the future for the next generation,  the adults around me faced a real choice - and chose to put the issue off.  I understand why they did so - it is hard to look to the future.  I understand that many of them tried so very hard, and still grieve their failures.  I understand.  But I don’t want to be them.

I don’t know if it is possible to put off our crisis - I suspect in some ways it may be, in others, maybe not.  But I cannot doubt that the choice to delay facing the crisis was a mistake, and a terrible, terrible mistake.  So as badly as in some ways I want more time, I do not think it it right to allow that desire not to have to face the hard stuff to take root. In the end, the buck has to stop somewhere, someone has to take responsibility, not just for the problem, but for facing the crisis, and enduring it.  I think we all will always wish someone else had done it for us.  But that doesn’t give us the right to ask that of anyone else.

To the extent I can separate out what I wish for and what I believe will happen, I think in some measure, we are facing a crisis, and very soon.  Whether it will be the beginning of something deeper, or just the first step down on a long flight isn’t clear to me.  What is clear to me is that in the absence of a collective national movement to mitigation, that my wish that we have more time may be perfectly reasonable, but it isn’t an impulse I should give in to much.  If we get it, we get it, and I won’t complain.  But I am better off thinking “how will I go forward in a positive way from this moment” than in wishing.


20 Responses to “Beggars Would Ride”

  1. Devin Quinceon 14 May 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Just finished your book and wow is all I have to say. I know the feelings of being torn about when we should have the “crisis” as you mention here and in your book. For those prepared, it would be better I think sometimes, but for those not it will be painful. I also wonder if there enough of us who are semi-ready (can we ever be ready?) to pull the weight of those not ready for as long it take to get them on their own feet again?

  2. Russon 14 May 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I know this feeling well. Although I think I’m well-prepared psychologically, I’m only just starting my practical preparation (namely, I’m just starting with my first garden, and other than that I just have a list of skills I’d like to acquire).

    Also, the place where I currently live is pretty bad and I’d want to get the hell out of here even without having “doom” to consider. But for the moment I’m stuck.

    So for those two reasons I too am hoping for a few more years, maybe even a brief “recovery” as defined by TPTB, so I can fix those two problems.

  3. LisaZon 14 May 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Sharon, thank you for showing us your human side today. I certainly feel the same way, and in fact I’m choosing to look at the bright side most of the time. I know that a lot of things need to change, and I am happy to be working toward them. As I walk around this spring and see so many new gardens popping up in backyards, side yards, and front yards, I feel hope. This is not all going to be easy, but I feel that looking for the good in this world–even as it stands– never hurts.

  4. Heronon 14 May 2009 at 2:54 pm

    That is a powerful post.

    I’m about 3 weeks into having had the bandaids ripped off my eyes. I had never heard of peak oil, and had a naive and superficial understanding (that I thought was fairly informed and responsible) of climate change and environmental degradation.

    I thought the book titles and internet headlines I stumbled across occasionally - the ones trumpeting a coming collapse and so forth - were a combination of more polarized political hysteria and the work of the nut cases that tend to come out of the woodwork in hard times.

    After all, people forever have been lifting their robes to climb up on soap boxes, mountain tops, or talk radio platforms to proclaim, one way or another, that the end is right upon us.

    Rarely has there been much sense in any of that. What could be so different now?

    Unfortunately / fortunately, I’m starting to see what could be so different now.

    I’m glad I found your website right away, and didn’t delay ordering one of your books. I’ve almost finished Depletion and Abundance. It’s a fine work, as is your website.

    I like your voice and perspective. It’s easy to learn from, and it lacks:

    -the gun-collecting, bar-the-doors angst of some writers

    -the corrosive hatred and blame of the other side (whichever side that is) of the political field of other writers, and

    -the too-comforting instruction of the third group of writers who say we just need to store a bunch of toilet paper, fruit cocktail, tuna and what not to last for three months, for any undefined emergency, and when the three months are over everything will be ok and we’ll all get back in the car, go back to the grocery store and get more toilet paper, fruit cocktail and tuna.

    Those other writers, at least the first two types, may be correct. In the short term, the third group may also be correct. Certainly they’re all doing a great service in writing about preparedness, and telling the truth as they see it.

    But it can be so hard to stick with them, to keep taking them seriously, because their call to preparedness doesn’t come with a structure that supports thinking about the future in productive, creative, and still realistic and urgent ways.

    If we don’t have a framework that allows us to reach deep and pull out our best, individually and as humanity, then we’ve already lost the best of our humanity, and the rest will follow simply and horribly but not as sadly as the loss of our humanity.

    In your writing I find a voice that encourages the development of such a framework, that seems to be working to create a part of that framework. And it is a comfort, not in the way that comfort can make us sit down and be easy, but in the way that comfort gives us a space in the mind and spirit to function creatively, and not just reactively.

    You said that one of the reasons that you want things to hand on for a little longer is that you want to keep writing. I think you will keep writing anyway.

    Unless the world is plunged immediately into a Mad Max / Caveman scenario, and I don’t see that, there will be some sort of platform for writers of vision, perspective, clear thinking, courage, hope, and honesty. Humanity depends more, and probably always has, on those voices than on standard survival skills for surviving crises of climate, resource, or whatever.

    Certainly we need skills, we need provisions, information, etc. But if we have those but don’t have the communication of leaderly purpose, if we lack a vision of worthwhile civilization where wonder, art and intellect still matter, if we are missing the bards who tell the stories of the times, we will lose ourselves, we will lose all sorts of connections and values, and we won’t have much reason to go on, to do what needs to be done.

    Build up your herb business and your boys and plan your greenhouse, but don’t think you’re going to have to quit writing. I don’t believe that the need for your writing and a platform for it to be read will vanish, and hopefully you really don’t either.

    I’m ordering your Nation of Farmers book now and pre-ordering your book on food preservation, and hoping you have lots of plans new volumes.

    With less conflict than you, probably because you’ve been studying and observing longer, I, too desperately want more time.

    Possibly also because I’m newer to the party, I think that fundamental collapse of our Western way of life is not as imminent as you believe. I have come to believe that our way of life will change drastically, probably to the extent that we’ll say our old (current) way of life has ended. We will be shaken to our core, and we’ll likely have a new way of life that would be unfathomable to us today. But probably not in a matter of months.

    And still, your post about wanting more time but feeling that delay is only going to increase the pain, struck home with all I’ve been learning, processing, trying to put in a productive structure.

    You’re helping us *think* about things, so that we’re not just making lists and checking them off and looking over our shoulders.

    Tapping into where we are in our heads and hearts, the dailiness of that, probably often before we know that’s where we are, is a big part of that enabling comfort I mentioned. Thank you for that, and for your courage to write.

  5. homebrewlibrarianon 14 May 2009 at 3:21 pm

    @Heron - what you said :)

    Here in Alaska, it will take a bit longer for the other shoe to drop. With no manufacturing base to collapse and a small, widely dispersed population (660,000 pop.) that did not get caught up in the home buying binge of the last few years, our descent will be gradual. The state government budget is based on the price of a barrel of oil and as that lowers, we’ll see less and less services. Already there’s a hue and cry from taxpayers in Anchorage at the planned increase in property taxes. People seem to be incensed to pay more for less. I’m afraid it is the wave of the future…

    I, too, want a little more time. I want more time to learn what grows well here. I want more time to learn about fruit propagation and plant care. I want more time to plant edible perennials and have them become established. I want more time to talk with neighbors and develop better relationships. I want more time to make this building more insulated and less of a resource hog. I want more time to interact with others to help them learn to do more with less.

    I think I could get by if we fell into another Depression, but every day that the economy hangs on by its nails and I get a reprieve is a good day. I am mindful of the future but take joy in the gift of another day and another and so on.

    Gratuitous frivolity alert: My peas are up! WHEEEE!

    Kerri in AK

  6. Shirleyon 14 May 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Sharon, your thoughts echo my own in so many ways. I want more time for my boy, who’s just 6, so he can enjoy his childhood as much as possible. Yet at the same time, it’s draining and difficult to sit in the comfortable present and know there’s a very different, much rougher future awaiting. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop … month after month after month after month.

    The best way I can keep it in perspective is to borrow the very apt phrase from James Howard Kunstler and view this all as “The Long Emergency.” It’s like we’re experiencing a traffic accident happening in very slow motion: the bumper hasn’t crumpled yet, the airbags haven’t deployed, but we can see the guardrail approaching and know — when we do hit — that it’s going to hurt.

  7. Alisonon 14 May 2009 at 3:58 pm

    As so often, Sharon, you write on topics I think about a lot. I, too, want my children to mature a bit more before crisis hits - but then sometimes I think that younger children, assuming they have adequate nutrition, may adapt better than older children. I, too, am taking trips now to visit friends and family while I still can, worrying that I might not be able to further down the road. (And, since I haven’t told you yet, I was dismayed to learn how your April trip to your family got derailed - motherhood teaches nothing if not flexibility!)

    But what I really wanted to comment on in this post was this passage:

    “In the 1970s, when I was running around in pigtails, oblivious to the discussion, there was a great national discourse about the state of our ecology and resources. Nearly everything we know now, we knew then - that is, we knew in the 1970s that the oil would eventually run out, and indeed, many of the scenarios offered then have turned out to be surprisingly accurate. We knew by the late 1970s that Global Warming would be one of the great challenges of the 21st century. We knew that we were rapidly degrading our ecology. We knew it, and many courageous people tried very hard to push us to living our lives then as though these crises were immanent.”

    You know what I’m going to comment on, right? “We” didn’t know anything. You, as you say, were oblivious to the conversation. I, five years older than you, 13 years old when Ronald Reagan was elected, slightly younger when Jimmy Carter gave his so-called “crisis of confidence” speech, was equally oblivious. And I grew to adulthood, living my version of the American Dream, never giving my or anybody else’s energy consumption a single thought until I read Kunstler’s Long Emergency four years ago.

    You, very admirably, don’t seem to be interested in attributing blame here. But I continue to be stunned by the things I had no interest in learning and nobody tried to teach me. I will take primary responsibility for my own failing to educate myself, but I honestly didn’t know there was something I should be learning about. Why did my public school education in the 1970s and 1980s not include anything at all about the finite nature of resources, energy conservation, or ecology? Why did the prestigious university I attended not consider these topics worthy of inclusion in a core curriculum? Why have our political leaders not tried to LEAD on these vital issues? (Yes, I do know what happened to Jimmy Carter when he made some attempt in this direction, so I have my answer….)

    I’m now working my way through John Michael Greer’s suggested reading list, which he posted back in February. I’ve made it through his first three recommended texts - an ecology primer, The Limits to Growth, and Overshoot. I’ve also purchased some of the other titles, including Muddling Toward Frugality, and have skimmed intros. These 30 and 35 year old books routinely include language like, “of course, everybody today understands our energy predicament,” and I want to scream. Maybe “everybody” did know it back in the 70s (sitting in gas lines with my mother is among my earliest memories), but almost “everybody” forgot it very quickly. And most people under 45, maybe even 50, would have very few memories of that earlier conversation.

    Are we doing any better now? My third and first graders get a little bit of “reduce reuse and recycle” at school. I just attended a Brownie girl scout weekend camp with an environmental theme. Are the kids actually learning something? Very little, I think, especially when every other sign they get teaches the opposite. Brownies learn about “leaving no trace” while their troop leaders buy them new t-shirts, caps, glowsticks, knapsacks, and several bottles of water each for a 36-hour camping experience. School kids not only go through, what, maybe 2000 pieces of paper each in a school year (my firstgrader brings home an astonishing number of his writing pieces laminated - there’s a fine use for plastic! I’ve told a couple of the teachers I think we should bring back slates), but they also are routinely given water bottles, those littler rubber bracelet things, and any number of “incentive reward” junk. Let’s be charitable and say that the lesson of conservation doesn’t go very deep.

    Okay, my small comment turned into a major vent, so I guess I’ll stop. But my point would be that we need to make sure our children are taught better than we were. You are doing your part by showing us how to raise children in a low-energy, local environment.

  8. Sharonon 14 May 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Hi Heron - I may well get to be a writer for a while yet, although I keep thinking that I ought to start a fluffy romance novel or something - the books that sell well in tough times tend to be escapist, for obvious reasons ;-). But I appreciate the kind words.

    Alison, I know what you mean, I really do. I think our generation really didn’t know, and part of the problem is that knowing “in 30 years you’ll have to deal with this” is very different than knowing “you’ll have to do it now.” In a lot of ways I really admire people who were able to hold onto that concept for all those years, despite so much opposition. But yeah, we have to do better. I’m not sure we’ll really have much choice, either ;-).


  9. Jessicaon 14 May 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Heron, what ripped the bandaids off your eyes? If you don’t mind me asking?

    And Alison, I couldn’t agree more about the mixed messages and wastage at school!

  10. Stephen B.on 14 May 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Sharon, I too reacted as Alison did to your comments about knowing in the 1970s what the deal really was. Yeah, we knew. I’m 46 now. I was in 7th grade during the first gas line years. As a young reader, I eagerly devoured Popular Science Magazine throughout the 70s every month it arrived in my mailbox. It had many fine articles debunking how oil shale was going to save us, how solar cells worked, ditto passive solar heating, super insulation, wood stoves, wind energy, how to get by with less, etc., etc. They wrote a bit about Global Warming, though I read about that in other places too. Other avenues of learning were available to me as well. In elementary school, for example, *before* the first oil crisis, I remember sitting in Mrs. Reeves’ science class, watching movies on fossil fuels, where they had come from, how they powered and composed just about everything in my material life, in short how fossil fuels gave me so much more than my grandparents had grown up with 50 years previously, and then wondering, well, what happens when the oil “runs out”..?? Mrs. Reeves exposed us to all kinds of ecology and biology lessons. I got similar lessons questioning the sustainability the next year in my 6th grade class. Most all of the kids I knew went through these lessons. They read the same newspapers as me. They saw the gas lines and the discussions about oil as well as the militarization of the Middle East. Yes, we ALL knew, young and old what the deal was.

    Well then, what happened? Well, most people just blew off the lessons when the easier times returned in the 1980s (read: when Prudhoe Bay and the North Sea came on line.) We all went to college. People like my brother and sister started families, married nice folk, etc. Things seemed good. Heck, they WERE good, so all those inconvenient lessons about our impending sustainability problems were easily brushed aside as the ranting of a Jimmy Carter, or some Chicken Little.

    Even now, most of the people I know, who knew in the 70s of our impending problems, prefer denial. In my case, I never married, and thus had more time on my hands to study ecology and economics, to garden, to hike in national parks and forests, to trade stocks, to read the Internet when it came along, then to stumble across the website, buy The End of Suburbia video, read some Kunstler, Heinberg, ROE2, and Sharon Astyk, :-) and realize that my worse fears about the impossibility of the future as mainstream America was still conceiving it were, unfortunately, well-grounded fears and that I have to act, even if everybody else is still in a collective coma about it all.

    All in all, things have progressed pretty much as I thought they would over the past 35 years, except for one thing: the failure of society, via government, to come to grips with any of this. In fact, government’s ability of late to run hard in completely the WRONG direction via bailouts, more money for failed energy wars, etc. just has me flabbergasted.

    Still, we must go on, preparing, gardening, and re-localizing, in short, walking the talk because, really, what else is there to do?

  11. Moon 14 May 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I respect and absorb all that you write, and you present it so very eloquently.

    However, I see many changes for good taking place around me. I see ever increasing interest in issues of sustainability, I see and hear about lots of people wanting, and attempting to grow their own food, (even here in our “inhospitable” desert), and I see urban farming, including the raising of chickens, becoming not only acceptable here, but positively embraced by many.

    I believe that people really are beginning to think about all this stuff, and to really absorb the reality of what could be. Rather than fleeing from it, I think they are beginning to take it on, and make the necessary changes, (small perhaps, but significant nonetheless), to get to where we need to be.

    Two years ago when I went to a grocery store with cloth bags, I got strange looks from the cashiers. Now these very grocery stores are selling cloth bags. Yes, yes, I know this is merely the tip of the iceberg, (pardon the pun), but it is still progress, and I feel good about that, and many other things I see emerging around me.

    I choose to remain positive right now because that is all I can do, for my children, and for myself.

    I think that we will weather this storm, whatever it may bring, and that we will emerge stronger, wiser, more resilient, more tolerant of each other, and more respectful of our earth.

  12. olympiaon 14 May 2009 at 11:35 pm

    Great post, Sharon.
    In my own mind, I think it’s a matter of making peace, with all which we can’t change, while at the same time striving to change what we can. Really AA type advice, I know- but it works. The world is deeply confusing right now (not that it ever wasn’t), and all we can do is the best we can.

  13. KathyDon 15 May 2009 at 5:10 am

    Sharon and all,

    On my farm there is a very thin veil between me and family’s well being and survival. We live out on the wide open, windy prairie. Our water comes from a well and when the power is out, there is no water. Most of our food comes from our farm and from our neighbors farms. The trip from wheat seed to bread is long, hard work.

    I know. See. Live. close enough to the land to know how much knowledge, skill and work it is to keep a family functioning.

    Then I go to the large metro area for my work a few days every other week. There are so many levels of complexity and insulation around everyone that it feels unreal to me. There were about 40 highschool kids in Starbucks and eating at Chipotle when I grabbed my dinner yesterday. Is there a recession? How do these young kids have spending money for drinks and eating out? My friend’s apartment is a few floors up, above a parking lot, looking into the next apartment building. No soil to grow anything, no community of any sort. I look at those kids and my friend and think- how would you make it even a week without all these conveniences?

    When I am in the City I can see why people here roll their eyes at my concerns. Life is convenient, plentiful everything and there are no problems to think about solutions to. This is another world.

  14. Mark Non 15 May 2009 at 5:15 am

    Well said, Sharon. As the saying goes, time to do our best and “let the chips fall where they may”.

  15. Billon 15 May 2009 at 7:42 am

    Some folks “knew”, and many more did not, way back in the 60s and 70s, that the American Way of Life was a sham amd that, if allowed to continue, would only lead to a great (as Kunstler calls it) Clusterf**k. Well, the cluster is on, and here we are, wondering how things could have degnerated this far, this fast.

    I was one those who knew. Peak oil, climate change, food shortage and environmental degredation were seen as future certainites, not topics that needed debating. I’m also one of the ones who, for whatever reason, failed to sustain the vision. Pressures to support a growing family led me inevitably toward a more secure and lucrative career in nursing. Becoming more affluent then led to a change in lifestyle…and not for the better, as I view it in retrospect…as we moved from the farm.

    Today, retired and approaching age 65, I’m realizing that the visions of my early adulthood are beoming reality with a vengeance. I’ve moved to a very sustainable underground home, have plenty of water, etc. I’m prepping and stocking for what I think will be a very scary last segment of my life.

    My three children, all grown, educated and successful, however, don’t seem to have retained or adopted any of the lessons they learned as youngsters, when we lived on a small farm (80 acres), heated only with wood, used gravity-feed spring water, gardened intensively and, in general, tried hard to live sustainable lives. In the main, I think, they look back on those days as times of hardship and relative poverty. Materially, they’re much better off (incomes well into 6 figures), but I can’t help wondering if we’d all have been better off staying on the farm and putting up with some of those “hardships”. Intellectually, they can understand Peak Oil, etc, but I don’t think they pay it any more than a whispered lip service. Affluence and comfort are so alluring. I really don’t blame them, but I can’t help wishing it was different.

    So, yes, I do wish for more time. Not so much for myself as for my kids and grandkids. My advice, to those who are “aware”, is to focus on their children and an education in sustainable living. They may have more time than the more pessimistic of us oldsters believe. In that case, they’ll have a use for more life sustaining skills than they are apt to learn in a typical, urban or suburban classroom. As for my kids, I tend to believe that they see my rants about the future as a condemnation.

    Thanks Sharon, as always, for some great ideas.

  16. Alisonon 15 May 2009 at 10:03 am

    I appreciated both Stephen and Bill’s comments in particular. Bill, I gave a little sardonic chuckle at your comment, “As for my kids, I tend to believe that they see my rants about the future as a condemnation.” My parents, slightly older than you and busy leading lives of, in my opinion, extreme self-indulgence (mostly of the globetrotting sort), would merely substitute the words “daughter” and “she” for “kids” and “they” in your sentence. I try not to be too judgmental (yes, I know the preceding sentence sounds extremely judgmental, but I mostly succeed in keeping that part of my opinions to myself) - most people don’t “get it.” And if my parents ever do, it will be because circumstances have forced them to get it very late in life.

    Stephen, I think it’s great that you connected some of the dots way back when. (I wasn’t clear if you figured out the “what about when the oil runs out” part on your own, or if Mrs. Reeves helped you ask the question.) I do remember, at least vaguely, some of the fossil films movies you refer to (they seemed like ancient movies even when we saw them, didn’t they? and I can still hear the voice of that narrator from all those videos in my head). But I don’t have any memory whatsoever of any teacher ever trying to connect the dots between resource scarcity, how we choose to live our lives, and how we may be forced to change the way we live our lives. Perhaps I’m misremembering, but I don’t think so. Again, I can take responsibility for never asking myself the question, but I can also be dismayed that nobody - parent, teacher, political leader - ever tried to get me to do it.

    And just to lavish praise on Sharon again for her constant restraint from condemning those who do less to prepare for a changed lifestyle, I’d like to acknowledge what I see as one of my own greatest failings. I “get it,” but I have yet to make dramatic changes in the way my family lives. Of course I have any number of excuses, of greater or lesser weight, for my failure to do so. But who is exhibiting the greater failure, my parents and the millions like them who don’t know there is anything wrong with the way they live, or those like me, who understand but fail to act?

    (Don’t worry, I don’t go around self-flagellating all day - I just think it’s important for me, and others like me, to be honest with ourselves.)

  17. nikaon 15 May 2009 at 11:43 am

    The feeling of terrified expectation and the “tear the bandaid off already” feeling speaks to me of ferment.

    I just saw Sandor Allix Katz speak and I am fermenting saurkraut and sourdough starters, my kitchen is alive and moving toward a future of living foods.

    Meanwhile, this terrified ferment isn’t so productive, me thinks. If you have a home, have a job, have a plan, you are sitting pretty and really should be pushing for more (you all are) while also doing the hard work of releasing attachment to the society and way of life that is passing away before us.

    I do not feel this ferment, or malaise. I feel active terror and am running scared. Its all VERY real and happening now for us. Both my husband and I are long term unemployed now. We are like a LOT of american middle class right now, riding the unemployment benefits, getting enormously atrocious results in our job hunt (am white collar/technical/scientific, pretty sucky) and the benefit period is running out.

    If you feel like this collapse is sort of academic right now, perhaps it might help if you took a look around your city and found the closest bushville where people land when they fall through the cracks. If you live in a region without such, yet, take a peek on YouTube and search for bushville or tent city. Not academic.

    I am like Alison, my mom is in total denial and is spending down our inheritance (which I always assumed she would do, I just wish she would open her eyes). She used to assume that the money my dad left her would do well in the stock market and thus be her retirement - she has lost it all (paper loss, I tell her, to be kind, sort of, but we here know its likely locked in)

    My elderly grandma, on SS and Medicare, etc, lives with her now. They will both be utterly gutted when Medicare (and SS?) is DOA in 8 years (or less).

    My mom always jokes that if the shit hits the fan, she can come here. I grimace and this really repulses me because we are holding on by the barest of skin without even the least bit of concern or support on her part. She, a baby boomer, still seems to think that the job market supports, well, jobs for one, and living wage jobs for another. I have NEVER had a 401K or other retirement account, could never afford to do that. I have always had student debt to deal with (she never did) and then a family and a house, etc, on one (not two) substandard income - we have ALWAYS figured that we will never be able to retire. Her life is orthoganol to that. I NEVER used to have this anger toward her and baby boomers in general but now, as i watch everything melt and then this whole crap meme about green shoots and recovery, the anger builds more.

    Thank goodness i have our homestead to distract me. We just finished kidding season a few weeks ago and now with 7 goats in milk we have invested in a milking machine. Need to figure it out today. details on our homestead at

    I am also now the community garden lady in our town, getting it launched - this will be my way of getting our transition going. Much to do!

    For me, doing is much better than fretting.

  18. Jerryon 15 May 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I really don’t know what the future will bring but I know it is not looking to well. I had a conversation with a engineer at E.B. the place that builds nuclear subs in our area. He said that their now getting money to design a new boomer class that won’t be launched until 2027. I wanted to tell him it will never happen but I didn’t. People are so clueless as to the hardships we are going to face in the future.

    The problem is I have already worked hard my whole life milking and tending for fifty cows and I have done it for 37 years. I know what work is all about and a future of even more work scares me. I am also hopeful that my son who is 17 will have a few years of enjoyment without having to jump right in and wear his body out prematurely like that which has happened to me. I do have a skill that will be needed in the future. I do know how to take care of animals and can solve problems that arise in the everyday running of a family farm.

  19. Lori Scotton 18 May 2009 at 12:37 am

    Don’t be sad for the kids - they will adjust admirably because that is what youth does for you. And even if your grown up children have moved away from the ideals and lessons of a simpler life, they still retain the vision and the skills they have witnessed. They can reclaim this quickly if needed.

    Water rises to its own level as do people’s skills and dreams when the need arises. Some people are copers and some will always be lost, no matter what society does to them or for them. The only thing that a strong economy does is give us the breathing space to treasure and help those who are less able to make their own way in the world.

  20. […] Beggars Would Ride by Sharon Astyk […]

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