My grandfather rode on a camel, my father rode in a car, I ride in a jet, my children will ride in cars, my grandchildren will ride on camels
-Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum

A while back I wrote a post briefly touching on my motivations for seeking out new and more sustainable ways to live here in the suburbs. I’ve decided to write a series of posts devoted to each particular issue to outline what it is, why it concerns me, and the things I am doing as a result. Up first: Peak Oil.

Peak oil is most commonly defined as the point at which petroleum extraction is maximized, though it is frequently confused with petroleum depletion, which would be the point at which we run out of oil. Peak oil is an economic rather than environmental issue. If the level of extraction peaks and declines, or even plateaus, but demand continues to increase, it is possible that there will not be enough of this resource to go around, and the price will increase and impact everyone’s bottom line. To put it really simply: peak oil does not mean running out of oil, it means running out of cheap oil.

I was going to go into a lot more detail, but really, I’m not an expert, just a concerned suburban tomboy. If you want to do more learning on Peak Oil, I suggest starting out with these:

Check these out if you have some time and draw your won conclusions on the issue. I have done a fair amount of reading on the subject and reached a few conclusions for myself:

  • There is cause for concern, though I’m not in panic mode just yet. It does look likely that petroleum prices are going to continue to rise and become a major financial concern, especially for those of us who live in suburban and rural areas.
  • The human race is waaaaaaay too reliant on fossil fuels, and that’s not a good thing at all. We use the stuff for far more than just fuel: it produces fertilizers, pesticides, packaging, clothing, etc. We need to diversify our energy and materials portfolio pronto.
  • Rather than just sitting around and waiting for a new technology to emerge to save my butt, I’ve decided to take some preliminary steps top reduce the Homestead’s reliance on various unsustainable energy sources, which includes petroleum.
  • I just don’t like James Howard Knustler at all, and his unrestrained glee while discussing the possible end to the American Dream is unsettling to say the least. James, schadenfreude is ugly to display when you’re talking about the end of someone’s way of life, so knock it off. That said, he does make some interesting points worth consideration–I just hate how smug he is while making them.

So it seems to me that reducing petroleum use by choice now before the crunch is good financial sense, as well as being good for the environment–which is two types of green bonus rolled together. Reducing petroleum usage is actually quite difficult for the average family, but you can make a dent with a little thought and planning. Here are some examples of the steps we’re taking to reduce our consumption of petroleum and other fossil fuels here at the Homestead:

  • We replaced two cars with more fuel-efficient models, and that has at least helped us as gas prices have gone up. Just yesterday I filled my tank for about $30, which will get me 400 miles, and was interested to see that the vehicle before me had spent $69.00 to fill their much larger tank!
  • We have reduced our overall driving by planning trips to be efficient combinations of errands, shopping close to home as much as possible, and spending our recreation time at home close to the Homestead at mainly walkable destinations.
  • Hubby takes a commuter train to work, and I do as much work as possible from my home office.
  • We participate in the NJ CleanPower Choice program, so that we pay for electricity that is generated by wind and small hydro. This costs a little more each month, but I consider it an investment in cleaner tech. Besides, we’re doing other things to cut our electricity bill, such as line drying the clothing, replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL’s, and keeping all lights off unless really needed.
  • Our produce, when not grown at the Homestead, is primarily locally grown and/or organic. The Homegrown stuff is fertilized with our own compost or all natural worm poop from Terracycle, is packaged in repurposed soda bottles.
  • We have dramatically reduced our overall consumption of stuff, which reduces the use of fuel to make and transport all that stuff from the places it’s made (mainly overseas) to the places we shop.

Of course, all that is really small change compared to the changes we’ll be forced make after oil peaks. Many of the changes will need to be at the community and regional levels, and simply can’t be done by one family alone. At least my family will be mentally prepared for those changes! The priorities of transportation and land use planning need to be changed to value human powered transport above petroleum, and mass transit above individual cars. Our consumption of food, clothing and stuff produced far away will have to be reduced, and we will need to produce more of what we need locally.

There is a grassroots movement called Transition Towns started in Britain that seeks to prepare communities for life after oil. There is a US branch of the movement, but nothing yet in my state. These Transition Town initiaves work to make local communities more self sufficient and self reliant, which blends with my own personal ideals regardless of peak oil.  Even if oil never does reach economically catastrphic prices, using less of it still has financial and environmental benefits for my family and my community.