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 Preparation
  • You may subscribe to our PeakOilPreparation Yahoo! newsgroup by clicking here.

  • Read the story of how one Austin woman is preparing her family for Peak Oil. (Feb '05)

  • Read an article about a Portland man that realized what is happening, and what he has to do. (Feb '06)

So, what should We do now?

This is a critically important question, and there are a variety of answers. We must all do our part as citizens and also persuade government and industry to begin to prepare for these changing times in an energy constrained future. Nothing is more critically important than being prepared for the changes that lie ahead.  Because our lifestyles are so dependent upon fossil fuels as a foundation for existence, it's not easy to realize the many impacts that shortages could bring.  

Local and personal sustainability is going to be the key success factor in weathering the challenges.  What do WE need to do as a community?  What should YOU do to prepare yourselves and your families?  The most significant impact is going to be the changes we experience.  And adapting to change takes enormous amounts of time.  Those who are prepared for the new lifestyle before it happens will be far better off than those who don't prepare and are  unaccustomed to the new requirements of life.  (Remember the catastrophic confusion in New Orleans?) The sooner you start, the better off you will be.  Waiting for a crisis to occur and then figuring out how to adapt just isn't a wise approach.

What should Austin be considering now?

There are literally thousands of changes that will be needed in our community to both extend our runway of time to convert to new sources of energy and prepare ourselves for the future economy.  The following list includes a few first steps:

  • Start by establishing a Citizens Advisory Board to assess energy threats, identify sustainability needs, and recommend action plans to the city.
  • Begin to substantially relocalize the economy to redirect locally expended economic resources back into the local economy, rather than importing goods and services
  • Expand and promote existing local coops to support larger memberships and expanded goods and services.  Initiate new local coops for goods, services, and transportation
  • Dramatically reduce spending and development on roads
  • Establish HOV lanes for every public street with four lanes or more 
  • Dramatically increase spending on mass transit, including light rail, and provide incentives for citizens to use it heavily
  • Design and develop a local rail freight depot and ask businesses to request freight by rail instead of by overland truck or air (In the U.S., freight rail carries 27.8% of the ton-miles at 220,000 barrels/day while trucks carry 32.1% of the freight miles with 2.07 million barrels/day [all 2002 data.] Light commercial trucks consume another 300,000 barrels/day. This makes railroads more than eight times more fuel-efficient, as well as more labor-efficient than trucking.)
  • Aggressively transition government and industry transportation fleets to plug-in hybrid vehicles as soon as possible
  • Aggressively begin to deploy plug-in hybrid infrastructure throughout our city, on streets and in public parking areas (electrical parking meters for recharging of vehicle batteries)
  • Encourage and provide incentives to utilize alternative transportation systems to reduce private passenger car use
  • Convert all school buses to renewable fuels and start using them during "off" periods to expand the mass transit system
  • Transition all street lighting and signals to solar or other renewable energy sources
  • Design future growth with a focus on high-density neighborhoods designed to support compact walking communities, and connected to other areas via exclusive mass transit, walking path, and bicycle trail corridors
  • Minimize urban growth and sprawl
  • Mandate by code one or more large community gardens within each neighborhood and/or subdivision with plots for lease by residents.  Convert city-owned arable land to community agriculture.
  • Support and expand local agriculture -- protect valuable local arable land that is suitable for agriculture from being paved over or built upon
  • Support and expand more local industries to produce more goods and services at the local level
  • Provide local businesses with incentives to expand, to develop local markets and local employment 
  • Methodically begin to replace imports of food, water, goods and services, and energy with locally supplied/produced resources.
  • Decentralize energy generation by dramatically increasing incentives for grid-intertie systems for both residential and business users who generate power via solar or other renewable energy methods.
  • Initiate a massive rooftop solar initiative for homes, businesses and parking lots across the region for both energy production and hot water.
  • Dramatically expand the Austin Energy GreenChoice program and other energy efficiency programs
  • Provide incentives for local businesses to support telecommuting, 4-day work-weeks, and flexible work hours to reduce commuting.
  • Consider four-day school weeks with hours that more closely represent adult work hours so that parents can incorporate delivery or pickup of their school children while on their way to or from work.
  • Above all, educate our citizens about coming energy shortages, risk mitigation strategies, and provide meaningful incentives to increase energy efficiencies and dramatically reduce local fuel consumption

What should individuals and families be considering now?

The following suggestions are offered to create awareness, and to start transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle for yourself and your family, ...now.  Above all, individuals and families must prepare themselves to live with unexpected severe shortages of goods, services, and energy caused either by sudden fuel shortages, or astronomical fuel costs.

  • Reduce your dependency on the infrastructures that we currently take for granted.  Learn to live without them to the extent possible.

    "Infrastructure" means any tangible resource that is supplied from a central community service: electricity, water, gas, shipping and transportation, electronic communication, and supplies may be vulnerable to sudden fossil fuel shortages or price spikes.  Currently more than 50% of the electricity generated in Texas is provided by Natural Gas, a fossil fuel that is now becoming much harder to obtain.  Most of the rest comes from coal. Reducing your energy requirements will help extend the runway of available fossil fuels to buy badly needed time for replacement systems to be deployed, and it will save you money.  

  • Make a difference by changing your habits

    Changing your light bulbs to compact fluorescents, for example, will reduce your electric bill .  Even small changes can make big differences; over the lifetime of each new CF bulb you will save the energy equivalent of 500 pounds of coal as compared to incandescent lighting.  A single 100-watt bulb replaced with a 25-watt screw-in compact fluorescent can save you as much as $75 on your power bill over the life of that bulb. If you are off-grid, it can save you up to $400 in photovoltaic's.  A typical compact fluorescent replacement for a 300-watt halogen light will save approximately $20 per year if used 3 hours per day on average.  

    Increasing the insulation in your home and using manual machinery instead of electric or gas-powered devices will reduce energy consumption and costs as well.  Visit the hardware store. Buy a water-heater blanket, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and compact fluorescents, as needed.  Low-flow shower heads reduce the water bill and consumption so that city pump demand is reduced.  How much electricity can be saved through efficient use? Most existing houses can be modified to cut their electricity use by half, repaying the retrofitting costs in a few years, and with minimal effort.  Planting shrubs, bushes, and vines next to your house creates dead air spaces that insulate your home in both winter and summer. Plant so there will be at least 1 foot (30 centimeters) of space between full-grown plants and your home's wall.  

  • No-cost changes everyone should make:

    • Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. 
    • Set your winter thermostat to 68 degrees when home and set back to 60 degrees while sleeping or away from home for more than four hours.  In summer, set it to 78 degrees when home and 85 degrees when away.  Austin Energy offers a free programmable thermostat program.
    • Open window coverings (drapes) on the sunny side of your home to take advantage of the sun. Then close the drapes as the sun goes down.
    • Use the power management features on your computer instead of screen-savers!  With power management, monitors power down to 30 watts or less of electricity; screen savers operate monitors at 60 to 120 watts. 
    • Throw open the windows and let the fresh air condition the house as much as possible.  Open them on two sides of the house to create a breeze.
    • Set your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees or lower.
    • If you have a waterbed, make it every morning.  heavier covers will insulate it when not in use and save up to 1/3 on the energy used to heat the water.
    • Keep your freezer as full as possible. Use plastic bottles three-quarters full of water to fill in the empty spaces.
    • Make sure food is cool and covered before it goes into the refrigerator.
    • Only run full loads in your washer and dryer and dishwasher, and on low temperature settings.
    • Vacuum your refrigerator coils and keep lights and lighting fixtures clean.
    • Unplug your televisions/DVD player/VCR when you're on vacation; better yet do it every time you are not using them. So what if it takes an extra 2 seconds to re-power it up when you turn it back on?  Most powerstrips have an on/off switch to make it easy.
  • Reduce your dependency on the automobile for transportation.  

    Carpool, walk, ride your bike, use the bus, ride a scooter.  Campaign for dramatic increases in public transportation.  Light rail is a far more energy efficient means of transportation than the several thousand cars and SUV's such services ultimately replace.  If you must use your personal automobile or truck, don't travel during peak traffic periods, and consolidate your trips to reduce fuel consumption.  Telecommute if possible.  Ask your employer if they would consider a 4-day work week at 10 hours per day instead of a five-day work week.  Ask if they will support flexible hours so you aren't driving during rush hour.  Move closer to work or work closer to home.  If you own any vehicle that gets less than 20 miles per gallon, it is time to trade it in on a far more economical means of transportation -- now, before such vehicles become too expensive.  Driving urban assault vehicles or other large vehicles to jet around town, especially with just one occupant, is a very blatant example of conspicuous consumption of valuable (and depleting) natural resources.

  • Reduce your dependency on imported (non-local) goods and services.

    It is now said that the average food item travels more than 1500 miles before it ends up on your kitchen table.  Think about the source of your food purchases; name-brand prepared foods, cereals, chips and sauces, seafood, fresh produce that is "out-of-season", and so on.  Each consumed product or service that comes from outside the local area creates two significant problems: First is the fuel needed to transport those goods, and the second is that your personal income is being exported to other communities for their use, instead of keeping it local to be used to help make your own community sustainable.  

    For example, if you pay $5 for a quart of strawberries from New Zealand, your money is going to new Zealand, and all those points in between for the transportation companies and fuel providers.  If you pay $5 for a quart of  strawberries from your local area, that money is kept in the area and reused locally at least once, perhaps numerous times.  Think of the difference 100,000 quarts of strawberries would make over one season (see this article from the Boulder, CO Business Alliance about shopping locally.) Local spending creates an exponential increase in the value of the local economy and reduces dependency on outside suppliers.  A great trend is to buy from your local farmers markets or joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program.  Community Supported Agriculture arrangements are sort of like cooperatives -- you buy one or more shares and the organic farm then supplies you with fresh produce at periodic times -- sometimes every week, sometimes once a month, usually seasonally, and so on.  Most CSA's offer organic foods.

  • Prepare yourself and your family to weather unexpected shortages.

Shortages can take many forms and folks usually don't know about them until it's too late.  Gasoline shortages are easy to imagine.  But what happens if the local grocery store supply companies can't get enough fuel to power their delivery trucks, or can't afford it? Nobody is going to pay $8 for a single head of lettuce, unless that's the only source of lettuce. The grocery stores in America only stock, on average, a three-day supply of goods. If a city hosts one million residents, that's three million meals per day that need to be supplied somehow.  

Protect your family against shortages by stocking bulk dry goods like rice, beans, wheat, flour, sugar, powdered milk, frequently used spices, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and so on.  A half-years' supply would be a good start and doesn't take up too much room in the garage or pantry.  Bulk foods can be stored in sealed 5-gallon buckets to assure freshness.  Make sure these foods are adequately sealed and protected from moisture and insects to prevent spoilage.  Become accustomed to rotating these supplies -- use the oldest first and restock the supply when that first container runs empty.  It's actually cheaper to buy in bulk.  

Do you know how to make bread or tortillas?...Preserve food?...What about stocking supplies of first aid items or medicines (watch those expiration dates)?  Toothbrushes and razors?  Soaps and cleansers?  Reusable storage containers?  Rechargeable batteries (you can save up to $1500 per set of batteries if you continually recharge them!)   How about a supply of Sterno fuel to accommodate heating of food during unexpected brown-outs? What do you typically need to restock in your home regularly, and which of those items can you really live without in the event of an unexpected supply shortage?   Could you start doing without some of those items now to immunize your family from the challenges posed by unexpected shortages in the future?  

  •  Plant an edible yard and a backyard garden.

    Fresh vegetables will be worth their price in gold if trucks can't get to the stores.  A home vegetable garden may not provide for all of your food needs but having fresh pole beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes and herbs available certainly can't hurt.  Study bio-intensive organic gardening techniques -- a way of dramatically increasing the yields from your backyard garden.  Plant vegetables as landscaping features; a bed of cabbages, onions, broccoli and carrots for example, or corn stalks as a privacy screen, or a pole bean teepee.  How about landscaping mounds for potatoes or squash or watermelons?  Create a fruit-bearing hedge of grapes, or a closely pruned hedge combination of peaches, apricots, pears, and figs.  Berries add a nice touch to breakfasts and deserts.  And don't forget to learn how to save seeds for the next season -- use only non-genetically modified (non-GMO), cross-pollinating, or heirloom seeds -- and create compost out of your kitchen and yard waste.  Use drip irrigation to save water.  

    The local agricultural extension service is a good resource for home gardeners.  Basic garden tools include a spade, fork, u-bar, hoes and weeding apparatus, garden shears and scissors, a compost pile, and the book, "How To Grow more Vegetables" by John Jeavons -- describing biointensive approaches to vegetable gardening.

  • Learn to make simple repairs around your home.

    You can learn a large number of home repair skills at free classes offered on Saturday's by Home Depot and Loews and dozens of other locations.  Can you repair a break in a water line?  Repair weather-stripping? Install or repair rain gutters?  Repair a tile floor?  Learning to handle these skills with manual tools could be a real security issue, not to mention a potential source of future income.  It would certainly be a good idea to have a well stocked tool box on hand as well.  Basic house tools include various screwdrivers, a claw hammer, adjustable wrenches, various pliers, a basic hand saw, a hand-drill with bits, a heavy-duty pair of scissors, lots of duct tape, rope, cordage, twine, and a spool of wire.  And, re-use and recycle by shopping at the Austin RE-store - a building materials recycling center. See www.re-store.com.

  • Get to know your neighbors and become good friends.

Close groups of friends and neighbors, especially in a crisis, tend to be far more helpful to each other than strangers.  You never know when that help could mean the difference between success or distress.  It is generally unrealistic to assume any individual or family can become skilled in every vocation needed to be completely self sufficient.  Getting to know your neighbors helps you to find out what they know how to do.  Exchange your services.  Pool your resources.

 

The following list provides some examples of a low-energy way of living:

  • Clotheslines replace dryers
  • Flash, solar, or geothermal water heaters reduce natural gas or electricity use for heating water (Electric water heaters use the most energy.)
  • Using cold water for dishwashing, clothes washing, showering, etc. reduces the need to heat water
  • Rooftop water collectors and cisterns replace city water, at least for gardening and non-potable household chores.
  • Thick-walled, efficient refrigerators and freezers replace conventional appliances.  (Chest type refrigerators and freezers are far more energy efficient because the cold air doesn't "fall out the door" every time you open it.)
  • Canning and drying to reduce requirements for freezing of food or buying from afar
  • Thick-wall construction of houses and heavy attic insulation reduces heating and cooling requirements
  • Triple-paned windows with covers (drapes) reduces heat and A/C energy use
  • Solar screens can block 50-70% of heat entering through windows.
  • Passive solar and thermal storage reduce heater/air conditioning need
  • Single-source heaters replace central heating; and why not close those HVAC vents in unused rooms?  (Most European homes do not heat or cool the bathroom.)
  • Geothermal heat pump kits replace electric heat pumps and gas furnaces reducing energy use by up to two thirds.
  • Compact fluorescents replace incandescent light bulbs and dramatically reduce electricity use.  Contact your neighbors and buy in bulk for discounts.  Ask Austin Energy for discount coupons.  
  • Hand tools replace electric tools mixers, dicers, cutters, vacuums, grinders, lawnmowers, weed eaters, etc.
  • Composting toilets and earth toilets reduce water use, reduce soil nutrient loss, and provide fertilizer.
  • The mantra, "Stewards of the earth" replaces "Cleanliness is next to godliness."

 

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