Motivation, Part One
In the words of great actors everywhere, "What's my motivation?"
In this context, I mean, what's the motivation for all of this radical, back-to-the-land, sustainability crazy talk? Why are you planting fruit trees, burning corn for heat, raising goats, tending a garden, researching solar panels and wind turbines? Haven't you ever heard of Walmart?!
The answer is complex. For one, it's a good life. I love it more than I even thought I would. For another, it seems like a Good Thing. A typical modern life is full of waste, environmental impact, and poor quality. Have you bought a tomato at the grocery store lately? Or a strawberry, or a peach, or an apple? Have you been to the doctor's office? Have you taken a deep breath, downtown, during rush hour?
It's also a life that is dependent on a great many things. Our great-grandarents would be astonished at how much we don't know how to do for ourselves.
When people wax poetic about the American Spirit of Independence, sometimes they seem to be speaking a different language... They keep on using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means... To me, independence is more personal. I like the idea of not having to rely on the nearest retail district for every single thing that I need in life.
But the newest motivator for me, the one that has pushed me to do more sooner, is something called Hubbert's Peak.
Now, I love a good doomsday story as much as I love a good conspiracy theory. You know those shows they have on the Discovery Channel or from time to time, or on science programs like Nova, where they talk about the super-volcano under Yellowstone, or an asteroid hitting the earth, or the Canary Islands crashing into the sea and sending a mega-tsunami toward the east coast of the US? I find those interesting. I don't find them particularly scary, because in real terms, the probability is low that they'll show up in my lifetime, and if they did, there wouldn't be much for me to do about them anyway. But I ran across a scenario recently that seemed a little too convincing, and a little too imminent for me to just write it off.
If you don't like even those kind of stories, you might want to stop reading now. I've debated about whether to bring this up here, because it's scary, and depressing, and it made me lose sleep when I first read about it. It passes.
It may also make some of you think I'm a crackpot. I'd be the happiest guy around if that's true.
Here's a question: Say you had an astronomer friend - someone you trust. What if this friend told you that there was an asteroid with a pretty high probablility of hitting Earth. Maybe not one big enough to wipe out the entire planet, but big enough to cause widespread problems and really shake up the world. Say it was due to arrive sometime in the next 5-10 years. Would you tell anyone? Family? Friends? Co-workers? Strangers? Would you chip in to try to find a way to stop it?
There's no asteroid. At least, not that anybody's told me about. Of course, I don't have any astonomer friends...
However, we may have a serious problem heading our way. It seems there's a lynch pin that holds our economy together. Really, it holds our way of life together: Petroleum. Oil. Black gold. Texas Tea.
All our lives, experts have talked about how there's 50 years' worth of oil left in the world. It's always 50 more years. I think they still quote that number. There is something mildly scary about that number, especially if you have kids.
But the real problem isn't running out of oil. The problem is running out of cheap oil.
Hubbert's Peak is a term that is named for a geologist who worked for Shell Oil. He figured out that the amount of oil extracted from a well follows a bell curve. It increases over time until it reaches a peak, and then decreases over time at a similar rate. He realized that this applied not just to a single well, but to all wells collectively. He predicted the peak for production from US oil wells would occur in 1970, and was right on target. He predicted a global peak in the year 2000. He missed that mark, probably because of the political crises of the 1970's that caused a big drop in consumption for several years.
Now here we are in 2006. There are a number of signs that we may be at or near the top of that bell curve. Not to mention the fact that we rely on one of the most unstable, anti-Western regions of the world for this lifeblood of our lifestyle.
I'll save the details for my next post, but let me end with a scary illustration. Below is a graph of the amount of oil discovered each year, minus the amount of oil used, since 1965: