“Collapse” & Sustainability

Recently, I watched the documentary Collapse on NetFlix.

The film is presented as an interview with a man named Michael C. Ruppert, who was initially approached by the filmmakers due to his connection to CIA drug-dealing in Los Angeles during the late 1970s (Ruppert claims that while working as a detective, he was solicited by his fiancée – who was, apparently, an undercover agent – to help the Agency sell drugs in South Central L.A.; Ruppert states that he refused and then went on to alert whatever authorities would deign listen to him), but was more interested in talking about “peak oil”.

Peak Oil” is, simply put, all about our industrial civilization being eminently screwed.

Like any finite resource, petroleum will eventually be used up and that spells Very Bad Things™ for us since everything from pesticides to plastics, from tires to candle-wax use petroleum in some way, shape, or form. Ruppert argues (and he’s not alone) that the increasing trend of oil companies drilling in high-risk, high-cost areas like coastal and off-shore areas portends that we’re either coming close the point of peak oil production or that we’ve recently passed it and are now on the downward slope toward astronomically-high oil prices as petroleum becomes more and more rare, and more and more costly to get.

One point that Ruppert mentions in the film is that Saudi Arabia sits atop one of the largest oil fields known, but the kingdom has been increasingly setting up off-shore drilling rigs, which suggests that even they are coming close to tapping-out their known reserves.

Now, while Ruppert uses the documentary to explain his theories showing that “peak oil” explains a lot of geopolitical chicanery of the past few years (e.g. – the Iraq War, increasing unrest around the world, etc.), he also mentions that people shouldn’t panic over the possibility over a likely collapse of industrial civilization sometime in the foreseeable future. He doesn’t advocate hoarding food or heading for the hills, but instead, he counsels sustainable living practices. Using Cuba and North Korea as examples (since they both experienced petroleum shortages with the collapse of the Soviet Union), he makes the point that centrally-controlled Korea pretty starved while Cuba, which exhorted its citizens to farm every piece of arable land that they could find (even growing gardens on roof-tops), fared considerably better

And, really, when it comes down to it – whether or not we’re on an express-train to industrial collapse, we as global community of individuals need to do this. Whether or not we run out of petroleum in the next few decades, we’re killing this planet – our only life-support system (to put it very basely and in utilitarian terms) – with the popular Western/American lifestyle of rampant consumption and an economy of infinite growth. So, being the pragmatic man that I like to think that I am (keeping in mind the maxim of “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”), I began doing a bit more research into sustainable living practices that urbanites can do.

  • Exercise more: if you can help it, walk or bike instead of driving. Primarily, you’ll be cutting down on pollutive chemicals in the atmosphere, but you’ll also be using that physical body of yours (you only have it for a certain amount of time, after all); and if/once gas starts hitting $4 or $5 a gallon, it’ll be an important economic factor, as well.
  • You are what you eat: if you can, buy more verifiable organic foods – meats (especially lean meats, they’re better for you, honestly), vegetables, etc. A lot of neighborhoods and communities have periodic farmer’s markets (I know of at least one that happens here in urban Columbus), buying groceries at those not only can garner you quality foodstuffs, but you’ll also be supporting actual farmers instead of government-subsidized agro-corporations (e.g. – Monsanto, etc.).
  • If you could talk with the animals…: urban homesteading is a great idea if you have the space available for it (as in, if you have a house and not an apartment in a block); raising bees, chickens, goats – along with gardening and raising your own fruits and vegetables – will not only help you get back into the natural rhythms of the planet (what with the different life-cycles of different animals and plants) but you’ll also be sure what is in the food that you eat and have the satisfaction of being relatively self-sufficient.
  • Turn out the lights: saving electricity is always a good thing, plus, there’s evidence that electric lights after dark interfere with (though, not in any overtly harmful way) our natural sleep patterns. Luckily, it’s not hard to make an oil lamp using olive oil, which can not only be nice for a romantic evening, but can also be relatively cheap, Green, and give you a sense of how your ancient ancestors enjoyed quiet nights at home.
  • “If it bleeds, we can kill it”: though there are a lot of urbanites nowadays who don’t like the idea, knowing how to hunt is a good thing, especially with primitive tools (e.g. – recurve and non-compound bows, etc.). Plus, seeing the animal that you’ll eventually be eating and having a hand in ending its life can make you respect the processes of life and death a helluva lot more.
  • Making instead of Consuming: learn a productive hobby like furniture-making or candle-making or metal-working or book-binding. Not only could it be useful should industrial civilization collapse (such as learning how to build and operate a heliograph for long-distance communication), it can also be a great creative outlet.
  • Build for permanence: There are dozens if not hundreds of sustainable building techniques out there, from straw-bale to rammed-earth; using these methods when building your house, storefront (less likely, but still worth a shot), or backyard shed are good ways of creating a building that takes advantage of millennia of practical human knowledge of how to build things that last.
  • Off the Grid: wind-power, solar-power, and old-school hydro-power (attaching electro-magnets to a water-wheel) are great alternatives for withdrawing individual reliance on fossil-fuel energy-grids.

But, let’s suppose that we’re not as far up Shit Creek (and with a paddle!) as people like Ruppert might fear. We’ll eventually run out of petroleum, all the alternative energies (even something as awesome as space-based solar-power) in the world can’t change that. Now, it’s possible that new metallurgical methods could have us replacing plastic with metals, but that could be unrealistically costly and possibly not applicable to small-scale, domestic uses of plastics (e.g. – forks, bags, etc.). Of course, if we were able to artificially produce petroleum – such as the people as LS9, Inc. are attempting to do – on an industrial-scale we might fare a little better; but that doesn’t help us with the fact that we consume too much already and we need to wean ourselves off.

Should LS9, Inc. find a way to economically produce industrial-scale amounts of petroleum from bacteria, hopefully it will be used as a stop-gap solution to getting us off fossil-fuels altogether. But, given our society’s penchant for laziness and taking the path of least-resistance, I can only realistically seeing us trading one drug-dealer (naturally-produced petroleum) for another (artificially-produced petroleum).

The need for sustainable-living is a pressing one no matter what happens. So, even if Ruppert and others are no more than Chicken Little losing its head over the sky falling, perhaps it would be wise to just play along and act as if it were.


Sustainable Sources


Blue Rock Station

Green Home Building.com

Stratford Ecological Center


~ by crow365 on March 9, 2011.

One Response to ““Collapse” & Sustainability”

  1. […] with the last entry, at one point during the documentary Collapse, the unseen interviewer asks Michael C. Ruppert about […]

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