Thursday, December 30, 2010

Living in the north post-oil

Before Cheap Oil, chop wood, carry water. After Cheap Oil, chop wood, carry water.

I was reading a post from December 14th on Chip Haynes' Peak of the Devil, and I laughed out loud at part of his post:
Lacking power and heat, I would expect Canada to be emptied out in fairly short order — and I wouldn’t blame them one bit. It gets cold up there, I hear.
 Chip was shivering away with temperatures "in the 30s", looking forward to the temperatures returning to the 70s (which I assume has already happened). Now, I'm more used to Celsius than Fahrenheit, so I had to look that up. 30-39F is a range from -1C to 4C. That's not cold, Chip! :D 70s? That's warm summer days. When it's 70F outside, we're at the beach in our swimsuits, trying to cool off. For that matter, until it gets down to about 50F, you'll find people at the beaches and waterparks.

Now, Chip and I had an interesting conversation in his comments and he admitted that people thrive best where they're acclimatized, at least if they're living in a place where people thrived pre-oil. Still, interesting thoughts were raised.

Can we survive Canadian winters without oil or natural gas?

The simple answer is "Of course we can." That must be expanded upon, though, because not everyone will be able to. I read in a forum that some people expect a "No more oil" SHTF situation to cause a 10-50% die-off rate, especially in the cities, and I think it's accurate. We can't predict how many people will die off, but many will. First, anyone attempting to live without shelter will not last long. Second, there are people with medical conditions who would find it difficult to survive a winter without modern fuel. Historically, the elderly and the ill often died during the cold months.

Now, I will add one caveat - there are about a million Canadians who head south at the first sign of cold weather. I can't see them lasting long post oil.

One thing stands out from Chip's comment: "Without power and heat". But here's the thing - we don't need gas or oil to have power and heat in Canada.  59% of our electricity, in fact, is hydro-electric. 1.1% is wind-powered. A small but growing percentage is solar-powered.

Over 3 million Canadian homes use wood as their primary or secondary heat source. There are wood stoves for sale in every hardware or home supply store I've ever entered. According to Stats Can, only about 10% of Canadians heat their homes with oil. 

In order to prepare my family for winters without central heating, I look to the actions of my ancestors who lived and thrived in far colder and harsher environments than we have today.
1) Shelter is vital. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it needs to provide protection from the wind and snow. My grandparents raised six children in a non-professionally-built house that was insulated with a layer of newspaper and heated by one wood stove. Perhaps part of the secret is that homes were so much smaller back then. Living without central heating, I'd prefer a 1000 square foot cabin over a 2000 square foot modern house. This is one of the reasons I feel worried about our current location in the city.
2) Dress appropriately with layers that can be added and removed as needed. Warm slippers in the house - you get into the habit of removing your boots and immediately putting on slippers. Wool socks over cotton socks in boots that are big enough for air to be trapped. Denim or wool - slacks over long underwear, or heavy skirts over leggings. Flannel nightgowns and pajamas - wear socks to bed, too! Revive the old custom of wearing nightcaps. Fingerless gloves are wonderful . If you're sitting still and reading, wrap up in an old blanket. Heavy bathrobes are great as a top layer - and they're vital when you have a shower or bath!  Oh, and layer your bed, too! Heavy, old-fashioned quilts and lots of them, or a really warm feather duvet. Flannel sheets. Get into bed, make your little warm nest and don't move! (Here's a tip - if you have to go pee, slip out of bed quicklyand leave your blankets in place - your spot will stay warmer longer.)
3) Eat well! I wonder if vegans will be a big part of the post oil die-off, or will they bite the bullet and ... well, bite the bacon? Cold climate people eat diets that are high in animal fats and high in calories. The calories and fat content in Newfoundland dishes, or Northern dishes, is astonishing.
4) Stay busy. Okay, in post oil world, we're not going to be sitting around watching tv and using the internet, are we? Growing up in a wood-heated house, I'll tell you that you're coldest when you're sitting still. That is why our great-grandparents only did that close to the wood stove. Get up and move around. Of course, this means you'll burn more calories, so make sure you're eating well.
5) Don't sleep alone. Sleeping alone is chilly. Historically, people took for granted that sleeping with another living creature was wiser than sleeping alone. And yes, living creature - invite your dogs and cats into bed with you. A big dog sleeping across the bottom of your bed is a great way to keep your feet warm.

While there are many Canadians who can't, or won't, do these things, and they won't survive, but it was not too long ago that we all did. And by "not long", I mean that I'm a Gen Xer and I grew up like that. You know you live in a chilly house when you're thirteen and get excited over a warm blanket as a Christmas present.

Nation-wide, about a third of Canadians live in rural settings (increasing to 50% in the far north, Saskatchewan and the Maritimes), and about the same number own hunting rifles (and I hear the government is planning to end the mostly-ignored long gun registry!). It's interesting to note that the rural population is steadily increasing in all provinces except Newfoundland and Saskatchewan.

Oh - "Chop wood, carry water" - There's a Zen saying "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Will it be that simple? No. Life is going to change drastically when the cheap oil is gone. But once those who cannot and will not adjust have died (or what, started walking south?), life will continue ... much like it has in Canada until very recently.


  1. Hi Canadian Doomer, thanks for giving this subject (and me) space on your blog! If anyone cares to read the German versions, they're a bit more scattered here:
    FAQ – Haeufige Fragen zur Begrenzung des terrestrischen Energieverbrauchs auf die Solarkonstante und deren Antworten
    Exponentielles Wachstum und anthropogene Waermeerzeugung
    Zusatzenergie erhoeht immer die Durchschnittstemperatur
    And as for the general implications of unmitigated exponential growth one reader pointed out:
    Dr. Albert A. Bartlett "The Greatest Shortcoming of the Human Race is our Inability to Understand the Exponential Function" (part 1 of 8).
    I have posted the link to the article on that forum also as it has many English-speaking readers so look forward to some surge in visits :-)

  2. I wonder how far they ever got with the solar road. That seems so far to be a worthwhile pursuit. They built in means to deal with storm water, safety components, and technical issues of driving on actual solar panels. Brilliant concept.. to utilize space that is currently operating with only 1 function and make it multitask. A big obstacle however.. will be if auto, steel or oil companies create roadblocks (so to speak). You'd think that auto and energy companies would pounce at investing in this technology...

  3. Well, that's interesting. I'd never heard of that before.

  4. I'm not sure if I have any German readers. :) But if there are, there are the links!

  5. While this IS fascinating ... consider a few obstacles:
    a) the "grid" will need to be interconnenceted. Right at the beginning the film shows how "all roads are interconnected" and indeed they are - as roads so far. To start acting as an electric grid, "all" roads (i.e. from "producing" road to "consumer sul-de-sac in suburbia) would have to have been rebuilt. Such a gigantic task that it would currently defy any investment body and indeed all investment bodies - states and private enterprise together - to finance it.
    b) As I always argue: start with individual roofs and do NOT put photovoltaic panels on them. This has a five-fold energy efficiency which easily rises to tenfold when you consider the storage of thermal energy vs. the non-storability of electricity and the local savings (utility bills are much lower than bills for heating!) etc.
    So, while I encourage each and every bright idea I believe if it doesn't finance itself (and thermal solar use does, has always actually) then it should not be subsidised over a "leaner" method.

  6. It is virtually certain that our future will be solar - though how long it will take to get there is far from a resolved question. The rest of this is crap. I could not even bear to read most of it. There have been innumerable doomsday scenarios based on noting the asymptotic rise of mathematical series. Malthus is dead, but humanity continues. Curing my lifetime myriads of Malthusian exponential doom cycles have proven false - though far too many have not yet died.
    To address some of this claptrap.
    Unless exponential increases in energy use are matched with exponential increases in population - to note only one interdependence, then we must have continuous exponential increases in energy use per capita. While I will not challenge that individual energy use will increase, and that that increase will correspond with an increase in prosperity, increasing prosperity corresponds to stabilising population sizes,  and at some point a finite number of people can not continue to use an exponentially increasing amount of energy.  When as an example the daily energy consumption for each individual exceeds the amount needed to propel them across the universe at the speed of light, I would suspect by then they will have had enough.
    The point is while you can have exponential growth in something for a while, you never ever see continuous exponential growth in anything - because it is impossible, because in fact long before you even get close to whatever impossible limit you have observed other factors intervene.

    separately your hotplate analogy is an example of why we can not fry the planet. At any given temperature the hotplate requires a continuous supply of energy just to maintain its temperature.  Each increase in temperature requires the sustained addition of exponentially more energy. Yes that energy must go somewhere - and to some extent every hotplate warms the entire universe.  But it would take an incomprehensible number of hotplates to match the contribution of the sun, and an incomprehensible number of suns to make a noticeable change in the temperature of the universe, and ....  The earth is not a closed system. We gain energy and lose it all the time. The energy required to increase the earth's temperature is also an exponential series. Doubling the energy produced MUST double the energy lost, but each increase in temperature requires exponentially more energy than the previous one. Not only is it this way but it must be this way - systems with net positive feedbacks are nuclear bombs - they are unstable and do not last. 4 billion years of history suggests the earth is stable with negative feedbacks on pretty much everything.

  7.  I'm certainly not an expert on this. Your input is very much appreciated, David. Thank you.

  8. "Unless exponential increases in energy use are matched with exponential
    increases in population - to note only one interdependence, then we must
    have continuous exponential increases in energy use per capita."
    Indeed, that is what has been said so far and to which I refer. Unfortunately you couldn't bear to read my arguments and thus are unaware of them.
    "at some point a finite number of people can not continue to use an exponentially increasing amount of energy" - Again, had you read my piece, this is exactly as I argue.
    "The point is while you can have exponential growth in something for a
    while, you never ever see continuous exponential growth in anything" - Yep, had you read on, that's what I said.
    "other factors intervene" - indeed, again as I argue. What I pointed out is that politicians, in e.g. funding fusion research, behave as if NO other factors ever intervene and thus risk to waste an awful lot of money to develop what can never be used because "other factors intervene".
    Right on that count too, David ...
    "At any given temperature the hotplate requires a continuous supply of energy just to maintain its temperature" - Exactly. And add a bit more energy and you'll increase the temperature of that hotplate. It is really a shame you never could bear read, less understand, my arguments.


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