Publish Date: November 10, 2010 in The Georgia Straight
What if you woke up one day and found that the world as you knew it had ceased to exist?
It’s a thought that has probably crossed the minds of many and perhaps been quickly dismissed by most as silly.
For Brennan Wauters, this prospect is real. That’s why he’s preparing for what he describes as a “collapse”.
From Wauters’s perspective, the game changer is peak oil. He believes that in the past five years, the world has reached the point of maximum production of oil, and that the supply of this fuel source is on the decline. One day, the pumps may run dry.
But the 42-year-old Vancouver man is not the type to hunker in a bunker.
He isn’t storing food, buying gold, or stocking up on weapons to survive in a post-oil world.
“I’m more a survivalist in the sense that I think we have to be psychologically prepared,” Wauters said. “I concentrate on being able to do things with as little as possible. It’s also an exercise to me, like there’s many things that I could just go to the store for. But I deliberately take a harder route just to test my own capabilities, to give me confidence that whatever happens, everything will be fine.”
Learning to grow food is one of those things. Peppers were ready for picking when Wauters showed the Georgia Straight the vegetable plots at the East Side house where he lives with a number of other people. There were also chickens and honeybees out back.
“If there’s a general economic collapse, people are not going to have jobs,” he said. “So they’re going to have time on their hands. And that probably means growing food so that they don’t have to depend upon some larger infrastructure. That’s the clear objective.”
Wauters is also collecting books on edible and medicinal plants. That way, when the Internet is no longer working, he’ll have something to rely on for farming information.
He’s also learning “wildcrafting”, or methods of gathering food from the wild and living off the land. He likewise considers knowledge of canning and smoking food to be important.
Wauters builds sets for movie productions for a living, and that partly explains why he has a large collection of tools. He particularly values hand implements—drills, saws, and sets of screwdrivers—which he said will all be useful when power devices can no longer be plugged into wall sockets.
He can also fix a bicycle, noting that this human-powered conveyance will eventually become more valuable than the automobile.
According to Wauters, neighbours come to him to repair various broken household items. The house where he lives has a shed that stores numerous tools, such as pickaxes, shovels, and rakes.
“The survival aspect is really two things,” he said. “It’s a mental exercise which helps you cope with adversity, and then the other thing is that it prepares you to be creative. You have to be creative to solve those problems that we’re going to face. We can no longer run to the store to buy something to solve our problem.”
Wauters is the organizer of an Internet meet-up group that shares information over the web and holds meetings about peak oil–related issues. Some members of the group are considering the idea of purchasing land outside the Lower Mainland.
“We’re interested in a completely different form of existence, where people are provided for but are not driven by self-interest,” he said. They’re interested in areas in the Kootenays or near Prince George, where, he said, the river systems are fed by glacial flows, ensuring a good supply of water.
For Wauters, incidents like the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico—the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, which was triggered by an explosion at a British Petroleum rig on April 20 of this year—are an indication that the world has reached peak oil production.
“Nations understand the strategic importance of energy, and the push to get that oil as deep as it is, where it is normally inaccessible by conventional means…is a direct result of oil companies and governments realizing that there is less and less oil out there,” he said.
According to Jeff Rubin’s 2009 book Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization, the Gulf of Mexico is the only area in the U.S. where oil production has grown in the past 15 to 20 years.
“It has been the single bright spot against an increasingly gloomy background of falling domestic production,” Rubin, a former chief economist at CIBC World Markets, wrote.
Globally, Rubin estimated that during the next five years, almost 20 million barrels of production per day from conventional oil fields will have to be replaced with “extremely problematic and high cost unconventional supply” from deep-sea fields and tar sands, including those in Alberta.
“Depletion from existing fields has accelerated to a rate that now takes roughly 4 million barrels per day from world production every year,” Rubin also wrote.
Concerns about peak oil have spurred neighbourhood-level initiatives like Village Vancouver, a movement that promotes resiliency in communities.
“The context is that there is an eroding resource base,” Leslie Kemp, a member of the steering committee of Village Vancouver explained to the Straight in a phone interview. “It’s going forward to the kind of community that is based more on a neighbourhood level, where people know each other and can share resources, grow food, and connect with one another to create communities that are more sustainable, and to some degree a little bit more sufficient than we have now, where we’re so dependent on food growing in another continent.”
It isn’t just oil that people should be worried about, according to Richard Balfour, a member of the citizen-based Vancouver Peak Oil Executive.
“It’s ‘peak’ everything,” Balfour told the Straight in a phone interview. “We’re running out of all kinds of resources.”
Like Wauters, Balfour considers himself a survivalist. “Well, you have to,” he said. “It’s about survival of culture, even because when we’re going through these kinds of changes, it’s going to be violent. People are going to be reacting, going every man for himself. They’ll be fighting each other over things."