Sunday, May 21, 2006

Can Triffids help us get through Peak Oil?

I have just re-read The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and was suprised by how relevant it is today.
Although the book is about genetic engineering (the triffids) and biological warfare (the green lights in the sky) it is also an excellent debate on how to survive a radical change in society.

The book present arguments for and against most of the issues it raises - especially the moral ones, most often resulting in the main character Bill, realising how subjective the whole thing is.
Should you stay in the city and try to help the blind survive for as long as possible, or leave with a group or mixed sighted citizens and try to set-up a new community? This kind of moral conundrum was recently discussed by Neal Brandvik in his article, Satan in the Driving Seat where he looks at the Peak Oil question in relation to his Christian Faith.

Towards the end he has this quote: "Our wakeup call is coming. Peak Oil and Climate Change will force us to spiritually evolve or suffer the inexorable laws of nature until we “get it.” The longer we fight this reality, the greater the cost in human tragedy.

"In the Triffids, where Bill meets up with a group planning to start a new community. They have a sociologist who gets up to speak and explains that when society changes, so must the people and the values they uphold. Neal may have been discussing a spiritual evolution, but Wyndham is explaining how important values are to us.

If there is no food is it OK to steal to feed yourself?

If someone tries to steal your food how strongly should you defend yourself?
Is it wiser to kill an attacker, so that they cannot mount a second, more successful attack later?

Is it kinder to leave someone to die slowly if there is no practical way of helping them survive long term?

These are the sorts of difficult questions the book ponders, albeit in a much nicer way than I am laying it out here.

Peak Oil is going to change our society, in fact it should be changing it now. We should be witness to a major societal evolution. We should be changing our lifestyles and our values to meet the needs of the 'energy crisis' so that we can survive.

If we choose to value more than just our own lives, we find it logical to change the way we do things. Shop locally and from farm shops to eliminate packaging, pesticides, food miles etc.

Day of the Triffids was published 1951 and the characters find it terribly hard to adapt to a sudden shortage of food, electricity etc. In fact, Bill admits that while there is still petrol to be found easily for cars and generates they can manage, but when the oil runs out they will really be primitive. His middle-class view of this makes the suggestion of not having power a thing to be avoided at all costs.

Funny how many people you meet who are happy to go down with the ship (or car and tv) with regards to Peak Oil.

Bill ends up in a farmhouse on the Sussex Downs, erecting a triffid fence around 100 acres of land. He realises that he has to learn how to do things the 'old fashioned' way.

Today we think of the 50's as being old fashioned! If it was that incredible a concept in 1951, how much worse is it today?

Bill knows there are libraries full of books and that he needs to stock up on knowledge, as well as equipment and food.

At one point he realises that the tools will last till they need fixing, and by that point he'd better have learnt how to do that. Then there are the parts that need replacing, and he'd better have learnt how to make new ones. But this means learning how to work metal, which requires a forge, which requires knowledge of not only how to run one, but how to set one up.

As he points out, learning from books is fine up to a point, but not practical in most circumstances - you cannot flick to the appropriate chapter when you are in the middle of certain tasks - it just doesn't work!

Bill knows he has time to practice and perfect hundreds and thousands of new skills before he is forced to use them to survive.

As another character Coker points out, the pursuit of knowledge is only possible if the lifestyle can support it. If you are living and working just to keep alive, you have no time to learn anything new - and no time to pass your knowledge onto others, so it dies with you.

Now is our time to start learning. Our comfortable lifestyles are still possible for most of us, although the sands are trickling through the timer. We need to start practicing now, and we need to look back further into the past.

In 1950 you still bought your food from a shop, you (could have)had a fridge and a car and warehouses full of supplies.

We need to know how to grow food. How to make food and this means more than making your own bread from flour bought in a shop. How do you grow your own grain, mill it, store it before you can bake with it? More to the point, can you culture your own yeast for bread? What about sugar - it doesn't grow in the UK?

Can you grow crops without pesticides - sure organic sounds easy compared to growing without oil - without a tractor, or a combine-harvester, etc. How do you do it with a horse and cart?
In the triffids horses are now scarce, Bill looks at making do without.

How do you make your own clothes - can you sew, knit? Can you weave -can you make a loom? Can you spin wool? Can you make linen?

There are so many things to think about and a whole fascinating world of knowledge awaits us.

Bill finds a sense of purpose and of freedom in his new life. The end of an age is the beginning of another and a chance to start again - to reinterpret.

Coker criticises a woman in the book and to be honest it is a bit of a feminist rant against the lazy and the silly, daft attitude people (not just women) have.

To say you can't change a fuse because you don’t know how and don't want to learn is irrelevant in a society where engineers and knights in white armour aren't always available.

Learning to do things yourself and getting off your arse to do what you can are terribly important. There isn't room for weak links, everyone has to pull their weight, and using the excuse that someone else isn't - so you don't have to is pitiful. These people don't deserve help, they need a rocket up their arse.

Next time someone says to you, "what's the point in recycling, my neighbours chuck away loads of rubbish" tell them to go talk to the neighbours and explain why they should recycle - and bloody well tell them to recycle themselves.

We are a nation full of wimps and individuals are the only people who can make anything happen. We need guts, we need balls of steel. We need to grab our chance of a future by the scruff of the neck and not let go - and if that means recycling the TV set as a plant pot so be it. It's a small price to pay.I'm not saying the fun times are gone, but new times are ahead and we need to understand recess is over and we need to go back into class. The bell is ringing, now.

Read; “The Day of the Triffids,” as soon as you can. If you haven't done so before - enjoy. For those of you that have you need to see this with new eyes. See it's relevance to now. Decide how you want to spend your future.

Now is the time to choose our fate, and if a Wednesday starts feeling like a Sunday - be ready to go.

Thank you for your patience and fortitude in reading my ramblings.
Written by Rebecca Hubbard (my wife)

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