The Year is 2013

SUBHEAD: Should energy independence be a high priority in the U.S.? Winter holds the answer.

By Carla Heimerl on 22 January 2010 in Helium - 

Image above: Winter storm in the the Midwest USA with 19th century water pump. From (  

The year is 2013, five years after peak oil. Gas is now over $11.00 a gallon. The average American no longer drives a car. Only the government and the military have access to large amounts of gasoline. It is a world none of us could have imagined.

The average American family of four has made drastic changes to survive. It is a cold Midwest morning, the alarm goes off at 7 AM. The family wakes up to a cold, 55 degree house. An electric spacer heater is the only form of heat, and all electric, nation wide, is shut off from 11PM-7AM. Through out the winter months, only three rooms are heated, the living room, the kitchen, and one bathroom. Because of this, all the beds are now set up in the living room. On top of each bed, are sub zero sleeping bags. These sleeping bags are the difference between life and death, as all across the nation people freeze to death every night in their homes. This has become so common that no one even takes notice anymore.

Our family gets ready for the coming day. They eat a meager breakfast of oatmeal, just oatmeal. There is no sugar. For lunch there will be a small portion of rice and beans, for dinner the same. There may be an occasional egg from the chickens they raise, otherwise, they will eat the same thing over and over until spring arrives. Then, there will be rhubarb, asparagus and spring onions from the large backyard garden, however, the garden will not produce substantial amounts of food until late summer. The entire family is very thin, and on the brink of starvation. America no longer has a problem with obesity. Thousands starve to death every year, in American, land of plenty.

The family eats quietly with heads down looking at their small bowls of oatmeal. Depression is a serious mental health problem. People feel desperate, and there is not the faintest flicker of hope there will be change in the future. The suicide rate is high, especially among teenagers and young adults who feel they have been cheated out of an important time in their lives. It is a time of great desperation for all.

Mom turns on the TV to the CNN channel. CNN is now the main contact with the outside world. There are no longer any local channels. Satellite TV is now free of charge and like every other existing business it is run by the government. The only private sector store still open is Wal Mart. Every other business went under within the first year after peak oil. Millions of people are now jobless and are kept alive by government food programs. Money is useless and has lost all meaning. The entire economy is based on barter. In the spring Dad will go back to work on a large government owned farm. He will be paid in milk, cheese, meat, feed for the backyard chickens and other food raised on the farm. He now listens closely to CNN which announces various job openings and work schedules. There is also news as to when federal food trucks will arrive in town this coming month. Next, the familiar face of Lou Dobbs lights up the screen. He has become a superstar of sorts, and a comfort to millions as he vents his anger at the government for the mess that America is now in.

It is now 8AM, and the house is getting warmer. It is time for the kids to go to school. All schools closed long ago, and every child now attends school online. A corner of the living room is reserved for the kids, and they head over to it and turn on the computer. The family now has three computers, with the children's computers issued by local government. Obviously not all families across American are as lucky as our family. Local governments in the Midwest were more organized and somewhat prepared for this crisis. Money was set aside for the online school program. In other areas where computers are not available, children simply are not getting an education unless their parents are willing and able to home school.

Mom heads over to her computer. The US Post Office no longer exists. The only way to send a letter is to do it online. The Internet has become a lifeline to many people, and is the one bright spot in a very grim scenario. Many women have learned to sew and alter existing clothes with the help of online classes via the Internet. Mom wants to learn how to make soap, but first she must barter for the ingredients. She knows that she will be able to barter soap for other things her family may need in the future, items which may mean the difference between life and death. There is no formal health care system in place, and she worries constantly that one of her children may become ill. She knows people want soap desperately and may even trade medicine for it. She continues to surf the net, looking at quilting patterns and thinking about the new quilts she is making for the family this coming Christmas. She is forever grateful for the sewing machine she bought many years ago, but never used until the oil crisis years.

Dad is looking out the window. The street is unrecognizable, there is no snow removable of any kind. The path that leads out to the storage shed, now converted into a small barn, must be shoveled out by hand. Snow blowers stand idle next to cars no longer driven in garages all across America. There was a big storm last night, and Dad wants to get to the barn to feed the chickens. He steps out into the bright , crisp morning and starts to shovel. The chickens hear him and cluck with excitement. Dad just smiles and shakes his head. He used to be a well paid accountant, and now he is a part time farmer of sorts. He worked hard to provide his family with the best, and it was a bright day when they moved into an upper class subdivision, where it was against the rules to even have a clothesline. Now that same subdivision is dotted with makeshift mini barns and coops, and they all harbor a variety of chickens. Privately, Dad enjoys this simple way of life, wishing it could have happened under different circumstances.

Now it is noon and the family gathers around the kitchen table for a meal of beans and rice. The children dream about McDonalds, and so do Mom and Dad, but fast food is a thing of the past, along with restaurants. All these places went out of business a long time ago. Every morsel of food the family eats is prepared by Mom or Dad. Mom worries once again about her children's health, thinking they look thin and drawn, however the children seem to be happy. They chat about the movie they want to watch this evening . Like children everywhere, they enjoy the closeness of family life. Because there is no form of personal transportation, the family spends almost all their time in each other's company.

For the people that do have a job, many times it is a job that is performed online. However, most people do not work, and are dependent upon government food programs. When Dad works on the government farm come spring, he will not come home every night like he used to. He must walk to the train station, then catch the train which will take him to the farm. He will live there in a barracks, coming home once a week, bringing home precious items that his family would otherwise have no way of getting. Soap and cleaning supplies along with shoes and clothing is what he hopes to attain this coming year through the barter of the extra food and chicken feed he will earn on the farm.

Mom clears away the lunch dishes and sighs, she misses common place things like dish detergent and toilet paper and worries once again over the unsanitary conditions the family is forced to live under. Rumors are all over the Internet, the government is going to start distributing things like toilet paper, soap, bleach and perhaps basic cleaning supplies, but so far it is nothing but rumors and she prays that she will soon be able to make her own soap. Soap, just another thing she always took for granted. She stacks the dishes in the sink. Later she will boil the dishes in a large kettle of water on top of the stove. Some people just rinse the dishes and leave it at that, but this mother is worried that her kids may become ill if she lowers her standards. Once again she is reminded that medical care and medicine is not readily available and many Americans have died as a result.

After lunch the kids head on out to the barn and help Dad feed the chickens. The children love this activity and are proud of the animals. They don't remember much about life before the oil crisis, and they are adapting well to this new way of living. What they fail to realize is that one day the chickens will be on the dinner table. In fact, in other areas of the country people are breeding pet rats for food.

Mom and Dad have not adapted as well to the post oil days as the children, they seem to be lost in daydreams and lament, "if only we were more prepared". Dad secretly enjoys the simple life, but Mom is more and more depressed. Both know their former lifestyle will never make a comeback. The entire world is plunged into this same nightmare. In third world countries, life has changed little if at all, but everything in the United States is different now. America no longer has an illegal immigration problem. People can see little difference between the way Americans live and the way they live. Now it is all the same.

The cold winter's day grows dark and more frigid as the sun sets. Because there is very little pollution in the air now, the spectacular sunsets of the oil consuming days have come to an end. There is only a feeble wisp of color in the sky as the sun dips lower. Bare branches brush the horizon like webs of black lace. The wind picks up and howls around the eaves. Before, Mom enjoyed these windy winter nights, now she wonders how many more Americans will die because of the cold and no heat.

She sends up a prayer of thanks again for the sub zero sleeping bags the family purchased for camping trips. Trips made before the oil crisis. The difference between life and death hinges on so many little things that no one gave any thought to. She shakes her head at her own foolishness. Like most Americans she was carefree to so many important things that she should have been taking note of . Now, the lives of her family hang in the balance.

Evening settles over the land. Hard diamond pointed stars glitter in a clear, cold sky. The family gathers for the evening meal, and there is even a surprise! Mom has found a small amount of hot chocolate mix in a back cupboard. It is probably 6 years old, and a bit rancid, but the family mix it with water and nothing has ever tasted so heavenly! For no reason at all, Mom starts to cry, and before long the entire family is in tears. Dad reaches over and hugs the mother of his children. The hard times have strengthened the marriage, each partner reaching deep within to guarantee the survival of their children. Never before have they loved each other more, or have been so grateful for the smallest of things, like a weak cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter's night.

The family passes the evening watching free satellite TV. In fact, the family pays no bills at all, everything is taken care of by the government. People talk about the day when once again there will be private sector businesses. That day will have to wait until a cheap replacement for oil can be found by the government. So far, there is no alternative that will provide an answer for the masses. The oil that is left is for government, military, and farming use. Private citizens get a gas ration of a gallon a month for lawn mowing use, but few are able to find a government distribution point that has gas. No one could have imagined the scope and depth of the problem. Every aspect of life has been affected by the end of oil.

Because our family lives in the Midwest, they are in one of the safest areas of the United States. Others are not as fortunate. Every night on CNN, the family hears news of horrific conditions in big eastern cities. Crime is high and there is total lawlessness. People are afraid to leave their homes and apartments and many simply die there, starving to death when there are federal food supplies but a block away. Gangs have taken over, and they have their own laws. Prisons have been raided and the prisoners released. Shoot outs for supplies and food are a common everyday thing. So far, the gangs have been content to stay where they are, but one day, they may decide to leave the big cities and plunder other areas. When that day comes, they will be met with a stanch resistance. Citizens everywhere carry guns openly. The old laws no longer apply, it is every man for themselves.

In the area where our family lives, the neighbors have banded together to create a citizen's watch. It is Dad's turn tonight, and he is cleaning his gun and getting out his precious ammo. He also uses his rifle to go deer hunting with the other neighbors. A few years ago deer were still plentiful in the area, but they were quickly hunted out, almost to the point of extinction. And, all across the nation wooded areas have been stripped of wood, leaving little habitat for wildlife. When the oil crisis first hit, people simply burned wood to stay warm. However, like oil, wood, in the end, was not the answer to America's energy needs. It only took a few years before wood supplies grew scarce, or were unattainable due to lack of transportation.

Dad pulls on his boots getting ready to take the night watch. There is a nation wide curfew of 5PM. Other than the citizen's watch, no one has any right to be out and about, and there is a shoot to kill law. Thankfully, there has been no incidents this year, but the first year after peak oil there where many people killed as they tried to break into homes and steal food. What everyone worries about now are the big city gangs. These gangs make their own drugs, and through the barter of those drugs have more guns and supplies of ammunition than even the government. A few neighbors banded together with deer rifles would be no match for these lethal thugs. CNN reports that the US government is now at war with these gangs, trying to wipe them out. People shake their heads at the place America has become. A place no one knows. A place that has every resemblance of a third world country.

In spite of it all, life continues on. Mom wakes up, it is 3AM. With the electric turned off at 11PM, it is cold enough that she can see her own breath. She struggles to go back to sleep. She struggles not to think too much about the future, because there is very little light at the end of the tunnel at this point. Nevertheless, tomorrow, an Amish woman and some other neighborhood women will be coming over to make quilts.

Women across the nation are learning the same skills their grandmothers held in high regard, such as sewing, quilting and rug making. The Amish woman will also give Mom pointers on soap making. Mom cannot imagine someone living without modern conveniences by choice, but that is exactly what the Amish have been doing for years. For the Amish, it is business as usual. Mom is looking forward to seeing the other women and sharing any neighborhood news. Neighbors who didn't even know each others names before now have become a closely knit clan of sorts. There is a sense of belonging. Together, they feel safe, and they know that no matter what happens in the future, together, they will survive.

And so we leave our family. Our American family without oil. I believe this story portrays the best case scenario. The truth, I fear, could be much darker. In the past, when countries have collapsed, starving people have even resorted to cannibalism. Few of us can imagine eating a beloved pet, much less eating another human being. However, when there is great desperation and little hope, people can do unimaginable things. We think these things will never happen here, but, who ever thought that America would be financially raped with ever increasing gas prices?

How grim the end of oil will be, how serious and impacting the consequences, no one knows for sure. If we don't find a cheap, renewable, clean form of energy in the very near future, we will suffer, make no mistake about it. Much of the problem is our own carefree attitude. We don't worry about things until they become a major problem. How insane is it to rely on Middle East oil, when we are hated in that area of the world? Every time we buy oil from that part of the world, Bin Laden and his kind are one step closer to bringing America down, perhaps forever!

We should have been addressing the oil problem in the 1970's. Instead we waited, and now it may be too late. There simply are no easy answers, no easy choices. Our lives could very well slip into a third world like existence.
See also:
The Gobbler: Imagining Chautauqua - Part I 9/21/93


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