April 29, 2008

My long-term bet on rising energy costs

I've had a couple of conversations lately with people I like that led to strange places. One was about the seemingly crazy investment I'm making in ducks, chickens, and all the infrastructure they need, and the other was what I get for saying that I think we need to take a serious look at one-room schoolhouses as an alternative to busing kids everywhere.

I'm doing a lot of things that might strike people as strange or even inconsistent, but the driving force in most of it is an expectation that energy prices are going to keep climbing. I could, of course, be wrong, but unless we discover fusion technology, I feel pretty comfortable arguing that this is going to be the case for a long time. Demand keeps climbing, while supply isn't looking so great.

This doesn't mean I've disconnected my house from the grid, built a barbed-wire fence around my compound, and set up a world that's all about preserving me, whatever prices may do.

It does mean, however, that I'm looking at the world in a very different way. I'm trying to invest in things now that will serve us well later. The new roof, furnace, and insulation were key components of that, as is all the gardening, the apple trees, and terracing the yard. We've learned how to can and freeze food.

All of these are good things to do anyway, even if energy prices don't climb. Okay, I do worry that converting my yard into a garden may make the house harder to sell in this lawn-obsessed country. On the other hand, the return on investment for some of them will take a long time. The furnace and insulation have probably paid for themselves by now, and, well, you always need a solid roof.

The rest of the investments are pretty much a gamble. I can certainly drive to East Hill Plaza and buy groceries more cheaply at P & C than I can grow them here today. Setting up the garden, and especially the fenced areas for the chickens and ducks, is an expensive adventure, if an interesting one. How many eggs does it take to pay for a $200 fence? Plus a coop, and all the feed the chickens ate in the meantime? And the time it takes to feed and attend them?

If I run these calculations based on current costs, I'm pretty clearly going to lose money. If, however, I calculate these investments as advantages in a world where energy and food rapidly become more precious, I may well come out ahead. (Looking at the rapid climb in wheat and rice prices, it's looking like a good bet sooner than I expected, though I expect they'll come down again before climbing over the long term.)

I'm already coming out ahead in knowledge, since I now know all kinds of things that I had no clue about before. (I still have much to learn.) Because I'm showing these ideas off both here and on my gardening site, I hope to plant seeds in people's heads as well - the "I can do that" seed that develops into projects.

(And I'm also taking a look at policy related to these issues through the lens of TCLocal.)

So if I come off as kind of strange, pushing ideas that don't all make sense at first glance, try to remember the context I'm working in. I live in the current world and do enjoy it, while planning ahead for a world that I expect will be pretty different. We'll see what Sungiva thinks of all this when she's older.

Posted by simon at April 29, 2008 12:29 PM in
Note on photos


KAZ said:

See Thomas Friedman today for a chilling reminder that you are probably correct (although not about one-room schoolhouses).