Low-Tech Recession?

The news is full of talk of recession. The dreaded inverted yield curve (short-term bonds have higher yields than long-term ones — the inverse of the typical state) has occurred less than two years before every recession since 1955 (and the one time it happened without a recession following was the economic slowdown of the mid-1960s). This might not seem to have much to do with our work here at the Low Technology Institute, where our goal is looking into a future without fossil fuels, but it does.

Inverted yield curve predicting downturns (source).

When we stop using fossil fuels, we’re going to have to rework our economy. It is unclear if we’ll be able to maintain the “global village” we have built on rapid transit — I’m not convinced we can simply electrify everything and continue business as usual. If this reorganization happens, things get more local, and people and communities have to do more for themselves.

What this might look like: Small communities spread across the landscape. These communities would have to be largely self-sufficient in terms of food, energy, and materials. Without fossil-fueled trade, we’ll only be able to transport light-weight, high-value, shelf-stable goods. No society in the pre- or nonindustrial world has relied on the shipment of staple foods and goods (except perhaps Rome, which had trouble any time the Egyptian grain shipments failed).

Why a Recession-Proof Home and Community Are Self-Sufficient

In a recession, incomes decline and unemployment rises, meaning households and communities have less money and more time. The answer is obvious: spend that time to reduce the amount of money one needs to spend.

New potatoes.

Food is an obvious place to start. The recession of the late 2000s saw a resurgence in gardening (as noted by 2009 stories in Newsweek, NBC, and the Telegraph). Produce in the grocery store depends on fossil fuels for growing, transporting, and storing. By growing and preserving it close to home, people save money and get better-tasting produce. While not everyone has the space or ability to grow a significant amount of his or her own food, communities may build cooperative groups where individuals can contribute where their strengths lie and trade for local produce. Buying and storing in bulk can help gap times of less abundance as well.

Hot-water solar panels built on site.

Another place where recession-proofing looks like preparing for a future without fossil fuels is reducing household expenses. When the economy is strong, it is a good time to improve the energy efficiency of homes: insulation, sealing windows, upgrading utilities, etc. Installing solar water, heat, and electricity systems can reduce utility costs when money (and fossil fuels) become less abundant.

We can also get creative with clothing, tools, and other items that we’d otherwise spend money on. This is a good time to assess our use of “fast fashion” and clothing. Using clothing until it is truly worn out (rather than simply out of fashion) and then repurposing the cloth into rags or other items can add up. By making do with the tools and items we have instead of buying something that won’t be used frequently is one way to save, while sharing or making use of a tool library can help us continue to carry out the tasks we need to do.

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