Grow Your Own — Part I: What if Fossil Fuels Disappeared?

What if fossil fuels disappeared? That is the premise of the Low Technology Institute and the question is not rhetorical. Fossil fuels will stop being used, whether it is tomorrow or in a few decades. At some point we will no longer be using coal, natural gas, or petroleum for our main energy sources.

Perhaps we will use the next few years and the densely concentrated energy of these fuels to build an infrastructure that can function without them — a transition to a future driven by solar, wind, and other renewable resources and lives using local resources and less energy overall. Or maybe we’ll continue to put this off until tomorrow, and when the fuels become scare, our transition will be an emergency — a condition under which we make less-than-ideal decisions.

Announcing the “Grow Your Own” Research Project

It is one thing to sit back and think about how you would modify your life if fossil fuels were no longer available. I’ve asked this question many times, both of myself and others. But until now it has largely been a thought experiment. Even the best simulation cannot foresee every variable. At some point it is incumbent on the researcher to run experiments to test their hypotheses. And for us, that time is now, and the hypothesis is that it is possible for a typical suburban American household to transition to fully provide their own subsistence without fossil fuels.

In 2020, we will simulate the collapse of the fossil fuel industry and attempt to transition our household to grow and preserve as much of our own food as is reasonably possible. Starting in February, we will remove the supports of external inputs for our subsistence: less gas for our vehicle, decreased availability of purchased food stuffs, etc (specific details in tomorrow’s post). By September, we will be completely food independent for as long as possible, that is, we cannot use any fossil-fuel-derived food inputs.

Because we will be simulating the disappearance of fossil fuels in food production, we will experience what could happen in a future where we do not work together to plan for this obsolescence. We will encounter some foreseen problems: lack of cooking oil, reusable canning lids, lack of dairy, no tea or coffee, etc. But the real value of this experiment will be discovering the unexpected difficulties so that when the real transition comes, we will have a clearer idea of what will occur.

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