"The Oil Diaries"
by D. C.
10 March 2005
March 10, 2112
My small hut is finally warm. I guess sometimes there are advantages to being one of the Elders. The village children spent the morning gathering firewood to burn in my ancient iron stove made by Forrester & Co in 2009 just before they closed their manufacturing plant because of the enormous energy costs involved in keeping it running. No one could have predicted then how rapidly the price of oil would rise nor would they have believed the wrenching social chaos that occurred in the following decades. Although I wasn't born until 2050 I know well the stories of the savagery and chaos that took place in the first decades of the last century, for they have been passed down in my family from one generation to the next through diaries kept by my ancestors in the hopes that our past mistakes will not be repeated. I am now an old man but, I know the stories well...
February 27, 2005
It was a cold, clear Sunday which greeted my great-grandfather as he arose from bed and started the electric coffee-maker. (We cannot now conceive of such luxuries). He went into the den (a small room in a multi-roomed house. Yes! Multi-roomed houses were very common then!) and turned on a device known as a computer with which he could access information from all around the world via a connection system called the Internet. Having been made aware several years previously of the coming shortage of petroleum (although it was not common knowledge back then) he scanned the few sites on the Internet that were desperately trying to get the general public to acknowledge the depth of the coming crisis. He did this daily with an almost religious fervor, for he clearly understood the implications for the future.
He and my great-grandmother had begun to grow more of their food over the last couple years and were getting very good at it. They were also becoming adept at preserving it through canning and dehydrating. It's funny as I reflect on it now, but my great-grandparents' knowledge of raising and preserving their own food was, ultimately, the reason they, and succeeding generations of my family, survived the horrendous conditions which would soon be upon them. Though I never had the chance to meet them, I love them dearly for the knowledge they have passed on to us.
Back then, oil was still cheap and readily available. The average person in what was then known as "America" owned one or more automobiles (these were personal transportation devices which ran on a ruel refined from oil known as gasoline). It provided them with unprecedented freedom of movement. But, it was this same automobile which rapidly hastened the decline of petroleum supplies. I recall reading a passage from one of my great-grandfather's diaries in which he stated that in 2004 the world was consuming oil at th erate of eighty million barrels a day! (a barrel contains 42 gallons). This is beyond belief even though I know he wrote the truth. how could the people of that day have been so short-sighted? It truly boggles the mind. The diaries (on which I realy heavily to bring you this acount) also state that the fuel gasoline was then selling for less than two dollars a gallon! By 2021 it was over ten times that amount when you were lucky enough to obtain any. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so allow me to digress.
In 2005 food was plentiful and relatively inexpensive. This situation had been brought about by the availability of cheap petroleum which was used for everything from fertilizer to insecticide to fuel for running mechanized farm machinery. The yields from these farms were beyond our wildest dreams today. The farmers of 2005 were planting seeds that were called "hybrids" produced by large multi-national corporations which were genetically altered to have certain characteristics such as resistance to drought or disease as well as resistance to insects. (Believe it or not, the farmers who planted these seeds wee required to sign contracts with the corporations thta prevented them from saving seed year to year! Some who tried saving seeds were actually prosecuted!). Between the hybrid seeds, the fertilizer and the mechanized equipment, these farms were remarkably productive. But change was on the horizon.
July 17, 2016
The thermometer in the shed registered 94 degrees in the shade. My grandfather had just stepped inside to escape the July sun. After a few minutes rest and a glass of ambient-temperature water he returned outside to resume weeding the three large gardens. With the unprecedented rises in the price of food, he smiled to himself that at least the family could still make ends meet thanks to the foresight of his father. Even though gasoline for the roto-tiller (a machine used to till the ground before planting) was over five dollars a gallon, at least the little machine was frugal enough to only need four or five gallons a year.
He was now twenty-six years old. He could remember as a young child watching the airplanes (see Donner's 2079 publication "Old World Machines" for an illustration) flying thousands of feet in the air at over five hundred miles an hour carrying hundreds of passengers to all the places on Earth. The family home had seemed to be situated beneath a very popular piece of sky since every few minutes one of these machines would be overhead. It was now just after three in the afternoon and he had only seen two today. Since the price of kerosene (the fuel which these airplanes used) had almost tripled since oil production peaked ten years ago most airlines had gone out of business. The few survivors had to resort to enormous fare increases to cover their fuel costs. This in turn led to the failure of most travel-related businesses since the average American could no longer afford to fly to a vacation destination. They could barely afford to fill up their automobiles! It is a rare sight today to see an automobile without a locking gasoline filler cap. Fuel theft from vehicles has become rampant.
Grandfather finished in the gardens at just after five o'clock. As he went into the house he grimly noted that the electricity still hadn't come back on. In the last two years the brownouts and blackouts had become more frequent and of a longer duration. This time the power had been out since yesterday morning. Hopefully it will come on soon so that he wouldn't have to use the portable generator to convert gasoline into electricity for the refrigerator (again, see Donner's "Old World Machines" for information). Last night had been virtually sleepless for him and grandmother. The temperature had only dropped to the low eighties and the baby kept reminding them that he was not happy about that.
He remembered as a child coming into a nice cool house from the hot summer outside. His father had called the machine which made the cool air an Air-Conditioner. And what a marvelous machine it was. But it also used an enormous amount of electriticity. In the summertime almost everybody had them on to escape the heat. The tremendous additional load on the electrical grid was compensated for by the addition of extra generating stations powered by natural gas. Since the peak in North America gas production in 2013 there is simply not enough gas available to run these additional generating stations. Hence the blackouts.
Grandmother had just come in from the small cook shack in the back yard which was built by great-grandfather three years ago. It housed a good-sized wood-burning stove over which she cooked in the summertime so as not to make the house even hotter. She had butchered one of their many chickens that morning. Then she cleaned, plucked and roasted it to have for tonight's dinner. They ate a lot less meat than their ancestors but they wree far from malnourished. They butchered a chicken or rabbit every week or two and seemed satisfied with that. They considered themselves lucky not to be living in a city, especially after last year's food riots in most inner cities across the country. The mainstream media tried to play down the severity of the riots, but the true scope came through on the news reports shown on Internet new sites. Another story took place at this time wtih similar media misrepresentation. It seems that the people living in the southwestern states had finally had enough of looting, rape and murder at th ehands of desperate illegal immigrants from Mexico. They were taking matters into their own hands by shooting them on sight. The bodies were piling up and the government sent the National Guard (a type of domestic army) to stop this behavior by th ecitizens. When an overzealous officer instructed his troops to shoot the citizens, the troops refused and instead shot the officer. Chaos ensued and when the melee was over about twenty percent of the Guardsmen were killed by their own men and the rest (whose own families were hungry) joined the citizens to blockade the border.
Grandfather shook his head at the recollection of these events and walked into the front room of the house to get a rifle. As he dialed the combination of the safe he pondered which rifle to take out tonight. He reached in and selected one of six SKS rifles that were left to him by his father (alone with seventy other firearms and thirty-six thousand rounds of ammunition). Tonight he would start his summer vigil that wouldn't end until September. Following the riots last year, roving bands of city-dwellers had taken to the surrounding areas in search of food they could steal. While grandfather could understand that hunger was driving their actions, if he allowed his gardens to be pilfered by these people his own family would not eat. Last year he only had to shoot eight of them, of which three survived and got away. He only hoped the survivors had managed to convey to the others of their group that his family was not to be trifled with. He did not want to have to shoot any more of them. But he would. The survival of his family depended on it.
Since last year there has been virtually no police presence in the area. The few remaining officers who hadn't already left the force due to wage cuts and increasing violence were urgently needed in the cities where the normally simmering crime problem had reached a full boil. The crime rate, especially for violent crime, had increased tenfold in just two years. The police had become particularly attractive targets since after they were killed you now only had to reach down and grab yourself a weapon and ammunition. Thus, the criminals were now empowered to commit even more crimes more easily. Even though the President declared martial law during the riots last year it had become ineffective due to the high rates of desertion from the National Guard (for the same reasons as those of the police).
There was a movement in the Congress (the national legislative body) to repeal the "posse comitatus" act that prevented the military from acting within the national borders. This would allow them to assist the beleaguered National Guard. The measure was barely defeated this time but would be passed in the future (when it was finally passed in 2021 it was a moot point since all the remaining military personnel were engaged in the Middle Eastern Oil War and could not be brought home because to do so would prevent the ruling elites from holding on to their remaining luxuries like abundant food, warm homes and personal automobiles). Little did they know at the time, the problems they faced now were only a brief preview of what lies ahead.
September 30, 2037
My father and grandfather watched as he approached riding a thin gray mare. They both had their rifles leveled at the stranger since you could never be too cautious anymore. One of th efamilies just down the road had been murdered two weeks ago and all the food they had grown over the summer was stolen. These were desperate times. As the stranger approached he held up his hands as if to say "no danger here" but the rifles remained level. He spoke and told them he was traveling to the village twenty miles north to find his sister and her famly since his wife and two children had perished in one of th e many small-scale cholera outbreaks that happened now from time to time. He alighted from his mount and was immediately searched for weapons. Grandfather inspected the old colt revolveer he removed from the stranger. He then returned it, unloaded, to the stranger. The stranger seemed amiable and sincere enough. Since he was so obviously undernourished they invited him in for some food. As they sat down to a lunch of vegetable soup they queried the stranger about news from other places. Grandmother joined them as the stranger began to speak.
There was now no communication system in operation anywhere. No television, radio, telephone or Internet (again, see "Donner" for more information on these devices). The electrical grid had gone down for the last time in 2023, never to return. The last of the oil in the former United States had been extracted several years ago. What was left of the oil in th eMiddle East was no longer available since in a last, desperate gasp the Israelis, in a fit of madness, destroyed most of the remaining Middle Eastern countries in a nuclear conflagration. But Israel was, itself, destroyed by six Iranian nuclear weapons which were fired simultaneously.
There is no oil, no natural gas, no electricity, no communication and no transportation except by means of the few (lucky?) animals which had not yet become food for a starving populace. With no other energy source available to heat dwellings, cook or preserve food, the surviving population was rapidly causing the deforestation of the countryside. On one side of the last television broadcasts before the electrical grid went down, a scientist made the prediction that the "die-off" of the human population would be beyond imagination and, if humanity survived at all, the worldwide population in 2050 would be only twenty percent of the 7.4 billion now alive (2020).
As they sat eating lunch, the stranger informed them that they had done better than most in surviving the societal upheavals that had been inflicted on the surrounding areas, especially those areas closer to the cities. As things became steadily more desperate for those in the cities, the adjacent areas were, increasingly subject to attack and pillage. Since most of the marauders from the cities were Blacks and Hispanics this provoked a backlash from the Caucasians who were trying to keep themselves, and their families, alive and well. My father and grandfather were told the minorities were now being shot on sight or killed with whatever weapons or methods were available. Even the people and villages in rural or semi-rural areas, once they heard of the atrocities committed by the minorities, seemed to have no reservations about adopting the same strategies.
The stranger also told them that those who lived in villages near the coast were weathering things better than those in the interior. There were plenty of fish to catch, now that the once-dwindling stocks of fish were making a comeback in the absence of commercial fishing fleets. Those individuals who owned sailboats, fishing gear and possessed the skills to operate them were prized indeed. The coastal villages appear poised to survive.
The interior areas, particularly the mountainous regions, were having problems he had been told several months ago. It seems that most of the larger game animals had been hunted almost to the point of extinction and the smaller ones were quickly following the same path.
While small-scale agriculture was possible and, indeed, being activated practiced by those in the Midwest, the mountain regions did not lend themselves easily to farming. As the game disappeared and the surviving population was weakened by malnutrition, the high casualty rate was inevitable. There was little food where they were, and they were too weak to go elsewhere.
My father, grandmother and grandfather listened to the stranger's stories with a mixture of hope and sorrow. They were surviving while most others were not. Yet, grandfather remembered the world as it had been in the past and was sad to think of everything that had now passed forever into the musty pages of history. But grandfather refused to dwell on these thoughts or surely he would be gripped by a profound depression. There was still a future ahead, limited as it may be, and work to be done to assure the family's continued wellbeing.
With their meal finished, they adjourned outside where the stranger mounted his horse. He thanked my father, grandmother and grandfather for their hospitality. My grandfather returned his six rounds of ammunition and wished him safety for the rest of his journey. They stood watching him ride away. It was the first stranger they had seen in months. It would be many more before they would see another. They turned and went to gather the eggs.
January 17, 2071
Today is my 21st birthday. My mother made me a cornmeal birthday cake with maple icing made with the sap from the few maple trees remaining on our land. When I was younger, as the supply of trees for firewood steadily diminished, my father and I dismantled some of our home and used the precious building materails to enlarge the old cook-shack out back. This is where we now live. The shack being easier to heat with less wood. Most other survivors are doing the same, cooperating for group survival.
Life is a little better now than in the recent past. Most of the surrounding villages, as well as ours, have adopted common-sense rules to help assure our continued existence. Couples voluntarily try to limit family size to one child so that th evillage population doesn't exceed the food supply. Children remain living with their parents until they wed. Premarital sex is forbidden. The penalty is banishment from the village. Since the surrounding villages also adhere to these guidelines, they will not take in the perpetrators, which will bring the perpetrators' very survival into question. Fortunately, this hasn't happened in our village for several years.
Everyone works. No exception. Young or old, the tasks assigned are based on physical abilities and no one is given taks that they would be unable to perform. For instance, a child must work at planting trees or vegetables or gathering eggs while an able-bodied man must harvest mature trees and split the wood. Most of the village women are engaged in tending the gardens and fields or watching the children of others while they work. There is now a sense of "community."
Hunting by individuals is forbidden. Once a month the village will engage in a communal hunt for a member of the recently resurgent deer population. Equal shares of the kill will be distributed to all. While this may seem an infringement, it is to assure long-term survival of this food source as well as our own continued existence.
Most of the villages in this area have been fortunate enough to have a member, or members, of their community who were skilled in the art of herbal medicine. While this is not a panacea, some of the remedies these people have developed ar truly remarkable in their effectiveness.
Our village has adopted a way of reducing firewood usage as well. There are still many sites only a day or two away where materials of many kinds can still be found. Someone said they used to be called "landfills." some of the craftsmen of the village brought back metal and glass from the site and constructed an oven in which to bake our cornbread. It is heated only with sunshine and works remarkably well. The ladies of the village have ben experimenting with it lately and producing delicious roast chickens in only about four hours! The craftsmen are now in pursuit of constructing a device to distill water, powered by sunshine.
If this works, who knows, maybe they can figure out how to brew long-forgotten beer! Maybe not. It might disrupt the peace which we finally seem to have found. I think the elders should ponder the question carefully.
March 10, 2112
I awoke with a start. The warmth that had lulled me to sleep was gone now. With a chill, I went to the woodbox and refilled the stove. Thank you children for the wood, for it not only warms an old man's bones but his heart as well.
All in all, I am amazed at how well our little village has managed to survive the last hundred-odd years. As I gaze over at the stack of diaries on my small table I am hit with a sense of sadness. Not only for what my ancestors had to endure, but for the bilions of lives lost planetwide. And sadness for the loss of the greatest civilization this world will ever know, but...
Maybe sadness isn't the emotion I should be feeling. Perhaps it should be optimism. We have learned the hardest lesson ever presented to us.
Yes, we have learned....