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We Need Women To Be Active in Preparing for Peak Oil

Look around any group that meets in person or online to address concerns about coping with our post-petroleum future, and one thing pops up immediately. With rare exception, they're mostly white and mostly male. We'll deal with the race issue later. Let's talk here about gender.

Why Are Most Peak Oil Alarmists Men?

Women are too busy

This is the case with Amanda. She is as concerned as Lee is about  the Triple Threat of peak oil, catastrophic climate change, and overpopulation. But she, like women through the generations, has more tasks than Lee does, and she stays busier. While Lee wrote this (sitting in our bedroom upstairs), Amanda was downstairs preparing to feed breakfast to 18 of her students. At 9:45 this morning, she will shoo them out so she can dash to her college campus and make a presentation to about 85 of her colleagues for an initiative for which she is no longer responsible. But she will do that because she's the best spokesperson for it and because she feels responsible. Then she will wolf down an apple and some cottage cheese while grading her students' essays. Lee won't insist she take time to plan for a future her culture and her government believes will never arrive. Will you?

And Amanda is not that unusual. One of the things Lee has learned as a divorce lawyer and as an observant human is the extent to which our culture loads women up with tasks and takes for granted that they will work diligently to complete all of them. And by and large, they do.

Women are focused on the present

It is the peculiar gift of women to be more able to focus on the present than men. The future will take care of itself; for now I'll spend my physical and mental energy on what is here and now. We say it's a gift because we men probably spend too much time in needless worry about the future.

Peak oil scares men more than women

We enjoyed reading this piece from Transition Town Totnes describing how men find energy depletion particularly scary because we realize how ill-prepared we are for it. That hits home with Lee. His father grew up on a working farm and learned by instinct and osmosis many of the skills our children and we will need in our post-petroleum future. But he worked hard to get off the farm by the time he raised his children, so we all grew up in the city. Ditto for our kids. In two generations we've trashed generations of knowledge and savvy in favor of specialized technical and professional knowledge that helped us all make plenty of money but has left us ill-prepared for a life without cheap oil. Now he's gone. How we wish we could sit with him and talk about when to plant tomatoes, and how far apart, and how to know when it's time to put up plums.

And even those few who have grown up on a farm today have spent most of their time learning skills that won't translate well. They know lots about oil-powered vehicles, about one or two crops grown on their farm in an oil-soaked monoculture, and they know a good bit about marketing their crop. But those are not the skills they will need in the future, any more than Lee's knowing how to structure alimony for maximum tax advantage will help us get enough protein in the winter.

We men worry more than women about how ill-equipped we are, how impotent we will be in the post-petroleum era. And well we should.

Why Women Need To Be Doing This Too

It's not just about technology

Give me a hammer, and the world looks like a nail. Leave the planning for peak oil to men, and we're going to try to solve it with technology. To be sure, we need good minds to be thinking about the technical challenges we will confront in the post-petroleum era. But solving peak oil challenges will require relationships more than technology, people more than machines, cooperation more than entrepreneurism. And let's be honest: for that, we need women, because women understand how important it is to use conversation to build and maintain consensus.

We need women to remind us that a community is always stronger and more civilized than the solitary individual. We need women to keep alive beauty, and poetry, and music, and art, even while we struggle to avoid starving and freezing. We need women to keep us human.

They'll make us less likely to go to war

We men are notorious for believing we can take what we want from somebody else and suffer no consequences as long as we have bigger and uglier guns than they do. And we're nearly always wrong. No, not nearly; we're always wrong. No nation will be able to fight itself to energy prosperity, and the sooner we figure that out the sooner we can set about solving the real problems we all face.

Women are not always pacifist, of course, but they are measurably and significantly less likely to support warfare of any kind, including (presumably) warfare about energy. We need women to be active and engaged in the conversations about peak oil and gas; we need them to keep reminding us that the coming energy shortages will encourage nations to go to war and  that going to war will make the problems worse, not better.

Women are accustomed to multi-tasking

Surviving and thriving in a post-petroleum world is going to call forth a broad range of skills -- skills many of us have forgotten or never learned. And it will require that we pursue multiple goals simultaneously. We will need to stay comfortable, of course, but we will also need to stay safe, to eat and get enough water to drink, and to get where we need to be. Women are more accustomed than men to pursuing many tasks at the same time. If you don't believe this, just watch my wife get through a normal day. We need women to be active in peak oil, so they can show us how to get through this.

Besides, they're fun. And goodness knows we're going to need for something to be fun.

What We Can Do

Ask for help

Of course, men will always be terrible at this. We need to realize how critical it is for women to be involved in planning for life after petroleum, and we need to ask for their help, simply, sincerely, urgently, and humbly.

Broaden the subject

For too long, those of us concerned about fossil fuel depletion have focused our conversation on proving the existence of the problem, or worse, obsessing over when we will reach peak oil. Admittedly, this is important, and we've obviously focused attention on that issue here as well. However, our single-minded focus on proving why we should be concerned about peak oil has caused too many eyes to glaze over. Let's acknowledge that the situation is dire and that our societies need to act, and then let's move on to the task of planning for a post-petroleum future.

Let's face it: most women (and quite a few men) are tuning out on the fifth graph showing Hubbert's curve or a scholarly guess about how many millions of barrels of oil per day the Ghawar field is producing. They will quite naturally become more engaged, however, in the conversations about what our homes will be like, how we will obtain the products we need, how we will raise and teach our children, how we will maintain relationships and beauty, and how we will maintain an orderly society. These conversations are concrete, immediate, and local, and they are essential to the survival of our civilization.

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