A few years ago, Kathleen Breault was just another suburban grandmother, driving countless hours every week, stopping for lunch at McDonald’s, buying clothes at the mall, watching TV in the evenings.
That was before Breault heard an author talk about the bleak future of the world’s oil supply. Now, she’s preparing for the world as we know it to disappear.
Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of locally grown foods near her upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television, and swore off air travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.
“I was panic-stricken,” Breault, 50, recalled, her voice shaking. “Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible.”
Convinced that the planet’s oil supply is dwindling and the world’s economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn’t prepare.
The exact number of people taking such steps is impossible to determine, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the movement has been gaining momentum in the past few years.
These energy survivalists are not leading some sort of green revolution meant to save the planet. Many of them believe that it is too late for that, seeing signs in soaring fuel and food prices and a faltering U.S.economy, and are largely focused on saving themselves.
Some are doing it quietly, giving few details of their preparations — afraid that revealing such information as the location of their supplies will endanger themselves and their loved ones. They envision a future in which the nation’s cities will be filled with hungry, desperate refugees searching for food, shelter and water.
“There’s going to be things that happen when people can’t get things that they need for themselves and their families,” said Lynn-Marie, who believes that cities could see an increase in violence as early as 2012.
Lynn-Marie asked to be identified by her first name to protect her homestead in rural western Idaho. Many of these survivalists wouldn’t speak to The Associated Press for similar reasons.
These survivalists believe in “peak oil,” the idea that world oil production is set to hit a high point and then decline. Scientists who support that idea say that the amount of oil produced in the world each year has already or will soon begin a downward slide, even amid increased demand. But many scientists say that such a scenario will be avoided as other sources of energy come in to fill the void.
On the PeakOil.com Web site, where nearly 800 people gathered on recent evenings, believers engage in a debate about what kind of world awaits.
Some members argue that there will be no financial crash, but a slow slide into harder times. Some believe that the federal government will respond to the loss of energy security with a clampdown on personal freedoms. Others simply don’t trust that the government can maintain basic services in the face of an energy crisis.
The powers that be, they’ve determined, will be largely powerless to stop what is to come.
Peter Laskowski, 57-year-old retiree, lives in a woodsy area outside of Montpelier, Vt. He has become the local constable and a deputy sheriff for his county, as well as an emergency medical technician.
He is conserving fuel, consuming less, studying global warming, and relying on local produce and craftsmen. Laskowski is powering his home with solar panels and is raising fish, geese, ducks and sheep. He has planted apple and pear trees and is growing lettuce, spinach and corn.
Whenever possible, he uses his bicycle to get into town.
“I remember the oil crisis in ’73; I remember waiting in line for gas,” Laskowski said. “If there is a disruption in the oil supply, it will be very quickly elevated into a disaster.”