As a springboard from yesterday's post about developing post-peak skills by way of learning from hobbies, today I'd like to have conversation about depression era careers, post peak work, and general low energy living. Yes, I know that we've moved a little away from imminent preparedness, but you see everyone has been such a good sport that we're either out of money or done.
There is something that has really caught my eye in my Internet reading the last two days and that is the widespread use of the word "depression", meaning economic depression. Yesterday's MSNBC business page used the word in conjunction with several stories (though they are missing from today's headlines), and other blogs I read, such as Sharon Astyk's, Shasha's Seeking Simplicity, Wendy's Home is..., to this worthwhile Opinion piece at the LA Times all are talking about an economic Depression. The Great Depression and our current situation even came up in the presidential debates last evening.
If these economic times are the beginning of The Decline, the Long Slide into a post-peak world - its beginning marked by economic crisis - then how might we think now about what employment will look like in the the future? As we can't see the future clearly, many are looking back at the Last Depression and remembering how things were and bringing the ideas forward. People worked hard, they just didn't earn a lot or have a lot of expectations for grand things. Sometimes, it seems as though people think that they'll just not have a job - and that may be true but you will always have work. Work isn't about getting a job done for someone else but rather about putting a roof over our heads and food on the table and maybe getting a little coffee.
If I were young and preparing for a future career, I'd look into medicine or engineering - but wait, I don't have much aptitude for mathematical things even with a do-over. Still if you are creative and technical, there will be a great need to rethink how we do things...starting now. No, there isn't a great technology that is going to suddenly replace our dependence on oil, but there is a world of creative ideas that can help us adapt to the world as we have it.
Other work that is emerging and will continue in the future is the local foods movement. Yes, it can get a little groovy and chic in places, but at it foundation is a sustainable, community oriented way of life. If you didn't grow a garden this year, you might be thinking of all the ways you can grow food next year. In the informal economy - one that is increasing in value with every day the formal one decreases, friendly trade and barter with either homegrown food or homemade useful items stretches the household budget and tightens community. My family's story from the Last Depression was that no one in the family went hungry because the women always grew a garden even if the men had to travel to the city to work for days at a time. Growing food translates into a career when individuals sell produce locally or make specialty items: local cheese, wine, meats, meals, bread...
Repurposing can be a career: what one is able to scavenge (and the rules get relaxed when the formal society crumbles) and make into a new useful item is a worthwhile career. Those who have started dismantling the McMansions for the salvage are probably at the cutting edge of that line of work.
A while back I read an article by Matt Simmons (OK it was probably last week but in my fuzzy brain it feel longer) in which he talked about the great need to bring the infrastructure to the consumers, the community. Those of you who have replied that you don't have particular talents other than being bossy - this one's for you. It takes tremendous organization, and push, and thick skin to rewire society. What your community will use in the future needs to be produced where you live - now there is a wide open field.
Construction will once again be a viable field. When we lived in a community that had undergone years of economic hardship and geographic isolation, there were a lot of folks who, because of lack of paying work, would help each other with projects on each other's houses. One friend needed help patching his roof, we needed help installing a stove pipe out the roof (need that help again but here everyone is busily employed), someone else needed booths made for a restaurant starting on a shoestring, someone else wanted to begin the process of building a (first) bathroom...it was all informal - no tit for tat. In the future, there may be a call for alternative building techniques. This same community did a lot with straw bale building.
In this same town I could point to babies and toddlers I knew to be born at home with the help of a local midwife. After I had had a child of my own, I went to one such delivery as an attendant to the mother. These same midwives treated heart conditions, spider bites, infections... herbally and homeopathically. I knew to expect trouble with my own deliveries and had to drive (in labor) to the nearest hospital that would take deliveries - 120 miles between phones or even ranches (no cell towers in the area then) in the adjacent state. Because there was a functioning outside economy at the time, there were also many artists who made a living there.
I found that people who could butcher animals where in strong demand as well. I for one was content to midwife for my small flock of sheep. I would deliver lambs (with vigilance to my flock I lost only one), dock tails, vaccinate, sheer, trim hooves, put up hay... but after all that, I gave myself permission not to have to butcher. The guy who did this was really hard to book as he had a lot of work in an area where that had to be done under the radar.
I saw on the news the other night that mechanic's shops are booming. People who would ordinarily buy a new car are now fixing the one they have. I thought to myself, funny when we needed a repair all the bays were empty. Just then the newscaster said, only a month ago, business was down - perhaps as people waited to see what would happen with jobs and economy but now delayed repairs have to be completed.
I would guess that solar energy - always a great option - will be taken more seriously as those who have to save up a significant amount of money to hook up utilities that have been shut off for non-payment may save a while longer and begin to invest saved money into off-grid technologies. One couple in my very small church is looking at buying unimproved land and not putting in the standard electricity and natural gas but instead focusing on the technology available for methane gas and solar. Did I have any influence on this decision... perhaps. ;-)
Perhaps an interesting activity would be to visit an historic farm with an eye to skills that may once again be in demand - with a 21st century twist. Our world won't ever again look like the world before modern technology, unless you head out on a piece of land and make it that way. For the majority of people who have to survive, the future world will take that spirit of ingenuity, some old time skills, some technology, and add in some of the local movements that are happening so far and turn it into a new world. The success of which will depend on creativity and innovation.
Old time careers that could see a resurgence: hat making, shoe repair, glove maker toy maker, textiles and tailor, brewer, cook, local grocer, farmer, smith, boat making, herbalist and mid-wife, veterinarian, tobacconist, communications, transportation (alternative), security, building repairs...
So, are you doing the job that you would ideally be doing? What would you like to do? If you have to reinvent yourself in a simpler economy, what calls to you? How can your work be retrofit?