New Englanders Go into Survival Mode has an interesting article today talking about the ways that New Englanders are hunkering down and getting ready for a long, cool economy. It’s been particularly difficult for regular families to handle steep increases in oil and gas bills, not to mention increases in everything else from house insurance (how is our value going down but our insurance going up?) to food ($4.95 for a gallon of milk) to electricity.

But my mother, who is in her 80’s, likes to remind me that we really don’t need a lot of the stuff we buy these days. And, as noted by Margaret Isham, 52, an artist in Providence interviewed for the article, scarcity can have the positive effect of breeding respect for what you do have, particularly the simple gifts in life such as good friends, a fun hobby (my current kick is making bread), or relatively good health. Scarcity also breeds innovation, as we discover newer and healthier ways of doing things. A great example of this is the planned re-use of a brownfield in Coventry to make a solar energy field.


When a recession hit in the 1970s, Kathleen Carter barely noticed it. She was young, single, working as a bar manager in a restaurant, and on the verge of buying a home. Economic gloom registered only as a distant echo.

Now she is 55, and the current slowdown is impossible to ignore. Its effects bear down on her every day. She has had to put every household expense under a microscope, and she is cutting back wherever she can.

“I’ve gone into survival mode,” said Carter, a married mother of two who works part-time as a singer and lives in Kennebunk, Maine. “I’m asking: How much do we need, really need?” [full text]


4 thoughts on “New Englanders Go into Survival Mode

  1. Here in New Mexico, we are confronted by a different set of economic impacts. Our climate is much more moderate to be sure, but the distances we travel are much greater with most of our population having no access to public transportation. A trip to the closest metro area for us is a 165 mile round trip, and some people actually commute by car or truck. We are a major producer of oil, natural gas and coal, and have large reserves of uranium. Our energy costs are less (gasoline seems to be around $3.18/regular, and where I live, we gets lots of sun. Food prices have increased with energy costs–food travels by truck, but milk is still on sale at $2.29/gallon. Many, many folks have gardens and mini-orchards and with horses around, there is a never ending fertilizer supply.

    We forget that the U.S. economy is a $14 trillion economy, that’s 14,000 billion dollars a year. The “damage” to the overall economy is minimal but crucial because it impacts our quality of life. Unemployment is at 4.8% overall, by any measure a brilliant accomplishment and not indicationg “recession” of the usual kind. The foreclosure issue has clearly been overblown: 97% of all mortgages are being paid on time, and of the 3% remaining almost half are undergoing restructuring. Americans wake up every day, go to work, and pay their bills in an economy that is $14,000 billion of value each year. The word “recession” is used for political gain, is not accurate, and clouds the real problems we all have.

    It seems to me that the major impacts to the economy result from high energy costs that translate to higher travel, heating and food costs and a decrease in disposable income that could be spent on other things. If folks are paying $200-$300 more a month for energy, spending elsewhere declines. Unfortunately, government policy has been largely cowardly and or ignorant of addressing needs. The growth in “ag-fuels” has led to an extra burden on food costs–all that corn making inefficient and polluting alcohol fuels means corn prices increase, animal feed prices increase and subsidies paid for growing corn means other crops are not grown, increasing prices of those foods.

    All this is silly of course. None of this will reduce gasoline prices, largely because other rapidly expanding economies in China and India, for example, will simply buy the oil we do not. At $100 a barrel for oil, we forget it only costs Middle East producers $3 or so a barrel to rpoduce. It is an irony that the Chinese are able to drill for oil off of Florida, by a lease issued by Cuba, but American companies cannot. Energy prices will decline when there is more energy available to sell, be it oil, gas, coal, or nuclear. If American companies were able to drill off Florida, the East Coast, the West Coast, on land in the continental U.S., or the Arctic, there would flow an abundance of new oil, and new natural gas. If we were to build new refineries, we would refine more oil–we have not done so, and given the lack of backbone in politics, we will not.

    The other irony is that there is available sufficient known oil reserves to satisfy all our needs on land, in North America. Oil shales and tar sands are not undergoing development as needed. There is more oil available in oil shales and tar sands in the U.S. and Canada to satisfy current needs for hundreds of years. In fact we have more available oil than all the producing countries of the Middle East! The rocks are known, the resources have been calculated and published, yet we do nothing, much as the case for finding new oil domestically. By the same token, the U.S. has a major share of uranium resources in the world. We sell our uranium to “smarter” countries that are shifting to nuclear power. We are not building new nuclear power plants. China is, Japan is, Saudi Arabia will, Denmark is, France is, Germany is, Norway is, etc., etc. Latly, we have sufficient coal for 1000 years of energy production. It takes 9 years to get a coal fired power plant constructed in the U.S. China and India are putting a new coal fired power plant into operation every week.

    It is likely that all Americans would have that $200-$300 extra every month, reduced food costs, and better lives, if we had an energy policy dictated by need and not political expediency meant to placate special interests. We are responsible for the official we elect. We are also capable of not funding special interest groups that effective damage our quality of life and prosperity.

  2. Hi Donald! You’re back. We missed you.

    My main question is: why not move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy like wind and solar, or fuel cells?

  3. I found some of Donald comments interesting about Florida, who knew?

    I am aware of China throwing them up virtually overnight, however, they also have filthy air (and so the need for masks) and filthy water. They have many with cancer and other chronic illnesses which are directly related to the Coal fueled plants. I am dead against these.

    I agree with Kiersten. PBS just did an excellent story on Cambridge Energy Alliance which is looking to change the energy thinking. Obviously those on top whom have made record Billions this year on oil amazingly will continue to choke everyone. But, we have had some amazing inventors that have figured out how to travel hundreds of miles on a tank of gas and the gov’t buys their patent. There are brilliant folks whom now use cooking fat for fuel. I hope to witness more Green thinking.

    People in many other countries, especially China would kill the last of the “_____ exotic Sea Turtle” if they thought it would bring a lot of money. They kill dolphins and rape the seas not caring how much damage they are doing. That’s right – you pegged me, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and Enivornmentalist.

    We still pay the cheapest price for gas. My organic milk for my kids costs more, and so we don’t eat out because this is something we sacrifice to do.

  4. Hi all–thank you for the kind words. Every website needs a cranky old curmudgeon.

    Unfortunately, there is no free pass to anything: cold fusion and perpetual motion just don’t work. Hot fusion seems to have been a waste of billions of dollars worldwide. “Green” technologies are mostly not new and mostly very inefficient, expensive and may be more polluting than so called fossil fuels. And they distort the overall economy. Solar cell technology has always looked good in the laboratory, but practical and cost efficiency improvements have moved at a snail’s pace on a practical level, and all those storage batteries with their acids and leads, should make one cringe. Alcohol fuels yield more CO2 in production and consumption than the same energy yielded from oil and gas, and increased fertilizers can devastate water resources and fragile ecologies. Hydrogen fuel cells are interesting, but oh what an explosion they will make on our highways that already kill 48,000 people each year: remember the Hindenburg fireball. The current price of a hydrogen car seems to be about $700,000 as I recall. I wonder what the trade in value would be. Passive solar works nicely in some parts of the country, and we were early to use passive and active systems here in the Southwest (with tax credits). Wind is marvelous and it is unfortunate that all the wind generated in Congress cannot provide one extra watt of energy. In certain parts of the country, wind power is ugly and kills lots of birds, but does work, although the Kennedy clan does not want wind power in their backyard. Wind and water wells have worked for hundreds of years, and the Dutch have kept their land drained by wind power.

    Unfortunately, we are a nation of 330 million and perhaps 150 million cars and trucks and endless trains and thousands of airplanes and ships and hundreds of millions of homes. The safest and best ship power is easy: nuclear. Second best are gas turbines (jet engines geared to run ships). Hybrid or electric cars are miserable to ride in…all those lead/acid heavy batteries sap power and will need to be disposed of. Jets need kerosene type fuels, power plants coal, gas, oil or uranium. Homes need oil, gas or electric power. Try operating your computer, TV, stove, fridge, freezer, water heater, stereo, etc., on solar cells. There are few options for us. Green is nice but not as green as it may seem. There is no energy shortage; there is a shortage of will and policy.

    I suggest that no matter what our nation of 330 million does, it will have little or no bearing on the 6 billion (that’s the other 6000 million other folks) other people we share this world with–China and India, etc., will use oil, gasoline, coal, nuclear power and build their economies on abundant energy.

    The price of energy is largely dependent on production and supply. Find more and ease demand, and prices will moderate. Do nothing and as demand increases, prices will increase. Again, we have more oil in just tar sands and oil shales in North America than all the combined reserves in the Middle East. Add to that all the oil off our coasts or on our lands, the potential abundance is even more impressive. We have enough “easy” coal and natural gas to last centuries. These remain the economic and practical and cost effective fuels. Coal can be gasified and more efficiently and cleanly used. Just one-third more domestic oil refined, would have an immediate and dramatic effect on pump prices and increase disposable income. Forget corn as a fuel source, let the cows eat the corn, and food prices would decline at once.

Comments are closed.