Back to doom, this week, my friends.
December 31, 2011
Living in a 112-year-old house, no matter how well built, is a series of financial adventures. Late fall, over a year ago, after the leaves had fallen from the trees, a leak in the bathroom ceiling meant that part of the roof over it needed replacing. We hired a roofer and, as he went around the house inspecting the rest of the roof, he stepped back toward the street in front of the house, cocked his head and said, “Your porch roof is collapsing.”
Sure enough, stepping back beside him at the edge of the yard, I could see, through the bare trees, where the long, hipped roof that coved the front porch had begun to separate from the house and was flattening between the hips. Why hadn’t I seen it before? Probably because I was simply to close to the problem to see the overall picture.
Had it been the neighbor’s porch roof, which I can see clearly from our yard, I would have seen immediately if their roof were collapsing. But, walking out of our front door and looking up at our porch “ceiling”, I could see nothing amiss. Looking down on the porch from my upstairs front windows, I couldn’t tell that the flat surface below me had begun to sink. Walking around the porch, as I often do while checking the flower beds, I lacked the long range perspective it took to see the sinking roof. Even my son, mowing the summer lawn, could not see it looking back through the summer trees from the easement along the street. So, the roof went unattended, probably for several years, because we didn’t see what was happening.
It seems to me, as we end this year and look to 2012, the collapsing porch roof is a metaphor for what is happening here in the United States. It’s easy to look across the ocean and see that Europe’s porch roof is collapsing, but I am stunned at how easily we Americans have ignored our own sagging roof.
Many on the internet, and occasionally the mainstream media, have pointed it out. Bill Hicks Is Dead, over at the Downward Spiral. has spent over a year documenting daily – and sometimes several times a day – the popping of nails, splitting of framed wood and slipping of shingles in the national porch roof. Sites like the Oil Drum, ASPO and others (see all links in the right hand column) have meticulously documented the decline in fossil fuels worldwide, including our newly touted “100 years of natural gas” and the quandary we are facing as a result. As have our own and other militaries – recognizing that both “peak oil” and climate change represent security threats of serious proportions.
Agencies such as the IPPC, the IEA and our own EIA have documented the effects of increasing CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels on the global climate.
And even the IMF is warning that, unless we in the developed world get our financial houses in order, the world could face economic collapse.
So why, in the face of all this data, all these warnings, do we continue to ignore our sagging roof? Short term, there is simply too much money to be made by those who have the power to actually fix the roof by kicking the can down the road a bit. And, the average American, constantly bombarded with conflicting messages, hasn’t put the big picture together and assumes things will get back to normal eventually as they always have.
I suspect they are a lot like my son and I when the roofer finally pointed out the obvious state of our porch roof. The recession and rising food and energy prices had taken its toll on our finances. We had barely scraped together the money to do the back roof and bathroom ceiling after what little the insurance would pay. Now, we were being told that the situation was even grimmer and costlier than we had anticipated.
With winter coming on, I suppose we could have had the roofer prop up the roof with two by fours and put the rebuilding off until spring, hoping the snow would be light, the ice storms few and traffic onto the porch minimal. We even had him put up some reinforcement while we tried to get an equity loan from our regional bank so we could rebuild the roof and restore it to its former glory. Alas, the loan fell through. With the first, light snow upon us, we finally decided to have him remove the porch roof and posts down to the brick post supports and patch the siding on the house where the roof had been removed.
It seems strange, that empty space where the roof had been, though there has been one advantage. In the winter, a lot more warming, afternoon sun comes through the downstairs windows. And in the summer, the trees still block most of that sun. The “purity of style” of the old house has no doubt been reduced, but in this economy, I’m not sure that makes any difference since the value has dropped so much anyway.
I bring all this up because, as we move on into 2012, we, as a nation, are going to have to address our own sagging roof. We’ve been told it’s in grave danger of collapsing and, right now, the nation seems to face the same choices about the national porch roof that my son and I did with ours.
We can keep propping it up and kicking repairs down the road until spring in hopes that it won’t collapse and catch some unlucky bastard in the debris. We can keep borrowing money in the hopes of restoring it to some semblance of its supposed former glory. We can do what my son and I did – and what many Americans are having to do as individuals. We can swallow our pride and take it down, repairing the hole it left in the siding and doing what we can to maintain the porch’s functionality at a price that, with a lot of sacrifice, we can live with.
What we cannot do any longer is ignore the warnings we have been given until the whole shebang collapses and takes the house down with it.