Reaching Oil Limits – New Paradigms are Needed

I have written in recent posts that oil limits are more complex than what many have imagined. They aren’t just a lack of a liquid fuel; they are inability to compete in a global economy that is based on use of cheaper fuel (coal) and a lower standard of living. Oil prices that are too low for oil exporting nations are a problem, just as oil prices that are too high are a problem for oil importing nations.

Debt limits are also closely tied to oil supply limits. It is actually debt limits, such as those we seem to be reaching right now, that may bring the whole system to a screeching stop. (See my posts How Resource Limits Lead to Financial CollapseHow Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse, Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem, and Low Oil Prices Lead to Economic Peak Oil.)

We have many Main Street Media (MSM) paradigms that mischaracterize our current predicament. But we also have what I would call Green paradigms, that aren’t really right either, because they don’t recognize the true state of our predicament. What we need now is new set of paradigms. Let’s look at a few common beliefs.

Inadequate Oil Supply Paradigm

As I stated above, indications that oil supply is a problem are confusing. MSM seems to believe, “If the US can be oil independent, our oil supply problems are solved.” If a person believes the goofy models our economists have put together, this is perhaps true, but this is not true in the real world.

Without a huge, huge increase in US oil production (far more than is being proposed), being “oil independent” simply means that we are unable to compete in the world market for buying oil exports. US oil consumption ends up dropping, and we end up on the edge of recession, or actually in recession. Oil exports instead go to the countries that have lower manufacturing costs (that is, use oil more sparingly).  See Figure 1 below. In fact, even some of the oil products that are created by US refineries end up going to users in other countries, because it is businesses in other countries that are making many of today’s goods, and it is these businesses and the workers they hire who can  afford to buy products like gasoline for their cars or diesel for their irrigation pumps.

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

The Green version of this paradigm seems to be, “If world oil supply is rising, everything is fine.” This is related to the idea that our problem is “peak oil” production caused by geological depletion, and if we haven’t hit peak oil production, everything is more or less OK. In fact, the limit we are reaching is an economic limit, that comes far before world oil supply begins to decline for geological reasons. See my post, Low Oil Prices Lead to Economic Peak Oil.

The real paradigm is, “Limited oil supply leads to financial collapse.” This is true for both oil exporters and for oil importer. For oil importers, the problem occurs because they cannot import enough oil, and oil is needed for critical parts of the economy. The belief by economists that substitution will take place is not happening in the quantity and at the price level (very low) that it needs to happen at, to keep the economy expanding as it has in the past.

Limited oil supply first leads to high oil prices, as it did in the 2004 to 2008 period; then it leads to government financial distress, as governments try to deal with less employment and lower tax revenue. By the time oil prices start falling because of the poor condition of oil importers, we are well on our way down the slippery slope to financial collapse.

Growth Paradigm

The MSM version of this paradigm is, “Growth can be expected to continue forever.” A corollary to this is, “The economy can be expected to return to robust growth, soon.”

In a finite world, this paradigm is obviously untrue.  At some point, we start reaching limits of various kinds, such as fresh water limits and the inability to extract an adequate supply of oil cheaply.

Economists base their models on the assumption that the economy only needs labor and capital; it doesn’t need specific resources such as fresh water and energy of the proper type. Unfortunately, substitutability among resources is not very good, and price is all-important. In the real world, growth slows as resources become more expensive to extract.

The Green version of the growth paradigm seems to be, “We can have a steady state economy forever.” Unfortunately, this is just as untrue as the “Growth can be expected to continue to forever.” Even to maintain a steady state economy requires far more cheap-to-extract oil resources than the earth really has. (US shale oil resources, which are the new hope for oil growth, can only grow if oil prices are sufficiently high.)

We are very dependent on fossil fuels for making our food supply possible and for our ability to make metals in reasonable quantity. Fossil fuels are also necessary for making concrete and glass in reasonable quantities, and for making modern renewable energy, such as hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, and PV panels. We cannot keep 7 billion people alive without fossil fuels. Perhaps the quantity of fossil fuels consumed can be temporarily reduced from current levels, but with continued population growth, any savings will be quickly offset by additional mouths to feed and by the desire of the poorest segment of the population to have the living standards of the richest.

Unfortunately, the correct version of the paradigm seems to be, “Overshoot and collapse is to be expected.” This is what happens in nature, whenever any species discovers a way to way to increase its energy (food) supply. Yeast, when added to grape juice will multiply, until the yeast have consumed the available sugars and turned them to alcohol. They then die.

The same pattern has happened over and over with historical civilizations. They learned to use a new approach that allowed them to increase food supply (such as clearing land of trees and farming the land, or adding irrigation to an area), but eventually population caught up. Research shows that before collapse, they reached financial limits much as we are reaching now. The symptoms, both then and now, were increasingly great wage disparity between the rich and the working class, and governments that needed ever-higher taxes to fund their operations.

Eventually a Crisis period hit these historical civilizations, typically lasting 20 to 50 years. Workers rebelled against the higher taxes, and more government changes took place. Governments fought wars to get more resources, with many killed in battle. Epidemics became more of a problem, because of the weakened condition of workers who could no longer afford an adequate diet. Eventually the population was greatly reduced, sometimes to zero. A new civilization did not rise again for many years.

Figure 2. One possible future path of future real (that is, inflation-adjusted) GDP, under an overshoot and collapse scenario.

Figure 2. One possible future path of future real (that is, inflation-adjusted) GDP, under an overshoot and collapse scenario.

It seems to me that unfortunately overshoot and collapse is the model to expect. It is not a model anyone would like to have happen, so there is great opposition when the idea is suggested. Overshoot and collapse is very similar to the model described in the 1972 book Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows and others.

Role of Economics, Science, and Technology Paradigm

The MSM paradigm seems to be, “Economics and the businesses that make up the economy can solve all problems.” Growth will continue. New technology will solve all problems. We don’t need religion any more, because we now understand what makes people happy: More stuff! As long as the economy can give people more stuff, people will be satisfied and happy. Economics even can allow us to find “green” solutions that will solve environmental problems with win-win solutions (assuming you believe MSM).

The Green version of the paradigm seems to be, “Science and technology can solve all problems, and can properly alert us to future problems.” Again, we don’t need religion, because here we can put our faith in science to solve all of our problems.

I am not sure the Green version of the paradigm is any more accurate than the MSM media version. Science is not good at figuring out turning points. It is very easy to miss interactions that are outside the realm of science, and more in the realm of economics–for example, the fact high-priced oil is not an adequate substitute for cheap-to-extract oil, and it is the lack of cheap oil that is causing a major portion of today’s problem.

It is also very easy to put together climate change models that are based on far too high assumptions of the amount of fossil fuels that will be burned in the future, because economic interactions are missed. If debt collapse brings down the economy, it will bring down all fossil fuels at once, meaning that the vast majority of what we think of as reserves today will stay in the ground forever. A debt collapse will also affect renewables, by cutting off production of new renewables, and by making maintenance of existing systems more difficult.

The real paradigm should be, “Neither science and technology, nor economics can solve the problems of humans. We have instincts similar to those of other species to reproduce in far greater numbers than needed for survival, and to utilize all resources available to us. This leads us toward overshoot and collapse scenarios, even though we have great knowledge.

Because of our propensity toward overshoot and collapse scenarios, humans have a real need for a “moral compass” to tell us what is right and wrong. If there is no longer enough food to go around, how do we decide which family members should get it? Is it OK to start a civil war, if there are not enough resources to go around? There is also a need to deal with our many personal disappointments, such as finding that the advanced degrees we worked so hard on will have little use in the future, and that life expectancies are much lower. Perhaps there is still a need for religion, even though many have abandoned the idea. The “story line” of religions may not sound exactly reasonable, but if a particular religion can provide reasonable guidance on how to handle today’s problems, it may still be helpful.

Climate Change Paradigm

The MSM view of climate change seems to vary with the country. In the US, the view seems to be that it is not too important, and that it can be adapted to. Perhaps the models are not right. In Europe, there is more belief that the models are right, and that local cutbacks in fossil fuel consumption will reduce world CO2 production.

The Green view of climate change seems to be, “Of course climate change models are 100% right. We should rationally be able to solve the problem.” There is only the minor detail that humans (like other species) have a basic instinct to use energy resources at their disposal to allow more of their offspring to live and to allow themselves personally to live longer.

Unfortunately, a more realistic view is that climate change may indeed be happening, and may indeed by caused by human actions, but (1) we are already on the edge of collapse. Moving collapse ahead by a few months will not solve the climate change problem, and (2) collapse itself is an even worse problem than climate change to deal with.  By the time rising ocean levels become a problem, population is likely to be low enough that the remaining population can move to higher ground, and agriculture can move to where the climate is more hospitable.

Climate change may indeed cause population to drop even more than it would if our only problem were overshoot and collapse. But because the cause is related to human instincts (having more offspring than needed to replace oneself and the drive to use energy supplies that are available), changing the underlying behavior is extremely difficult.

Over the eons, the earth has been cycling from one climate state to another, with one species after another being the dominant species. Perhaps natural balances are such that the time has now come that humans’ turn as the dominant species is over. The earth is now ready to cycle to a state where some other species is dominant, perhaps a type of plant that can use high carbon dioxide levels. If this is the case, this is another disappointment that we  will need to deal with.

Nature of  Our Problem Paradigm

The MSM’s paradigm seems to be, “Our problem is getting the economy back to growth.” Or, perhaps, “Our problem is preventing climate change.

In a way, the MSM paradigm of “Our problem is getting the economy back to growth,” has some truth to it. We are slipping into financial collapse, and in a sense, getting the economy back to growth would be a solution to the problem.

The underlying problem, however, is that oil supply is getting more and more expensive to extract. This means that an increasing share of resources must be devoted to oil extraction, and to other necessary activities (such as desalinating water because we are reaching fresh water limits as well). As a result, the rest of the world’s economy is getting squeezed back. See my post Our Investment Sinkhole Problem. Squeezing the world’s economy creates great problems for all of the debt outstanding. The likely outcome is widespread debt defaults, and collapse of the world economy as we know it.

The Green paradigm seems to be, “We have a liquid fuel supply problem.”  If we can solve this with other liquid fuels, or with electricity, we will be fine. Many Greens also emphasize the climate change problem, so their big issue is finding electric solutions for the liquid fuel supply problems. There is also an emphasis on local food production, especially with respect to perishable foods.

Unfortunately, the real problem seems to be, “We are facing a financial collapse scenario that is likely to wreak havoc on all energy sources at once.” Using less oil products may be helpful for a while, but in the long term, we are dealing with an issue of major system collapses. Using less of a particular product “works” as long as the supply chain for that product is still intact, including the existence of all of the factories needed to make the product, and the existence of trained workers to operate the factories. Banks also need to remain open. World trade needs to continue as well, if we are to keep our supply chains operating. The real danger is that supply chains for many essential services, including fresh water, sewage disposal, medicines, grain production, road repair, and electricity transmission repair will be interrupted. As a result, we will need to find local solutions for all of them.

The situation we are facing is not at all good. While we can do a little, it will be very challenging to build a new system that does not use fossil fuels. In the past, when the world did not use fossil fuels, the population was much lower than today–one billion or less.

Also, in the past, we started simple, and gradually added complexity to solve the problems that arose. This time around, we need to do the reverse. We already have very complex systems, that are too difficult to maintain for the long term. What we need instead is simpler systems that can be maintained with local materials. This is not a direction in which science and technology is used to working.

Creating new systems that require only local resources (and a few other resources, if transport can be arranged) will be a real challenge. Areas of the world that have never adopted modern technology would seem  to have the bast chance of making such a change.

Importance of Tomorrow Paradigm

MSM seems to assume that we can save and plan for tomorrow. Greens have a similar view.

Perhaps, given the changes that are happening, we need to change our focus more toward to day, and less toward tomorrow. How can we make today the best day possible? What are the good things we can appreciate about today? Are there simple things we can enjoy today, like sunshine, and fresh air, and our children?

We have come to believe that we can and will fix all of the problems of tomorrow. Perhaps we can; but perhaps we cannot. Maybe we need to simply take each day as it comes, and solve that day’s problems as best as we can. That may be all we can reasonably accomplish.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to inadequate supply.
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224 Responses to Reaching Oil Limits – New Paradigms are Needed

  1. Don Stewart says:

    This will be a little essay on the issue of rationing in a world of declining fossil fuel energy. My conclusion will be that rationing is impossible, but necessary. I will use two resources in my argument. The first is this presentation by Mark Vander Meer talking about the degradation and death spiral of the forests in western Montana (and, by generalization, around the world).
    The second is Teaming With Nutrients, by Jeff Lowenfels. This is a book, and you will have to trust me a little bit not to misrepresent what is in it.

    Beginning with Vander Meer, we find that he believes that the ability of the soils to hold water is a more important issue than Global Warming. The Bad Guys are soil compaction due to heavy vehicular traffic, the construction of roads which act like gutters to funnel water downhill rapidly, and the loss of organic matter in the soil. And he notes that we humans have the knowledge and the ability to reverse the damage. I observe that ‘reversing the damage’ is undoubtedly going to require some use of fossil fuels. So the questions that must be answered include:
    Do we agree that he has correctly identified an extremely important issue?
    Do we agree with his finger pointing at The Bad Guys?
    Do we agree that he can point us in the direction of the recovery of soil health?
    Are we willing to spend the time, money, and fossil fuels to fix the problems?
    Are we willing to suffer some loss in immediate productivity in order to avoid collapse for our children?

    Moving on to Lowenfels. Jeff’s subject is ‘how plants eat’. How does a plant take dead chemicals and turn them into living tissues which nourish we humans when we eat the plant? And it turns out that the cell is the key building block. Cells are incredibly small but are an incredibly complex and busy factory with a sophistication that human society can barely comprehend, much less duplicate. If you read, for example, Jeff’s first chapter on the cell, you will find the description of an almost unimaginably subtle design. One quote: ‘A tremendous amount of a cell’s energy and the DNA blueprints it carries is devoted to making these transport proteins. Without each of them, a plant cannot take in the necessary building blocks…’

    So…the unimaginably tiny cell with an unimaginably complex factory has ‘rationed’ its energy in such a way that the right nutrients get into the cell so that it can go about its business of creating life out of dead chemicals. This system was built up over a very long time through evolution. Suppose that something happened which would steadily deprive the cell of available energy. Obviously, the cell’s current ‘rationing system’ would have to change. Is there anyone who thinks that there could be a smooth decline with a gradually implemented new design. It reminds me of the joke about the British driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. ‘They will eventually change, but it will happen gradually’.

    The Global Economy is many orders of magnitude less complex than a cell. But it is still far more complex than anything we can actually manage.
    1. We aren’t smart enough to manage the Global Economy with top down direction.
    2. The people on top doing the direction are likely to be greedy and power hungry
    3. Democracy would be hopeless in terms of developing direction

    Therefore, the base case must be collapse.

    Let’s go back to the issue of the ability of the soil to hold water. That is the bedrock on which a lot of Permaculture is built. If you look at Geoff Lawton’s videos, he always worries first about water. Ben Falk in Vermont worries first about water. Now here is the peculiar thing—humans can IMPROVE the ability of the soil to hold water beyond what unassisted Nature can achieve. Water runs rapidly downhill. The alluvial deposits all over the world testify that Nature has been eroding the high spots and depositing the eroded materials in the low spots for eons. Humans know how to slow the water down and let it sink into the soil. That is precisely what Lawton and Falk are doing. It is done with Terraforming–earth works. While humans and draft animals CAN do terraforming, fossil fuel powered machinery is awfully useful. Once constructed, the earthworks will last for thousands of years. Earthworks which manage water are Capital in a way that money profoundly is not Capital. And water which is well managed by humans greatly increases the fecundity of Mother Nature. Making the world more hospitable to humans. Lest we get to proud of ourselves, beaver do a pretty good job of managing water.

    My conclusion is pretty simple:
    1. Individuals and families and extended families and intentional communites should get about managing water to protect themselves from societal collapse.
    2. Societies should strive, against all odds, to ameliorate or avoid collapse by allocating resources to those critical functions which will increase the fecundity of Mother Nature. Society should strive to think like a Cell. (I don’t expect this to happen.)

    Don Stewart

    • The problem is that someone who is interested in Terraforming has to first buy the land, and then invest the energy resources in re-sculpturing the land in the right way. This will happen on at most a tiny percentage of the land. I am a little skeptical about earthworks lasting for 1000s of years, by the way. Maybe, if later generations don’t decide to “improve” it, or subdivide it for a large family, or make some other change.

      It is a nice thought, but without a decision by society to invest huge amounts in this direction, I don’t think it will happen.

  2. Gail
    Slightly off topic, but I wondered if you had come across this, seems good for spreading the info on what we are on about in here

  3. Don Stewart says:

    Ben Falk did some research on things like terraces. There are hand built terraces in Asia which are very, very old. He shows aerial pictures of them in some of his talks. As for subdividing the land…I suspect that having a finite land resource restricts family size. That was true in Edo Japan. When moving to town to take abundant industrial jobs became possible, then the restrictions on family size disappeared. If land for self-sufficiency once again becomes very important, then we may go back to the thought processes of Edo Japan.

    But I agree that nothing will be done by ‘society’. Any action will be by individuals, families, or small purposeful groups.

    Therefore, collapse is the most likely course of events….Don Stewart

    • Scott says:

      Yes Don, that is right there is still much old infrastructure left over from the old days that survivors may rediscover after collapse.

      The other day, I was talking about the old river ways on my post and they are still there and overgrown, but they can be trimmed up and put back in shape.

      Perhaps a World Made By Hand as James Howard Kunstler wrote about and also Gail subscribes to the same theories/outlooks. Nicole Foss also shares our views on how peak finance may arrive before peak oil and really bring the storm early.

      Although, it is clear that these old waterways and old systems are not set up to feed 8 Billion. That kind of makes my point that it will be there for those that live through the change and start over, the old pathways will be there and freeways too but they will likely rot and decay pretty fast if not maintained. But they are still out there and may be used again someday.

      I read a book called Earth Abides once and interesting tail of only a few people living through a disaster, only those that were rattle snake bitten!

      • davekimble2 says:

        I don’t understand all these references to “when peak oil arrives” – it has arrived. Maybe some people, even those who subscribe to the peak oil theory, have been successfully misled into believing that what is referred to as oil in the MSM is actually oil. It isn’t.

        The world stats all present Crude and Condensate (from gas wells) as being the same thing, but they have quite different hydrocarbon profiles and energy density. You can use reforming to turn Condensate into heavier hydrocarbons, and then refine them in the usual way, but that is not the same thing as Crude Oil.

        NGPLs are not oil either, though they can be used in suitably modified vehicles. Ethanol and biodiesel are not crude oil, and kerogen from tar sands isn’t oil either, so “All Liquids” is not what we mean when we say Peak Oil.

        This is world production of All Liquids: . Australian statistics do split Crude and Condensate, see . Now Australia is not necessarily representative of world production, but world Natural Gas production is still rising, so Condensate production must be rising. So you can see that Crude+Condensate hides the fact that Peak Crude Oil must have happened. And if you consider Crude Oil split into Conventional and Heavy, deep off-shore, etc, Peak Conventional Crude Oil is well past.

        We’ve got US, Europe and Japan in recession, with sales of refined products down in all categories, pedal-to-the-metal economic stimulus, near-zero interest rates, record-breaking investment by oil majors, and STILL the price of Brent is $104 /b. I don’t know what more proof anyone needs.

        • Scott says:

          I get your point, not much good to report on the financial front or the energy front. Central Banksters with their foot to the peddle to the metal.

          Not to want to be a doomsayer, but.. War seems to be breaking out in the middle east and may spread to the N. Korea.

          Meanwhile shortages quietly developing as our larger fields are depleting. Looking at the situation in Syria today, I went out and filled both my truck and car and gas cans and I want to have bit around in case we have a shock or something, at least I have some gas for my generator, but you know a tank of gas is a tank of gas and will not last long.

          I do have a plan B which is a harder situation for all of us but we stay going for awhile. Not sure about Plan C though that will be harder yet.

          This thing looks like a fire cracker ready to go, so I am working every month to do a little bit to have some stuff put aside, this month I was gas which cost me about $130 to fill my cans plus a car and truck, not cheap.

          I was just wondering how awful my yard would look without the mower cutting down the tall grasses this time of year, if I have to do it by hand, I would want a goat or sheep I think.

          Just think if you went to the store for the last time, what would you want?

          • xabier says:


            ‘If you went to the store for the last time, what would you want?’ Maybe a case or two of malt whisky………..

            We can all provide against a shock to the system quite rapidly by buying in extra food, etc, each month. It’s worth it, and our ancestors did it habitually, only the supermarkets have lulled us into thinking it isn’t necessary anymore.

            Even in Britain when there were just a few extra inches of snow recently, really trivial, there were reports of crazed people racing into supermarkets and sweeping anything they could off the shelves, so little prepared were they for the smallest hiccup in supplies. There’s is no need to be among these fools.

  4. Don Stewart says:

    Relative to the age of water works and their longevity. The first 3 articles are about terraces in Asia and the Andes, where some of the terraces are thousands of years old. The acequias in New Mexico, which are irrigation ditches, are around 350 years old and are an integral part of local government. Each ditch is self-governing. You can find state Supreme Court cases involving disputes between acequias over water. The acequias came to New Mexico from Spain.

    To me, there are a number of lessons for our society which is looking at the down slope from Peak Oil and Peak Debt:
    1. Water is really important. So important that a lot of human labor will be expended in the absence of fossil fuels.
    2. Well constructed land forms are quite resistant to decay from natural causes with proper maintenance.
    3. Yields with good water management can be very good.
    4. The necessity to manage watersheds tends to force neighbors to cooperate and form governmental, or quasi governmental, units. The Mayor-Domo of a New Mexico acequia is an important person in the local community. Leading largely by example and persuasion–much like a village chief in a hunter-gatherer society.
    5. A limited water supply per family tends to limit the size of families (in the absence of emigration possibilities such as The Big City or The New World or The Military.

    Don Stewart

    New Mexico. State Engineer Office. colonization period of the 17th and 18 centuries. Historically, they have been a principal local government unit for the distribution and use of irrigation water. The acequias have the power of eminent domain …

    • Scott says:

      Amazing rice terraces, so much work my back hurts looking at the pictures. Human labor can do a lot especially with a mule or two.

      One thing that came to my mind is like int he Andes and Himalayas where most of the water for so many of these fertile valleys is about to dry up because the Glacier that supplies the water is almost melted.

      So many dependent on that water and it is about to go dry very soon.

    • Scott says:

      I know this is a bit off subject but sending this for my friends in the UK and elsewhere that remember the past!

      Turning back the clock to our favorite Peasant Girl. These were simpler times for sure.

      Fleetwood Mac: Gypsy Live – Mirage tour 1982. Quality music seems to be lost these days something from the past?

    • xabier says:


      There are wonderful old terraces in Spain built by the Moors: many abandoned now of course due to the unviability of small-scale farming. Probably built by Christian slave labour (much as I once saw a deep well cut from the rock by Turkish prisoners in Austria.) They can indeed last a long time, even when neglected.

      One of the tragedies of modern agriculture is its short-termism, created of course by the ease of global transport in the oil-age: English agriculture, which had reached a peak of sophistication, was wrecked in the 19th century by cheap Australian cereals and meat.

      On my family’s old estate in Spain which we had owned for 800 years, the olive trees were all cut down 20 years ago by new owners in order to plant cereals which were less labour-intensive and more profitable then. Those trees were all at least 300 years old, many much older. In Mallorca, one can see olive groves 1 to 2,000 years old, still well-managed. It’s a wonderful thing to stand by a living plant tended by man for that length of time: Roman, Muslim, Christian……..

      The wisest rich man I know, in Spain, refuses ever to go to town, and spends his days tending his vines.

      Our ancestors could build and plant with centuries in view, and our elites have trouble seeing to the next election. The European Union is now encouraging the import of agricultural goods from North Africa, where they wish to extend political influence, and this is yet further undermining the old, smaller family farms of Spain. I suspect you are right, there will be no wise planning, only collapse.

      • xabier says:

        It’s easy to romanticize of course, it was a tough life: one of the old peasant songs of Spain says:

        ‘Are you a man to work in the fields?
        Are you made of bronze, that you can fight the sun?!’

      • Scott says:

        Cutting down those old olive trees sure is a good example of blind greed which seems to have brought us here to the brink of collapse.
        It is nice to hear about the old guy that refuses to go to town and tends his vines. Sounds like he is one of the few that care about the land its living things.

        Many people have somehow lost their connection to the Earth and instead serve a different master of corporate greed.

        I have a deep respect for the American Indian and people that respect the Earth. The Indians managed to live here a long time and did no harm to the Earth.

        I guess it is too late for us to go back to the way of the Indians. However, those who survive will likely have no choice and to survive it would be necessary once again to live like an Indian. That could be our future.

        • xabier says:


          The old man and his vines is very rich – from wine. He could be in the city with people fawning over him, but you can hardly get him away from the land. He rented his beautiful old country house to one of those mega-rich football stars, (his wife doesn’t like it and so he has to live in a modern one to please her!) and put in a new luxury swimming pool up to his tenant’s standards, my cousins installed it: ‘Incredible, isn’t it,’ he said, ‘what rubbish people care about?!’ Needless to say, the footballer doesn’t set foot on the land….

          There seem to be many sane and decent people around, but they’re not in the driving seat of our societies, that’s for sure.

          • Scott says:

            Sounds like a very nice old guy and a truly good man. The world could use leaders like him, but you know that people like him are most likely not interested in Politics.

            He comes from a dying breed but good to know there are still some folks like that out there. In America many of our farmers are older, I had read. I think the average age is close to 60 which also does not bode well for our future. Many of the kids have no interest in managing the farm and have gone into the cities.

            I liked your story.

  5. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    I have argued the case for gardening on several occasions. Most of my arguments are based on what I see and judge to be true. There are two articles in today’s which put some numbers on things. My recapitualation of the argument for gardening is:

    1. ‘Food miles’ don’t mean much in terms of fossil fuel use:

    ‘Ironically for the local food advocate, transportation efficiency actually peaks with oceangoing ships, declines slightly with rail and more so with diesel trucks, and finally diminishes with the iconic farmers’ market pickup. It’s only in compact cities and small rural towns that energy efficiency can jump back up with the farmer back in the driver’s seat—or rather, the saddle. Bicycle transport wins the efficiency game in linking local farms to consumers right in the neighborhood.’

    The advantage of big trucks over pickup trucks is 11 to 1. Big trucks are not quite as efficient as rail which is not quite as efficient as water transport.

    2. An efficient garden uses little powered transport. Some seeds may be ordered and delivered by mail, but they don’t weigh much, don’t need refrigeration, and so are pretty inexpensive to ship. The article also points out that perishables such as fruits and vegetables cost twice as much to ship as staples such as grains. Gardens typically grow fruits and vegetables.

    3. It is entirely possible to operate an inefficient garden. Peat moss shipped in from the tundra and ‘organic fertilizer’ consisting of bat guano. Irrigation water in Phoenix.

    4. We really are running out of fossil fuels. And we probably are on the downslope for oil:

    Therefore, only truly efficient uses of fossil fuels, particularly for transport, are likely to survive. Shipping grains by rail and water may well be survivors. Shipping fresh fruits and vegetables may well not survive.

    In addition, many gardeners add a lot of purchased nitrogen and phosphates. A resilient gardener must learn how to use natural sources of nitrogen and to conserve phosphates. These aren’t rocket science, but they have to be learned and practiced. Both are likely to be rare in the future.

    5. The fresher a fruit or vegetable, the more the micronutrient content is available for human use and the more health supporting is the consumption. There is nothing as fresh as kitchen garden to kitchen to table.

    6. Efficient gardening has a learning curve and requires the building of physical capital such as water conservation mechanisms and fertile soil. Therefore, the wise person probably gets started right now. In addition, money as capital is probably worth more now than it will be in the future in terms of purchasing real capital assets.

    Don Stewart

    • Scott says:

      Yes, seed are part of our plan, we have them in #10 cans that we bought sealed and keep them in the fridge and also in cool closet. They do last for years.

      I just invested some more money in my garden today because three deer came through here early this morning and cleaned out the strawberries. My wife was unhappy as she has been watering them every morning. Bought some cedar and chicken wire to build some screens to keep the deer mouths off some of the garden beds. A bit of work and I am going to get started on it tomorrow.

      So my wife got after me to cover it and so today I went to buy some chicken wire and cedar that I plan to cut up into smaller pieces to make a deer cover for some things. The deer do not bother the squash and corn too much if it is up and not young. So we are learning about more each year.
      I am going to do strawberries and spinach etc under wire this year.

      The point I wanted to make is that your harvest will all come in at once (if not plundered) and what I do is dry it in a food dehydrator things that are favorable to do that with that are excess like, corn, squash, bell peppers etc. Then jar them with Oxygen removers packets that I buy on line. They keep for many years, but be sure to get it really dry first. I also make Beef Jerky with this machine and any other kind of jerky you want. Especially in the fall in the harvest time the machine runs out side and works better in the heat. The food dehydrator is a useful machine to have in the house and the solar one I plan would work too on a sunny day. But it takes two or three days to do batches of food in the machine so weather in a solar thing could be harder. There is always canning in bad weather using firewood etc.

      I have plans and parts to build a solar version of the food dryer that will only work on good weather days. So drying or freezing or canning is a thing we should should all learn again, something from the past once again important along with all those waterways and paths still out there to be reopened and cleared. Many old systems still out there that could be restored by a much smaller population (less than 500 million perhaps) of survivors but those systems are far short to feed us all now at eight billion.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Lots of things can be done. Everyone needs to find the right balance between trying to do everything (impossible) and not doing anything (the road to disaster). Did you read Albert Bates account of his weekend at Sandor Katz’ house–fermenting just about anything and everything. Fermentation was the preferred method of preserving in many places a couple of hundred years ago. My daughter has built a solar dryer out of a repurposed paper towel dispenser like you see in restrooms, and she ferments a lot of stuff, and she also dries. She is canning much less. She keeps chickens for both eggs and meat, and has a pretty good garden. All this on a small urban lot.

        I tell her she needs to plan her dating life around the help she needs. E.g., Man Wanted. Must be good at killing and butchering chickens, etc. OR Man wanted. Must be fearless while climbing unstable ladder high into cherry tree.

        At first, she dismissed my fatherly advice. Now she is not so sure I am wrong….Don Stewart

        PS We are going to need to go back to hunting deer and squirrels very quickly. We aren’t going to be rich enough to build chain link fences around everything. And squirrels destroy way more than they eat…so the meaning of a ‘squirrel gun’ will become apparent to every school child once again.

        • Scott says:

          Yes Don,

          I have been thinking of these simple ways, we are just not yet ready to eat some of these critters yet as we are spoiled on chickens. But as the saying goes get ready to eat Crow!

      • davekimble2 says:

        Fine so long as you appreciate that this only works so long as you can go to the shops and buy the things you need, and that your title to the land is only assured so long as the Land Titles database remains on-line, the police there to arrest thieves, the courts there to prosecute them , the prisons there to lock them up and the energy there to run the telephones, internet, banking system, shops and transport services.

        We can’t help but be enmeshed in the society at large, however self-sufficient we try to be. But modern society is now so complex and lacking in resilience and therefore fragile, that the very fabric of society could go into grid-lock at any moment. Why has the power gone off ? I don’t know – the phones aren’t working.

        I am reminded of a TV documentary I saw recently where three African tribesmen, armed only with machetes and spears, walked up to a group of about eight lions feeding on some carcass, and calmly hacked a leg off it and walked away with it. That is what humans have been doing for tens of thousands of years.

        • Scott says:

          Yes Dave, I get your message loud and clear.

          I think – the best I can do is to improve my gardens and knowing it is little, using well water and having back up system with seed and freeze dried foods will buy us a bit of time.

          But I do not like to eat the freeze dried foods, I prefer to eat from the garden. It is not nearly enough, I think each of us would need 10 or more acres to survive and grow enough food and animals that is only if we cooperated and helped each other.

          One has to ask — How many of us have ten good acres with animals, water and crops that are suitable for survival? I think Gail’s message is that the Earth no longer has 20 or more acres of land with water crops and food for each of us which is what we really need.

    • Thanks for the links. I hadn’t seen those precise transport numbers before, but had heard that that was the general direction of the difference.

      I am not convinced that I am all that efficient with my own gardening. I buy trees that are already partly grown, for example, because I don’t want to wait for the rest of my life until they produce.

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