Oil Prices Lead to Hard Financial Limits

We live in a finite world.  Clearly, a finite world has limits of many kinds. Yet economists and other researchers use models that assume that these limits are unimportant for the foreseeable future. They have certainly not stopped to think that any of these might be very hard limits that are difficult to get around, and furthermore, that we might be reaching them in the next year or two.

What are the hard limits we are reaching? One of the main ones is that at some point, there is a clash between the oil prices importers can afford, and the amount oil exporters require.

Figure 1. Author's view of conflict in required oil prices

Figure 1. Author’s view of conflict in required oil prices

In fact, there can even be a conflict between prices producers in a non-exporting country like the US or Brazil need, and the prices citizens can afford to pay.

Why Oil Exporters Need Ever-Higher Prices

Oil exporters need ever-higher prices, partly because the cost of extraction continues to rise, and partly because oil exporters use taxes from oil to fund public works projects and to keep their many unemployed citizens pacified. The Arab Petroleum Investment House estimates this combined cost for OPEC countries to be increasing by 7% in 2013. Required prices by oil exporters are already in excess of current market prices for some countries, making the situations in these countries less stable. Examples of countries needing higher oil prices than current prices to balance their budgets include Nigeria, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq (APIH report) and Russia (Deutche Bank estimate).

There is evidence that the collapse of the Former Soviet Union in 1991 occurred when oil prices dropped too low. The Soviet Union was an oil exporter, but with the low oil prices, it could not afford to make investments in new productive capacity. It also could not afford to fund government programs. The collapse did not happen immediately, but happened after low prices had sufficient time to erode funding. Ultimately, the central government collapsed, leaving the individual state governments. See my post, How Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse.

How do oil importers reach price limits?

According to most economic theory, oil importers should never reach a price limit. If higher prices occur, as they did in the 1970s and early 1980s (Fig. 2), these higher prices should quickly lead to conservation, plus greater oil extraction and the development of substitutes.

Figure 2. World oil price (Brent equivalent) in 2011$,  based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 2. World oil price (Brent equivalent) in 2011$, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

In fact, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, high oil price did lead to changes of the expected kind. It was possible to replace oil-fired electric power plants with coal-fired power plants or nuclear electric power plants. It was also possible to replace the very large, fuel inefficient cars that US automakers were making with more fuel-efficient cars, including ones that Japanese automakers were already making. In addition, it was possible to quickly bring additional inexpensive oil on-line, such as from Alaska (Figure 3) and the North Sea. The decline in the 48 states production (excluding tight oil) was never really fixed.

Figure 3. US crude oil production, divided into "tight oil", oil from Alaska, and all other, based on EIA data.

Figure 3. US crude oil production, divided into “tight oil,” oil from Alaska, and all other, based on EIA data.

More recently, there has been much less success in increasing world oil supply. Higher oil prices eventually led to some new production, such as US tight oil (green in Fig. 3). But even with the new US tight oil production, world oil supply has not risen very much  (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Growth in world oil supply, with fitted trend lines, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 4. Growth in world oil supply, with fitted trend lines, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

It is not clear how long the current run-up in tight oil production will continue. Current production is enabled by high oil prices, available credit, and low-interest rates. Even these may not be enough: a recent headline says, Shale Grab in U. S. Stalls as Falling Values Repel Buyers.

What happens when oil prices rise, and no additional supply or substitute is available?

Economists tell us that when oil prices rise, and no additional supply or substitute is available, demand destruction occurs. It turns out that demand destruction for oil corresponds to what most people would call “recession. It is as if the economy shrinks to a smaller size, so that less oil is required.

This economic shrinkage takes place in a number of ways. Higher oil prices make oil less affordable for consumers, businesses, and governments. The indirect result of this is job layoffs, because consumers cut back on discretionary items, such as vacation travel and eating out at restaurants. Governments cut back on projects like road repair, laying off workers. Businesses find they need to raise prices of goods they sell, because of the higher prices they pay for oil. The result is that their products are affordable to fewer consumers, again requiring laying off workers. So the net result is job loss, and continued weakness in hiring, such as the US has seen for several years now.

Governments are particularly affected by high oil prices, because with fewer people working, government tax collections are reduced. More people file for benefit programs, such as unemployment or disability coverage, when they cannot find work. This adds to government funding issues. If banks fail, governments may be called to bail them out, also adding to government expenditures.

There have been academic studies showing that high oil prices tend to create recessionary impacts.  James Hamilton has shown that 10 out 11 post-World War II recessions were associated with oil price spikes. He has also shown that oil price changes in the 2005-2008 period were sufficient to lead to the Great Recession (Brookings Paper). I have also written a related academic paper, Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis.

Because of these issues, if high oil prices remain after a recession, we should expect continued recessionary impacts, such as an inadequate number of jobs for young people and growing government debt. The government can cover up these issues to some extent with ultra low interest rates. In fact, such low interest rates, together with continued deficit spending, seem to be the reasons the US has been in “recovery” since the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009. However, we still find (Fig. 5) that the big oil importing countries (US, UK, and Japan) have much lower GDP growth in recent years than the rest of the world.

Figure 5. Annual percent change in Real GDP by part of the world, based data of the USDA.

Figure 5. Annual percent change in Real GDP by part of the world, based data of the USDA.

These countries also have much less growth in oil consumption than the rest of the world, indicating that when it comes to oil consumption, citizens and businesses of the US, EU and UK are being outbid by businesses and workers elsewhere.

Figure 6. Oil consumption based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 6. Oil consumption based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Workers elsewhere may use less oil per person, but because they have jobs, they are able to purchase new scooters and other goods they want. Their employers also use oil to make and ship goods, keeping their demand high.

In the US, EU, and Japan, we continue to lose jobs to automation and to outsourcing to low wages countries. As a result, wages are stagnating, and young people are having a hard time getting jobs, making oil less affordable. If only there were more high-paying jobs.  .  . Of course, in a globalized world using coal as a primary fuel, the goods we would make would be too expensive for the world market.

Related financial limits we are hitting

Oil importers around the world are disguising the effect high oil prices are having on economies, through low interest rates and continually rising debt. In doing this, oil importers are able to keep the price of oil that they can afford high. In other words, using these techniques, oil importers are able to keep the blue “affordable by importers” line high in Figure 1.

At some point, there is a limit to how much the adverse impact can be disguised. The following are several areas where limits are now being reached, that will tend to bring down the “affordable to importers” line in Figure 1.

1. Limits on the amount of governmental debt. In the US, the need to raise the federal deficit cap will come up again as soon and October. There will be pressure to try to reduce spending, to reign in the federal deficit. If the economy were growing faster, the debt limit would be less of an issue. But with continued high oil prices, growth is slowed. Debt limits can be expected to continue to be an issue.

2. Slowing growth, and related debt limits, in developing countries. High oil prices affect importers or all kinds, even developing countries that use less oil as a percentage of their total energy consumption. The slowing growth also makes debt harder to manage. News sources are talking about slowing economic growth in China, India, and Brazil.

A recent WSJ article about China is titled, Debt Drags on China’s Growth. According to the article, interest and principle payments on business and household debt currently absorb around a third of China’s GDP. Some debt is being taken on, just to allow interest on past debt to be paid. These high debt levels may cramp future growth in China.

3. Rising longer-term interest rates, because of scaling back or ending quantitative easing. As noted above, low-interest rates are helping to cover up our current issues of inadequate good-paying jobs and inadequate government revenue. If interest rates rise, the government will need to pay more interest on its own debt, leading to a needed tax increase.

Figure 7. Ten year interest rates based on data of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Figure 7. Ten year interest rates based on data of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Another effect of rising interest rates is that the market value of bonds outstanding will fall. This happens because the price of bonds is adjusted so the new owner will get the current (higher) yield to maturity, instead of the original low yield to maturity. Owners of bonds, such as the Chinese and Japanese, are aware of this, and have started selling their treasuries, before prices fall further. (See Reuters: China, Japan lead record outflow from Treasuries in June.) This type of sale of treasuries tends to raise the yield on treasuries, even before the Federal Reserves actually cuts back its monthly purchase of securities under quantitative easing.

If interest rates on 10-year treasuries rise, mortgage interest rates will rise, cutting back on the number of families who qualify for loans for new or resale homes. Last week there were articles saying, “New home sales plunge 13.4%,” presumably from the amount by which interest rates have risen already. If interest rates rise enough, there may also be a decrease in the value of resale homes, because there will be fewer buyers who can afford  move-up homes, lowering demand for homes.

4. Popping of asset bubbles, as a result of rising interest rates. At least part of the rising value of assets of many types (stocks, homes, farms, oil and gas leases) is likely  to related to the very low-interest rates recently experienced. Bubbles tend to occur, because with  debt earning very low-interest rates, borrowers are anxious to earn higher rates of return, however they can. Investors bid up prices using money borrowed at low-interest rates, in hope of making capital gains later. Of course, if interest rates rise, all of this may “turn around”.

One piece of evidence regarding the effect of rising interest rates on stock market prices, versus falling interest rates, for the period graphed in Figure 7, is the following: During the period 1957 between to 1981, when interest rates were rising, the S&P 500 rose by less than inflation. In contrast, during the period 1981 to 2013 when interest rates were falling, the S&P 500 stock market index averaged a gain of about 5% per year, over and above the inflation rate. The difference is in the direction a person would expect, and is quite large.

The Outlook 

As we reach financial limits of many  kinds, further recession, possibly quite severe, seems likely. Some of the limits are ones we have not encountered before, particularly the one with oil prices being too low for exporters, but too high for importers. This makes the situation particularly frightening. At some point, the clash between the price oil importers can afford and the amount oil exporters need could cause oil production to drop dramatically, over only a few years. Such a drop in oil production would likely have a very adverse impact on economic growth.

If oil limits indeed reduce economic growth, this makes models based on the assumption that the future will look like the past invalid. Instead, we need to expect a very changed world. At some point, we may even reach permanent contraction, as oil limits change the nature of the world economy.

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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321 Responses to Oil Prices Lead to Hard Financial Limits

  1. Scott says:

    Interesting Idea… just make the nuclear plants without containment vessels and put them on one thousand mile long electric lines away from most of us, these areas are places that the government may tell people to leave, the Nuclear power districts… I always thought it should be away from us anyway, but the problem is cooling if they need water. Do they need to be by the Sea or large body of water or river? I am not sure about the Thorium power stations we have discussed a bit — do they need water like the conventional nuclear reactors? Anyone who knows can comment on that.



  2. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    This comment will offer what I hope is a respectful challenge to a couple of the assumptions which play key roles in the articles:
    1. Collapse is the best solution we have to climate change
    2. Bankruptcy necessarily implies collapse

    Taking up the climate change issue first. Consider Darren Doherty’s statement at 1:16 in this video:

    I will note that a 1.6 percent increase in carbon in the soil means that the carbon level increases from, say, 1 percent to 2.6 percent. At 1:18 he discusses the use of perennial grasses and trees as carbon sequestration vehicles. He notes that perennial grasses work faster than trees.

    Now take a look at this video with Joel Salatin and Joe Mercola, MD taking a tour of part of Joel’s farm in Virginia. Remember that Joel considers himself a ‘grass farmer’, and that these are predominately perennial grasses that you are looking at. And that Joel manages these grasses to maximize carbon sequestration. For example, a perennial grass can send roots down 25 feet into the soil. When the visible part of the grass is growing, it must be supported by more roots. So the plant sends out rootlets far below the surface. But then a cow grazes the grass, so there is less visible biomass, which prompts the plant to kill some of the fine roots deep in the soil, which leaves a carbon deposit deep in the soil.


    I have previously mentioned the work that Alan Savory has done restoring deserts with grasses and rotational grazing.

    A combination of animals and trees is found in silvopasture:

    And we have had some fairly extensive discussions of food forests and mulch systems with no tillage for growing annual vegetables.

    If you doubt that humans can actually do anything to increase carbon levels in the soil, I suggest that you watch the entire hour and a half of Doherty’s talk, and also check Albert Bates current blog post:

    In summary, I don’t think it is a given that collapse is the best we can do in terms of climate change. We have the ability to store more carbon in the soil, and we will reap a multitude of benefits beyond climate change if we do so. Those who dismiss ‘the farming solution’ and claim that moving away from a soil carbon destroying chemical based system of agriculture is equivalent to a reversion to the Middle Ages just need to do their homework.

    The second challenge is to the notion that bankruptcy necessarily implies physical collapse. Let’s suppose we begin with a single firm that is highly levered and commands a high price/earnings multiple because the stock market thinks the company has learned the secret of perpetual exponential growth. Some fine day the stock market discovers that the management, which was paid to achieve earnings at any cost, has run the company off the cliff. The company goes to bankruptcy court and the paper assets of the debtors, the equity investors, and the workers are all shorn and the company is restructured in the light of its true prospects. But the company as a producer of real goods and services may emerge as a productive entity…depending on how much structural damage the old management did trying vainly to save their paychecks. So it is possible, at least in theory, for a financial superstructure to collapse without a collapse in the actual productive capacity of the company.

    Consider a very simple business…a family farm. Let’s assume that the family farm both feeds the family from its products and also sells products in the marketplace in order to earn the money it needs to buy things from outside the farm economy. A traditional family farm probably has 3 generations living on it. It doesn’t have any stocks and bonds. Family ties ensure that one can work hard on the farm in middle age and then begin to take life easier when one grows old. Children are productive from an early age but aren’t expected to life hay bales right away. Talking about the ‘necessity’ for earning interest obviously isn’t applicable to this very simple organization. One begins life by consuming more than one produces, then in the middle years one produces more than one consumes, and in old age one again consumes more than one produces. Over a lifetime, one’s consumption matches one’s production. There is no magic of infinite exponential financial ‘growth’. The rewards are not money…just a good life.

    Let’s suppose that, after reviewing the Carbon Farming material, you grudgingly admit that perhaps it is possible. You acknowledge that the entire weight of corporate and political power will be arrayed against the ideas, and so think that our dysfunctional social and political and economic systems will prevail and we will actually kill ourselves with climate change. Besides, what corporate executive making 50 million dollars a year because they have managed to convince Wall Street that they have the secret to perpetual exponential growth in earnings is going to say ‘actually…we can’t produces exponential earnings growth’.

    And, for all you Peak Oilers, you note that fossil fuels are involved in even the simplest of the current methods. For example, Joel Salatin uses a very light-weight fence of metal and plastic and he uses electricity. He uses a tractor to pull his mobile equipment. He has a pick-up truck. His products are delivered to customers with automobiles and trucks.

    There are two points we need to remember about the oil connections. First, Joel is using, in his production methods, far less oil than a conventional farmer. Distribution is still a big issue and he talks about ‘aggregators’ in his discussion with Joe Mercola. The oil that he is using is going for high value services such as the electric fences and taking the animals to slaughter. Second, in a rational world, Joel’s ability to bid for a declining supply of oil would be higher than a lot of other oil users. If we rank outputs, Joel’s production of food, clean water, and carbon in the soil has to rank very high. Third, Joel can visualize a path to pretty complete independence from oil. His equipment can be moved by burros, electric saws can be replaced by hand saws, rural communities may regrow providing local outlets for food, etc. Much of his oil use is driven by the economic necessity to be price competitive with people who are using far more energy slaves.

    Can we imagine an oil company as a Cash Cow? A cash cow company is not expected to grow exponentially. It is expected to continually decline, but to produce a positive cash flow when astutely managed. My personal introduction to ‘cash flow harvesting’ was a dinner discussion with a Slum Lord at a charity dinner many years ago. For a good 30 minutes he educated me on the opportunities and pitfalls of buying slum properties and managing them for cash flow.

    If we let the ‘perpetual exponential growth’ financial machines crash and burn, but keep the productive potential intact, then we may be able to harvest plenty of oil to do what we need to do to put more carbon in the soil, which has numerous benefits beyond climate change. As with carbon farming, the obstacles are mostly not physical reality, but the dysfunction social, political, and economic systems.

    Don Stewart

    • dysfunctional systems are entirely the product of human nature, therefore our problem seems to be dysfunctional human nature.
      you cannot change human nature by wishing it so, therefore any change has to have a driving force.
      driving forces are invariably met with resistance by those who insist on retaining their particular status quo.
      that means conflict. usually violent.
      there will be a winner and a loser.
      the winner will inflict his point of view on the loser, usually by bumping him off.
      the winner will then grab everything for his own clan/tribe, and start all over again.
      until the next crisis.
      welcome to planet Earth

      • xabier says:

        End of More

        Yes, there is a very dark side to human nature. But also – light! Who would have guessed that anything good would have come out of the Dark ages, for instance?

        Isaiah Berlin -the liberal philospher – always used to quote Kant: ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity, you will never make anything straight.’ It seems impossible not to be a pessimist.

        But, looking at an old house in my village the other day, it seemed to me that the truth is that we can sometimes make a pleasant dwelling with those crooked timbers, and it might last longer than we imagine.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear End of More
        Overthrowing entrenched interests and habitual ways of thinking is difficult. It would be hard if the governments were simply neutral. As it is, the governments are using all their powers to benefit those who control the political process. And the rise of the ‘surveillance state’ and the emasculation of our constitutional rights has made it more difficult than ever to visualize any successful ‘revolution’.

        I am not a historian. What we need are a couple of examples where the Powers were undermined and it ended well…instead of disastrously. And then we need some creative thought about how we might go about accomplishing those goals in the world we live in today.

        Don Stewart

        • Perhaps the founding of the USA is an example of powers being undermined and ending well, my point is that theres always a messy interlude before normality returns…for a while, then things get difficult again—civil war—then that settles down and prosperity grows, but only so long as you can go on consuming resources to keep everyone reasonably happy.
          once the abundance is no more, people start to get annoyed, then you have a revolution again in the ‘certainty’ that that is what is necessary to bring about prosperity again
          Only this time there really is no more.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear End of More
        Also see
        Don Stewart

        • Thanks for that link Don it gave me much to think about
          However I visited Blume’s site, and found he’s fallen into his own ‘infinite prosperity ‘trap, with the little cartoon car and happy motorist growing his own fuel
          Exactly where does he think cars come from? Permaculture? The Fred flintstone auto-factory?
          Blume ignores the reality that we live in an industrialised society, and all our employment depends on fuelburning. I couldn’t figure out where 26 million jobs were supposed to come from, unless they are permaculturalists feeding the rest of us.
          Our jobs essentially turn energy consumption, via the use of money tokens, into a means by which we consume more fuel, to earn more money tokens—ad infinitum
          no form of permaculture can grow enough fuel to produce enough fuel to keep ourselves in gainful employment.
          Logically then, most of us will cease to work at all, except maybe for basket weaving and cloth making, while a few experts produce our food from our body wastes.
          I’m no expert, but it seemed to me that Blume is getting more calories out of the soil than he’s putting in

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More
            I don’t personally know Blume. But I do recognize a lot of the symptoms he is describing. When an ecosystem is layered, it becomes very much more photosynthetically effective. In temperate regions, it is not uncommon for a permaculture designer to include four layers. I think those in the tropics are able to use more. So while it is true that a single layer of heavily fertilized and irrigated corn can produce a lot of calories, it is still true that a layered system such as Blume is describing will produce more biological activity and will do it without external inputs.

            These sorts of systems require labor. In our current system, requiring labor is, in Gail’s words, the ‘most expensive energy you can consume’. So here we are with hungry people and unemployed people and looming shortages of fossil fuel inputs, and many people refuse to consider labor intensive systems which produce more total food and more biological activity which can fuel many services (including biodiesel) because we have this great fear that it will ‘increase labor costs’. We choose to pay people to not work rather than ‘increase labor costs’.

            I don’t think Blume believes we can produce enough biofuels to keep the current system going. What I imagine he believes is that diverting 6 percent of an oil crop (such as canola) to biodiesel will permit these very energy efficient farms to be self-contained in terms of energy. I imagine he thinks that most of the people who work on a small farm also live on that small farm. Commuting to work will be practically non-existent in rural areas.

            Now if you are trying to feed New York City and you start counting up all the fuel that the citizens there use, the task becomes impossible. The obvious conclusion is that New York City has to change drastically. Perhaps a million people need to move out of NYC and become small farmers. Sharon Astyk wrote a book several years ago called Fifty Million Farmers. NYC might supply 1 in 50, maybe more.

            If one makes as a condition that any proposal MUST keep the current system operating, then one will never get anywhere and disaster is certain. I favor taking a cold, hard look at the resources, the ability of biological solutions to help us, the need to stop poisoning the biology, the very likely necessity to regrow very local distribution of food, the resuscitation of food storage methods such as drying and fermenting, and so forth. The point is that we have the know-how to harness photosynthesis to produce an awful lot of food. Arranging ourselves into careers which will produce the food and arranging ourselves spatially to be close to food and using things like waterways to move food are all serious issues, which we should be addressing promptly. But paying people to be idle and giving them food is a dead end.

            If there are still surplus people? I expect a lot of people will cling to illusions and just won’t make it.

            Don Stewart

            • The 6% of oil for fuel might power a few machines that were made long ago, down roads that were made long ago. But once you need a new machine, or even if you need to repair the old machine, I am afraid you are out of luck. At some point, you run out of spare parts, especially for things like rubber tubing that disintegrate.

              I didn’t watch the video, but it seems like Blume would have been better off figuring out a sustainable system, perhaps with horses or oxen or even humans providing the labor. A system that works for maybe 6 months is not worth bothering with. If we are going to transition to something, it has to be reasonably sustainable. Anything that depends on vehicles and biodiesel powered farm equipment is not sustainable at all.

            • Don Stewart says:

              I think I want to scream. Blume was NOT trying to demonstrate a 22nd Century Survival Model for Silicon Valley. He was making a living on 2 acres of leased land on the edge of Silicon Valley early in the 21st century. He was NOT the recipient of a National Science Foundation grant to explore the outer reaches of what is possible. So no, he did not reconfigure Silicon Valley…he pretty much accepted it the way it was. Which demonstrates common sense.

              WHAT DID HE DO? He demonstrated that biological farming/ gardening methods can produce a great deal of food ON THE FARM with minimal outside inputs and he demonstrated that he could sequester carbon in the soil. At any given time, he had half his 2 acres in cover crops. So he was running quite a good sized CSA with one acre in production.

              Now anyone can say something like ‘the problems are so overwhelming that the situation is hopeless and we are all going to be dead, so what’s the use?’ To those people, I have nothing to say.

              But for anyone who is interested in systematically working on the problems of food and climate change, Blume (and others) have given us some valuable information: Biological farming can produce a lot of food and it can sequester carbon. That is not what the US Congress believes, it is not what Monsanto is telling them and the world through TV advertisements, and it is not what most farmers and gardeners in the US are doing. If you want to remedy things, you can try political action or get involved with a small group or anything in between. But wringing one’s hands won’t change anything.

              Are there lots of remaining problems around the issue of food? Of course there are. And I have discussed a number of them. I’m not going to try to recapitulate all that.

              While a professional would want to question Blume rather closely, one has to admire the fact that he was able to accomplish what he did during the time he had the land. So be grateful for the demonstration, and get to work on the remaining problems.

              Don Stewart

            • Sorry. I shouldn’t criticize Blume. There are a lot of different things a person can try to accomplish.

          • Scott says:

            Hello, This is worth a listen. Re posting JHK with Michael Klare — Scott


          • Don

            Your posts are interesting, for a variety of reasons—-but on reading a reference to wooden wheels, I fear i must bow out of this discussion

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear End of More (if still reading)
              After thinking some more about your concern about the wheeled vehicle and your comments about Eric Toensmeier and the difficulty of being entirely self-sufficient.

              The guy in Silicon Valley had a big CSA he was serving. You can’t provide food to people in the US today without involving fossil fuels and vehicles. This is the ‘distribution’ issue, that concerns Joel Salatin, among others. The short answer, I think, is that as transport collapses, the market for the products of a commercial farm will constrict. As he noted, the foodshed for New York City used to be a 7 mile circle. We’ll probably get back to that. But it isn’t true today. People a hundred miles away truck food into NYC today to sell at farmer’s markets. Around here, the radius is 25 miles. My guess is that people will disperse to be close to the food.

              But more broadly, I don’t think most Permaculture people aspire to be entirely self-sufficient. I think a lot more subscribe to the ‘hundred people’ theory where you know a hundred people who provide the big majority of what you need. Trade with people you don’t know is pretty rare. It will depend, to some extent, on how far you are from navigable water. Those on navigable water (such as New York City) will do more trading with people they don’t know. Those in a landlocked place (such as where I live) will live a much more circumscribed life.

              So I offer these thoughts:
              1. Don’t expect anyone to tell you how to live a totally self-sufficient life.
              2. Don’t expect anyone to give you all the answers to your problems.
              3. Read and study people who have something to contribute to your problem, as you perceive it.

              Don Stewart

        • Don
          The only way you can have a self-contained agricultural system is where nothing comes in or out. (and that includes people btw)
          By illustrating a motorised wheeled vehicle Blume destroys his own hypothesis. By definition, such things cannot be part of the system, because fuelburning removes energy from the loop which has to be found from somewhere-( I won’t dwell on the input of rubber, plastics and metals here–an even bigger nonsense).
          All our energy comes from the sun, ultimately we can have no more than the sun delivers to each square metre per day. If we use more than that, we have to ‘steal’ it from somewhere or someone/thing else. If you cut down a tree (essentially 100 years of stored sun-energy) to build a house, that is the habitat/energy source for other organisms converted to our use. A coal seam is maybe 1 million years of stored sun-energy. The difference is only that of time. I strongly recommend http://www.withouthotair.com/, which is available as a pdf, or buy the book. In that David Mackay sets out clearly just how much energy we have available.
          Blume’s reference to ‘jobs’ implies trade, if you have trade, then that breaks the loop too because goods must be traded in and out for some kind of benefit/profit. (human nature kicks in here again)
          Living and working on a small farm would be, in our terms, a form of serfdom. That is a secure place in return for access to basic energy, ie food. If society collapses, that is what we face, because while some would adopt permaculture as a way of life, millions would not. Therefore you can only have fiefdoms, defending such food resources as are available.
          An extreme view I agree, but 3.5 billion city dwellers (half the world’s population) won’t sit around twiddling their thumbs once the food trucks stop delivering, neither will they take up permaculture. They will however look for something to eat.
          Virtually all our food consumption system functions on a just in time basis, which means that most people wont be able to wait for a harvest, no matter how big its promise. Sweeping statements: a million people moving out of NYC to become small farmers… may well have happened by 2150 say, but the intervening upheaval will be unpleasant to say the least.
          We are all very comfortable in our hamster cages, thank you, and will not take kindly to any disturbance.

          • xabier says:

            End of More

            But will the food trucks stop rolling, once and for all? It’s not impossible, and in some places almost certain, but I suspect the likely scenario is not instant starvation but long-term ever- increasing chronic malnutrition for those who fall into poverty (pushed out by automation, globalization ?) That will kill a lot of people slowly, and alter politics, but not be Apocalyptic.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More
            As I have repeatedly stated on this forum, it is suicidal to try to make a living today with no energy slaves, while the average American is using 100 of them. So throwing rocks at someone for not living a pure enough life may entertain you, but it doesn’t solve any problems.

            I expect wheeled vehicles to be around for a very long time, perhaps with wooden wheels. It is not uncommon to see a 40 year old tractor. If the tractor can be powered by diesel made from farm-grown oil seeds, then the tractor may be useful for a long time.

            Let me give you an example. A question was recently posed on our small farm website about electric fences and solar PV. One farmer answered that she used to use solar PV, then she discovered that the fences only discharge electricity when an animal touches it and takes a shock (which is seldom), so the cost of grid electricity, if you have it on the farm, is negligible. She just hooked her fence up to the grid and forgot about the solar PV.

            Why bring this up? Because many people who comment on this site would throw rocks at her for being ‘unsustainable’. Well…she’s been farming for 30 years, and I admire people who have the work ethic and business sense and common sense to keep a small farm going for that long. She is doing what she needs to do today to make the money she needs. If the grid fails, she can always repurpose the solar PV panels.

            But what about animals in the very long term? Farmers used to use specific dense and thorny plants for fences. They also didn’t have the current plague of deer because they simply killed them and ate them. In the very long term, farms will look a lot more like they looked in 1850 in terms of fences. The grasslands will revert to open range, which is generally regarded as ‘heaven on earth’. But today…you better have a deer fence or you will never make it to next year, much less 2100. And miles and miles of barbed wire if you are in the grasslands.

            Don Stewart

        • After my reference to David Mackay, I caught up with some of his lectures, I recommend watching them, a short one, then if you feel like it, a long one

        • Xabier
          The cost of food will rise, and the regularity of the foodtrucks will decline pro rata, as food itself become increasingly unaffordable. We are after all trucking in energy.
          No, the foodtrucks will not just stop, any more than our oil supplies will just stop.
          The cost will just climb out of reach of more and more people, until the whole energy delivery exercise becomes uneconomic as far as large conurbations are concerned

    • We have to keep the whole “system” together to harvest oil that is still in the ground. To do that, the price has to be high enough to keep oil exporters from falling apart. This high oil price cannot lead to collapse of oil importers. We are not talking about bankruptcy of an individual company. We are talking about a system that is built on cheap oil that can no longer support itself. The big problem that past societies had is that needed tax rates to support programs rose above what common workers could afford to pay. We are reaching that stage now. The tax problem reflects a lack of resources to support the economy as it is structured now. A much simpler structure might work (Dictators over smaller areas, for example, instead of the current government), but it is not clear that it would be possible to keep up the infrastructure (roads and bridges; 24/7 electricity; international imports of experts, needed parts) to keep the oil industry operating.

      • Don Stewart says:

        The System can’t and won’t maintain itself. It will be replaced by some system which is financially structured in view of the reality of resources. E.g., financial wealth will disappear by the tens of trillions of dollars. That, in effect, is what bankruptcy courts do. They ‘disappear’ wealth until the capital structure comports with the new reality. But that doesn’t necessarily have to mean that production grinds to a halt. Production is now and always has been about real resources…not financial fictions. Refineries are closing in Europe and the US, and I imagine there were some write-downs on corporate books, but the system keeps producing oil and its products.

        To me, the key public policy consideration is to not let the struggle for survival on the part of the financial elite destroy the productive capacity of individual companies and economies as a whole.

        As for governments, they need desperately to engage in triage and also to stop throwing sand in the gears.

        The focus needs to be on production and avoiding pollution and everyone working and family and social cohesion and regenerative agriculture. Let the debts and the entitlements be scaled down to a realistic level.

        As a practical matter, I think governments are likely to pursue rapid inflation and phony numbers to scale down entitlements such as social security. I think they will continue to favor the financial elite and do everything they can to protect them and will continue to support a global Empire. I DO expect a train wreck, I just point out that no laws of science require it.

        Don Stewart

        • It depends. If you can somehow engineer the situation so that only some unneeded portions are lost through bankruptcy, then I suppose you are right. I don’t think that we have the luxury of this happening though. Maybe at first, it is just some unneeded portions, but at some point, it is some things we rely on fairly heavily.

          The things I worry about losing:

          1. The US Federal Government. If we have to start over with a multitude of governments of smaller areas, each with its own monetary system, the world will be fairly different. We cannot afford the programs offered by the US federal government, and quite possibly by state and local governments, right now.

          2. Major parts of the electric grid. There could be several different reasons–for example, electric companies can no longer collect enough funds from people who would like service because so many are jobless, political breakup, storm damage that no one has funds to repair, inability to get replacement parts for necessary components. Once the electric grid is not available, we also cannot transport oil and gas by pipeline (except in areas where gas pipelines are powered by gas–often where there is no electricity).

          3. Oil exports from the Middle East, probably because Middle East war spreads to entire area.

          4. Repair of roads and bridges.

          5. Operating banks.

          Perhaps there is a period of time (10 or 20 years, say) where things do sort of hang together, before things really fall apart. Then you might be right. It depends on whether there is a way to keep the system operating on a reduced basis, without losing too much of the essentials.

      • xabier says:


        Who can quarrel with your assessment? The striking feature of the last few decades in advanced economies is that the lowering of consumer purchasing power which is a consequence of high tax rates, to fund the big modern state and its programmes, rising energy costs,food costs, etc, has been balanced out only by increasing availability of credit to ordinary people. Credit that their earnings potential does not justify. That credit system is under great pressure now, and as we saw in 2008, when it is withdrawn, corporate sales in many markets fall dramatically. Hence the desperate flight to super-low interest rates in the developed world. The kick in the tail is that these low interest rates inflate the housing bubble, reducing even further the discretionary purchasing power of the consumer….and so it goes on. But when will it finally break?

  3. ravinathan says:

    Gail and others: you may be intrigued by this podcast of a discussion between Michael Klare and Kunstler, where Klare expresses his opinion that energy resources such as shale.could potentially meet our needs for the next 25 years. Keep in mind that Klare is well aware of peak resources and has written a book about it. Despite Kunstlers doomer probing, Klare points to the world wide availability and discovery of shale resources. When challenged on the financial returns on these investments, he responds that returns are sufficient to exploit these resources and that energy companies facing depletion in their traditional oil business will have little choice but to invest in shale. His view is that the limits to growth will not be from energy but from climate change. This differs from Gail’s perspective and I must admit to felling some frustration with Klare’s measured academic balanced view. I had to remind myself that it is precisely the oppositional arguments that I should pay attention to.
    So where will the constraints to shale exploration come from if capital to exploit is available? Water? What if the shale industry learns to reuse drilling water? It appears that climate change is the most likely constraint to business as usual.

    • The issue at hand is the damage that high oil prices are doing to the economies of oil importers right now, as well as the perilous state that oil exporting economies are in because oil prices are not high enough for them (even though they are too high for oil importers). Thus, it is not clear we really have time to do anything of this sort.

      If, in fact, it were possible for oil prices to keep rising (to make shale increasingly worthwhile to extract) without too great problems in oil importing countries, then Michael Klare would be right. As it is, I see the big obstacles to exporting shale technology worldwide to be:

      1. Dense populations in would-be fracking locations, making the use of the technique more questionable. I have heard that a major shale location is under Paris, for example.
      2. Lack of water, especially in China. Even with reuse, China is likely to be short of water.
      3. Lack of existing pipelines that can be used without a lot of initial front end cost.
      4. International boundaries that make treaties necessary before pipelines that go any distance can be built.

      If we hit limits from oil first, then climate change becomes a secondary issue.

      • xabier says:


        I don’t know whether you saw the open letter from the British Prime Minister about fracking?

        He tries to imply that it will mean ‘cheap energy’ and lower fuel bills. That fact that it only you makes financial sense in a high-price environment is deftly brushed aside.

        He also claims that it can take place all over Britain, even though one years ago there was talk of severe water rationing due to a very dry winter (common now) in most southern and eastern regions, Were I live is classed as ‘semi-arid’ and is highly agricultural.

        Good for a laugh, or a weep……..

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Xabier and Gail:
          Certainly not an expert, but I’ve seen several references to fracking with other than water: various ethyls and. Also, the sand and salt in fracking water raise the question of whether fracking water needs to be clean at all. Google that one and you get a lot of interesting response, only a portion contradictory.
          Yours is the first indicator I’d heard that the UK was getting arid. I wonder if that implies the North Atlantic water and air currents are fading/failing. Weather watchers have long pointed to that phenomenon as critical to keeping the ice up north rather than downtown Koblenz. Well, since we’ve melted the North Pole, maybe we won’t have that problem…
          Cheers, Chris

          • xabier says:


            Water supply is quite a problem in the south and east of the UK, where of course both population, industry and industrial agriculture are concentrated. People are lavish in the use of domestic water.

            In the northern parts, there is abundance of water with heavier rainfall, and much fracking is planned there.

            Weather patterns are simply all over the place these days, but the sometimes very dry winters are a great cause for concern as reservoirs and so on do not replenish sufficiently. .
            I am certainly moving to install a rain-water collection system and a well.

        • I’m sorry, I didn’t see that letter. I suppose hope springs eternal.

          On a similar note, I got an e-mail from Platts today, thinking I might want to advertise in Fortune. It said,

          Dear Gail,

          This October, Fortune will partner with the experts at Platts to produce a custom content section on “RESURGENCE OF OIL”, a special section in Fortune Magazine that explores how key participants in global markets are assessing and betting on this market.

          Click Here for more information.

          How growth in US oil production is transforming the energy industry—and the economy

          Issue Date: October 28
          On-Sale Date: October 14
          Ad Close: September 11

          I suppose they contacted me since I get some (free) Platts e-mails.

          Good grief!

        • I’m sorry, I didn’t see that letter. I suppose hope springs eternal.

          On a similar note, I got an e-mail from Platts today, thinking I might want to advertise in Fortune. It said,

          Dear Gail,

          This October, Fortune will partner with the experts at Platts to produce a custom content section on “RESURGENCE OF OIL”, a special section in Fortune Magazine that explores how key participants in global markets are assessing and betting on this market.

          Click Here for more information.

          How growth in US oil production is transforming the energy industry—and the economy

          Issue Date: October 28
          On-Sale Date: October 14
          Ad Close: September 11

          I suppose they contacted me since I get some (free) Platts e-mails.

          Good grief!

          • xabier says:

            PM Cameron’s letter on fracking is a classic of propaganda, up there with the Nazi hints of ‘war-changing super-weapons’ in about March 1945.

            I did have to rub my eyes at first, but then the laughing started. Maybe we will be able to extract a lot of cynical humour from decline and collapse?

            At least I’m not going to be forced to buy shares in fracking companies…….

          • timl2k11 says:

            • Our writer will interview your company spokesperson or customer, and
            excerpts will be published in the story”
            Oh, I’m sure this won’t be biased in any way. I wonder what percentage of readers know that what they are reading is written for the benefit the advertisers, not the readers.

  4. Re: Collapse of the Soviet Union

    Russia’s oil peak and the German reunification

  5. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    Let me try to clarify some issues around Permaculture or Restoration Agriculture and population and climate change. (Any mistakes I make in attributing opinions to others is my own fault.)

    David Holmgren, Toby Hemenway, Darren Doherty, and Sepp Holzer (and probably many others) think we can grow enough food to feed 10 billion people. Toby Hemenway thinks that a hundred years from now we may only be able to grow enough food to feed between 500 million and 2 billion. All those guys also think we can sequester a lot of carbon in the soil. But they all think that continuing to burn fossil fuels the way we do now isn’t a smart thing to do, even if supplies permit it. Most of them are also Peak Oilers of one persuasion or another.

    Let’s consider the years 2013, 2025 and 2100 just to get our crude models functioning. In 2013 we have the ability to grow enough food to make every one of the 7 billion humans fat. Yet we have a couple of billion hungry people. So we have to factor in ‘social dysfunction’ which takes many shapes in various places and in various socio-economic settings if we want to talk about hunger and obesity with any specificity. What we would really want to aim for is producing just the right amount and type of food so that everyone was lean but well fed and disease prooof. We know how to do that, but we don’t do it. If you follow the money trail, you will be on the road to discovering why we have this failure.

    By 2025, if we follow the advice of H,H,H, and D, we would have transformed our suburban, urban, and rural landscapes for minimal external input food production. We would be partnering with microbes so that the microbes do the heavy lifting…not fossil fuels. We would have stopped killing microbes. Biological activity would have multiplied, producing plenty of surplus for humans to harvest. We would be able to produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. How many of them would we expect to be hungry? That all depends on whether we have managed to change the dysfunctional social system we had in 2013.

    By 2100, resource restraints are much more in evidence. We can no longer order up diesel powered equipment to move earth. Metals may be in very short supply. Transportation, except by water, may be very difficult. Nails may be carefully straightened and saved. And I think that this is where Toby’s number of 500 million to 2 billion comes from. We currently have plentiful resources to do what we need to do with agriculture and gardening, but someday those resources will be much scarcer. How many hungry people will there be in 2100? It depends on a couple of big factors. Will we, as Toby would like, have reduced our birthrate to the level currently prevalent in Europe, so that the population of Earth is 2 billion, or will we have continued to reproduce like bunnies and have 20 billion people? In addition, we have to contend with the same bugaboo of a dysfunctional social system. And did we actually make the changes to farming and gardening?

    In short, we currently have in place a knowledge base and a resource base to grow enough food to feed 10 billion people with minimal external inputs. We will likely not have the resource base in 2100 to grow enough food to feed that many people. The dysfunctional social system may continue to generate hungry people in the midst of plenty. Or we may simply fail to do farming and gardening using best practices.

    What about climate change? In 2013 we have the knowledge and working examples which show us how to produce food in partnership with microbes and minimal external inputs. Farms and gardens CAN be net energy producers, instead of the energy sinks and net producers of CO2 that they are today. But we do not, mostly, farm and garden that way. The official policy of the US Dept of Ag is that farms should get more and more gargantuan so that they can make ever more efficient use of external inputs. By 2025, if we were to think and act as we thought and acted in 1942, we would have transformed our agriculture such that huge amounts of carbon are being stored in the soil and external inputs are minimal. In Darren Doherty’s words, ‘we could stop climate change in its tracks’.

    By 2100 we will know whether Daniel Yergen was closer to the truth, or Jean Laharrere was closer to the truth, or Gail Tverberg was closer to the truth. If Yergen turns out to be the prophet, and we are continuing to burn all the fossil fuels we can get our hands on, we will be well on the way to turning Earth into Venus. If Laherrere is closer to the truth, then climate change won’t be a problem if we have chosen the ‘carbon farming’ approach. If Gail is closer to the truth, industrial civilization will have long since collapsed and humans, if they survive at all, will be reduced to small bands of hunters and gatherers living in a climate which is still adjusting to the high carbon dioxide levels of 2013.

    Don Stewart

    • I am afraid I am still a skeptic on the feeding 10 billion people, unless we have access to a whole lot of things we depend on today–roads, fences made of metal, netting to keep pests away from fruit, transportation of soil amendments by some method other than humans carrying one arm-load at a time, irrigation systems using today’s hoses, greenhouse type arrangements, etc.

      There would also be the detail about where this food could be produced, and where the people of the world really live. Some countries would not get much produced at all (Iceland, Norway, and Saudi Arabia come to mind) while others might produce more than enough. How would it be stored and shipped to the people who need it, with simple boats with perhaps sails and oars?

      • Scott says:

        I watched most of that Video that Don Stewart sent that showed that new high tech turkey and animal fencing, simple, and not expensive, but the system needs just a bit of little power, but these things need a high tech system to build them — but these items are good and give us hope for the near term. Too bad we do not have more land with good water but we will get by for a while with all of these things as long as there is not a major financial collapse or war. But that is the big variable.


        • “A little bit” is just as hard to come by as a lot, when the problem is a broken system. If the electrical transmission system is broken, or the banks aren’t operating, that is a problem, whether the amount needed is a little or a lot.

          Also, high tech approaches that use a little bit are not sustainable. They lull us into not taking the necessary steps to develop a sustainable system–one that works without high tech input. They encourage us to have more children than we can support in the next generation.

      • I agree—there is a classic blank-out of the problems of feeding cities, and half the world’s population live in cities.
        Until railways spread into nationwide use, the city fixed its own limits by the distance food could be carted in to market. that was rarely more than 10 miles for staple foods, which meant towns and cities were circled by market gardens
        the railways market gardens to be built over and cities to expand accordingly
        similarly when refrigerated ships were developed, populations expanded on the consumption of cheap meat.
        but all that depended on cheap energy, without that we go back to food by the cartload instead of the shipload.
        growing food might be less of a problem than moving/processing it

        • error—the railways allowed market gardens to be built over

          • xabier says:

            End of More

            From the distribution side of things, as you will know it’s only in the last few decades that the small independent, back-street shops -butchers, greengrocers and general stores, – have died out in the suburbs of even large cities like London, often only few minutes easy walk away, and leading to car-dependency in order to buy anything. I gather much the same happened in the States, but perhaps earlier with the building of vast residential suburbs?

        • Agreed. From that point of view, more spread out cities (like Atlanta) might have an advantage. The businesses would still have problems though, getting workers and goods to them. So most people living in cities likely would not have jobs, causing a problem when it comes to paying for things like electricity and taxes.

  6. ravinathan says:

    A remarkable article on our population predicament which points out the fundamental weakness in permaculturists confidence in feeding the world’s current population and more sustainably! Tom Murphy makes the connection between pop growth and energy consumption quite brilliantly and points to the futility of believing that our current population is sustainable. He also explodes the common refrain that economic growth is the best contraceptive. Not for the Quataris! Nor for any of the energy surplus countries either..it is just another soothing myth that allows us to breed as usual, a comforting lie that the post modern Permie Greens contribute to.

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Ravinathan
      I don’t see much conflict between what Toby Hemenway says in his lectures and Tom Murphy says. Toby goes back a little further and attributes the population growth coincident with grain agriculture to the fertility effect of grain…I have plenty of energy so its time to breed. Toby (who is a biologist) thinks that the signal from leafy greens and meat is much more subdued.

      No permaculturist I know disputes the fact that the ability to turn soil with a plow stimulates bacteria and provides a rush of nutrients to plants. What permaculturists point out is that the constant plowing is unsustainable and results in eventual desertification. That is why Toby Hemenway thinks that the population of Earth in 2050 will be lower if we stick with chemical agriculture than if we convert to biological agriculture….the effects of pollution and soil degradation and all the other effects of chemical agriculture plus resource depletion will catch up with us and food production will decline. If we convert to biological agriculture, we can produce a lot of food (but not an infinite amount), we eliminate the bad effects of chemical agriculture, we remove some of the negatives of grain (which currently provides around 70 percent of our calories, including what is fed to animals), and we can sequester a lot of carbon.

      Two things make biological agriculture available to us today in a way that it was not available to our ancestors 10,000 years ago. The first is our much better scientific understanding and consequent ability to target our efforts. The second is the current availability of resources to both remediate the damage already done and to shape the Earth to support more biological activity. Humans, for example, can build gravity fed ponds which hydrate a hillside and support much higher levels of biological activity. But it is really helpful to have earth-moving equipment when you start building ponds. Our ancestors did it by hand, but I doubt it was much fun.

      Can we flip a switch and convert to biological farming and gardening? Probably not. When David Holmgren was recently asked about natural gas as a bridge to somewhere, he said that in his opinion we will be so desperate for nitrogen fertilizer that that use will preclude any ideas about powering cars with natural gas. David thinks we can feed 10 billion, but we will need nitrogen fertilizer…perhaps as we labor to restore true biological methods or perhaps he thinks that biological methods can’t produce enough nitrogen to feed 10 billion–there are respectable arguments on both sides. All the permaculturists I know, however, think that ultimately we have to depend on biological methods. Darren Doherty advises his clients to convert to biological methods over a 10 year period. He points out that it takes time for a healthy ecology to re-establish itself after so many decades of abuse, and that it doesn’t do any good to be right in the long run if you die in the short term.

      Don Stewart

    • THanks for the link. I hadn’t read his article yet. (I enjoyed meeting Tom Murphy at the Univ. of Vermont this year, and the Biophysical Economics Conference.)

      He makes a good point about populations of countries of energy exporters is growing. Also, that the size of family curve is U shaped, rather than simply decreasing.

      It is hard to break apart the combined effect of immigration and new births. People who immigrate tend to go to countries where energy is plentiful. Reduced energy availability tends to lead to emigration away from a country–look at the countries of Eastern Europe. There is a lag in this process, that Tom’s method can’t unravel. It adds even more to the tendency of countries with more energy to add population, whether or not it is by new births.

      • ravinathan says:

        Today the NY Times published a report on the stabilizing fertility rate in the US after some years of decline that they attributed to the weak economy. Good news for economic growth in the US of A folks! Consumers are signaling their optimism by procreating little consumers. More tax paying consumers who will fund our pensions. Economic growth requires growing populations, which in turn depletes non renewable resources and raises their cost thus eroding economic growth. What a bind we are in! The juggernaut rolls on.

        • xabier says:


          Even better prospects when one considers that the higher birth-rate is found among the lower-earning and least -educated section of the population, (often new low or unskilled immigrants – certainly that is the case in Europe and Britain. It’s not just about head-count, but politicians and economists don’t seem to want to get it. It was in 1813, when kings and emperors needed large conscript armies and the land needed labourers, but not now………..

  7. ravinathan says:

    The argument remains that permies side step the population predicament and in many ways contribute to the notion that permaculture practices will feed current populations and more. Like most good hearted liberals they will not allow themselves to judge the procreative choices of humans and take a stand. They fear that wading into the pop argument will take away from the adoption of permaculture practices. In terms of real world experiments, Eric Toensmeier of Paradise Lot fame admits that they cannot produce enough to feed themselves. In answer to my direct question to Toensmeier during a workshop he honestly admitted that at best they meet about 25 percent of their dietary needs through their garden. I have adopted oermaculture practices in my property and have learned from experience how difficult it is to grow food sustainably and reduce our energy footprint.

    • xabier says:

      Population control is off the agenda outside totalitarian states since WW2 and the Nazi scientists: it’s irrational, but there we are. We just have to await the Four Horsemen.

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Ravinathan
      Eric Toensmeier is gardening a very tiny plot of land. What I have advocated here is the production of perishable food in the garden while those foods that are easily kept and transported are grown on commercial farms. Most of the calories are going to come from the farms, but most of the phytonutrients which make one disease proof will come from the garden. David Holmgren and others have advocated the same way of thinking and acting.

      It doesn’t do much good to have plenty of calories but few phytonutrients (witness the current epidemic of diabetes), and of course one would starve trying to live on leafy greens (25 pounds per day). The two have to go together.

      The appropriate question is how to think rationally about the problem in a world moving into resource scarcity. I keep coming out with the answer that gardens for perishables is the answer for most people. Perishables are the most expensive foods most people buy. So a garden makes economic sense today and makes sense tomorrow in a transport limited world.

      Don Stewart

      • xabier says:


        Good sense.

        And productive gardening can give hope, pleasure, purpose and nutrition to those made employed or condemned to very low-pay and insecure work by growing automation and economic decline – a major social task today.

        But let’s scan the developed world and see where any such schemes are being pursued by regional and national governments (not just micro-groups of sustainability-minded folk): no, there’s nothing on the radar…..

        The only sustainability that states are interested in is that of the banks, housing bubbles, etc. It’s tragic: intelligence and imagination point the way, vested interests and short-termism block it.

        And again, teach a man to feed himself and not exist on a state dole, and he may just not vote for you. He might start to think for himself as well as feed himself.

      • ravinathan says:

        Don, what you and other permaculturists miss is a version of Jevon’s paradox that any increase in Agro productivity, with or without the use of fossil fuels will come to nought as human population increases to meet food production, I believe that your permaculturist cheer leading is well intentioned but futile, until humans squarely face up to the challenge of limiting population, failing which we are locking ourselves in to the road to collapse, just like other civilizations and species before homo economicus that outgrew their ecological niche.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Ravinathan
          Where were you when I mentioned that Edo Japan limited population by the simple expedient that the farmers had to feed their children?

          Don Stewart

          • ravinathan says:

            Don, you are now placing yourself into a contradiction. On one hand you claim that oermaculture can feed 10 or 15 Billion and more sustainably citing carious permaciulture gurus and on the other point to the forced population control of Edo Japan. Which is it? Without taking a clear position on population limits permaculture is at best limited and at worst deluded.

            • Don Stewart says:

              First, you need to remember that Permaculture has roots in Anarchism–there isn’t any pope to issue official proclamations.

              If you ask Sepp Holzer, he thinks Earth can produce enough food to feed 16 billion people. But Sepp moves lots and lots of earth around to achieve a very high level of control of water. It is my impression that most Permaculture leaders don’t really support all that earth moving. As I said before, Earth is now producing enough food to make all 7 billion fat. The reason some people are hungry is the dysfunctional systems we have in place–not the inability of Nature to generate food.

              Toby Hemenway, who wrote the best-selling ever book on Permaculture, recently gave an interview to Doomstead Diner. He was asked if Earth could grow enough food to feed 10 billion. He said he thought it could in the short term. In the long term, he thought Earth would support between 500 million and 2 billion. He gave those same numbers in a public talk at Duke University several years ago.

              David Holmgren, a co-inventor of Permaculture, was asked about natural gas as a fuel for cars. He said he thought it wouldn’t happen…that we would be so desperate for nitrogen fertilizer to grow food that we wouldn’t have any left over for vehicles. But he said he thought that, in the near term, Earth could grow enough food to feed 10 billion with continued use of nitrogen fertilizer and dietary changes such as less meat. As far as I know, he hasn’t said anything about the long term.

              I have tried to explain to you why the long term is different from the short term, and why (if Gail is correct about the hard linkage between financial and physical systems) the short term might be very short indeed.

              I don’t need to ‘go one way or the other’. You need to understand the dynamics and the dependencies and make up your own mind and do what you need to do. Look for better sources of information that I am, if you want to.

              Don Stewart

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  9. Don,
    Until a person starts producing food for themselves it is difficult to convince them how easily it can be done. I don’t think you will be able to convince people who don’t want to grow food that permaculture holds any answer to food production. But I think there are many, many young people anxious to start small farms. They are ones who are attending the workshops you tell us about and experimenting on what works for them. I won’t argue that permaculture can feed 10 billion people. I don’t think it can. But when petrochemicals and oil are no longer available, I think this system will be still producing food.

    Not only can gardens provide fresh economical food (fruit, vegetables, greens, herbs) but it isn’t difficult to grow protein even if you live in town as long as you have some yard. West Lafayette allows families to have chickens in town (hen not rooster). Lafayette does not. My family raised meat rabbits when I was a kid. We used their manure to fertilize our garden. We had 4 pens each 2′ x 6′. Kept 3 does and 1 buck. You can bred does up to three times a year and we had one that was a “checkered giant” that usually had a liter of 14 babies. The babies reach good eating size (about the same size as a large hen, 8 to 10 lbs. of meat) in about 4 to 6 months. Summer is best because they eat lots of grass and weeds. We generally didn’t bred the does more than twice a year, as winter was hard on new mothers. I looked at the meat rabbits when I was at the county fair. Might not be a bad investment! I think rabbit tastes even better than chicken, and the skins can be used as well.

    By the way, you are right about the importance of soil organic matter. The soil I make runs about 8% organic matter, lots of compost added. One customer told me that he did an experiment with tomatoes. He bought a 6 pack of seedlings and planted 1 in my soil and the other 5 in another area of his garden where he used conventional gardening methods (tilling each spring, sprays for weeds and bugs, and liberal use of granular fertilizer). He had come to me because he said his soil was “wore out”, which is pretty typical of all our conventional farmland. He said the 1 tomato plant produced more tomatoes than all 5 of the others put together. Organic matter and microbial activity make all the difference in the world.

    This is the fifth year that I have saved seeds from my heirloom tomatoes (which allows me to control for fungus and improve the variety) and I start my own seedlings in potting soil that I make from the worm compost (vermicompost), which I also make from our kitchen food waste. Many people have been complaining about tomato blight in our area again this year. I haven’t had a problem on any of my plants. Even horn worms no longer bother my plants because the plants grow so fast the worms don’t do much damage. I stopped picking off the worms about 3 years ago and noticed that wasps now populate my garden. As soon as the worms appear, the wasps aren’t far behind. The wasps lay their eggs on the worms…end of worms. If I pick off the worms there is no food for the wasps, and no population to control worms. I have found that most permaculture methods are very simple and require little in the way of resources or work on my part. Just eduction. I am able to grow a large amount of fresh food with little or no addition of petrochemicals or other products that required oil. And while our current system is still operating, I am supporting that system by buying goods and services I still need as I transition towards more self supported food production.

    Speaking of energy and supporting the economy, we finally decided to test our 20 year old refrigerator to see how much energy it was using. 1,968 kwh per year. Ouch! So we have decided to replace it with a new model, even though I realize it may require repairs within 10 years. The new model is supposed to use 408 kwh of electricity per year. This amount of energy savings represents about 12% of our home energy use. It is about the amount of electricity we use in a month when we our geothermal system is in heating mode.


    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Jody
      Nice to hear from you.

      I agree with most everything you say. Backyard rabbits are quite practical, and are one of the best ways to use kitchen scraps. Put them over a worm bin and you have a super recycling system plus rabbit stew.

      I don’t know exactly what to make of the ‘wooden wheels’ controversy. I was just watching a Lillian Gish movie from 1920. She is a girl from a village in New England, and everyone is riding around in wooden wheeled buggies and such. What is so terrible about that? The story turns on personal tragedies and triumphs, not the supposed awfulness of a horse drawn, wooden wheeled buggy.

      If you look at photos from the third world, it is quite common to see repurposed gasoline or diesel vehicles being pulled by oxen or horses or mules. The first car that my wife and I bought ended its life with the roof cut off, pulled by a draft horse, hauling manure on a New Jersey farm. We let the farmer have it in return for hauling it away.

      I think people are going to have to re-imagine the components of life.

      I wholeheartedly agree about the fertility and disease fighting power of plants. Wasps are also to be prized. Last year I discovered that a cover crop of field peas attracted swarms of wasps. So lots fewer bugs. The key is to gently steer your ecosystem, not fight it.

      The other thing that people don’t understand is that a plant which is strong and defends itself also gives the human eater tons of phytonutrients which we use to fight disease.

      Don Stewart

      • Don,
        I certainly agree with you on the plant phytonutrients and health. I grow many fresh herbs and greens and I find that eaten raw they give me a delightful energetic vitality. Hard to describe until one tries it. Sometimes even the smell of fresh herbs makes me feel good, an inexpensive form of aromatherapy. Rosemary, basil, and mints are my favorites.

        Since I started eating more fresh greens and herbs I’ve noticed that my immune system responds to infectious agents rapidly and effectively. I’ve noticed that when I get a small cut or scratch they heal within a day or two without need for special ointments or bandages. Periodically if I feel like I am “coming down” with a flu, usually after being exposed to people who are hacking and coughing, it usually only takes is a day of bed rest and I’m over it. Most infections just make me feel more tired than usual, slight body aches, and tender glands in my neck. This is when I know my body is fighting something. I get all the extra sleep I can, including a long afternoon nap. I keep telling my husband not to go to work when he feels he’s getting sick, but like most people today, he feels like he’s not sick enough to stay home.

        It’s sad when a store clerk is hacking and coughing while waiting on customers. I know that they would really like to be at home in bed but they don’t have much choice in working when they are sick because they don’t have sick leave benefits and cant afford to take off work. I understand this and see it as another symptom of our unhealthy economic system. If we don’t take care of our immune system we will not be able to fight off disease and we will end up succumbing to other opportunistic bugs invading while his immune system is trying to recover from the original infection. And we spread our germs to others.

        Growing good quality food certainly is one way to improve our health economically, and in the future this will be even more important for our survival.

    • stravinsky7 says:

      Hey Jody, do you run a business or is it more neighbor to neighbor? I have family up that way, and we’ve also been making it up to PU for the kids’ spring science activities every year. : )

      My experience with gardening has been atrocious.. I have yet to get to the point of positive returns, although I am improving. For instance, two years ago was my first year, 30% of plants bore fruit/veggies. Last year was crazy drought, and it turns out I overcompensated, overwatered and had associated problems (I didn’t know). This year, I was focusing on getting a certification, and was totally time-constrained. I bought plants, and encouraged my wife to plant them.. She has an interest, philosophically speaking, in gardening. It did not bear fruit irl, it is repetitive, hard, dirty sweaty business, actually speaking (of course).

      Anyways, if you have a business, or know of one local, let me know, I could use help!



      • Ryan,
        I own a business called Soilmaker. We sell compost, compost-amended topsoil, and mulches. You can find our location, hours, and contact information on our website (www.soilmaker.com).
        I’d be happy to answer your questions about gardening. The two previous years, 2011 and 2012, were tough years for gardens due to drought and heat. This year has been great until the last 6 weeks, now we have a mini drought again. The weeds are thriving though. It takes awhile to figure out what to plant, when to plant, and how much to plant. One of my early years I planted the whole package of zucchini. They all germinated and rather than thin such nice plants I moved them apart. One can have too many zucchini plants! Even neighbors asked me not to give them any more veggies.

        • ravinathan says:

          Jody, I would be interested in seeing your recipe for the compost that you sell. Unless of course it would be revealing trade secrets in which case I would understand.

          • ravinathan,
            Making good quality compost has more to do with the process than a strict recipe. Most recipes are pretty flexible. To make good compost requires experience, an understanding of the organisms that are doing the work, the conditions they need to work best, and the proper type of food substrate for them. The rest is moisture, air flow, and time.

            I would be happy to share the types of materials we use in our recipes, but not the exact proportions. I keep my recipes somewhat proprietary, and they also have to change in proportion based on: C:N ratio of the incoming waste materials, seasonality issues, and what the finished product are going to be.

            We are essentially a yard waste composting facility, so yard waste (leaves, tree branches, garden debris) make up the bulk of our waste stream. We handle all of the yard waste from the City of West Lafayette, the Purdue campus, some landscaping companies and county residents. We also take all the animal bedding from the Purdue Veterinary hospital, horse bedding from several local stables, and an industrial biosolid ( a by product from the manufacture of corn starch). We make three different compost recipes.

            1) leaves, straw, wood shavings, and spent corn. This makes the best amendment for making our blended topsoil.

            2) mixed yard waste and spent corn. We receive yard waste from the city that is picked up from curbside. It contains a mixture of everything home owners collect from their yards (branches, weeds, grass, dead flowers, pumpkins, etc.) Makes a good all-purpose soil amendment or mulch for flower gardens.

            3) horse manure and bedding. Most stable owners use wood shavings for bedding, so the bedding contains lots of manure and wood shavings. Depending on the ratio of manure to wood shavings we may have to add more carbon, i.e. straw. Home owners use this for veggie gardens.


            • Scott says:

              Thanks Jody that was very interesting about your compost business. I have got several small piles going in my yard too and a box which helps supplement the garden, but I find myself buying a couple of pickup loads each spring too really helps. Here in Oregon we have a local composter company like you which is great. But it is good to know how to make it on our own if we need to.

              We are locked into this global food supply for now, but the more I grow food at home, it taste better and surely is better for us. With meat, we try to buy the organic or free range chickens, although they are more humane, they just taste better too. Grass feed beef is a bit hard to find but that is better too.

              Best Regards,


          • Hi Scott,
            Another way to make more compost at home is to compost weeds. I let a lot of weeds get to be a foot or more tall before I pull them or cut them off so they regrow. I keep them back from the base of my vegetable plants so they don’t compete too much for nutrients and water. But areas off to the side I let weeds kind of take over and periodically pull them for the compost pile. Really builds up some big piles fast.

            How is your garden doing this year? We’ve had such an enormous amount of fruit production this year I can hardly keep up. I think we’ve gotten two to three times the amount of fruit we normally do. This winter we will be enjoying lots of strawberry, rhubarb, and grape jam, peach, pear, and apple sauce/butter, and frozen blue berries. I think I’ve canned over 100 pints and 50 quarts of fruit.

            • Scott says:

              Hello Jody, we have had a strange year I think because the bees were late this year, I let my field flower in the late summer which helped them I think but this year some trees had no fruit.

              Here in the Northwest, we had lots of rain this summer (well a few times both time I went camping was my bad luck got the tents wet both times) But most days have been sunny. However, just yesterday we had a storm with Lightning and and inch and a half of rain here, but it is heating up again now this weekend and should finish off the corn etc.

              We have learned that every year is different and you cannot trust what you plant to feed you, you need back up plans. We still buy lots of stuff from the store as most of us do but we would like to do more on our own which is a good goal for all I think.
              Kind Regards to all,


        • ravinathan says:

          Jody, thanks for your generosity in posting the components of your commercial compost. You are indeed fortunate in having so many sources of ingredients for compost which should allow you to mingle many kinds of greens and browns for a richer blend I have been dumping the weeds in the chicken yard first in the hope that they will eat the seeds before I rake it up. Does your composting process kill the weed seeds, otherwise I presume your clients will be disappointed?

          • ravinathan,
            Composting is supposed to kill weed seeds, but I haven’t seen a lot of good research on this. More research has been done on parasites or intestinal worms, which can be found in sewage sludge and pose more of a threat to human health. Some of our compost is several years old and the piles will sprout weeds from air born seeds. Once weeds come, seeds follow. When we blend compost with soil, the soil also carries its own seed bank.
            The best recipe for back yard piles is leaves and food scraps. If you have access to horse, sheep, or cow manure that helps the pile heat up and should kill weed seeds.

  10. timl2k11 says:

    Because of the many things discussed in the articles posted here, I expect the next debate over raising the debt will be the worst yet. Our politicians are realizing we have very little room to work with and that our current level of spending is simply unsustainable. I expect both sides to trench in and not budge quite possibly giving way to a prolonged government shutdown.

  11. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and End of More and Others
    Once you grasp the principles of biological agriculture and gardening, you begin to ask questions when ‘experts’ speak.

    For example, consider this article today about the looming phosphate rock shortage:

    You will find a lot of ‘scare words’ such as ‘no substitutes’. Now if you have your biological farming hat on, you will ask when was the last time anyone spread ground up phosphate rock on a virgin forest or an unplowed prairie grassland. You will ask why Martin Crawford’s food forest in Britain hasn’t required any annual dusting with phosphate. You will want to know why Martin says it is so tightly bound to healthy soil that it isn’t a problem.

    A good initial hypothesis is that the writers of the phosphate article don’t consider biological farming and gardening to be a ‘substitute’ for the current system. (I agree…it’s not a substitute…it’s a hell of a lot better).

    Then you run across someone like Blume. Blume quotes an impressive Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), which would indicate that he probably never adds any phosphate.. But then you think about his acreage in California and you think about the Mediterranean climate, with perhaps 4 months a year with no rain. He does mention that his land is terraced, and he claims a very high level of organic matter which retains water like a magnet draws metal to it. Still…4 months? And so you would want to probe. Maybe you find out he has a water hose somewhere, or maybe you find out his really clever solution to the problem. You also note that he has achieved an astonishing level of organic matter with only half his land in cover crop. I think that is better than John Jevons. And so you ask him how his results compare to Jevons, and if they are better, to what does he attribute his success?

    My point is that once you see the soil and its ecosystem as a living being, and if you have just enough knowledge to rise to the level of ignorance (from plain stupidity), you can begin to ask interesting questions and perhaps learn something useful.

    Don Stewart

    • The problem is of course that you need to make a transition to the new biological system, and that doesn’t take place overnight, even if everyone knew exactly what to do, and was convinced that that was the direction to go.

      • all biological systems—and there really are no exceptions—are genetically programmed to survive against all odds, or perish in the attempt.
        nature has no other function than that, everything else apart from eating and reproduction, is window dressing.
        this will be the case whether a change takes place through a gentle decline, or very rapidly.
        every species must promote itself to its utmost ability.
        if humanity manages to exterminate itself, other animal forms will rush to colonise the spaces we leave, they too will fight for supremacy as we have done.

    • xabier says:


      Economists and politicians often don’t perceive citizens as living beings, just economic units, so to expect them to see the soil as such is asking way too much.

      I was quite shocked recently by a phrase ‘ The natural world is a service-provider.’ Let’s just contemplate the mental and spiritual limitations embodied in that choice of words…….

  12. timl2k11 says:

    The world will need a great leader on the way down…

    • xabier says:


      I suspect it will get ‘leaders’ who are great in their own eyes, but that’s another matter entirely…….

      Some people in Spain are calling for a Dictator. How they miss Franco. I have even heard: ‘What we need is another Civil War!’ Incredible, but true. I’m not saying this is a common stance, but it’s there. But many do sympathise with’ soft-fascism’, both Left and Right. It’s expressed in corruption and the persecution of dissident opinion.

      The incipient elected-dictatorship in Argentina is worth studying: bribes to the mob, personality-cult around the leader, no concern for general prosperity and the middle-class, just buying off vested interests, corrupt politicians and big-business, personality-cult of Kirchner (she even sells cute dolls of herself from the Presidential Palace, I watched the video of her presenting them to the nation instead of addressing serious issues).

      Feminist dreamers and fascists both note, Kirchner in power is as corrupt and mendacious as any Alpaa-male dictator, and she doesn’t wear a uniform!…..

      Which raises another subject: Hitler was a feeble joke of a man, but with mesmeric powers: Alphas come in many shapes and sizes….. Sir Oswald Mosley was a magnificent figure of a man, and a good intellect, but his attempt to establish a dictatorship in the British Empire failed completely: the runt Hitler made it. Stalin was nobody.

      All dictatorships come from the people: they can’t run without them.

      We are certainly creating the conditions for new ones.

      • Xabier,
        I fear you are all too right in your assessment.

        • Scott says:

          Yes, Xabier, Jody and all, Sadly, it looks like civil war is like a contagious cold these days throughout the world and may be more in the headlines during the next year or two. Given the problems we face worldwide.


  13. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    We have touched on the issue of continued use of things like old tractors. Here is a peek inside an old tractor workshop in a rural community:

    Just from looking, you can see the opportunities and the threats. Will the fan belts and screws and nuts and bolts be available? But it is true that old tractors never die, they just sit in a neglected corner of the field. And a good restoration mechanic can bring dead tractors back to life. These tractors are not interesting to farmers operating really heavy equipment on vast farms…but they are interesting to small farmers.

    As discussed previously, a group of small farmers can reasonably make, from oil seed crops, the biodiesel to operate tractors. In a biological farming system, they would not be used to plow, but might be used for something like drilling grain seed into a field which is coming off pasture, such as the system shown by Darren Doherty which gave good yields, at low cost, and rapidly built topsoil.

    Don Stewart

  14. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    Lest I be accused of cheerleading for Permaculture. Here is a reality check that I think warrants some thought:

    ‘In the middle of fall planting or should I say replanting as that is how much of the last two weeks has been. Fall planting is actually a wide window in time. We actually start seeding some crops in the greenhouse as early as May (Brussels sprouts and Celery) so we can get them in the ground in July. Many transplanted crops are seeded in July and August to be planted out a month later. But starting the beginning of August we direct seed into the field a few beds of vegetables each week. Multiple plantings of carrots, beets, spinach, turnips and more so we can have as continuous a harvest as possible through the fall and early winter.

    Well August was so wet that we either had trouble getting into the field on time or the germination rate was not good or with the 3.5 inches of rain in an hour two weeks ago, just plain washed out. So last week we just re-tilled most of the early planted carrots and beets and started over. They are now up beautifully but will obviously be later than we had anticipated. Such is the crap shoot of fall plantings, usually the challenge is that it is so hot things just don’t want to germinate or get cooked off the soil after they do. If they survive that they then have to battle the onslaught of worms and grasshoppers and other pests until the weather cools down the end of September and everything seems to return to a happy state.

    It seems a bit brutal to plant when it is so hot but if we don’t get crops established as early as July, August and early September then the days get so short and cool that they will never mature before the really cold weather arrives. September is that great month when things do slow down a bit during the transition to true fall. We are taking out lots of crops, preparing tunnels for the winter season, taking soil tests and getting ready for the big annual soil turning and cover crop planting. Frost will be here before you know it, only eight or nine weeks away.’

    This is from a very good, veteran local farmer. Some of these things are just bad luck, some are to be expected with climate change, and some are due to the fact that we are manipulating Nature in a rather peculiar way that increases our workload. It’s the manipulation that I want to address.

    Today, we have certain season extension tools available to us that used to be limited to the French nobility. You can find orangeries at Versailles. But ordinary French farmers couldn’t order up an economical plastic hoop house and they couldn’t get shade cloth at the local Feed and Seed. This points to the important role that plastics play in what we might call mid-tech agriculture. This isn’t about skyscraper farms or creating ‘food’ from algae or vast acreages tilled by computer controlled tractors. So what is it about?

    Let’s first observe that the sun provides the most photosynthetic potential on June 21st (Northern Hemisphere, of course). I just went outside and took a UV reading, which was 35 on a clear, dry day in North Carolina. One June 21st, I have seen readings of 75 and the days are considerably longer. So the photosynthetic potential is much higher on June 21st than it is on September 6. Perennials are the plants which are naturally suited to take the most advantage of the summer solstice. They have a well developed root system which can support explosive growth as soon as the weather warms in the spring. Annuals have to get themselves established, which includes growing a root system–which is usually pretty puny and leaves them vulnerable to drought. By September, the perennials are packing it up for next year. They are making seeds and nuts and getting ready for winter.

    So what we are doing with mid-tech agriculture is using less than ideal conditions, but producing food anyway because we have the season extension tools to make it work. It’s more work for the farmer, it’s risky as you can see from the above narrative, and climate change probably will make things more risky–as, for example, it is really hot which stresses the plants but the sun just isn’t delivering as much photosynthetic potential..

    I have spoken about the layers approach to crops. More layers permits us to harvest more sunlight and use photosynthesis to produce more biomass. But if you want to grow annual crops in the fall, you need direct sunlight on them where I live. Again, complications and trade-offs.

    How do we think about this in terms of collapse? If financial collapse happens suddenly and takes down all the physical systems with it, most people will starve and that will be that. But suppose that the physical systems, for one reason or another, slowly adjust to a lower level of resource availability. Things like shade cloth and plastic hoop houses and drip irrigation systems are very valuable in terms of food production. And with some intelligence applied to the rationing, perhaps they will be around for some decades. In the long term, however, it is likely that we will go back to the late 1700s in France–the kings and queens will eat from fancy glass greenhouses, but the rest of us will be farming and gardening according to a natural seasonal rhythm. Or, perhaps we will have transitioned to a mostly perennial system.

    It is considerations such as these that can lead a Permaculturist to say that ‘we can probably feed 10 billion people now, but the population in the future will be a small fraction of 10 billion.’

    Don Stewart

  15. ravinathan says:

    The problem with the notion that we can scale back to a lower technology era, while warm, gooey and romantic is simply impossible. The world has over 400 nuclear plants which will go into critical meltdown if the grid ever fails. This will end most if not all life on earth, laying waste to visions of wise Don ‘Moses’ Stewart leading the permie flock into a golden dawn! Face it! We are locked in to the current system that is moving inexorably to disaster.

    • xabier says:


      Perhaps so. Those power plants are a worry…..

      All human endeavour is futile, all human existence tragic, from a certain point of view:

      ‘Conception a sin, birth an agony, life a torment and death inevitable’ as the Spanish proverb says.

      But from another point of view, this permaculture and homesteading looks like good fun, so why not? I’m no more concerned with feeding 10 billion than those 10 billion would be concerned about me.

  16. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Ravinathan and Others

    I’ve never been to Iberia. So Xabier might laugh at my crude comparisons. But here goes.

    Sepp Holzer did a project in Portugal which rescued a desertifying region which belongs to a genuine Princess and hydrated it with a series of lakes. Here is a link with some pictures. You will get the idea, although it is in German. By the reports I have read, it is beautiful and the Princess is happy.

    Toby Hemenway wrote this article for his website:

    ‘Here’s an example of how we can be misled by recipes. Holistic Management (HM) is a decision-making framework to help ranchers improve grazing-animal and grassland health. In a revealing article in the HM newsletter In Practice, permaculturist Aspen Edge describes her evolution from thinking of permaculture as a set of practices to seeing it as a way to design solutions. Aspen and her husband, David, with four years of permaculture experience in a temperate region, bought a farm in the hot, arid Mediterranean climate of southern Spain, and decided to create a food forest. Aspen writes, “Our permaculture mind applied those techniques which, if applied in a temperate or tropical environment, would build soil and conserve water. . . . Four years on, far from a complex, multi-stacking sward of vegetation, we had even less biodiversity and increased bare ground. . . . Nothing was performing in the way that we had expected.” They shifted gears, and tried the specific methods of Holistic Management for brittle (hot, dry, and fragile) landscapes, which involve rotational grazing and building soil via animal manures, and provide specific steps for ranch financial planning. The land, animals, and their finances rebounded beautifully.

    Their initial conclusion was that HM was simply better for drylands than permaculture. But they soon realized that HM is a recipe tailored for managing brittle landscapes like theirs, and nothing in HM was out of keeping with the strategies that a good permaculture design would arrive at. It was their perception of permaculture as a set of practices—that sheet mulching should be done everywhere, that all land wants to be a food forest—that was the problem. Holistic Management originator Alan Savory did not use permaculture as such to create HM, but he arrived at it by using the same observation skills and understanding of ecological processes that any good permaculture designer would. It is a recipe specifically for operating ranches, with brittle landscapes as its particular focus. ‘

    If you have read any of the references to Alan Savory’s work that I have posted, you know that it doesn’t use many bulldozers. Instead, it uses the fastest way to grow topsoil and put carbon in the soil: perennial grasses. The particular farm is in Spain.

    So…does Permaculture favor bringing in the bulldozers and creating lots of lakes in arid places, or does it favor creating rich grasslands? All I can say is that if you own property in Iberia, you have at least two examples from which to choose. Both use biological farming. One uses lots of earth moving.

    Don Stewart

    • Hello all,
      There seems to be quite a lot of discussion and some disagreement about the role and capability of permaculture. So I thought I would wade into the stream…as ugly as the some of the fish may be!

      Permaculture (which originally meant “permanent culture”) is a type of design that can be applied to many systems including agriculture. According to Wikipedia “Permaculture design seeks to minimize waste, human labor, and energy input by building systems with maximal benefits between design elements to achieve a high level of synergy.” In a world where we have peak oil, climate change, and resource depletion, I think this is the most logical approach.

      Originally it was focused on architecture, namely, how do we build economical and efficient housing for our masses of population, and have the water and power to operate them in an era of diminishing resources? Permaculture design as applied to agriculture relies heavily on ecology, land management and use, organic farming, and sound environmental principles. To say it is a broad field is a great understatement.

      I see permaculture as more of a philosophy, a way of looking at the world and understanding our place within the natural system in which our ancestors evolved. I don’t see it as a specific type of agriculture. I don’t think it’s useful to argue about how many people permaculture can feed.

      Earlier I told Don that I don’t believe permaculture can feed 10 billion people. The reason I don’t believe it will is not because it can’t, it’s because I don’t believe there are 10 billion people who will practice it. Of course we really aren’t arguing about feeding 7 or even 10 billion people, we are arguing about feeding the 2 billion people today who live a “modern” lifestyle and don’t want to change. There are far too many people in the developed world who don’t want to do anything to feed themselves other than drive to the grocery store and pick up whatever food they desire. The idea of having to raise their own food; to work in the soil, plant, harvest, and cook raw food is seen as a step back into the dark ages. It is too daunting to contemplate. I imagine there are probably 4 or 5 billion people who either already live this way or wish they could.

      Permaculture can’t replace a system of cheaply grown, cheaply transported, cheaply assembled/processed food with high quality organic food using a small fraction of the world’s population as farmers. But it can produce a large amount of high quality food using significantly less resources than our current system. The permaculture that I practice includes a home with a kitchen garden, compost bins, season extension, eating seasonally, eating much less animal products, cooking slow food, preserving food, and enjoying a life lived this way. I don’t see any other path forward and waiting too long will just make the transition more difficult.


      • Scott says:

        Hello, I think this is something that should be pursued, but we are facing limits on population and as the population rises the scale of these projects needed to keep us going get so large like the incredible hulk… they become hard to maintain and build. It seems to me we will have to keep both systems running side by side and try to move over to Permaculture as we can. It may maintain a small market share at first like organics but hopefully it will take hold. It is a good goal to head towards but will not happen fast. There are many good things happening in farming, but mainly driven by energy (oil, gas and electric that is), few farms would run without it.


      • xabier says:


        Lots to agree with there!

        I’ve seen it in a lot of threads: ‘I want to be Modern, no Dark Ages for me!’ A friend who loves powerful cars said to me ‘If we have to get around in those toy electric cars, I’d rather be dead!’ Don’t even ask him to get his hands dirty! And his granny was peasant who broke rocks in a quarry…..

        The ‘Dark Ages’ is actually in the minds of those who don’t wish to lift a finger for themselves.

        What defined the Dark Ages? People might answer: filth, violence, no beach holidays, barbarians running all over the place.

        But they were really defined by a loss of knowledge and a consequent inability to use resources productively. And by a rejection of unorthodox knowledge and new modes of living which offended prejudice and custom. The feudal lords really did drag people back to the land – the way of life that suited the lords economically – if they tried to get away and become, for instance, a townsman. Novelties could be seen as threats, sorcery or simply insane.

        Historically, the knowledge of advanced culture, manufacturing and agriculture shrank back to the Eastern Roman and Islamic Empires.

        Today, permaculture and modern homesteading, good custody of the Earth, seem to me to be very significant bodies of knowledge which shrunk back into the hands of very few people today, which have absolutely no backers among the corporations and politicians, and of which most ordinary people have lost any comprehension – lack of knowledge leads to suspicion: as you have pointed out, people can’t believe that productive gardening can be as easy as it is (given good instruction).

        Our civilization seems complete, but without an understanding of the land it is perhaps fatally flawed (particularly when one considers soil depletion and exhaustion).

        Anyone who draws attention to the urgent issues surrounding the regeneration of the land is today like a traveller in the Dark Ages informing benighted peasants and their calculating lords about life in the next village, or over the mountains. Some may listen, most won’t and few will have the ability to do anything. But it has to be done.

        ‘None so blind as them that won’t see’…….

        • Scott says:

          Hello Xabier, What you said which I will re post in quotes “Today, permaculture and modern homesteading, good custody of the Earth, seem to me to be very significant bodies of knowledge which shrunk back into the hands of very few people today, which have absolutely no backers among the corporations and politicians, and of which most ordinary people have lost any comprehension – lack of knowledge leads to suspicion: as you have pointed out, people can’t believe that productive gardening can be as easy as it is (given good instruction).”

          Very well said and sadly true,


          • xabier says:

            Thanks Scott! Still let’s not get depressed about it: we’ve got our small plots of earth, and I’m going to do some hard digging tomorrow for a new hedge, the leaves will make compost in coming years (thanks for the inspiration Jody!).

        • Xabier,
          Kind of ironic that the Europe fell into a period of declining civilization during the Dark Ages, while Arab countries were still advancing in medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. Today the opposite appears to be happening in the sense that the Arab countries are descending into dark age barbarianism and the destabilization of the Arab countries might bring the whole global economic system over the cliff.

          I agree with you that “None so blind as them that won’t see”. Our economic and political leaders seem unable or unwilling to do anything that will effect a positive change in the system. The masses want to pretend there really aren’t any problems that economic growth won’t solve. There are the angry few crying in the wilderness “Repent and be saved”, but no one is listening. Others believe that if only people would drive a Prius and buy a rain barrel all would be well.

          Perhaps the group that suffers the worst are those who see and believe but can’t seem to find a path forward, leaving them depressed and ineffective. Even though it seems irrational to cling to a system that appears broken and unrepairable, we often hang onto what we know rather than leap into an unknown. I often think that if I had been born a man during the Age of Discovery, I would have been an explorer. I wonder what it is that makes some humans seek adventure rather than shrink back from the unknown? Wouldn’t it have been an adventure being on those ships sailing off into unknown seas (hopefully not as the captains cabin boy!)?

          I’ve heard it said that
          ‘A known devil, is better than an unknown saint’….


          • xabier says:


            The Islamic world declined from its advanced in the 13th century for many reasons, but a major one was that they made the wrong cultural and intellectual choices: science and philosophy were down-graded or extinguished and the priority given to reciting the Koran and studying the law. Society was given the wrong emphasis by fanatics, the least useful of all skills was most highly-rewarded – banking and finance anyone, versus farming?

            Thank your for your life-enhancing posts by the way.

          • Xabier,

            Well if the world is going to collapse, we may as well make the most out of each day we have until it does. And if by some miracle all us doomers and prepers are wrong, if our economic system somehow manages to keep chugging along (albeit at some greatly reduced level) at least I can look back and say I’ve lived a good life. I also think the changes we’ve made will make retirement more affordable, even with little or greatly reduced social security or medicare. We won’t have to worry about skyrocketing electricity or propane costs. We can probably still provide the majority of our fresh food. All that jogging and exercising my husband does will keep him in good shape to chop wood and weed the garden! (He thinks I’m kidding when I say that!)

            Why obsess about what we can’t control? This used to be good advice, even years ago before peak oil and climate change, when the only problem people worried about was death (and taxes).

            Glad you enjoy my posts. I also enjoy reading yours.

            take care,

          • xabier says:


            I like the Retirement Plan you have for your husband: he should be assured that not many things are better than swinging an axe ! (Basques and axes are synonimous, I have a nice collection). Maybe learning to carve utensils from wood would be a good hobby, too…… maybe best not mention that as well.

          • Xabier,
            Carving utensils and the potters wheel are my hobbies. Maybe I’ll consider letting him use my knives if he keeps them sharp. My sister is a master quilter. Her husband built some wooden doll beds for granddaughters and decided to make the small quilts to go with them. Now they find it enjoyable working together in her studio. Of course he has his own manly shop out back too! We all need our hobby space, Eh?

      • that’s always been my point Jody, perhaps the greatest failing of humanity has been the certainty that ‘now’ is permanent.
        We feed ourselves ‘now’, our supermarkets and filling stations (merely our prime energy sources) are full ‘now’, so they will always be full and available to us.
        What we deny to ourselves is that that ‘now’ is only 4 generations old, much less for many people. Only 10 generations separate us from an existence where the only light available was a naked flame and where 98% of people had to work the land to provide the necessary food excess for the other 2%.
        Oil has enabled an exact reversal of that, where 2% can feed 98%.
        This is what makes our ‘now ‘ unreal, because virtually all of those 98% now have no idea how to procure their means of survival. They (we) expect food and fuel to appear, and from conversations out in the real world, that expectation is an absolute.
        Any doubt is always countered with: ‘they’ will come up with something….perhaps the scariest comment of all.
        So given that certainty, there will always be conflict to preserve it because there is a refusal to accept that the party is over. As I’ve pointed out before, we have put ourselves in the same position as hamsters in a cage: Our food is delivered and our wastes are removed, and our employment is in a rotating wheel that takes us nowhere. Oh, and we can go on filling up our cage with more and more hamsters of course.
        Yet we will resist anything that alters that status quo, engaging in riots and wars brought about by the overcrowding in our cage.
        Even when the planet had more than enough resources for everyone, wars were still fought to acquire more.
        Expecting humanity to change its behaviour in a single generation and become benevolent ‘permaculturists’ after 10000 years of mass homicide, is I fear asking too much.
        It will happen of course, but not until we have worn out all our weapons (embodied energy) and reduced our numbers, trying to prove that it isn’t going to.

        • EOM,
          You are absolutely correct in what you say. I rarely find anything in your observations that I don’t agree with, except perhaps in the way they come across. It seems to me that your comments often convey a sense of bleakness, of hopelessness in the face of change. I’d like to know more about what you like about life, the things you value, the things you are doing other than trying to convince the masses we are heading for a cliff and we have no parachute. I’m sure that you have a bright side! :)

          • apologies for the way I put stuff across Jody, that’s not the real me I assure you.
            I suppose it is the love of everything that surrounds me here in the UK, the heart-stopping beauty of it, its deep history , and its seeming permanence that makes me think more deeply than is good for me. But I refuse to get depressed over it.
            Last weekend on a picnic, I spent an hour watching wasps tear a small piece of chicken apart and fly off with it, to recycle its energy. Small pleasures I guess, but very wonderful to see.
            And I’m not trying to convince anybody, maybe just pointing to the ‘Cliff’ sign?
            I live within 5 miles of where the industrial revolution started, (iron smelting with coke 1709) and during the research for my book http://tinyurl.com/oa854gt I stood on that exact spot (it’s now a museum) and gave some thought to what started there. It was impossible not to think of everything that derived from that ‘logical’ increase in productivity, and what became possible through access to new ways of using energy. Without colossal amounts of cheap iron and steel, and the embodied energy within it, humankind could not have prospered the way it has.
            It hasn’t been fossil fuel that created our wealth, so much as the ways we found of using it.
            So that’s the way my mind works. My research led me into the minds of scientists and other individuals far better qualified to comment on all this than I am. It was really scary to find them saying much the same thing. Or worse.
            What started as a straightforward commercial venture in 1709, now pervades everything we do. Every human enterprise now depends on burning fuel in one way or another, and converting that energy into physical assets. Despite my mental twisting and turning to elude that simple fact–the truth of it won’t go away: We equate burning stuff with prosperity, The magnificence of our surroundings and possessions confirms that the more we burn, the wealthier we become. We get even wealthier if we burn it faster. Only through fuelburning have we been able to hold heat cold gravity disease and hunger at bay for a while; we now demand that it goes on forever. So we vote for politicians who say it can. And the majority DO vote for it, because there are no political alternatives. In here we are preaching to an infinitesimally small converted, out there people refuse to accept reality, or at best adopt the Micawberish approach of: ‘something is bound to turn up’.
            What we are actually doing is voting to change the laws of physics, while believing that because energy gave us wealth, wealth will give us energy.
            Another big mistake there.
            Every item of data and research I use I quadruple check if I can, because I want to prove myself wrong, and I unravel every problem right to its fundamental roots, then work back from there to see if I reach the same conclusions.
            If I do, I use it.
            As to gentle downsizing, permaculture and so on. One reads what is or is not possible using various methods and crops etc. I approach the problem from another direction: To establish a viable food production base, you need two stable growing seasons– minimum. When the proverbial hits the fan, ask yourself what happens next?
            7 million city dwellers are not going to become gardeners, to think otherwise is delusion on a grand scale.
            One takes precautions as far as one can, of course; but to imagine a gentle transition into a future of bucolic peasantry is taking that delusion into very dangerous territory.

            • Scott says:

              Hello End of More, well it just looks like some of us will be gardeners that may need to guard our gardens night and day with dogs and guns eventually. My neighbors and I expect that at some point we think.

              Seriously, that is the major problem, city dwellers think food comes from the market.


          • Scott
            you’re lucky to have neighbours who think like you do
            mine wouldn’t get past: huh?

            • Scott says:

              Hello, From what I see here in Oregon…. In times of trouble, We would be fine it seems and many would make it, but it would be tough – but really tough, if they do attack us from the air, Most of us are vulnerable to that. That is where we could be in real trouble, air assaults. Most city dwellers would perish in such attacks and some tough folks would make their last stands in the mountains, but few would last the winter in the Cascades. A tough one.

              Otherwise, I think our locals could get by if there was no outside attack, but that is not likely if you are in a resource rich area such as hunting, water and mining and food production during harder times.

              I expect many of these areas will see a struggle between outsiders and locals for resources.

              Let us hope not to see this scenario anytime soon.


          • EOM,

            No apologies necessary. I understand where you are coming from and feel the same way you do about many of the issues we face and reasons we are in this mess. I have no illusions that what I do is a solution. As I’ve said before, we face a dilemma, and dilemmas have consequences not solutions.

            I’m glad to know more about your bright side. Thanks for sharing. I would love to watch a wasp tear apart and carry away a piece of meat. I love to watch preying mantis, but they always seem to know I’m watching and never go off hunting. I could swear they look at me and evaluate how easy a meal I would make.

            I have visited your home country and I agree it is beautiful and hard to avoid the history, which surrounds you everywhere. Although folks tell me East Anglia is the least scenic part of your country, I found many sights I enjoyed. We stayed at Mildenhall and I enjoyed the Roman structure still standing in the middle of town. The food was much better than the guidebooks said it would be. Lovely pasties that I could buy for about a dollar (in 1987) and were a very filling lunch. Breakfast at the place we were staying was beyond my expectations. It consisted of ‘cold’ offerings such as fresh grapefruit sections in a bowl, freshly squeezed orange juice, or tomato juice, various hearty cereals; and/or hot food such as eggs, fried potatoes, ‘bangers’ and sausage patties, fried tomatoes, and toast with marmalade. We could have any or all if we could eat that much! Dinner on the terrace was called a bar-be-que; grilled steak, baked potatoes, and a variety of salads and side dishes. Wonderful homemade potato salad!

            I loved visiting the churches and castles. The place that I remember vividly was Bury St. Edmunds where I toured the remains of a cathedral that had been torn down by the peasants after King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church and formed the Church of England. All that was left of the original structure was the Abbeygate, a large archway which had actually been a relatively small side entrance to the Abbey. You can see it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Abbeygate_In_Bury_St_Edmunds.jpg
            Inside the Abbeygate was a drawing of the original cathedral. It stunned me to see what must have been the size of the original structure relative to the size of the Abbeygate. It was amazing to think of just how large a building the English had constructed, the power of the Catholic Church it represented, and the feelings of the peasants towards this power when they tore it apart and carted off the stones. No, history is not always a nice.

            I like living in our modern world and making connections to our past world. I have hope but few illusions about our future. I don’t think the lifestyle I live is an answer to the dilemmas of our time. As I have said before, I don’t believe we can solve our problems, we can only suffer the consequences. I don’t believe that we can save even a fraction of the world’s population if we collapse. It can certainly be depressing to think about all the possible terrible things we might encounter.

            I think it was the realization of what peak oil meant, that finally gave me the impetus I needed to live life the way I truly wanted to live. Before that, I was concerned with my career, retirement accounts, making something of myself and my education…all the typical stuff. In some weird way knowing that our future was not going to be what I expected, freed me to create a lifestyle I wanted. I don’t have to worry about being thought of as eccentric. (Of course, the older I get the less I worry about eccentricity anyway!) I’ve always wanted to be like my grandmother, the gentle wise-woman who loved and cared for her family, living in her garden among her flowers and herbs, a pot of soup bubbling on the stove, knitting scarves and mittens to give for Christmas to her 16 grandchildren.

            We can’t change the world, but we can change ourselves. Living a life that is meaningful to our idea of ‘self’, is really the only reality we can know.

            all my best,

            • Scott says:

              Hello Jody, More and more people should embrace gardening at home, but understanding that it is not possible in much of the world, we have an uneven collapse. Some areas getting hit really hard first. -Scott

    • xabier says:


      This Frog would like to marry such a Princess! Thanks for the links.

  17. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    I want to add a personal observation on the issue of electricity prices and marginal cost. See:

    I worked in the headquarters of AT&T in the late 1960s and again before and after Divestiture in 1982. The Divestiture involved splitting the company into 8 pieces, and was demanded by the Reagan administration after many years of desultory meanderings in the antitrust courts.

    AT&T collected data on almost everything. Each year, it compiled a Bell System Statistical Manual. I discovered this Manual around 1968 when I was working on a particular project. One of the interesting statistics was the investment per mile in long distance transmission equipment. Beginning in 1919, when the Bell System was returned to private ownership after being nationalized in WWI, the investment had shrunk from 100 dollars per mile at the rate of a dollar per year. The technical impetus for the shrinkage was the deployment of continually improving carrier systems, which piggybacked many conversations on a single circuit. I left the Headquarters in 1970 and went to a field position, where people would occasionally tell me how ‘expensive’ long distance facilities were and how we needed to do all sorts of weird things with the prices in order to cause the customers to ‘conserve circuits’. No amount of explaining by me that circuits were cheap and becoming cheaper would sway the discussion.

    Back in the headquarters in 1979, I was involved, unwittingly, in the negotiations which led to the Divestiture Consent Decree. When I found out that the Consent Decree had split the Long Distance business from the Local Exchange business, I was alarmed. At that point, the investment per circuit mile had shrunk to 8 dollars (none of these numbers are inflation adjusted). It was very clear that a ‘long distance’ business would have a zero marginal cost in terms of physical facilities. Such businesses don’t tend to make very good investments because just a little overcapacity sinks the price to zero. The Executive Management didn’t want to hear about it. They amused themselves with the illusion that they were going to become another IBM.

    So they tried to become IBM and lost a lot of money, just as IBM was changing the way it did business. Meanwhile, MCI and Sprint were getting started. The AT&T Long Distance business was churning out the cash, which was being squandered by the Executives. When MCI and Sprint finally got their capacity in place, it became a war of TV advertising. For a while, the three companies were accounting for 40 percent of TV advertising dollars. But the Consent Decree was structured in such fasion that there was no real way to distinguish any one company from the other two in terms of physical characteristics. The Decree, in other words, made no sense at all.

    Eventually, all three companies essentially ceased to function. The solution was flat rate pricing. It didn’t matter how much you used, you just paid a monthly fee. Ironically, I spent time in the field in the hopeless task of convincing the public and the regulators that imposing ‘usage sensitive pricing’ on local calls was a really smart thing to do. If it had been successful, it would have taken another service which had essentially zero marginal cost and burdened it with very high administrative costs.

    So when you think about renewables and their zero marginal cost, think about the dangers that the utilities with high variable costs face. Think about a homeowner with solar PV on the roof and the sun shining…the cost of using more electricity is zero up until the capacity of the system is exceeded. Few people are thinking about this.

    Don Stewart

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, I remember in the 1970’s my father who worked at IBM and Control Data Corp in San Jose CA and those were the days of growth in the so called silicon valley, this was the 1970’s and things were already changing fast in those fields. My Dad was a technical writer and in is last working years worked for himself and made great money.

      My father retired in the 1980’s and has recently passed away last summer. However, what I remember from those days was the fast growth and change. I do not believe we can keep up this pace forever.


  18. ravinathan says:

    Here is some support for Gail’s contention that solar energy is not a substitute for fossil fuels based on the actual experience of Spain which made a big push into renewables versus the largely theoretical exercises that we read about. The link is a book review of Prieto and Hall’s 2013 publication that is well worth a read. What amazed me was the extremely low realized EROEI of solar at less than 3 for sunny Spain and its even lower for Germany! Spain has really gotten itself into a pickle and I do hope that some of the people who go around claiming that pv power will save us will read this review and the book. The takeaway is that photo voltaics are only a fossil fuel extender, not a substitute, since pv cannot replace itself.

    • xabier says:


      Great link, thanks.

      Looks like it was an ideal scam for the get-rich-quick Spain of the early 2000’s which produced the real estate ‘boom.’

      And whatever happened -anyone? – to the EU idea of having huge solar plants in North Africa (nice peaceful part of the world for decades to come surely) to supply Europe? Did anything ever get built?

      • buying sunshine from Africa is about as safe and sensible as buying gas from Russia

        • xabier says:


          I know, but it’s incredible that such a project was ever given serious consideration!

        • Xabier,

          I wonder if it isn’t becoming very difficult and risky for companies to invest in business in North Africa? I would be concerned about long term solvency of operations in countries where civil unrest is becoming common. Also, it seems to me that China has taken a great interest in not only manufacturing solar devices but leasing farmland in Africa. Maybe they are looking at building the solar plants in North Africa too. The two things may not be related but China certainly seems to want to be the 800 lb gorilla in the solar power industry. Only Germany seems to be holding up under the competition, and they are struggling with the EU problems over Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.


          • telegraph tim says:

            “Only Germany seems to be holding up under the competition, and they are struggling with the EU problems over Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.”

            Talking of which:


            Meanwhile, over in Blighty:


          • xabier says:


            Oil pipelines are damaged in Libya, solar sites seem even easier targets: you can trash them without pollution.

            Europe now receives much of its basic goods from the East, above all China, and fuel from the Mid East and Russia – it’s not an encouraging scenario, to say the least. This is why fracking has such attraction for many, although many still have no grasp at all of the real energy situation of Western Europe.

            Without the cheap goods from China, many people in Europe would be very impoverished in terms of clothing, etc. Well-made clothes are now very expensive, but then historically they always were.

          • Xabier,
            Yes, I would not want to live in Europe because of all the issues you brought up, except perhaps Scandinavia. Might be hard to get used to cold winters and short summers though, even though I grew up with them in Minnesota.

            The one advantage Europe has is its extensive public transportation, lower energy use (so less far to descend), and better multipurpose urban design. When my husband visited Denmark he admired the areas of the city which had family homes, restaurants, stores, and business all located withing walking distance. Many families didn’t need cars. The U.S. and it’s urban sprawl will be a problem, as Kunstler has pointed out.

            The advantage here in Indiana is that our climate is moderate and we have good rainfall. We are not likely to become a desert. We have a very long growing season and extensive farmland (even if it is depleted in organic matter), and lots of woods and streams. Europe has a much higher population density and little forest left for people to get firewood.

            Until you mentioned good quality clothes I didn’t think about it. I usually shop at our Goodwill second hand stores. We have three very nice ones in town. I am always able to find good quality clothes there, and because they are used clothes it is easy to see how they are holding up. I think part of the reason there are so many good quality ones is because of the University. Professors buy lots of good quality clothes, rarely wear them out, and then donate them to the Goodwill. I guess that is an advantage others don’t have.

            It is true, and Scott mentioned it too, that in some places people will be greatly disadvantaged. I guess all I can say is if one can move it might be a good time to evaluate and then pick your location carefully.


            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Xabier and Jody
              Since Jody brought up the issue of her retirement plan for her husband, I decided to do a little research on my wife’s retirement plan for me.

              Having been married 50 years I know better than to ask a direct question. So I just went to my friend at the NSA and asked him to take a look at my wife’s recent Google searches which involved ‘husband’. It turned out that she had visited the sites of a number of Glue Factories which promise ‘discreet, no questions asked service…highest prices paid’.

              Is this a bad sign?

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Hello Jody and everyone, I guess it is true, Location, Location, Location! An uneven collapse hitting some places first and others later. The same goes for war that will likely be a byproduct of the collapse in areas of the world, right now we are looking at lots of places that are on the verge.
              If bombs start dropping in more places, especially the big ones, then collapse could expand very fast into our heartland in the west. (hope not). But if that happened then it would be WWIII.

              These are uncertain times and I suppose we are lucky that a bigger event has not happened in recent years given the instability of the nuclear world and the world in general. These subjects give me some concern and anxiety for sure.

              But we will continue on day by day and try not to worry too much about the world but steadily try to improve our own little situation in that regard.

              Tomorrow is harvest day for many veggies such as corn, celery squash etc – so we will be drying some of it in the food dehydrator for winter soups which should taste good when it gets colder as it surely will soon.


          • Don,
            If you don’t have a horse, it could be a bad sign!

            Now that you put my comment into this context, I’m wondering if my husband has a retirement plan for me. But before I can ask I have to think about whether or not it works best to ask directly or in directly. My mother told me that when she wanted Dad to do something she never told him directly. She would mention something in passing, wait a few days, and then ask him what he thought they should do. Somehow he seemed to come up with the exact thing she wanted him to do, and believed it was his idea. I always found that interesting. For a housewife without only a high-school education she was pretty smart!

            You give me so much to think about Don!

  19. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    This will be a little essay on the difficulty of being human and reasonably aware early in the 21st Century.

    James Howard Kunstler wrote this prognostication earlier this week, in praise of what he perceives will be valued after the Crisis:
    ‘The range of skills one might include under vernacular artistry runs from gardening, to cookery, to tool-making, to animal husbandry, to the building trades, to the lively, visual, musical, and medical arts — all the activities of everyday life. These are the things which, when done well, make life worth living. They all deeply involve taking care of things on the small and personal scale — which is exactly what you don’t get purchasing ready-made plastic crap from the WalMart on the highway strip, where nothing is really cared for and everything is disposable.’

    I did some of that stuff today. I participated in a group making some kim-chee. We took home some kim-chee made by our predecessors a month ago, and the kim-chee we made today will be eaten by a group which will gather about a month from today. Gardening, cooking (or, more precisely, the non-cooking of fermentation), the medical arts (fermented foods do wonderful things for the human body), and even tool making (the heirloom sauerkraut pounder) were all prominently featured. In addition, the building arts were present as we worked in a former horse stable which had been converted into a communal kitchen by volunteer labor. Outside the stable were evidence of more tool making in the form of an antique tractor and manure spreader. And it was certainly all about everyday life. A wonderful time was had by all, and it involved the sacralization of the ordinary as we gave thanks for the work of the microbes, using a hymn composed by Sandor Katz.

    Here’s the difficult part. I drove a 10 year old Prius 15 miles to the event, and then 15 miles home. In the kind of post-collapse world that Kunstler expects, driving 15 miles in an automobile will be out of the question. The cabbage, carrots, onions, and peppers were grown on the farm, but the spices came from across the oceans. (Remember the Spice Routes?)

    At the beginning of the event, I described to the group my special interest in using fermentation to preserve the harvest, and described my newly realized recognition that fall crops in this area are dependent on plastic in a number of crucial ways. I pointed to the plastic greenhouse on the farm and the piles of drip tape. I said that in the future we may get only a spring harvest of cabbage and need to preserve enough from that single harvest to last us all year. Several of the people had been in Korea and described how the Koreans buried their kim-chee in the ground to keep it without refrigeration.

    As I see it, a group of a dozen people gathered for a purpose can usually solve the practical problems. The problem I see is what I might call ‘insufficient density’. I think Kunstler is wrong to bad mouth the younger generation and the WalMart. There were 3 very young women in our group today. I didn’t see any of them lost in their iPhone. So his characterization of a generation is not getting it right. And we gathered in North Carolina, which he would have trouble referring to without profanity. So sectionalism isn’t the key point either. As for WalMart, I believe the crock that we made the kim-chee in came from WalMart. Crocks can be custom made by local potters, but WalMart is a convenient and economical place to buy them. So blaming WalMart isn’t on target either. The real problem, as I see it, is that it takes a 15 mile radius to collect enough people who look forward to getting together to make some kim-chee.

    When my family first moved to St. Louis in 1970, our old country Lutheran church engaged in two ancient traditions in the fall. The men got together and drank some beer and made sausage (which was not a fit place for dainty females to be). The women made apple butter. In 1970, few people drove 15 miles to this church. In 1850, almost everyone would have walked or ridden in a buggy on a country lane. Everyone needed sausage and everyone needed apple butter and so a community effort was an enjoyable social event and served a practical purpose.

    Perhaps, as things get tougher, it will be easier to get a neighborhood group together to make some kim-chee. Right now, even such a noble endeavor seems to require an automobile and well-maintained roads because of the low density of people wanting to do it. Here is where I part company with some doom-sayers. I think that participating in such a group now develops the skills to do it later. After a Collapse, those who know how will be sorely needed to teach the foolish grasshoppers who put nothing away for the winter. It’s not bad to spend some fossil fuels on group kim-chee making, it’s a good investment in the future. And the fact that some fossil fuels were spent doesn’t make it impossible to do it in the future without them.

    Don Stewart

    • Don,
      As always, I love your stories! I couldn’t agree with you more, and I will share some of my own similar activities.

      This week I invited a relatively new acquaintance over to help herself to tomatoes. My vines are producing more than I can use. She came in the morning, thinking that she would just stop by (even though we live almost 20 miles apart) and pick some tomatoes. When she arrived I was processing apples (and pears) for apple(pear) butter. While I was putting the cooked fruit through the hand cranked food mill we chatted about this and that. I told her she could go out to the garden and help herself but she said she didn’t have to be anywhere in particular and preferred to watch me work. She told me about her grandmother’s recipe for apple butter that contained ‘red hots’, something I decided I might like to try.

      It took me an hour or more to process the fruit but I ended up with about 20 quarts of it bubbling away on the stove. We each tested the batch and decided it needed more cinnamon and sugar. She commented on how wonderful my kitchen smelled and that it reminded her of her grandmothers. Then we went out to the garden and spent another hour and half picking tomatoes. She asked lots of questions about how I started my plants and what I did to get them so large. We also laughed and shared stories of our families, finding many things we have in common. It was a very pleasurable way of spending the morning.

      She was at my house for 3 1/2 hours and we both laughed about how time flew by. Always seems that way when women work together. I’m sure men enjoy something similar in working together. We picked about 2 bushels of tomatoes and she take home half a bushel, didn’t want any more. She sent me an email later and told me that she shared them with neighbors and friends, which made her and them very happy. She also said I had inspired her to start a garden of her own. If she does I’m sure we will be sharing lots more stories and ideas. We are looking forward to getting our families together again for dinner soon. It is unfortunate that we live so far apart.

      Yesterday I stopped by by neighbors house and dropped off a basket of veggies (sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, and basil) along with half a dozen fresh eggs. She is always so grateful for fresh food, and often waders through my garden helping herself. But bringing it over is a nice a way to visit. We talked about recipes for roasted peppers and salsa, her daughter who is 11 going on 20, and my teenage boys learning to drive. She offered them the use of their golf cart and jeep for practice, which was very kind. I told her we might be over for a swim in their pool later. Good to enjoy being with your neighbors!

      Yes I agree with you, Don, these are the kinds of connections that will help us in the future, and they make stronger neighborhoods and communities. I feel good about the skills I can share, and the things I learn from others. Spending time working together seems to make for such a lovely day!


  20. Don Stewart says:

    To All Those Who Think My Obsession With Food is a Sign of Insanity

    Come to our annual small farmer and gardener conference. More good stuff than anyone can possibly absorb in 2.5 days. Fabulous food. Relatively cheap. The parallel sessions mean I am sure to miss out on some wonderful talks and demonstrations.

    Don Stewart

    • Don,
      Looks really interesting, but my husband will be traveling for business during that time and so I have to taxi kids to school and mind the fort. I though it interesting that Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance had a large advertisement in the brochure. Also the organic tobacco producer. Kind of shows what a large audience this kind of event attracts.

      • Don Stewart says:

        We usually have 1300 to 1400 and sometimes 1500 people when the event is in Durham, NC. The alternative years, when it is in South Carolina, we have around 900. We will have perhaps 100 vendors show up. To give you some sense of it…there will be about 15 people at the CFSA governance session on Sunday morning (half of whom will be board members), while many of the talks on the parallel tracks will draw standing room crowds. So it is a very ‘hands on’ crowd. The CFSA leadership always bemoans the fact that they can’t get people interested in the running of the organization.

        Don Stewart

        • Don, :) I think once people start making things by hand they quickly recognize that it’s labor not management that we need. Today’s over-priced CEO’s assume they are the most important by virtue of being in charge, and they think everyone else wants to be like them. Sad fact is that most administrators don’t produce much of value anymore. Goes back to the comment made by timl2k11…
          “The world will need a great leader on the way down…” I would qualify that to “a few” great leaders and lots more workers.

  21. Robert Goldschmidt says:


    I have been looking at the sources of our economic malaise for some time and have concluded that energy is an important but not the dominant factor — although it may very well become so by the end of the decade. What I have found is that rapidly evolving technology which replaces workers together with singular corporate focus on raising short-term earnings is most significant. For the past four decades, line worker wages have flattened while all the productivity gains have been converted into increased corporate earnings and executive remuneration.

    How do you support the growth of an economy where wage-based purchasing power can no longer keep up with increased productivity? With rapidly increasing personal and federal debt. This in turn has grown our financial institutions into the behemoths that throw their weight around Washington these days. Since 1972, payrolls have fallen from 52% to 44% of GDP. This represents $1.2 trillion a year loss in purchasing power or an average of over $10,000 per year for
    each full time worker.

    It has become clear to me that federal intervention will be required to once again “… promote the general Welfare”.

    Your blog provides an invaluable service in understanding the important ramifications of our energy dilemma. However, I believe that we also need to address the growing wage gap problem. Each of us looks at the facts through the lense of our belief system. I hope that I have added some balance.

    • xabier says:

      Much sense in that. The effects of ever-advancing automation and the tilting of most advanced economies towards very low-pay, low-security jobs for the masses is a central issue: to be fair, Gail has always mentioned this among the factors contributing to the financial crisis, but it is certainly not addressed very often, and not at all by politicians (in much the same way that energy is absent from most political and economics discussions.

  22. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    I have suggested that a kitchen garden for high nutrient but low calorie foods such as vegetables should be high on one’s list of elements for surviving Collapse. With luck, farms will continue to provide us with low nutrient, high calorie, and mostly easily stored and shipped foods. Small animals such as rabbits and chickens can also fit into many home gardens.

    Any novice who starts to garden is likely to run into problems. It simply takes time to understand the ecology of a garden and then get that ecology established. So why do I insist on gardening as a central strategy? I’ve talked about various aspects of gardening, but today George Mateljan (The World’s Healthiest Foods) gives us a good essay on the central importance of non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are some of the most expensive things you can buy in a grocery store (per pound), are usually quite perishable, and lose their nutrients rapidly once they are harvested. In short, perfect candidates for the garden.

    Don Stewart

    Why Vegetables Should Play Center Stage
    More than 60% of Americans are overweight. The amount of money spent on weight loss continues to soar, but is having little effect in curbing excess weight’s contributions to poor health. To restore vibrant health and lose excess weight, my suggestion is, “Eat more vegetables!”

    “Eat your vegetables” is probably the most famous advice in all of nutrition – but we seldom stop to think about what makes vegetables so special or why we need so many each day.

    Since everything we do requires nutrients, the more nutrients we can get for the least amount of calories bodes well for our good health and potential for healthy weight loss. Whether we are awake or asleep, exercising or sitting still, we are staying alive with the help of the nutrients required for our cells’ metabolism. Although some nutrients can be stored in our cells and tissues to a limited degree, most micronutrients cannot be stored. Unless we obtain them daily from our food, we simply don’t have them! The variety of nutrients we need for optimal nourishment is somewhat staggering: we must have numerous vitamins and minerals, plus proteins, carbohydrates and essential fats, and literally hundreds of phytonutrients (including carotenoids like the lycopene found in tomatoes, and flavonoids, like quercitin in onions or genistein in soybeans) to stay optimally healthy.

    Vegetables provide us with an unprecedented array of nutrients. As startling as it might sound, no essential nutrient is missing from vegetables as a group! Proteins, fiber-rich, low glycemic load carbohydrates, essential fats, vitamins, minerals – all are plentiful in the world of vegetables. And so are phytonutrients, health-supporting compounds found only in plant foods. Researchers estimate that at least 10,000 phytonutrients in vegetables will someday be cataloged and understood. Dozens of health-supportive phytonutrients – featuring antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other properties – have already been identified in all commonly eaten vegetables. Sometimes these one-of-a-kind nutrients have even been named after the vegetables themselves; spinasaponins in spinach and celerin in celery are great examples.

    The list of nutrients packed inside vegetables includes antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene, which play such a key role in immune support and in protection of cells and blood vessels. Also included in concentrated amounts are B-complex vitamins like vitamin B6, biotin and folate. These B-complex vitamins are essential for energy production, proper formation of red blood cells, and healthy nervous system function. Amply supplied by the green leafy vegetables are minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are essential for healthy blood pressure and strong bones. And alongside of these vitamins and minerals are abundant amounts of fiber, which helps regulate digestion, stabilize blood sugars, and facilitate weight management. Because many of the above nutrients are not stored in the body in appreciable amounts, and because vegetables aid in the very process of digestion, foods in this remarkable group need to be consumed in generous amounts on a daily basis.

    You actually have to hunt in order to find nutrients that are very difficult to obtain in ample amounts from vegetables. Vegetables even supply the omega-3 fat called alpha linolenic acid, but the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, and certain amino acids are better supplied by other types of foods. For overall nourishment though, you can’t beat vegetables.

    And as for weight loss, vegetables as a group, with the exceptions of starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn, are the foods that are not only among the most nutrient-rich, but are also the lowest in calories.

  23. xabier says:

    Jody and don

    On Wives, Husbands and Questions: a chap I know passed by as his wife was typing an email: ‘Who are you writing to?’ As he glanced at the screen (very ill-advised to do so) the words ‘ totally useless idiot’ happened to catch his eye. So he looked closer: she was describing him to a friend! Even worse, it’s true, he’s a hopeless case……..

  24. xabier says:


    I agree that Europe is not where one would ideally choose to be: mined-out, depleted soils, simmering racial and religious tensions due to mass immigration without consent of the older settled populations over the last decade, fragile woodland (or simply not enough for greatly expanded populations created by the oil boom), mass unemployment, and importing nearly all oil and gas from not particularly friendly regions.

    Against that one can set having to negotiate smaller distances than in, say, the US or Australia, pedestrian-friendly towns and cities, and the public transport infrastructure (but it’s generally expensive). However, what one saves in oil use, one loses in the high cost of everything. Formerly cheap countries like Spain are cheap no longer. My Polish friends envisage no problem with finding land with plenty of wood and water, but oil and gas remain a problem for them: without Russia, they freeze.

    Still, it looks better than the Middle East, for now.

  25. Robert,

    You bring up some interesting points. Unless we have good paying jobs, we lose purchasing power. Technology experts were touting the great improvement in productivity from replacing assembly line workers with robots. But robots don’t buy much goods and services or pay taxes. Yes, they do require energy, parts, and a few highly trained technicians to maintain and operate them, but I wonder how this affects our economy compared to the workers (and their families) the robot replaced.

    There is talk in Washington and elsewhere about our need to create better paying jobs for Americans. How do we do this when companies like Apple believe “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    As our population becomes poorer we are no longer a viable consumer market. We have already lost most of our manufacturing business. Much of the merchandise we import is cheaply made crap! How can we create jobs if business can find consumers? As the financial sector and corporate executives take larger and larger shares of shrinking profits, they are hollowing out wager earners as well as our business sector. I compare it to the game of Monopoly. When one person has all the money the game is over.

    As our economy went through the period we call the Great Recession, workers lost jobs and benefits. As the Great Recession passed, low and middle income earners have not made up the lost ground. Employers are eliminating full time positions and creating temporary ones in order to avoid paying benefits. Even as the unemployment numbers are declining, a significant number of the jobs being created aren’t’ as good as the ones that were lost. And if we look at the details of the unemployment figures reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf, we see numbers that are more worrisome than rosy picture of the downward trend in “unemployment”. It all depends on how the government defines and counts people out of work.

    There were 169,000 non-farm jobs created in August (for some reason farm workers aren’t counted in employment statistics). The official unemployment number was 11.3 million people, of which 4.3 million have been unemployed for more than 6 months (38%)–problem #1. In addition, there were 2.3 million “marginally attached” people who are out of work but hadn’t actively searched for work in August (government doesn’t count you as unemployed if you aren’t looking for work).–problem #2. Of this group 866,000 were categorized as “discouraged” workers, people who have given up searching for work because they no longer believe they can find a job. If we actually counted all the people out of work our unemployment rate is closer to 8.—problem #3.

    In addition to the unemployed, marginally attached, or discouraged workers there were 7.9 million people employed part time but wanting full time work (called involuntary part-time workers). This means we have another 5% who probably need but can’t find full time work, or are working 2 part-time jobs, which doesn’t qualify as full time work!—problem #4.

    The official unemployment rate of 7.3% doesn’t tell us the disparity between groups based on age, ethnicity, gender, or education level. Economists talk about the “lost generation” the young people that can’t find work after college and miss a valuable time to start their career. But there is also the large number of teenagers that don’t finish high school or if they do, go on to college. For example, if we look at the data in Table A2, teenagers (anyone ages 16 to 19) unemployed Caucasian/White is 20.5%, African American/Black 38.2%, and Hispanic 28.4%. Overall the Asian unemployment rate is only 5.1%.

    How are these young people going to start a family, buy a house, afford health insurance, pay taxes? Most end up still living at home past the age of 25, or become criminals and are incarcerated, at which time they are no longer counted in the statistics for unemployment.

    I don’t see any way to reverse this trend, or any possibility that our government could agree to do anything to reverse it.

    You said that “since 1972, payrolls have fallen from 52% to 44% of GDP”. That is interesting when one realizes that consumer spending in 2011 was 72% of GDP. Does this mean that consumers are buying 28% of their purchases with credit? I suppose home mortgages could make up a large portion of this since houses are too expensive for most people to buy without a mortgage. Lots to think about. Few answers.



    • Scott says:

      Jody, One last comment on this thread since Gail put out an interesting new article which I am about to study…. But just wanted to mention buying a home without a mortgage was one of the hardest we ever did and only after working 30 years, It should be a goal for all but a tough one for sure. So easy to get trapped in the credit world in the west especially a few years back when they were handing out money on credit like candy and it has happened to me when I was younger too. So a worthwhile goal to pay off one’s main home. After that just watch out for the taxman…


      • Scott,
        Yes, I see Gail has a new post that I am interested in reading. I wanted to comment about buying a home without a mortgage. If I was old enough to withdraw from my retirement accounts without a penalty I would do so. I think what you’ve done was very sensible.

        My husband and I have never had enough money saved up to buy a home without a mortgage, but we saved enough money to make a very good down payment (35% on our first home and 20% on our second). This meant that we didn’t have to have mortgage insurance, a fee that banks charge when you don’t have a down payment. We also borrowed less than what the banks said we could qualify for. I found that the “maximum” one qualifies usually means payments will stretch you so far you can’t afford to make extra principle payments.

        We pay extra principle each month, which significantly reduces the life of the mortgage. Our first home had a 30 year mortgage but we paid it off in 7 years. Our second home had a 15 year mortgage and after 9 years we refinanced, and took out some of the principle to pay for the solar PV system and geothermal systems. Our new mortgage is 10 years, but we expect to have it paid off in 7 years. Because of our investment in renewable we have only a $10/month electric bill (the base one has to pay just to be hooked up to the grid), phone, and DSL. We don’t subscribe to cable t.v. We no longer have propane because we heat with geothermal, run by solar P.V. I recycle 95% of our household waste and what little garbage we need to dispose of I take to the transfer station where I pay $1.50 per bag. We generally dispose of 6 bags a year. Water is from our well. Sewage is septic tank.

        My husband and I have a similar approach to finances, which makes for a happy marriage! We have always saved money, paid off credit cards each month, researched our purchases so that we get the best quality for the money we spend, and kept our wants reasonable (i.e. be frugal). Living this way has allowed us to make many good investments in our home and personal property, giving us a very comfortable lifestyle. We started transitioning towards energy conservation, renewable energy, and home food production about 10 years ago. But we still live a modern lifestyle and enjoy many of the benefits of our current economic system.


        • Scott says:

          Hello Jody, All of those things that you are doing they do cost money and you made an investment and it will be paid in less that ten years which is great. I think many of us are a bit uncertain to make investments on a new solar panel or large power systems although we desire them and this is because of the uncertainty in the world.

          You have made your stand and sounds like a wise investment. We do have a rental home that needed a roof this summer and that place still has a loan on it for seven years, but our main home is paid off so in hard times we may have to let that rental just go or do something with it.

          If we cannot invest in a solar PV system we can at least get a few small panels, some batteries and AC/DC converters to run a few things in our homes.

          I kind of think of collapse like camping, those items would be needed as if you were camping and perhaps those in home with a wood stove with a pot of soup may fair a bit better. So I have kind of stocked up on some camping stuff including old fashioned Oil Lamps and oil and cooking gas and of course lots of firewood which is easy to get here in Oregon.

          Depending on where you are you should prepare accordingly, but we had to move to feel safer from the city to the small mountain town we now live in. But I had to wait years until I could retire just as most people are locked into their jobs and it is tough to move to a better area.


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