Why I Don’t Believe Randers’ Limits to Growth Forecast to 2052

Jorgen Randers published a book in 2012 called 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years. A note on the front says, “A report to the Club of Rome, Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of The Limits to Growth.”

If we compare the new book to the book from 40 years ago, we see some surprising differences. In 1972, the analysis suggested that serious resource depletion issues would occur about now–the first part of the 21st century. In comparison, current indications look much better. According to Randers’ current analysis, world GDP growth will continue to rise through 2050, and energy consumption will continue to grow until 2040. While a decline in oil supply will take place, it will not occur until 2025. When it does happen, it will occur sufficiently slowly and incrementally that other fuels can replace its loss, apparently without disruption. Renewables will ramp up far more rapidly in the future than to date.

Figure 1. Comparison of oil and renewables forecast in 2052, based on spreadsheet from www.2052.info.

Figure 1. Comparison of oil and renewables forecast in 2052, based on spreadsheet from http://www.2052.info.

A person reading the front cover of 2052 might think that the model is quite close to the model used in the original The Limits to Growth analysis. My review indicates that the current model is fairly different. The book talks very little about the workings of the model, so doesn’t let us know what changes have been made.

It is possible to do some detective work regarding how the current model is constructed. Dolores “Doly” Garcia, who worked on the model, wrote three posts published on TheOilDrum.com explaining the model.  There is also a website (www.2052.info) provided by Randers giving the numerical output of the model in spreadsheet form.  Together, these point to a methodology which assumes that if world oil supply declines, the decline will be slow and will be quickly offset by a rise in the use of renewables, coal, and natural gas. Changes in the model, which I will describe further in another section, are the first reason I don’t believe Randers’ Limits to Growth forecast.

A second reason why I don’t believe Randers’ forecast has to do with limitations of the original forecast. These limitations did not make much difference back in 1972, when researchers were trying to estimate approximate impacts 40 or 50 years later, but they do now, when resources are becoming more depleted. One issue omitted from the model is a price mechanism. A related issue is that there is no true calculation of demand, based on what consumers can afford. The model also omits debt, and the role debt plays, both for investment purposes and in order for consumers to afford products made with oil and other energy products. Research regarding past collapses indicates they were financial in nature–the model should not overlook this important issue.

A third reason why I don’t believe the forecast in 2052 is because a model of this nature necessarily cannot model events that are important to ultimate collapse, but which happen on a smaller scale, and trigger cascading failures. An example might be oil depletion in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. All of these countries were at one point oil exporters. They each now have substantial financial problems because of the loss of oil exports. The population of each of these countries has now grown, so there are now many more mouths to feed. Unfortunately, without oil exports, the financial situation is such that it is not possible to provide the level of food subsidies and other benefits that an oil exporter can provide. The result seems to be serious civil disorder that threatens to spread beyond these countries own borders. See my post Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict. The 1972 Limits to Growth book warned readers that the report likely missed issues of this nature. The current book lacks such caveats.

A fourth issue is that the 2052 report is very much the work of a single individual, Jorgen Randers, while the earlier report was a committee report. Randers makes statements in the book that make it sound like he already knows the answer before he does the modeling. On page 61 he says,

I basically believe that we will see the same rate of technological and societal change over the next forty years as we have seen over the last forty years. That is because the drivers will be the same and the organization of global society is unlikely to change discontinuously.

Thus, Randers tells us he believes that he already knows that no swift change will take place. That is fine–unless the belief is based on a misunderstanding of real relationships.

On page 56, in a section called “The Deterministic Backbone,” Randers explains that some variables including population, industrial infrastructure, energy consumption, and GDP growth change very slowly, over periods of decades. With this view, methods are chosen so that none of these can change very quickly.

Oil Drum Posts by Dolores “Doly” Garcia

Dolores “Doly” Garcia published three posts on The Oil Drum related to versions of the model she was working on that ultimately was used in 2052. These posts are

A New World Model Including Energy and Climate Change Data (April 3, 2009)

New World Model – EROEI issues (Aug. 24, 2009)

An alternative version for three of the “key graphs” in IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook (July 7, 2011)

In these posts, especially in  New World Model – EROEI issues, Garcia explains why world energy supply now falls much more slowly than in the 1972 Limits to Growth scenarios. In her words, these are the three reasons:

  1. Renewable energy sources
  2. The decline of non-renewable energy sources follows a logistic curve. The exact equation is:Increase in production = 0.2*(fraction of fossil fuel remaining-0.5)*current production. .  . .
  3. Switching from some energy sources to others makes for a gentler, staged decline.

EROEI has only an effect on this last point, in that it’s the cause that drives the switching from one energy source to another.

What Doly Garcia is writing about is not exactly the model that is used in 2052–in fact she gives a range of outputs. But looking at the data from the spreadsheet associated with 2052, it is clear that some approach similar to this is being used. Using the revised approach, oil supply now declines relatively slowly, from an assumed peak in 2025 (Figure 1 and 2) and other fuels (coal, natural gas, renewables) rise in consumption relatively more quickly than in reports published by other forecasters (IEA World Energy Outlook, BP Energy Outlook, Exxon Mobil- A view to 2040). As noted in Figure 1 above, renewables ramp up very quickly.

Figure 2. Energy Consumption to 2050, based on spreadsheet data from www.2052.info.

Figure 2. Energy Consumption to 2050, based on spreadsheet data from http://www.2052.info.

Assuming that oil supply will follow the logistic curve on the down-slope, as well as assuming easy switching among fuels and a rapid ramp-up of renewables is basically assuming a best-possible outcome. It is basically assuming that a shortfall of oil won’t be a problem, because there will be a way around it–substitution and new fuel sources, until investment capital runs short.

I wrote a post recently called Stumbling Blocks to Figuring Out the Real Oil Limits Story, in which I talked about the common (incorrect) belief of many that M. King Hubbert  claimed the downslope of world oil supply would follow a slow curve, such as the logistic. As far as I know, he claimed no such thing. When population has risen because of the use of these resources, even a slowdown in supply is a huge problem, as we recently witnessed with the Great Recession that accompanied the 2008 run-up in oil prices.

There are some situations where such a logistic curve might be appropriate, for example, if we can make electric-plug in cars as cheaply as oil powered cars, and we don’t need to change over to plug-in electric cars until the oil-powered cars wear out, so we don’t have extra costs. But in general, there is no reason to expect a logistic curve on the decline. What I said in the post linked above is

If there is not a perfect substitute for oil or fossil fuels, the situation is vastly different from what Hubbert pictured. If oil supply drops (perhaps in response to a drop in oil prices), the world economy must quickly adjust to a lower energy supply, disrupting systems of every type. The drop-off in oil as well as other fossil fuels is likely to be much faster than the symmetric Hubbert curve would suggest.

In the above discussion, Doly Garcia mentions that the distribution of energy is determined based upon Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). These are values calculated by Dr. Charles Hall and various others with respect to the amount of energy needed to create new energy, with the idea that the types of fuels that need relatively less energy for new production will be exploited first.

The danger in using this approach is that a person can push off assumptions into variables in models without any real analysis as to whether such increases make sense in the real world. For example, hydroelectric is mostly built out in the US, and it is our largest source of renewable energy. Unless analysis is done using disaggregated data, with some tests for reasonableness, one can get very much overstated renewable energy estimates.

Financial Issues that the Model Misses

The model, when it was originally constructed in 1972, was mostly a model of amounts of industrial production and amounts of pollution, and numbers of population. It did not include much of an analysis of the economy, other than investment and depreciation, and these may have in fact been in units of production, rather than as monetary amounts. The new model has something called GDP (which Doly Garcia says she added), and something which is called “demand,” based on an estimate of the quantity of energy products which people might use, but which does not correspond to what people can actually pay for (which is likely quite different).

Recent research (Secular Cycles, by Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedof) suggests that when civilizations collapsed in the past, it was generally for financial reasons. A shortage of resources per capita led to increasing wage disparity, with falling wages for the common worker. The government was called upon to provide more and more services (such as bigger armies), leading to a need for higher taxes. The increasingly impoverished workers could not pay these higher taxes, and it was this clash between needed taxes and ability to pay these taxes that brought about the collapse. In such a situation, there was more of a tendency toward resource wars and revolutions, leading to deaths  of workers. Workers weakened by poor nutrition because of inability to afford adequate food also had higher death rates from disease.

The fact that we seem to be reaching very similar symptoms gives a hint that resource depletion may, in fact, already be playing a role in the economic problems we are seeing today. Perhaps analyses today should be examining the financial health of countries–the ability of countries to find enough jobs for potential workers, and the ability of these workers to earn adequate wages.

Labor Productivity

Randers assumes that Labor Productivity will continue to grow in the future, but that it will grow at a slower and slower rate, following a linear pattern. It seems to me that this linear pattern in optimistic, once oil starts reaching limits. Human productivity reflects a combination of  (a) human effort, (b) the amount of capital equipment people have to work with, and (c) the amount of energy products at the disposal of humans. If there is a shortfall at all in the energy products, we could see a big cutback in labor productivity. Already, countries with intermittent electricity are finding that their production drops as electricity availability drops.

Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

A strong case can be made that a shortage of one energy product will have cascading effects throughout the economy, which is closer to what the original Limits to Growth model assumed. We often talk about Liebig’s Law of the Minimum being a problem. This law says that if a particular process is missing some essential ingredient, it won’t happen. Thus, if delivery trucks don’t have oil, the effects will cascade throughout the system, causing what will look like a major recession. All types of fuel uses will drop simultaneously.

The effect of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum is difficult to model. The existence of this issue is a major reason why models assuming rapid substitutability are likely optimistic.


When reasonable forecasts don’t look good, it is hard to publish anything. A person doesn’t want to scare everyone to death.

We don’t know exactly what thought process went through Jorgen Randers’ head in putting together this projection. Is this truly Randers’ best estimate, based on an optimistic view of substitutability, rapid ramp up of renewables, and assumption that no unforeseen problems will come along? Or did he not understand how optimistic the forecast was, perhaps because he was unaware that one cannot count on energy declines following a logistic curve? Ugo Bardi instead talks about the Seneca Cliff, a far steeper curve.

Or did Randers pick his estimate from a range of estimates, knowing full well that it is optimistic, but feeling that this is all the American public can be told? Stranger things have happened in the past.

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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291 Responses to Why I Don’t Believe Randers’ Limits to Growth Forecast to 2052

  1. Stan says:

    Here’s a short read on “speculation on the future of our energy production systems” from THE REGISTER: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/27/someone_must_have_a_thorium_reactor/


    • Scott says:

      Hello Stan, If you followed this site for awhile there have been many post on Thorium by by some of us on including me. I think CO2 can be even more deadly to the planet than radiation in someways and I support the idea of non C02 Thorium Power Stations, we need them and we need them now as much as we are not fans of nuclear, there is nothing better that is known of I seems.

      We could use the excess electrical power from the Thorium Power Station to create large amounts of Hydrogen, which is difficult to handle but will power power airplanes and farm equipment, big rigs and all the stuff that is too big to run on batteries. Hydrogen can create clean electricity with fuel cells too, if we can make it without carbon then we have a carbon free fuel.

      I read Gail’s Old Post today that someone put up on this site from the old site the Oil Drum, and granted Hydrogen is hard to handle, uses more space to store and is volatile, the fact remains it burns clean with no emissions and if we can make it with out burning fossil fuels using Thorium Reactor Stations we really have no better option that I know of right now. These can be made smaller and safer than the traditional nuclear plants and they may solve our C02 Crisis, but surely the amount of carbon already in the air will about change anyway in the years ahead even if we were to stop today, which will not happen.

      We need to embrace these things if there is hope.


      • Hydrogen is difficult to handle. I have a hard time seeing it operating planes; it takes up too much space.

        I am not sure how it would be used to fuel farm equipment either. Does one build pipelines everywhere, or does one have the farm equipment come to some central location to refuel? Liquid fuel has the advantage of being portable.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Gail, I agree, Hydrogen and Thorium present many delivery and storage challenges and it would be better if we had a liquid substitute to replace gas. However I do not see anything other than synfuels which will still be carbon based.

          Hydrogen will be much like propane, however storage tanks and delivery systems will have to be redesigned. It is kind of dangerous to transport, I can just see these giant Hydrogen Tankers on the freeways which could be scary. However, I was thinking that we make small, medium and large hydrogen generators that will fuel vehicles and farm equipment that plug into electric Thorium Generated Power.


        • Scott says:

          Hello Gail, Well CNG/natural gas cars may be more viable in the short term, here is a good article with a chart. But once again, they cost more than the cars of today but we do have a pretty good infrastructure for it. Gas is piped to most homes and Propane is readily available. A good short term fix while we work on the harder long term fixes like thorium and hydrogen?



        • Chris Johnson says:

          Gail, the only way it works is to inexpensively liquify the hydrogen. See the Skylon Air-Space Vehicle which provides single stage to orbit capabilities, or 4 hours to anywhere on the globe. Good thermodynamics pays off. Congratulations to the very smart and persistent British engineers who invented the method to get humans cheaply into space.
          Cheers, Chris

    • We have enough different energy problems that thorium theoretically might help some of them, if it would work. A major need is a cheap liquid fuel, though, and thorium can’t do that.

  2. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    Here is an experiment which should provoke some thought in all those who think a life with less energy is necessarily a terrible fate. The experiment is described on page 198 of Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD.

    ‘Some of the most compelling science has been conducted in just the last couple of years. In 2011, Dr. Justin S. Rhodes and his team …made discoveries using four groups of mice in four different living arrangements. One group lived in the lap of luxury in a setting that included lavish, mice-friendly meals (nuts, fruits and cheeses, and flavored waters) and lots of playful toys to explore, such as mirrors, balls, and tunnels. The second group of mice had access to the same treats and toys, but their living quarters including running wheels. A third group’s cages resembled a Motel 6: they contained nothing extraordinary and the mice ate standar kibble. The fourth group of mice similarly lacked access to fancy amenities and food, but their home included running wheels.

    ….The one variable that clearly stood out above all others was whether or not the mice had a running wheel. It didn’t matter if they had things to play with in their cages. The animals that exercised were the ones that had healthy brains…’

    What, in a nutshell, do fossil fuels permit us to do? They permit us to get things we think we want without exercising. In olden times, the fortunate few got what they wanted from slaves…now we have energy slaves.

    Do you begin to get some idea that, just perhaps, its all been a big mistake? Perhaps fossil fuels are as deadly as slave-owning?

    Don Stewart
    PS Albert Bates has recently noted in his blog that human brains are shrinking. Exercise increases brain growth.

    • Don,
      I also wonder about the mental health that comes from making things with our hands. Our greatest tools are supposed to be our large brain and our hands with their opposable thumbs. I think brain development and satisfaction in life are enhanced when we work with our hands and hand tools. Now some people might think that it is backwards or inefficient to do things by hand when machines can do the work so much faster and more accurately. But perhaps the value is not in the efficiency with which something is made, but the learning and the experience that happens when we do it by hand. This is another area in which humans have let fossil fuel driven machines and technology replace skills we need to survive and maybe even to thrive.

      • Scott says:

        Hello, I think that is part of the big problem we face, many cultures have lost their native ways, how to hunt and fish and provide for themselves. That goes for most of us as we all are used to shopping in stores.

        For example many Pacific Island countries in the US Territory are now mostly on food stamps and have unable to fish for themselves for many years. Once a generation or two passes the trades are forgotten and we may all have a hard time relearning them.

        Last night I watch a show about this guy that went into Canyon Country of the South West and into the north woods of Canada alone with only one match and a few supplies, he did some amazing things to stay alive for ten days. So there are some people out there that are tougher than others for sure. I think though, not the majority.


      • Scott says:

        Hello, One last thought… Since it takes something like 20 days to catch the same amount of fish today from the sea as it did in the early 1900’s. If we did not have the diesel boats we would have to work 20 times harder to bring in the same fish catch by hand. The same goes for us if we had to farm these depleted lands and soils by hand. We could have a tough time ahead there if solutions are not found soon.

        I do agree that if more people worked in a hands on way in farming, ranching, food production and fishing like the old days they would be healthier mentally and physically than in the offices of and work places that most of us are in today.


      • xabier says:


        As the craftsman who taught me (and who made books for the English Royal Family) once said – and he was a modest man: ‘Sometimes you finish the day and you say to yourself: ‘That’s a damn fine piece of work done today!’ So, yes, very satisfying, nearly all the time in fact.

        The irony of modern times is that the workers who had to endure the boredom and monotony and exploitation of the mechanized factory system long to get it back now the work has gone to Asia……

      • Don Stewart says:

        Check out

        The author is an MD who specializes in hands.

        Dr. Perlmutter addresses the mental health issues in his Brain Drain chapter. You may or may not be convinced by his indictment of gluten, but he certainly has had some clinical successes.

        I am impressed by the rise in the use of mental health medications among women just between the years 2001 and 2010…from 21 percent to 26 percent. I can’t help but think that the unstable economy has contributed something to the increase. Mothers worry about their families…that seems to come with the job. That is one reason I emphasize making the family more resilient by resucitating home economics. A family that can provide for itself the necessities of life is bound to feel more secure, I think. Toby Hemenway has recently been emphasizing ‘eliminating the fear’. David Holmgren lists the necessities which a family should be providing largely for itself.

        I think a family which has no idea about how to provide for themselves is subject now, and will be increasingly subject in the future, to a lot of mental stress.

        Don Stewart

        • Don,
          I most certainly DO believe the indictment of gluten! But I’m not yet convinced that I can’t tolerate a small amount of wheat as long as I periodically clean my system by not eating gluten for a week to 10 days. Call it denial! Being an avid baker it is too hard to deny myself the fruit of my labor! Perhaps after I read the book “the Grain Brain” I will change my mind about the severity of these consequences. Damn, that would be too bad! :)

          Unfortunately, the public library hasn’t actually gotten the Grain Brain book yet, it is on order and I am #4 on the waiting list to check it out. I am not able to wait that long so I added it to my Amazon order. Could you slow down a little on the reading recommendations and let me catch up? :)

          I recall that Sara Gottfried’s book “The Hormone Cure” discussed the increasing use of mental health medications among women and its relationship to hormonal imbalance particularly cortisol, the stress hormone. I have found that St. John’s wort is very beneficial as a natural tranquilizer, but it must not be taken with other types of mental health medications. I also take an herbal sleep formula that contains a number of herbs including camomile and valerian, my two favorite sleep aids. I used to suffer from insomnia or had difficulty sleeping through the entire night. I found that getting enough uninterrupted sleep (for me at least 6 hours) is one of the most important things I can do for my mental health. Blood sugar regulation is the next thing. When I get hungry I can get really irritable! I keep a container of raw almonds with me so that I can munch something every three hours just to keep my energy up.

          Another food ingredient that causes serious health issues is High Fructose Corn Syrup. A year or so ago I read the book “Deep Nutrition, why your genes need traditional food” by Catherine Shanahan, MD, and Luke Shanahan. In the book she discusses the link between HFCS and insulin sensitivity, obesity, and diabetes. I went looking for more research and it wasn’t hard to find. From what I read the indictment was very strong and it prompted me to stop buying all products that contain HFCS, which is difficult because some form of it is in most processed foods and soft drinks. Even fruit juices labeled as all natural can be supplemented with HFCS because it is natural.

          When our bodies no longer use insulin properly and we store excess blood sugar in our fat cells (in particular abdominal fat). The increased consumption of HFCS and it’s derivatives in processed food may be what is causing this and our epidemic of obesity. Once I started looking it was obvious that many Americans are carrying excess belly fat, even if they are relatively fit otherwise.

          Diabetes and obesity run in my family, and I’m already carrying too much weight. The chance of increasing the risk isn’t worth it. But since I cook my own food I can avoid it better than most people can.

          Now I am seeing more foods labeled “Contains no high fructose corn syrup” or “Gluten-free”. It seems to me that our medical establishment isn’t all bad, and some doctors are leading the charge on these issues. But like every other issue that affects us, marketing trumps good sense.

          have a great weekend!

        • xabier says:


          Completely with you. My mother said the other day that she didn’t know why, but she just felt happy to see a larder full of good food – more secure, less anxious. And she’s a good cook, no processed food gets through the door.

          The beautiful English actress Jill Furse, who died tragically young, used to like to live in a cottage with no electricity, she said that there was a feeling of comfort and certainty from knowing that if you had a match you could light the candle, but it was horrible to flick a switch and find the power had failed. Of course, begs a question about matches, but one takes the point!

          But none of the vested interests want us to be resilient do they? They want insecure, needy, aquisitive drones to keep the debt scam running nicely.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Your ‘making things with your hands’ rang my chimes. Not being a brain specialist and having forgotten which day it is right now, I can’t remember which side of the brain is the creative and which is the orderly. For this discussion it doesn’t matter, because when you use your hands to make something and concentrate on what you’re doing, you’re using both sides of the brain, in harmony.
        Chinese (and Japanese) calligraphy is similar. The practitioner sits straight upright, holds the brush directly vertical and in the exact center of her/his chest, and allows the hand to move as the mind instructs it. Since there is a learned ‘stroke order’ that is critical to the correct composition of each character, both the orderly and the creative (the overall picture of the character) are at play simultaneously and constructively.
        To this day many Chinese and Japanese companies and organizations instruct their employees to spend 45-60 minutes per day practicing calligraphy. Most say it’s very refreshing.
        So how’s your knitting?
        Cheers, Chris

        • Scott says:

          Hello Chris, I have read that creative types are left handed people. I would bet that Jody and many of us on this site are left handed. I for one am left handed.


          • Scott and Chris,
            I am very right handed, in fact I find it hard to do most things left handed. My husband practices doing things with both hands (like brushing his teeth) because he believes it is better for his brain. When I make bread I stir with both hands because even my right hand gets tired. I have a weird form of dylexia, For some reason right and left crossed over in my brain and I see the world as a mirror image. Right is always left, and left is always right in my mind. When I am giving directions to people I tell them to go where I point not where I say. I have to stop and think every time I want to express right or left…”this is the hand I right with, therefore….” One would think I could retrain my brain but nope….it’s always the same in my head. If only everyone else would just change!
            Very interesting information about calligraphy. I also write with my paper turned almost 90 degrees at roughly the center line of my body, which causes me to write from the bottom up across the page. My school teachers kept trying to force me to put my tablet the “right” way but it never took. I rarely knit (but I do know how). Even as a potter my dominant right hand goes on the outside of the spinning clay and the submissive left hand goes on the inside guiding the movement. But my hands have to cooperate. If my strong hand overcompensates the wall pushes in too far. If the submissive hand doesn’t guide the process correctly the pot doesn’t take the right form. Just like our brain!

        • xabier says:


          Calligraphy is a lovely hobby. But I find having an axe in my hand is better for my mental balance, and my psychiatrist agrees…… (only joking, of course).

    • timl2k11 says:

      Much food for though Don, thanks. I often fantasize, perhaps romanticize, about prehistoric life. Sure there could be moments of terror, like when you run into another tribe, or another tribe simply decides to kill everyone and take your territory, among other things, but unless that lead to a life of constant fear, I imagine being in a small tribe of familiar homo sapiens living in the natural world with little need for technology might not have been such a bad deal. You and your tribe would depend on nothing but nature and your own skills for self-sufficiency. You could look up and see the universe (no light pollution) and were free to roam a natural world. Assumedly you shared a common spirituality with the tribe, and a common history. I imagine at some point things got pretty bad for us (look up “population bottleneck”) which may have lead to the simultaneous discovery of agriculture in many areas (although that could also have been the slow march of technology).
      What do I see now? An artificial world. Houses densely packed together, giant heavy cages (cars) hurtling all over the place, the seemingly unthinking masses with no spirituality or common ground, and, dare I say, an over-abundance of “knowledge”. And I am completely dependent on society and civilization, I don’t know one wit about surviving on my own, not that it would matter on a planet with 7 billion people. You can’t “quit” civilization.
      The anthropological record shows that prehistoric tribes were very egalitarian (per Ernest Becker, 1972). I see no egalitarianism in the modern world.

      • TheCarGuy says:

        “I often fantasize, perhaps romanticize, about prehistoric life.”

        I don’t know about you, but at 59 I’m not dreaming about sleeping on the ground with rocks. I was thinking more along the lines of the back seat of a 57 Chevy.

        Boy how things have changed.

        • xabier says:

          Maybe with Flintstone wheels. A compromise?

        • When I visited India, I saw people sleeping on the ground. I heard stories that workers sometimes slept on the floor of their workplaces–They had families in more rural areas, and worked for more money.

          • xabier says:

            As in India, so in medieval Europe, apprentices and workmen would live with the master of the workshop and his family, maybe sleep up in the roof or under the workbenches to provide security from theft. Apprentices might often then end up marrying the master’s daughter – I wonder just why…..?!

      • Timl2k11,
        I think the longings you expressed in your message are very natural and important. They speak of a need to connect with others in a meaningful way.
        “shared a common spirituality with the tribe”

        A need to develop our own natural gifts and potential.
        “depend on …nature and your own skills… self-sufficiency”

        They also point out a natural human desire to understand and feel connected to the world around us beyond our day to day experience.
        “look up and see the universe (no light pollution)”, “free to roam a natural world”, “egalitarianism”
        “Houses densely packed together, giant heavy cages (cars) hurtling all over the place, the seemingly unthinking masses”

        No, “You can’t “quit” civilization” nor should you want to. Civilization is a beautiful and terrible thing. Evolution created humans. We are one among a multitude of species on earth. But we have the ability to communicate with each other and share knowledge over time (written history and science), the ability to make tools and technology, and to use them to create amazing new designs, and out of this developed “civilization”. We may be seemingly ‘unnatural’ but how can nature create un-nature?

        Some people are very gifted in their ability to let their mind wander and imagine something different from what they see around them. Imagination allows us to express our deepest longings and perhaps to create a new awareness of how we want to live. As we come to the end of the fossil fuel era, our ability to imagine a different future may well be very important to our survival.

        I enjoy good science fiction because some authors are able to see patterns in society and project into the future how those patterns might play out over time. I like to imagine a far off time in our future when some sapient creature, living in a lush tropical paradise, dodging giant reptilian predators, finds some relic of “carbon man” and wonders what this strange creature was. Or perhaps we will survive this “bottleneck” and some form of homo sapiens will study earths past and decipher the role of humanity in the history of the earth. As a student of Geology I am very curious how we fit into the larger span of geologic time.

        Perhaps James Lovelock’s Gaia theory has some truth, perhaps the web of life on earth is connected and self regulating. Perhaps “life” on earth “understood” the danger of increasingly frequent ice ages and the relationship between ideal temperature and carbon stored under ground. So evolution produced a species with the intelligence and ability to dig it up, burn it, and make it available again to warm earth’s atmosphere. And then a fever killed off this dangerous and opportunistic pathogen.

        Yes, imagination is a wonderful tool!


        • It is amazing what other species can do also, and how they can communicate with each other. Also how they can quickly transform themselves–bacteria can change their genes very quickly. We are the species that learned to use external energy in many ways–first control of fire over 1 million years ago, later in the form of technology (which mostly would not be possible without fossil fuels). Our bodies have now adapted to the changes–smaller chewing and digestive apparatus, and bigger brains. It is not clear we can go back.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail and Jody
            I have been working on certain aspects of a ‘farming and climate change’ conference which will be held next February. My focus has been on the potential for sequestering carbon in the soil. We can do calculations which indicate that enormous amounts of carbon have been taken out of the soil and put into the air. It is clear that it is technologically possible to farm in such a way that we put a lot of that carbon back into the soil. The technology that is required is, oversimplified, to substitute biological methods for chemical methods. There are examples of farms which are making money and sequestering carbon. There are also examples of farms which are currently destroying carbon sinks so that they can grow corn ethanol.

            A number of innovative thinkers in the farm community believe that using internet technology to directly connect farmers and consumers is the way we ought to be going. It avoids the whole industrial food system and thus avoids spending the energy which that system requires. Distribution is handled by small refrigerated trucks which can go to a variety of local delivery points including individual homes.

            Now here is a further consideration that I have been thinking about. There are a significant number of people who will pay more money for nutrient dense food which was produced with ecological best practices. The Federal Government is in the process of destroying the ‘organic’ label for the benefit of giant corporations. So my thought is to develop certain indicators of nutrient density and ecological best practices and let the individual farms use the appropriate labeling for their goods. For example, suppose a CS means that carbon is being sequestered in the soil. The farmer would label (on the internet site) his farm as a CS farm. The potential consumer would be able to go to the farm website and check to see the history of the carbon stored in the soil on that farm. Likewise, a BX symbol might indicate that the farm is producing plants with high Brix scores, and the potential consumer could check the trend in Brix scores on the particular farm. A GF symbol might indicate one hundred percent grass fed beef.

            And so forth and so on. If we think about it, biology and information are being substituted for fossil fuel or nuclear energy. It is commonplace for people to say that ‘complexity demands higher external energy’. But in the foregoing example, it is biology and information that are enabling more complexity. I wouldn’t claim that any of this would run entirely without external energy, but it could certainly run with a lot less external energy. GDP would decline, but human welfare would increase.

            Before we get too doomerish about things, I think we should look carefully at what biology and information can do.

            Don Stewart

        • Don,
          Yes, information is certainly plentiful today. I love to dive into a subject on Wikipedia and follow links that help me better understand the concepts, or follow threads into dimensions I hadn’t thought of or planned to go. I love using Amazon to search for books. It seems like I can find almost anything I want no matter how long ago it was published. I find it helpful to “look inside” and read a bit to see if I like the book. And I like to read a few of the reviews, both the good and the bad. And when I select a book, they are kind enough to tell me what others who bought the book also liked. Yes, I know it is a smart marketing gambit, but hey, I often find that people who read the same books I do often have good advice on other books!
          Our access to information through the internet is certainly a ‘superhighway’. If farmers could connect with customers through the internet they can market their products in meaningful ways. Most of my new customers come to my business through my website or through word of mouth. The internet is a very powerful tool for connecting and educating us.

      • primitive living might have had some advantages, but we forget that back then there was no awareness of anything different, so they got on with it and accepted life as it was.
        problem now is, we know that it is possible to fly, diseases can be cured and it’s possible to move faster than a horse, and we would refuse to accept that the means to do so has gone.
        Because knowledge cannot be unlearned, there will be a universal blame culture, and the ongoing certainty that prosperity can be voted for, if only we choose the right politicians.
        This notion might last a generation, certainly no more than that, but it will burn the last of our ‘technology/energy, in proving the nonsense of it…that weird, universal way of thinking, that ‘they’ are going to come up with ‘something’, and the even weirder idea that technology can deliver unlimited energy.
        Because we know things can be ‘better’ we will react in the only way we know, which is violence. (that is happening right now). That will continue until the means to sustain it has gone, together with about 90% of the population. (the proportion of us already existing because of fossil fuel energy sources in the first place)
        If you think of a world with only 1/2 billion people , they tended to be so far apart that conflict in any major sense wasn’t viable in terms of energy outlay

        • Dear EOM,
          “Because knowledge cannot be unlearned,”
          Perhaps not, but it can be forgotten and it only takes a generation for this to occur.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          EOM: Is there not one optimistic bone in your body? thought in your head? It’s okay if none exist, but let’s all be honest about such things.
          Cheers, Chris

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, I think we need to make major changes in the way we grow our food and the way we make our power and move things around without carbon, if we are to have a chance to avoid collapse. Right now it almost looks like they are steering us into collapse and it is hitting the far corners of the world first.

      Looking at Iceland, they snubbed their noses at the global bankers and defaulted on their debts, perhaps the best thing to do. I have not done that much research on it but I think they had to go back to their own currency, a default like that could bring about a time that goods from a far are easy to come by as the local currency may be shunned by the international community. I am going to look into that a little bit more, but they are doing better now a few years later. I think if a major country were to default it would really hurt this global trade thing they have going on and the “powers that be” (I hate that phase) but they do not want to give up their game and business cash flows that so lucrative so they will take drastic actions to avoid it in the larger countries like in the USA and Europe and they may even put us into hyperinflation eventually doing such a thing to keep servicing and unserviceable debt with printed money!

      In the meantime, I get you on the permaculture, there are many young people and older people such as myself that want to see changes in farming, better food and many of us are unhappy with the current system. However such methods may have trouble feeding 8 plus billion people unless we really get the energy systems in place that are non carbon/non fossil fuels for the most part.

      Looks like we are way behind on that and is where I see troubled waters ahead.


      • xabier says:


        There was a very funny piece by Kyle Bass about Iceland.

        He went to see the Finance Minister about investing in the ‘recovering’ Iceland, who gave him loads of bull in a presentation.

        Kyle basically told him he knew it was bull, and the Minister said, in effect, ‘OK, let’s talk about our real situation.’ !

        Apparently, life is really not so good in Iceland, above all for ordinary people, but I don’t have that personally, only from searching around on the net. These days, it’s just propaganda from all sides…….

        • I visited Iceland this summer (I pick problem spots to vacation/investigate), and they were complaining about a lack of jobs and lack of money for building new buildings. Before the collapse, a lot of outside groups seemed to be investing money there. This money dried up.

          They weren’t doing terribly, but they weren’t doing nearly as well as they had been before the collapse.

          They grow quite a lot of their food in greenhouses, using geothermal energy. Amazing! But it uses a lot of glass and metal besides geothermal heat.

          • Icelanders have that odd geological anomaly of thermal energy, few other places have that,
            The brutal reality is that civilisation in any ongoing balanced form evolved between the tropics, where natural warmth provided food and sustenance with the minimum of effort.
            Move outside the tropics, which really means into the great northern wilderness areas, and survival becomes much more difficult, because the energy resources are not there to support them.
            Which is why you dont see cities built by eskimos or Patagonians, but you do find ancient cities in a line around the earth, in China, India, the Middle East, Central America.
            The big unknown factor now of course is climate change, whether that will make the tropics uninhabitable, if it does, the northern regions are unlikely to adapt to an influx of refugees, such as we are already seeing move out of Africa into southern Europe.
            When that becomes an inevitable flood, one can only speculate on the violence of the conflict.
            To resort to cliche—you aint seen nothing yet

            • I have been noticing that same geographical issue. It is hard for northern countries to compete with warm countries on labor costs, so with globalization, we lose out.

      • Hi Scott,
        I have been following with interest the story of Iceland and its ramifications for the ballooning debt problem in the world. I like reading Joseph Stiglitz’s articles on this subject.

        I believe that investors that put money in risky bonds should suffer the consequence of losing it, and anyone investing money for others that lies about the risk or in anyway intentionally profits from their customers loss should go to jail. That is the way the system was supposed to work.

    • xabier says:


      As you no doubt know, the brains of dogs which are bred just as pets and for show, shrink to be far smaller than those of dogs used for hunting, like mine. They have much less personality, too. Capacity grows with use. Use it or lose it!

    • xabier says:


      I think one could also make the case for the decay of the European aristocracy once they ceased to be a warrior caste engaged in almost constant war and hunting – both good forms of healthy exercise! Hunting was so energetic and brutal that there was little difference between it and war. Looking at the decendants of the farm workers of yesterday fatly waddling around my local town, manifestly badly-nourished, with nasty skin, lank hair, and damaged by the car culture, I would agree that fossil fuels have been used to make a poisoned chalice for the masses…….

      There was an English Duke who felt trapped by his title, and whose favourite past-time was tree-felling (he died doing it, found face-down on the path home with an axe in his hand!). He couldn’t stand the sheer idleness of being rich and leisured.

    • I understand human brains were bigger back when we were hunter-gatherers.

      It is easy to put off getting enough exercise. Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours is not good for a person.

  3. Scott says:

    Don – Typo On Iceland, I meant goods from afar may be hard to come by with only a local currency after default.


  4. xabier says:

    Week-end Collapse Comedy Spot: Venezuela update.

    Those who appreciated the surreal occupation by the Venezuelan Army of the country’s strggling toilet paper factory, sent in by the President who receives spirit messages from deceased Hugo Chavez via a little stuffed bird on his shoulder, may be delighted to know that the President has shown his firm grasp of both economics and demagogics by sending his People’s Militia into the supermarkets, in order to solve severe problems of empty shelves and long queues.

    The Militia, dedicated to Chavism, are receiving emergency training in product-handling, pricing and cashier work. They will also ensure that no further sabotage orchestrated by US secret services will take place in the said supermarkets. All the militia can be armed by Maduro at a moment’s notice, so best not to ask for any refunds…….

    Could this ever happen at Walmart?

    (From an obscure corner of the Spanish press.)

    • Xabier,
      Is this one of the those stories that are true, but so surreal we can’t believe they are true? Amazingly hilarious in any event.

      • xabier says:


        My pleasure. I haven’t embellished the story at all: I couldn’t.

        Maduro, I believe a former bus driver, claims he’s in spiritual communion with the deceased Hugo Chavez, who no doubt inspired him to solve the supermarket problem this way……

        Seriously, this is what an economic collapse can look like. Pure farce, unless you are trying to feed a family of course.

    • Venezuela has been spending it oil revenues faster than it gets them. It just recently got a $5 billion loan from China. Oil exporters are supposed to have extra money to save for a rainy day.

      • xabier says:


        I think there’s a lot of rhetoric in public for the people,and quiet desperation behind closed doors in the President’s office in Venezuela right now. The squandering of their oil wealth is tragic.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Gail: A new deal was signed around 18 September. China ponied up USD 14B to develop Junin Oilfield in Venezuela, reportedly total at 300 Billion barrels, at 200,000 per day production. It’s not clear if China will take delivery of the entire output. The $5B deal you mentioned closed a few years ago. The Chinese like this bilateral deals.
        Cheers, Chris

  5. MG says:

    I think that the discussed forecast to 2052 is a total nonsense regarding the curve of the oil and the renewables. The era of the high priced oil is ahead of us. And it means that the extraction of minerals, production of them and their transport is costly. Furthemore, I do not believe in the renewables, wind, solar etc. to play any important role in the future. (E.g. you need gasoline and diesel fuel to cut the trees and transport them. And already now the forests with worse accessibility become less and less economical.) These ways of energy production are somewhat “too exhausting”, fragile, intermittent, not suitable for all parts of the world, requiring too high price to store the energy etc. The people will drive gasoline driven cars as long as this is economical in comparison to trains and horses, mules, cows and bicycles. The electric car has not become a widespead transportation means in the past and it will not be in the future either. The hydrogen car is a total economical fail. The role of the recycling will be more and more important. No wonders will come, just the way it is, with less and less oil, because every effort to fight against the oil depletion (loans, mortgages, state debt, construcion, renewables subsidies etc.) will be more an more costly. People would have much better lives today, if they stopped to fight the inevitable phenomenom of oil depletion. If they stopped to believe the various “energy fakers” etc. The energy decline is inevitable, why spending the remaining energy on the technologies, that are more and more complicated and thus lacking robustness of non-renewables? The physical forces of the nature will prevail anyway.

    • TheCarGuy says:

      “The era of the high priced oil is ahead of us”

      “The electric car has not become a widespead transportation means in the past and it will not be in the future either”

      You said it yourself, the world is changing. You might want to reword your statement.


      • We need a whole system to operate to keep electric cars going. I expect we will lose electricity almost as fast as oil. And losing jobs to pay for the cars will be an even bigger issue.

    • MG,
      There is not enough fossil energy to continue operating our system, and I don’t see any technology replacing it. What do high prices mean in a future of primary resource depletion and the need to feed 7 billion people? The government or central bank can print all the money they want, but it will only continue to have value because we still believe in our economic system, and money…until we don’t. When people stop believing in their currency (i.e. hyper inflation), when we realize that all the paper or electronic digits can’t feed us, the value of our electronic wealth will disappear. “Money” and the economic system it runs will collapse and some other medium of exchange will take its place…something that holds value and makes it easier to barter over distance. We will once again have to rely on getting something we need from someone who is willing to trade it for something of equal or greater value.

      The fundamental truth about resource depletion is that no matter how much money we print, it is worthless if it isn’t tied to natural resources. When it takes more energy to extract a barrel of oil than the energy you recover, we will stop extracting oil, or we will only use it for things we need that can priced accordingly. Driving 10 miles to eat at McDonalds won’t be one of them. The main value of oil has been the transportation of goods around the world. No oil. No cheap transportation.

      One of the reasons I am glad we installed solar PV is because we will be able to heat, cool, and power our house from the sun even if the coal fired power plant 75 miles away is operating intermittently or not at all. And we paid for this capability with today’s labor and the dollars we were paid for it, which are becoming worth less and less and may eventually be worthless. While our economic and industrial system is still functioning it seems wise to purchase anything that can help us be less tied to our current economic system. I don’t believe there is any solution that will save our highly financialized global economic system, so why not do what we can while we can? You may wish for something that may soon not even be available.


      • ChiefEngneer says:

        “One of the reasons I am glad we installed solar PV is because we will be able to heat, cool, and power our house from the sun even if the coal fired power plant 75 miles away is operating intermittently or not at all.”

        Hi Jody,

        I have to question this statement. You would need to have a system that is not tied to the grid with a large amount of energy storage or large PV capacity that is a waste when not cooling or heating. This would be very expensive. Also, heating from a photovoltaic system would seem very inefficient compared to other types of panels. Would you care to shed a little color on the subject.

        Just more food for thought. (nice close earlier)

        • Hello ChiefEngineer,
          This is the thought process we went through in deciding to install solar PV on our home.
          We first of all wanted to reduce our homes carbon foot print by not using coal for electricity, which is the main source for electricity in Indiana. Climate change, in my opinion, is much more dangerous for life on earth than peak oil. Peak oil may be bad for humans but climate change threatens all life on earth.
          We assumed that there was a very good probability that our economic system might collapse in the near term. We wanted some type of energy to power our home that wasn’t dependent on the grid.
          If a collapse didn’t happen and we experience a slow decline with the cost of energy rising, we didn’t want to retire and see our fixed costs skyrocket, our retirement accounts lost, or the government unable to honor social security obligations. So, we wanted to invest in a system now that would provide our home’s utilities for the next 20 to 30 years.
          We wanted to spend our savings now on something thing that will benefit us later, since savings are gaining nothing in interest, and I don’t trust the bubble forming in the stock market. Bubbles always burst.
          Financing worked out to our advantage. Interest rates were lower than when we bought our house and we had plenty of equity in our house, so we were able to borrow what we needed to pay for the PV and geothermal system and not change the amount of our monthly mortgage payment. And the life of our mortgage only increased by 4 years. In addition, the government’s tax credit for renewable energy saved us on our taxes and reduced the cost of the system by 30%. (Yes, Gail, I know you don’t believe in subsidies! Personally, my husband and I are in the worst tax bracket and I feel we pay more than enough in taxes to support our government.)
          Now, with regard to your statement.

          “You would need to have a system that is not tied to the grid with a large amount of energy storage or large PV capacity that is a waste when not cooling or heating. This would be very expensive.”

          You are correct. We are tied to the grid and use it to bank energy, but we also spent about 25% more to have back up batteries for emergency/collapse scenario. We have net metering, so when the sun is shinning we are putting energy out to the grid. At night we are taking energy off the grid. If we were using only batteries there would be some windows of time when our batteries would be fully charged and the sun still shinning and we would not have a use for the energy. Having our system tied to the grid allows us to put that energy back onto the grid and spin our meter backwards. Most of the year, our batteries would cover night time needs, but in winter they would not.

          “Also, heating from a photovoltaic system would seem very inefficient compared to other types of panels. the sizing of the system.”

          You are correct. During nine months of the year we are generating excess energy and so our meter cranks back about 2,000 Kwh. From December through February we take that energy back off when solar energy is less and geothermal heating takes more. Geothermal is beautiful for cooling and very efficient! We have a wood stove for supplemental heat so we can control how much we use geothermal for heating.

          I monitor our energy use and production daily. I know what we are using and when so if the grid went down we would have to make adjustments accordingly.

          I don’t believe that solar PV is going to replace fossil fuel. People are still going to need to live on less energy. I don’t use a clothes dryer or dish washer. Geothermal replaced dehumidifier in the basement. We have switched to LED bulbs. We have motion sensors on entry lights. We replaced appliances that weren’t energy efficient. We have power strips on electronic equipment so we eliminate phantom energy loss. We bought a house that has 8″ concrete masonry walls, and then we installed more insulation, new door and windows so our house is even more tight, it doesn’t lost heat or coolness easily. We also use window fans instead of air conditioning during the much of the year. In other words, we have done everything we could to reduce energy use before we installed the PV system. And we continue to hammer on our kids about saving energy. People come to my house and say “Do you always keep it so dark in here?” Yes, I often rely on ambient light. When I give presentations I intentionally turn off half the lights just to let people know that we don’t need to have our rooms so brightly lite.

          I know that our system is only a bridge. I only hope, not expect, it will last us 20 or 30 years. But, it met our needs and we are happy about the security it gives us as we move towards retirement or when we lose our jobs and business.

          good question by the way,

          in your thinking. If

    • I am afraid Nature is in charge. Our politicians would like us to think that they are in charge. 2052 supports that view.

      • xabier says:

        The idea that politicians are in charge is still deeply rooted, the whole circus of democratic politics and a universal franchise supports the illusion: that your vote can somehow get you prosperity and security is still a natural assumption. Cynicism towards the political process and the claims of politicians is, however, spreading quite rapidly.

        When that illusion has been destroyed, it creates a wide open space for very radical politics and, eventually, some form of Dictatorship, probably of ‘the Left’, maybe even genuinely and freely elected – to begin with……….

        If this seems an improbable step, just look at Europe’s history in the 1920’s and 30’s. The Ancient Greeks understood this political cycle very well. There is no reason to believe we will necessarily be exempt from it.

        • I agree.

          It seems as though in the beginning, religion and politicians went together. Religions legitimized what the local ruler said. Now the world’s collective religion has become technology, growth, and Ben Bernanke can fix everything.

          Nature is really in charge. Nature doesn’t hand over power to earthly religions or (especially) politicians.

  6. Bill Simpson says:

    Crude oil is too concentrated a source of energy, and is being used in far too great a volume, for any renewable fuel source to replace it. It is like trying to replace coal with wood. It can’t be done. The same is true for the other fossil fuels, gas and coal. Only some unexpected breakthrough in fusion could provide enough energy to prevent civilization, as we know it today, from collapsing once the supply of fossil fuels begins to actually decline.

  7. Pingback: What does the IPCC report mean for business and investors? | Stephen Hinton Consulting

  8. MG says:


    The point is that when there is no crude oil we would have to invent it. The gasoline/diesel fuel are the most effective batteries for cars we have today: the battery is consumed as you drive. And what about heating the electric car in cold enivronments? Now the winter is approaching in the vast areas of the northern hemisphere and the heat produced by the internal combustion engine is very useful…

    @Jody Tishmack

    The solar panels are that kind of high tech that you can buy but you cant produce them at home. They can help you only as long as their operating life lasts or until some major damage to your home system/electricity storage happens. Heating water with solar power is much better solution than producing electricity. And converting the sun power into biomass and the biomass into animals will surely be more useful in the future (as it was before). The simplest solutions based on the local materials at hand will work. Something like recycling debris around you. The life will be much slower (as it was before), so we wont need as much energy as we consume today. I would call it “the shock from slow life”.

  9. Chris Johnson says:

    Of auto’ s and oil.
    1) The first thing a newly enriched person will purchase is an automobile, regardless of where in the world.
    2) Electric and hybrid-electric vehicles will reach 1% of sales in the US next year, and may reach 5% by the end of this decade. The ‘development-cost’ curve is still dropping; most experts expect EVs and ICEVs to cost about the same, and perform about the same within 10 years.
    See The Economist, 20 April 2013: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21576219-carmakers-are-hedging-their-bets-powering-cars-great-powertrain-race.

    • Scott says:

      Good Article Chris, we could surely use a better battery right now to make these work. Sounds like there is a race going on to do that. That one car the Volt only gets 38 miles on a charge, where I live the next town over where we shop is about that far of a round trip, so I would be worried I would not make it home.

      A better long range battery would change everything for the electric car industry right now.

      I hope they come up with one soon.


      • Chris Johnson says:

        Thanks, Scott.
        I agree entirely that getting EV’s up and running would be great. Some people on this blog are from Missouri and won’t believe anything until it’s been documented by the Smithsonian. That’s okay and I will not ask them to put their necks out. However, they might consider the implications of the effect on oil prices when 5% of new vehicles are EVs, or 10% or a few more. Just relieving the pressure on big oil will help, Of course, then the big oil companies will buy up the electric power companies…
        Cheers, Chris

  10. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Randers position is stated as; while a decline in oil supply will take place, it will not occur until 2025. When it does happen, it will occur sufficiently slowly and incrementally that other fuels can replace its loss, apparently without disruption.

    Replace without disruption? That’s some wishful thinking if I ever heard it. Currently I think we are in a holding pattern while developed economies like the US, EU and Japan borrow and print money to maintain a sliver of growth while the velocity of money continues to descend, all due to higher energy prices. When the fancy fiscal footwork begin to tap out, the stock market corrects and commodities dive, oil price will drop just like it did in 08. However getting the engines of commerce revving again without printing and borrowing to those previous heights will be very difficult with the price of oil leveling out in the 50-70 dollar range, eliminating many sources of marginal oil supply like tar sands and tight oil. OPEC will reduce supply to push the price back up to where it will no longer go only adding to the reduction of supply. That’s when at least all oils will begin descending from a peak, and conventional oil will start to drop but more slowly. I don’t see any peaks in oil supply after this point. When collapse occurs is another question.

    Now here’s an odd thought I wanted to splash in here. My wife had this fascinating idea. She wondered if all the movies and TV specials on the theme of zombies is a reflection of people’s collective intuition of how people will be after the collapse. Walking around (sort of) like zombies looking for food in a disheveled, tattered state.

    • Thanks for your insights. I am not sure that “replace without disruption” went through Randers’ head, but the economy is assumed to never “skip a beat”.

      I know that Dmitry Orlov says that men who had jobs previously were particularly affected by the collapse of the Former Soviet Union. Women often still had their usual tasks to tend to, but men felt a loss of their role in society.

      • xabier says:

        Similarly, it was noted that when the German Army collapsed in 1945, the men of the old officer class were hopeless in dealing with the new order, but their wives worked wonders in keeping things going, feeding the family, etc.

        Males seem to have a lot of problems with changes in status and occupation, and we can see the same dire effects in the imposition of colonial rule on the peoples of Africa and South America we they were not allowed to continue traditional life.

        Like a change of diet: the Ancient Greeks noted that to change one’s diet suddenly was to invite serious illness.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Xabier, I feel for them.
          How could a proud man accept subservient status? It might work if only one ‘former officer’ is standing in the ‘to be hired’ line, but not if any of his colleagues or subordinates can see him. Pride is such a terrible and strong motivation. Women, on the other hand, are more resilient and less burdened by such things, I think. They were paid by the occupying forces in packs and cartons of cigarettes, a carton a week for a maid. They’d take that carton down to the local market and turn it into real money. My mother was there with her babies just after the war, as the wife of an American…it was a charity to hire two or three maids.
          Cheers, Chris

  11. Danny says:

    What happens when we get down to every country for themselves? I think in 08 the FED opened up its window for European banks, how can they do that? but also will they do that in the future? I also noticed that after a long investigation into the silver trading they “US.” found no wrong doing. What is to stop governments from manipulating markets and the truth. If it is “for everyone own good” belief even the most rule abiding person might sway. It almost seems like they say well lets make the market go up today…..If world leaders get together and say look you can take your medicine or we can continue to lie to the masses and keep things as they are. I think the leaders would choose the latter.

    • All of the quantitative easing is an attempt to hold interest rates down and help banks out, and also raise stock prices. So in a sense we are already into planned manipulation of the markets.

      Chinese governments seem to provide incorrect information about their economy. For that matter, there are quite a few people who would say that the information we get has also been manipulated to make it look as good as possible.

      I think many of the world leaders are already guilty of these practices, so it is hard to get leaders to come to an agreement to do away with them. Politicians will do as much as they can get away with.

      • xabier says:

        In Argentina, anyone who publishes inflation data which differs from that proclaimed by the government (ie the real rate, which is very much higher than the official one) is being prosecuted.

        There was a very amusing incident recently when a foreign journalist asked the economics minister what the real rate of inflation was, and he beat about the bush and then ran out of the interview on the excuse of ‘an urgent meeting’. He actually started to sweat when he found he’d been cornered on the issue.

        I’ve noted general scepticism about nearly all government announcements in the UK, and of course in Spain it’s take as read that lies predominate: a minister said a few days ago that ‘Spain’s economy is the wonder of the world’!! Not quite all the statistics are falsified yet, but give them time…..

        This is the end of effective democracy and has all the characteristics of totalitarianism: we mutter in private about the disparity between the official statistics and the truth, and some journalists will point it out, but the State machine grinds on into fantasy land…….

        • Governments have a fair amount of flexibility, and use it.

        • timl2k11 says:

          And in the USA the Federal Reserve magically reports exactly 0.2% monthly inflation every single month. Their “preferred gauge” (CPU-I) excludes food and fuel and can be manipulated anyway they please. You buy pollock instead of salmon because the salmon got too expensive? Then that’s not inflation, they call that “substitution”. Did some technological device gain some improvements or features, even though it is essentially the same device? The government writes down the cost of the device because of the extra features. This is called hedonics. Is the price of something rising a bit fast (housing for example, but could be anything)? The government discounts it. This is called geometric weighting. There are many accounting tricks built into USA inflation numbers (officially CPI-U) to placate the masses and to save the government money on any payouts or securities tied to inflation. But that’s not all, the official GDP to is subject to many accounting gimmicks as well, once again to placate the markets and maintain control over whatever perceptions the populace and markets might have as to the true state of things.
          But the government can only stave off panic for so long. The clock is ticking…

          • timl2k11 says:

            The Federal Reserve has no exit strategy from its QE and other policies. The world has no exit strategy from its addiction to fossil fuels, the clock is ticking on everything and everyone. It is just a matter of time before it all goes “boom”.

          • Scott says:

            Hello, Yes, they are pretty tricky with all of those substitutions used to calculate the CPI. On inflation, here is a site I keep an eye on, it really looks like it is closer to ten percent in the USA. Mostly I notice it in food, medical and utilities like cable tv.


          • xabier says:

            As Kyle Bass said: they will lie, and lie, and lie, until the moment it all goes – Bang!

            • Scott says:

              Hello Xabier, Do not get me started on the Fed, a subject that upsets me. Yes the Federal Reserve is not even a government entity, but instead a group of private banksters that are fleecing us. I think you have an equivalent in Europe with the EU Central Bank. They sure have done a good job putting most of the developed world into deep unserviceable debt while they print so much money and keep some for themselves and give it to their 1% Elite Banker or businesses friends.

              Inflation is a thief in the night, or some could call it a secret tax. The financial situation we face has been engineered by the central banksters and will likely bring most of us to our knees in the years ahead.

              You know JFK had signed an executive order prior to his death to close down the Fed and take away power and return the power of money to the US Treasury. After his death the order was never implemented…

              In my opinion the Fed is just a bunch of Crooks and thieves. Modern day white shirt and tie Mobster Thieves that do not belong in power.

              These entities represent themselves as helping us and pretend to be trying to fix things, but instead they are a shadow group of thieves. Many of the elites have off shore escape plans already and houses on remote islands and who knows what else.

              It kind of started with the old rail road and casino bankers in the 1900’s, these guys ended up forming the Fed in 1913 and ever since it has been downhill for the dollar purchasing power.

              I think it is not hard to predict our coming financial collapse given that we know these people are in power. This could go on for a lot longer since there is no one strong enough to shut them down… but I do think we will see inflation in Europe and in the USA in the years ahead.

              Best Regards,

          • I think that there is also the issue of what people are actually buying, in what proportions. People are buying homes and cars and medical care, but I don’t think the proportions are right. And the CPI looks at some sort of rent equivalent, instead of housing costs.

  12. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    There were some questions about life without fossil fuels. The BBC documented a one year reconstruction of life on a 1620 farm in Wales:

    The linked video covers the month of September. There are apparently other videos for the remaining months in the year, but I don’t have links to them. I particularly recommend the remark at the 21 minute point where the young man says that he now sees his daily experiences as ‘normal’. Also, near the end of the video, the young man says that the food is really good.

    It takes them a while to get skilled at plowing and other tasks, but I think you can see that they would improve with experience.

    Don Stewart

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, that was good – Doco: a Farm From 1620… – I watched the first one, looks like much work in the old days for sure. A good portrayal or the past. I will check out the other months, now that I am hooked on the show.


      • xabier says:


        I was discussing Europe and its problems with one of my banker friends. The constraints of the Euro, which has been badly constructed, are a big problem for ordinary people and businesses in Italy and Spain for instance. He agreed, but then said: ‘Nothing will change, because the Euro suits the politicians and, more importantly, it suits the rich very well indeed. ‘

    • Stan says:

      All 12 episodes are available as torrent downloads under the title “tales from the green valley”. Not that I’m suggesting that anyone actually pirate copyrighted video.


    • I think this video is very interesting. We should be doing more of this.

      One of the questions I have is with respect to the amount of metal being used–for the cooking pot, the front end of plows, and a tool the farmer’s wife uses with the pigs. How much wood would have to be burned to make the charcoal to create all of this metal? How much was metal was really used in 1620–was this just something the rich could have? How scalable is this for 7 billion people.

      I was also looking at things that are “sort of” peripheral to the tasks. The boots look pretty modern to me. What kinds of boots could really be made back then, with the tools that were available then? I know when I visited a recreation of an early farm in Norway (earlier than 1620) one of the big issues was inadequate footwear for cold weather, according to the historian giving tours there. Boots were very expensive in times past, I understand.

      How much land would be required to support the whole system? How many people could this system really feed? There is a need to make a whole lot of things used, but not made here (rope, baskets, metal, feeding the various animals). Also, crops would need to be rotated. Research seems to say population was much lower per acre back then.

      The method of plowing and sowing seed is quite erosion prone, so the method shown was not really sustainable back then. How would we go about changing it?

      • Don Stewart says:

        I will have some more to say, but for now I suggest reading:

        The current ‘best practice’ is to drill seeds into a cover crop. Thus, the land never needs to be tilled. Carbon sequestration can proceed rapidly with drilling and no till. You can think of the complications, such as metals. The idea is ancient, but it wasn’t used in England in 1620.

        Would we be able to utilize drills and no-till into cover crops if we had no fossil fuels and no new metals?

        A reminder. Toby Hemenway thinks that practices such as drilling seeds and not tilling and stopping herbicides and pesticides can feed billions of people. When asked about the very long term, he suggests somewhere between 500 million and 2 billion. The 500 million might be a rough guess at a very primitive agriculture while the 2 billion might represent a world where we figure out the drill problem. You will note that the Wikipedia article suggest that China rose to power on, among other things, the efficiency of the seed drill.

        Don Stewart
        PS And I am not trying to put words into Toby’s mouth. They are my own speculations.

        • I can see the advantage of using a seed drill with a cover crop. It is hard to see that the plant would grow as well, though. For example, a person is told to keep grass away from the trunks of small trees. The same principle would seem to be an issue when the new seed being planted is is for a plant much smaller than a tree.

          Or does the cover crop die off on its own?

        • Chris Johnson says:

          That Tudor farm video is superb. To the question of ‘how small’ is enough to survive, perhaps a partial answer can be sourced in Haiti, where most farms decreased in size to about 1 to 1.5 hectares. They mostly sewed rice (I think mostly dry, as much of the land is hilly) and planted fruit hedges, and could provide enough for their family and for the non-farm population, about half of the 6-7 million souls.
          Of course, USAID came along with great advice that they import rice from the US that would be cheaper. The result was 3 million Haitian farmers disenfranchised, now living in urban slums. But some American farmers got moderately rich…
          Viva the Washington Consensus!

          • The size of the acreage depends a lot on the climate. In Haiti, a person can grow two crops a year. Little of the produce needs to be traded for houses or clothes. They can get by with much less than in cold countries.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Regarding the boots worn on the 1620 farm. I can’t find anything specific, but a quick search yields this from Wikipedia:

        Early boots consisted of separate leggings, soles, and uppers worn together to provide greater ankle protection than shoes or sandals. Around 1000 B.C. these components were more permanently joined to form a single unit that covered the feet and lower leg, often up to the knee. A type of soft leather ankle boots were worn by nomads in eastern Asia, and carried to China to India and Russia around 1200 to 1500 A.D by Mongol invaders. The Inuit and Aleut natives of Alaska developed traditional winter boots of caribou skin or sealskin featuring decorative touches of seal intestine, dog hair and wolverine fur. 17th century European boots were influenced by military styles, featuring thick soles and turnover tops that were originally designed to protect horse mounted soldiers.

        Here is a picture from that article showing some Chinese boots from around 2000 years ago:

        There were plenty of animals, and it seems that tanning leather is very ancient:

        Ancient civilizations used leather for waterskins, bags, harnesses, boats, armour, quivers, scabbards, boots and sandals. Tanning was being carried out by the South Asian inhabitants of Mehrgarh between 7000–3300 BC

        Rawhide, which I think was used by Native Americans, does not involve the tanning process, and is thus simpler. Which I guess accounts for the wearing of moccasins rather than what we think of as boots.

        So, where did these guys on the farm get the boots? If you search for 17th century boots, you will find people who will make them for you. Apparently, they are popular at costume parties and, I suppose, period movies. Whether the people in the documentary made everything the traditional way or whether they went to someone who used modern methods to create a reproduction, I have no idea. If you use a power saw to cut a replacement board for Williamsburg, VA, is it still a historical place?

        Don Stewart

        • footwear has always been the reaction to the ground you walked on, and how you earned your living
          Roman soldiers had metal studs, essential because their marching standard was 30+ miles a day on hard surfaces.
          same with all manual workers
          hunter gathers moved over soft ground generally, and in any case iron was too scarce a commodity to wear out on foot wear
          your social status was always defined by clothing, soft light footwear if you didn’t need to work for a living, or as now, because we use wheels instead of feet

        • xabier says:


          Indoors and in the summer at home I always wear Spanish peasant shoes, entirely woven with ties that go up the calf.

          In bad weather, they used to wrap a piece of water-proofed tanned leather around them.

          All very simple and easy to repair.

      • Don Stewart says:

        As promised, here are a couple more thoughts.

        Do we really need to reconstruct a farm from 1620 to try to get pointers? I don’t think so. Agricultural societies and the industrial societies they support have destroyed their own foundations. Why repeat those mistakes? Toby Hemenway talks about this in:

        Start at the 39 minute point. At the 41 minute point he moves into the alternative of a Horticultural society. At 58 minutes he lists a number of horticultural societies which survived for thousands of years.

        While the details doubtless varied, we can assume that these horticultural societies had no fossil fuels and little in the way of metals. For example, the Hopewell people did not smelt metals, but did trade for copper nuggets and did harvest iron from space debris and worked the metals into decorative objects. Their cutting tools were hard rock with an edge. They used bone for things such as needles for sewing. The evidence is that their health was good and they didn’t work very hard.

        If I were Bill Gates and felt like passing out some money, I would buy some land and offer it to people who were willing to become a self-reliant community while doing without fossil fuels and metals. There would be no taxes levied by external governments, no external money, no external rules and regulations, etc. What would flow across the borders would be information and very raw materials (e.g., salt).

        A reasonable prognosis is that the group would either kill each other, or else develop a horticultural society utilizing very gentle ways of steering Nature in a direction favorable to human life. In short, a New Horticulture utilizing the knowledge that we have developed, especially since the rise of science.

        I do not think it is possible to perform such an experiment if the founding group has to pay ten thousand dollars an acre for the land, has to pay taxes, has to abide by a bunch of laws and regulations, and can sign away their land in ‘treaties’ with the US Army which promises to feed them in perpetuity on a miserable reservation, or can open a casino to bring in cash.

        One of Toby’s concluding remarks is ‘we aren’t going back’ to the horticultural societies that came before us. We will, instead, rediscover the principles and use everything we now know to build a society which fits our needs and is consistent with current environmental reality.

        Don Stewart
        PS For survival over the next hundred years, I think that models provided by Biological Agriculture may well work. Perhaps, if these were adopted, they could migrate to a New Horticulture with no fossil fuels and no metals over the decades and centuries. However, it would be helpful to have the discoveries of the radically New Horticulturist society to show us where we need to get to.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Don, I surely agree we can do better than the 1600’s but sometimes we can glean things from the old days. I like to read lots of books about the old days and sometimes I learn a thing or two. Plowing sure looks tough, seed drilling looks better, but the weeds need to be cleared as part of the plowing process or do they? Perhaps the land could be mowed to clear weeds first then seed drill…

          I do not think it is going to return to those simple times exactly since so much has been invented since then and stuff will be hanging around for years even if we stopped making it now, part will be a problem though.


        • Jan Steinman says:

          “I do not think it is possible to perform such an experiment if the founding group has to pay ten thousand dollars an acre for the land, has to pay taxes, has to abide by a bunch of laws and regulations, and can sign away their land in ‘treaties’ with the US Army which promises to feed them in perpetuity on a miserable reservation, or can open a casino to bring in cash.”

          I guess there are other planets out there, then.

          But for now, the things you decry are the way things are.

          Sitting back and wishing for Bill Gates to give you some land doesn’t seem like a possibility, either. But it’s probably a bit more likely than paying no taxes or not having to at least work within the spirit of the laws and regulations of The Unreal World.

          We’ve been trying to recruit partners/members/funders for nearly eight years now, and have noticed a theme: 1) there are plenty of unskilled people who want you to “give” them a situation like that; 2) there are some skilled people with no money who want to take part; 3) there are virtually no people — skilled or no — with seed capital willing to risk it on such a venture. 4)And those with both skills and resources are astonishingly rare.

          I could write a book on what’s behind Door Number One. Unfortunately, no publisher would touch it, because it would not seem “credible.” People With Nothing Who Want Something For Nothing are in vast surplus these days, and they tend to have the most outrageous sense of entitlement from among the three groups.

          Behind Door Number Three, People With Something Who Play It Safe are much less common, and they often come with a ton of attitude, as well. We just evicted one such who had two million in gold. He made his fortune selling real-estate, but fancied his 50-year-old memories of a farmhand youth as justification that his “battle with the earth” style of farming was the One True Way. He lived here for five months for nothing, because he was a “potential investor.” His excuse was that gold was down at the moment, and he would invest Any Day Now when the market picked up. He was constantly working hard at counter-purposes, such as when he dug up our bed of sun chokes without asking, raking out all the organic material and leaving “scorched earth” for planting.

          He ended up stealing potatoes, beets, and carrots (that he had no hand in growing!) the day he left, furtively sneaking armloads of root crops around like a common theif. He justified it because he had worked so hard (even though it often produced more work for us), and he calculated that at $15/hr, he was owed something more than room and board for his stay. Like farm workers get $15 an hour! (Our average return on labour last year was $3.61 an hour.)

          Behind Door Number Two, People With Practical Skills But No Money are the most useful, but they don’t reduce the mortgage nor pay the property tax. But at least they increase cash income in other ways, and are generally a joy to work with. But they are rare. I think most of them are out on their own, renting property that they will get kicked off of sooner or later. And we have limited capacity to take them in.

          People With Money And Practical Skills don’t exist, for all I can tell. People With Money are so used to hiring the skills they don’t have that their brains have atrophied for anything that doesn’t involve a keyboard. And the skills they have rarely map into sustainable subsistence agriculture very well. Or their success in The Unreal World has made them cocky and arrogant about succeeding in The Real World To Come. Or they’re off trying to do the same thing — there seems to be a glut of ecovillagy projects out there looking for fiscal partners.

          What’s the answer? If I knew, I wouldn’t be whining about it here! Are you behind Door Number Two or Door Number Four, looking for a situation? We could use some help!

          • xabier says:


            Just human nature. Those who want to build something of value, and are prepared to put in as well are very rare birds indeed.

            The old Sufi proverb ‘Don’t be the one who wants to put one grain of rice in the pot, but take out a whole bowl’ has applied for how many thousands of years now ?!

            Every enterprise attracts free-loaders and spongers, and even worse I think, dreamers without staying power. The promises of the ever-providing welfare state have perhaps made the problem greater, but somehow I doubt it……. to get a great deal of return for little effort has been the spur to much human ingenuity after all.

            I put all my savings into learning my craft and ten years to get good at it, and now it supports me at a very modest level – not a rent-seeking attitude.

            Keep going!

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Thanks for the encouragement, Xabier, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep holding this space. Things are not crashing quickly enough for people to consider alternatives. We’re deep in the “boiling frogs” stage.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Jan
            I wish you luck. I will not personally become an investor. First, I’m not rich. I do give small amounts to local people and organizations. Since I don’t give much money away, I try to target it to things and people I know about. A friend of mine is attempting to get an intentional community started. While I am always skeptical about them, I will keep an open mind and might put some money into it.

            Another issue is the willingness to work. I worked part time at a small farm for a number of years. But now I am approaching 73 and I just don’t do the stoop labor graciously any more. One of my depressing days at the farm was when I was working with a 25 year old named Chris and he was going down a row straddling it with his long legs and harvesting with a big tub and working all his limbs simultaneously and bent over from the waist continuously. He was three times as fast as me. If we were drinking a beer, I would claim ‘better quality’, but the reality of aging dawned on me that day.

            So now I focus on my little garden at home, and my community garden plot. My home garden is on the south side of my house, so it gets reflection from the low sun. That is a godsend in March as it warms things up. But when the official air temperature gets to be the 86 that it will be today, the garden close to the house will be over 100. So the plants suffer lots of stress. I am trying to figure out what to do about it. My tentative plan for next year is to plant some moringa trees in a bed to the south. They are a tropical tree which can grow as an annual here. They make lacy shade, extremely nutritious edible leaves, and grow 20 feet tall from seed. So they wouldn’t shade the bed by the house in March, but would partially shade it in August through mid-October. You might say that ‘having failed to save the world, he is trying to stop killing his own plants’.

            Don Stewart

            • Jan Steinman says:

              You don’t have to stoop all day to grow food!

              The power of an age-diverse community is that younger others can do the heavy lifting, while the elders do the intellectual and wisdom-based heavy lifting.

              Or we can simply all go off and try to do it ourselves. Good luck with that one.

          • Your stories are part of the reason that I have a hard time thinking Permaculture will save a huge number of people. The hurdles (financial and skills) are awfully high.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “I have a hard time thinking Permaculture will save a huge number of people. The hurdles (financial and skills) are awfully high.”

              That leaves me wondering about the viability of other alternatives. If not Permaculture, what? Resignation? Technological hopium? It’s like someone once said of democracy: “It’s the worst possible system, except for all the others out there.”

              I don’t think anything is going to “save a huge number of people.” But I feel strongly that whomever controls productive farmland will control the survivors. I guess I’m relatively alone at that, or people would be clamouring for a chance at some control over their future.

              We all eat for a living. Henry Kissinger knew this when he said, “If we can control fuel we can control the masses; if we can control food we can control individuals.” Every day, the noose tightens.

            • Permaculture or horticulture or food forests may still be the best we have. It may still be very difficult to transitions to.

              I really don’t know how a transition from current property ownership to something else can/will take place. I imagine it will work differently in different places.

              One part of Secular Cycles talks about the good farmland at times being abandoned, in favor of areas that could be easily defended (tops of mountains, for example). One book I have from a writer who lived in Argentina talks about the people in the cities of Argentina being much better off, as the economy fell apart, compared to the people by themselves out on farms. We have a hard time understanding what the real issues will be and how we can solve them.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “One book I have from a writer who lived in Argentina talks about the people in the cities of Argentina being much better off, as the economy fell apart, compared to the people by themselves out on farms.”

              And yet, those in cities had to get food from somewhere, no?

              I think the key phrase here is “by themselves.” We’ll need collaborative efforts. Witness Greece and Spain, where many young people who are unable to find work in cities are moving back to their traditional family villages — except such villages no longer exists in North America. We’ll have to re-create them.

        • Thanks! I agree that horticulture has more to recommend it than agriculture. As you say, ” …it would be helpful to have the discoveries of the radically New Horticulturist society to show us where we need to get to.”

          We seem to have discovered a number of modern-day hunter-gatherers, but not horticulturalists. I wonder why.

          • Don Stewart says:

            We do discover people and places who are practicing a horticultural lifestyle. Two examples come to mind, both from Geoff Lawton. The first is a 300 year old food forest in Vietnam (about 6 minutes)

            The second is also Geoff Lawton, but is in Morocco and is 2000 years old (5 minutes)

            Both of these are, of course, embedded in a broader culture which has adopted chemical agriculture and industrial production. They are both in relatively poor countries where the financial pressure to sell the land for development was not as high as in the OECD countries. There are still horticultural communities in Africa, but as we know they are being displaced as the land is sold to multinationals who bring in chemical agriculture.

            Putting these examples in the ‘horticultural’ category doesn’t necessarily mean that they are using the best practices. But, having survived for hundreds of years without chemical inputs tells us that the practices aren’t terribly destructive, either.

            Don Stewart

            • Thanks! Interesting videos!

            • Don Stewart says:

              This will be an excursion into the soft science of changing perceptions and behavior. To set the stage, let’s agree that no government decree can install a biological farming and gardening and home economy system. It has to come as individuals and families and small groups invent it on their own.

              As Exhibit 1, let’s consider David Holmgren’s current essay in praise of his pocket-knife:

              Now, all the people who are disconnected from reality, and are puppets on the string of some grand cause such as taking knives away from people, won’t get it at all. They will huff and puff and dismiss David as some relic from the Stone Age. They also can’t do a tenth of the stuff that David can do with his Leatherman. In a tough spot, I’d rather be with David and take the chance that he won’t knife me in my sleep to steal my loaf of bread. I would be pretty sure that the clueless people wouldn’t have any bread, and no idea how to get any.

              As Exhibit 2, let’s consider a passage from Rebecca Solnit’s book The Faraway Nearby, page 193:
              ‘To hear is to let the sound wander all the way through the labyrinth of your ear; to listen is to travel the other way to meet it. It’s not passive, but active, this listening. It’s as though you retell each story, translate it into the language particular to you, fit it into your cosmology so you can understand and respond, and thereby it becomes part of you….You take the information your senses deliver and interpret it, often in terms of your own experience, until it becomes vivid to you.’

              The readers of these comments will all have the experience of hearing (unless they skip over comments by the usual suspects), but few will have the experience of listening. Probably fewer will have the experience of actually learning.

              The preceding thinking is how I can both claim that there are good ideas and practices in biological farming and gardening, but also that perhaps 99 percent of the people in the US will die. (I find your collapse scenarios to be persuasive.)

              Don Stewart

            • Thanks! I can relate more easily to David Holmgren than Rebecca Solnit.

    • Don and Gail,
      I found the video interesting because I enjoy historic reenactments. However, I don’t think it is useful to pick apart the video and try to use it as a blueprint for what to do in the future. We will do whatever we can with whatever we have. It may look a lot like this, or it may look entirely different.

      I also don’t believe it is useful to evaluate a system by the criteria “can it save 7 billion people?” Every region will be different. What works will be adopted. What doesn’t will be changed to fit the needs of that region. In the absence of oil, there will be an absence of central planning, so we shouldn’t be overly concerned with what will work for everyone.

      Regarding boots and metal tools: we will wear out what we have, then salvage whatever we can find (there will likely be lots of metal laying around rusting), and finally we will have to make do with what we need from whatever natural resources are available. Necessity is the mother of invention.

      Regarding seed drills: Farmers will do what works the best with the tools available. Yes, knowledge is vital. And in this regard I think everyone would be wise to collect good books on all these topics so that you can find answers when the internet dies. Look at all the practical information that is currently available on line, through workshops and YouTube videos. Our biggest problem right now is the lack of small farmers that can support themselves marketing their products. I see many small farmers still relying on an outside salary to keep the farm going. Unfortunately, they currently have to compete with industrial agriculture for customers. Some day when they don’t, they will easily be able to sell their products.

      Gail, I’m curious what you meant by “we should do more of this?” Were you referring to making or watching videos, or were you referring to farming like this? I think more people should get out and start a garden. That would be a great first step!


  13. Robert Urquhart Collins says:

    Any analysis of energy depletion and growth that omits the question of cost is for the following reason, bound to fail. Money is embodied energy. When we buy manufactured goods or food we pay not for the raw materials, the wind the rain the sun etc, but for the energy that has been expended in their sourcing, assembly, production and transportation to the consumer. So a simple model can be constructed from this obvious fact. Money is energy, energy is money. $100 is a barrel of oil a barrel of oil is $100. By using this model the current global economic situation falls into place.

    In the early years of the oil age,free money gushed out of the land in the USA and more recently the Middle East. Oviously we deducted from the value of the money coming out of the ground, the cost of its procurement. In the early days with an EROEI of around 100 the nett money gain was huge. Gradually that has abated, to in some cases 2 or 3.We have less free money. In response to this a number of courses of action can be taken.

    1. Making artificial energy by printing money. THis is the course currently being pursued by all the advanced world economies, in particular the EEU, the USA and Japan. In the UK the artificial inflation of house prices is being used as a refinement to the cruder tactics employed in the USA and Japan. Of course energy produced in a few nanoseconds on a computer screen is not the same as the real thing and accordingly despite massive injections of this phoney energy the economies are flatlining.

    2. Reducing the value of human energy. Wages for the productive clases, those who actually do things as opposed to those who juggle with phoney energy (bankers, hedge fund managers, financial consultants and their ilk), have fallen and are continually being down. In the EEC the euphamism for this procees is “structural reform”. At the same time the benefits enjoyed by these productive clases are being cut. In this way at least a portion of our nett energy fund can be restored for the benefit of the non-productive clases.

    3. Fighting over the remaining sources of cheap energy/money

    4. Devaluing the cuurency in which we pay for our money/energy (the petrodollar) It is interesting in this respect to note two things. First that the motive for the invasión of Iraq was at least in part because Saddam Hussein was considering pricing Iraq’s oil in Euros. Second that currently Russia and China are trading energy without recourse to the dollar.

    5.Becoming more energy efficient.

    In short everything that is of concern that we note today in the world’s geopolitics is related to the fact that the free money/energy flow is drying up. Expensive energy =less energy. Less growth

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “5.Becoming more energy efficient.”

      Be careful about that one. Achieving 100% efficiency could require infinite resources. Most transfer curves have a “sweet spot,” also called “maximum power point,” at which you get the biggest bang for the buck. Beyond that point, you’re embedding more energy than the added efficiency buys you.

      Take incandescent bulbs. (Please! Cha-boom! :-) They can be made in a small town or large village of mostly local resources. Their efficiency sucks, but their embedded energy is small.

      Now take a modern LED bulb. It has wondrous efficiency! But it essentially requires all of modern civilization behind it in order to exist. It requires a billion-dollar semiconductor wafer fabrication plant, rare-earth materials from around the globe, many of which come from unfriendly places, necessitating a global military force. And of course, the global financial system built the plant and keeps it operating. It also needs 400 highly trained employees (and 400 SUVs parked inside of 400 suburban houses, with 400 big-screen TVs and 800 kids driven to soccer practice…)

      Don’t get me wrong — I love LED lights — but like the proverbial ice berg, most of their energy cost is hidden, and all we see is the end efficiency. Thank you, future generations, for letting me light so efficiently!

      There is a reason why 3.5 billion years of evolution has not come up with more than about 6% efficiency in capturing sunlight. We ignore such examples at our peril.

    • correctly observed
      but I’ve given up trying to point out that money isn’t wealth.
      there remains that certainty among those who find themselves in public office, that spending money creates prosperity. Krugman, who got the Nobel prize for economics, is on record as saying just that.
      its called ‘kickstarting the economy’
      we see those words used time and again, and the vast majority of people believe it to be true…..as I must confess I did, until I peeled away the claptrap and discovered the reality of it

    • Thanks! You make a lot of good points.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Kurzweil is the poster-boy for cornucopians.

      Kurzweil should have stuck to synths. His vision is the vision of “more.” He hasn’t really accepted finite resources — by the time we hit them, we’ll be off to the other planets for resources! He hasn’t even accepted death, with plans to freeze himself post-mortem so he can be unfrozen when his singularity arrives.

      • xabier says:

        If Kurzweil were to freeze himself right now, he’d be unable to put such foolish fantasies into circulation.

  14. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    You asked about grass under trees. I know you have a copy of Gaia’s Garden. Look on page 187 and you will find a section titled Grass Suppressing Bulbs.

    Toby is suggesting how you might design a guild based on an apple tree. Shallow rooted grass would compete with the shallow tree roots, and you will get fewer apples. But if you put a ring of bulbs (such as daffodils) around the apple tree, the bulbs will suppress grass. I’m not an expert, but I hypothesize that the bulbs are also very early spring feeders who soak up the photosynthesis opportunities in early March. They go dormant by the time the apple tree really gets its photosynthetic engines going. So they aren’t taking up much of the root space and they are not competing during the apple trees peak growth period.

    A shallow rooted lawn tree will react similarly if grass is growing under it.

    In addition, grasses like bacterially dominated soils, while trees prefer fungally dominated soils. Jeff Lowenfels gives some advice to homeowners who are determined to have grass under lawn trees. You can consult Teaming With Microbes for Jeff’s advice.

    Please note that Toby has recommendations for plants which DO grow well under apple trees and form a symbiotic community.

    Don Stewart

    • Jan Steinman says:

      We use sunchokes and chickens in our fruit tree guild. The sunchokes are planted in a circle along the “drip line,” or the edge of the leaves of the tree if you look up.

      The sunchokes suppress grasses, and the chickens dig up the grasses and eat them. They also eat coddling moth pupae that cause worms in fruit. The tree and the sunchokes make a barrier against chicken-eating hawks.

    • xabier says:

      For what it’s worth, in the Memoirs of Madame de la Tour du Pin, ( a fantastic read available in a good translation) – stuck by her man and left Revolutionary France to farm in America – she mentions the, to her peculiar, habit of American farmers in hoeing the ground for a large circle around apple trees, and manuring it. This was unknown in France at the time (although one might doubt that as she was a very grand aristocrat and may not have been well-informed on such matters, who knows?)

      Tulips under the trees sounds very attractive, I’ll try it!

  15. Jan Steinman says:

    It occurs to me that the government shut-down is a golden opportunity to do some measurements. Surely, 800,000 fewer consumers will leave a signal on the economy and biosphere? Can we measure the blip in the steady up-tick of CO2 caused by the shut-down?

    • One of the first things to go is our ability measure things like unemployment–something that is already fiddled with to make look as good as it can.

      But I agree that the government shut-down will have a big effect, especially if it is in place for very long.

  16. Vineyard says:

    A Question, Gail.

    You often quote “Secular Cycles” by Turchin and how it might explain what currently happens to our society. You also said that the U.S. entered Stagflation Phase in the 1970ies. Is it possible that Crisis Phase has already begun?

    • Yes, I think that we are already at the beginning of the Crisis Phase. It may be that the Great Recession was the first step in that direction. It is only be looking backward that we can really see what the steps were. Even then, different people will have different interpretations.

  17. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    “Now take a modern LED bulb. It has wondrous efficiency! But it essentially requires all of modern civilization behind it in order to exist.”

    Very interesting explanation that follows the above comment regarding what it takes to make LED bulbs. I wonder how long we can hold on to this level of complexity to support such an efficient bulb. If a descent from peak civilization results in greater simplicity, so much for LEDS and many of the other sophisticated modern techno devices taken for granted.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      If the crash is slow enough, I hold out some hope that halogen lamps can hold on a while.

      But with their long lifetime, LEDs biggest challenge may be finding a source of electrons for them!

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