Reaching Limits to Growth: What Should our Response Be?

Oil limits seem to be pushing us toward a permanent downturn, including a crash in credit availability, loss of jobs, and even possible government collapse. In this process, we are likely to lose access to both fossil fuels and grid electricity. Supply chains will likely need to be very short, because of the lack of credit. This will lead to a need for the use of local materials.

The time-period is not entirely clear. Some countries, such as Greece and Syria, will be seeing these effects quite soon. Other countries may not see the full effects for perhaps ten or twenty years. What should our response be?

It seems to me that there are many different answers, depending on who we are and what our goals are. The various options are not mutually exclusive.

Option 1. Make the most of the time we have available.

If there are things that are important to you, do them now. If you have been meaning to reconnect ties with family members or old friends, now is the time to do it. If there are things you would like to accomplish that require today’s transportation and services, do them now. If you want to support local charities, now would be a good time to do it.

Appreciate what you have now. We have been privileged to live in a society where transportation is readily available and where most of us can live in homes that are comfortably heated and cooled. At the same time, we can still enjoy many of the benefits of nature—clear skies and plants and animals around us. Life expectancies in the past were generally 35 years or less. Most of us have already lived longer than we could have expected to live in the past.

Develop stronger relationships with family and community.  This is likely to be a difficult transition. It is likely to be helpful to have as many allies as possible in transition. It may be helpful to move closer to other family members. Another approach is to form or join community groups, such as a church group or a group interested in common goals. The ties a person can form are likely to be helpful regardless of what path lies ahead.

Option 2. Prepare at least a little for the future

Learn to bounce back from downturns.  When I was an editor at The Oil Drum, I was editor for a letter from a man who grew up in Kenya and returned there practically every year. He told that the people in Kenya were very happy, even though they had little material goods and mortality was high.  One thing he mentioned was that if things went wrong—the death of a child for example—people were able to mourn for a day, and then move on. They also rejoiced in things we take for granted, such as being able to obtain enough food for the current day.

Do what you can to improve your health. In the United States, we have been used to a combination of practices that lead to overweight: (1) much too large food portions, (2) much processed food including much sugar and (3) lack of exercise. If we can change our eating and exercise practices, it is likely that we can improve our health. If healthcare goes downhill, fixing our personal health somewhat protects us.

Learn what you can about first aid. Injuries are likely to be more of an issue, as we work outside more.

We will need some specialists as well. As long as we eat grains, we will need dentists. As long as babies are born, we will need helpers of some type–doctors or midwives.

If circumstances permit, plant a garden and fruit or nut trees. Eventually, all food production will need to be local. Getting from our current industrialized agricultural model to a model with local food production with little (if any) fossil fuel inputs is likely to be a difficult transition. One approach is to learn what local plants, animals, and insects are edible. Another is to attempt to grow your own. Doing the latter will generally require considerable learning about what plants grow in your area, approaches to building and maintaining soil fertility, methods of preventing erosion, and a variety of related topics.

Find alternative water supplies. We currently are dependent on a water supply chain that can be broken in a variety of ways—drought, loss of electricity, storm damage, or pollution problems. If the long-term water supply seems questionable, it may be helpful to move to another location, sooner rather than later. Alternatively, we can figure out how to bridge a gap in water supplies, such as through access to a creek or lake. For the very short-term, a water barrel of stored water might be helpful.

Figure out alternative cooking arrangements. We humans are dependent on cooking for purifying water, for allowing us to eat a wider variety of food, and for allowing us to obtain greater nutrition from the food we eat, without chewing literally half of the day. We now depend primarily on electricity or natural gas for cooking. Determine what alternative cooking arrangements can be made in your area, in the event current cooking arrangements become unavailable. An example might be an outdoor fireplace with locally gathered sticks for fuel, perhaps supplemented by a solar cooker with reflective sides.

Store up a little food to bridge a temporary supply interruption. We have troubles today with wind storms and snow storms. There are any number of other types of interruptions that could happen if businesses encounter credit problems that lead to supply chain interruptions. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Option 3. Figure out what options might work for a few years for taking care of yourself and your family 

We have a lot of goods made with fossil fuels that probably will work for a while, but likely won’t be available for the long term. Examples include solar PV, batteries, power saws, electric pumps, electric fences, bicycles, light bulbs, and many other devices that we take for granted today. Of course, as soon as any part breaks and can’t be replaced, we are likely to be “up a creek, without a paddle.”

I expect that quite a few of the permaculture solutions and organic gardening solutions are temporary solutions. They work for now, but whether they will work for the long term is less clear. We are not going to be able to make and transport organic sprays for fruit for very long and irrigation systems will need to be very simple to be resilient. Plastic wears out and even metal tools will be hard to replace.

Purchasing land for agriculture can perhaps be a partial solution for some individuals, with sufficient skills and tools. Ideally, a person will want to be part of a larger group of people using a larger piece of land, rather than a smaller group, using a smaller piece of land, because of the problem that occurs if one worker gets sick or injured. It may be helpful to have multiple non-contiguous pieces of land, to help even out impacts of bad weather and pests. Ideally, the land should be large enough so that part of the land can remain fallow, or be used for feeding animals, and can be rotated with crop-producing land.

Security is likely be a problem, especially if a single home is distant from other homes. Ideally, a family will be part of a larger group in order to provide security.

Other issues include inability to pay taxes and the government taking over property. Because of the many issues involved, any solution is, at best, temporary. Unfortunately, that may be the best we can do. As parts of the system fail, a local group may be able to support fewer people. Then the group will need to deal with how to handle this situation–everyone starve, or kick out a few members from the group, or attack another group, with the hope of obtaining control of their resources.

Option 4. Work on trying to solve the long-term problem.

There are many studies of how pre-industrial societies operated without fossil fuels and without electricity. For example, Jared Diamond gives his view of how some very early societies functioned in The World Until Yesterday. The Merchant of Prato by Iris Origo documents the life of one particular 14th century merchant, based on old letters and other documents.

Through studies of how past societies behaved, it might be possible for today’s people to develop a civilization that could be operated using only renewable resources of the types used in pre-industrial times, such as wood, water wheels, and sail boats. Such groups would probably not be able to use much metal or concrete because of the problem with deforestation when wood is used for energy-intensive operations. (Today’s so-called “renewables,” such as hydro-electric, wind turbines and solar PV require fossil fuels for manufacture and upkeep, so likely will not be available for very long.)  Heating of homes will need to be very limited as well, to prevent deforestation.

As a practical matter, the groups best equipped to make such a change are ones that have recently been hunter-gatherers and still have some memory of how they operated in the past. Perhaps some former hunter-gatherers could give instruction to others in sort of a reverse Peace Corps operation.

We do know some approaches that have been used in the past. Dogs have been used to help with herding animals, for hunting, and for warmth. Animals of various types have been used for transportation and for plowing. The downside is that animals require the use of a lot of land to produce the food needed for them to eat.

Traditional societies have used the giving of gifts and the requirement of reciprocal gift giving to increase the strength of relationships and as a substitute for our money-based financial system. With such an approach, a person gains status not by what he has, but by what he gives away.

Storytelling has been a way of passing on knowledge and entertainment for generations. Songs, games, and simple musical instruments are also part of many traditions. These are approaches that can be used in the future as well.

Option 5. Take steps toward getting population in line with likely long-term energy availability.

The world is now overfilled with people and with the many animals that people raise for food or as pets. Without fossil fuels and network electricity, we probably will not be able to feed more than a fraction of the current population of humans and domesticated animals.

Some steps we might take:

Keep family sizes small. Encourage one-child families. When a family pet dies, don’t replace it (or replace it with a smaller animal).

Eat much less meat. This could be started even now.

Option 6. Rearrange personal finances.

Paper investments are, in general, not going to be worth much, regardless of how we rearrange them, if resource availability drops greatly. Ultimately, paper investments allow us to buy goods available in the marketplace. But if there isn’t much to buy in the marketplace, they are likely to be much less helpful than we assume. Precious metals have the same difficulty–they can’t buy what is not available.

Purchasing land is theoretically better, but even land can be taken away from us by taxes or by appropriation. There is also a possibility that we may need to move, if conditions change, regardless of what property ownership conditions seem to be.

We need to learn to take each day as it comes. If we find that our bank accounts aren’t there, or that only a small fraction of the money can be withdrawn, or that the money is in the bank doesn’t buy much of anything, we need somehow to figure out a way around the situation. Very likely everyone else will be in the same boat. This is a major reason for working on substitute access to food and water supplies.

Option 7. Put more emphasis on relationships. 

Studies show that relationships are what bring happiness—not the accumulation of goods. Starting to work now on developing additional strong relationships would seem to be a worthwhile goal. In traditional societies, extended family relationships were very important.

Religions can teach us how we treat our neighbors and thus about relationships. A version of the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have then do unto you) is found in several major religions. Many readers of this blog have given up on religions as hopelessly out of date, instead choosing such “wisdom” as, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” In fact, this latter wisdom is clearly nonsense. We can expect our fossil-fuel based “toys” to lose their usefulness before our very eyes in the not too distant future. Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen are not gods, even if we are told that they are all-powerful. 

Another aspect of keeping good relationships is finding ways to mend broken relationships. One such approach is forgiveness. Another is through reconciliation procedures aimed at returning broken relationships to wholeness. Such procedures are common in small societies, according to Diamond (2012).

Option 8. Find ways to deal with the stresses of a likely downturn ahead.

As much as we would like to take one day at a time, oftentimes it is easy to worry, even though this does no good.

Even though we think we know that outcome of our current difficulties, we really do not. The universe has many physical laws. Ultimately, the source of all of these physical laws is not clear–is there a Supreme Being behind them? The story of natural selection is in many ways a miracle. The story of human existence represents more miracles—learning to control fire; learning to control our environment through agriculture; learning to modify our environment further through the use of fossil fuels. In my own personal life, I see a pattern of circumstances working together in ways I could never have expected. 

We are not the first to go through hard times. Because of my background, I find myself comforted by many Biblical passages. I am sure other religions have other passages that are also helpful.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for though art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. .  . Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. . . (Psalm 23: 4, 6)

. . . in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . . (Romans 8:28)

For me personally, more things have worked together for good than I would ever have dreamed possible. I will not rule out the possibility of this happening again in the future, regardless of what the external circumstances may look like.

Option 9. For those who are concerned about Climate Change

In my view, the changes we are encountering will bring a quick end to the use of fossil fuels. Thus, the concern that future fossil fuel use will cause rapid climate change is over-blown. If individuals would like to personally reduce their own fossil fuel use, I would suggest the following:

  • Stop eating meat now, especially that raised in our current industrial system.
  • Get rid of pets that are not providing support functions, such as hunting for food.
  • Spend less of your wages. With more of the money left in the bank or in paper investments, this money will lose value and thus will reduce spending on fossil fuel-based goods and services. (While theoretically this money could be lent out and reinvested, lack of credit availability will put an end to this practice.)
  • Use a bicycle for transport instead of a car, when possible. Or walk.
  • Purchase a more fuel efficient car, if you need to replace a current vehicle.
  • Turn down the heat in your home or apartment. Don’t use air conditioning.

I would suggest quitting your job as well, but if you quit your job, the job is likely to go to someone else, resulting in the same fossil fuel use for someone else.  Even stopping a business you own will not necessarily work, if another business will expand and take its place. If the business that ramps up is in a part of the world that uses coal as its primary fuel, stopping your local business may lead to an increase in world carbon dioxide emissions.

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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503 Responses to Reaching Limits to Growth: What Should our Response Be?

  1. jeremy890 says:

    New York Times article today Feb 22, front page :

    “On the morning after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in 2008, most Federal Reserve officials still believed that the American economy would keep on growing despite the metastasizing financial crisis”.
    I myself vividly remember the radio coverage on NPR during those days and no Government official or agency reported alarm about the crisis unfolding. I remember hearing afterwards George Bush Jr. asking Paulson, “How did this happen?”
    As Ms. Tverberg pointed out we are still in a crisis

  2. Ellen Anderson says:

    Hi Donn – I think the Amish are a wonderful community and a great resource for those of us who are trying to get back to using draft animal power. But they are still quite reliant upon the industrial world that produces the metal for their carts and farm tools – and the paint, and the biothane for the harnesses. They are doing a pretty good business supplying all of the farmers who are getting back into using animals but they are not delivering all of those products in a wagon train. My forecart came in a truck so huge it couldn’t get into my driveway!

    I find that the most productive use for my horse is for pulling logs out of the woods and also for making a lot of great manure. I don’t know whether oxen could do that but your mules can, right? Still most homesteaders and very small farmers are more like gardeners and they are probably able to do a lot by hand if they use the right tools. I still worry about taking care of my horse when I don’t personally have acres of hayfields. So I feel that I could probably feed myself, family, goats and chickens with hand tools but that I would be hard pressed right now to make enough hay – even first cut – properly to feed the horse. In fact, not one of the horse owners around me makes his own hay. And none of the haymakers owns horses or farms with them around here. So yes, it is theoretically possible but the infrastructure is not in place. I feel that my horse is the most vulnerable.

    I don’t think that “we” can feed billions of people. The question should be whether billions of people can feed themselves. (They can’t really do that now can they?) I am so conditioned to think that all of my solutions have got to be upwardly scalable that I forget that the real problem is how to scale down. We are so worried about whether our proposed solutions would work for everyone that we forget that without appropriate infrastructure in place they won’t work for anyone. If fossil fuels disappear tomorrow, after all of my years of planning and downsizing, I’ll bet I have forgotten something absolutely critical. Makes me crazy!

    • The Amish live in a bubble of protection provided by the industrialised world around them

    • Ellen–you bring up a lot of good points.

    • garand555 says:

      “I don’t think that “we” can feed billions of people. The question should be whether billions of people can feed themselves.”

      I suspect that there is some system under which most of the world’s people could feed themselves. However, even if I knew what that system was and even if I knew how to disseminate that information to every man, woman and child, I also suspect that it would fall on quite a few deaf ears. I don’t think the question is if billions can feed themselves. I think the question is *will* billions feed themselves.

      ” If fossil fuels disappear tomorrow, after all of my years of planning and downsizing, I’ll bet I have forgotten something absolutely critical. Makes me crazy!”

      You’ll never think of everything. Focus on *water* and food first, then shelter, clothing and security. After that, do not forget hygiene. You can make soap with lipids, water and wood ash, and staying clean will be very, very important should you not have access to modern medical care.

      In the event of a societal collapse, it will be a shock to everybody, including those who knew what was coming and even had a good idea of what to expect. Tend to the necessities and learn to be adaptable.

    • InAlaska says:

      You seem to have a good thing going there, Ellen. Take it one step at a time and don’t let it overwhelm you. You can only do what you can do, as they say. When TSHTF, I think you and your neighbors will figure it out.

    • xabier says:


      A great deal of condensed wisdom in your post. I don’t think you’l be overlooking much of importance. Good luck!

  3. Daniel Hood says:

    Fossil Fuels & Industrial Revolution

    **Since 1800 we experienced sustained growth for 200 years across:
    Energy production
    Food production
    Economic activity
    Population growth (1billion 1800 to 7.2billion 2014) 214 years

    **In 2006 energy production levelled off:
    Developing world continued to grow
    Developed world came to a standstill

    **2015-2020 Sustained declines will commence across:
    Energy production (Conventional declines outpace unconventional increases in production)
    Food production
    Economic activity
    Population decline (7.2billion+2015-2020 down to 1-3billion 2100) 86years

    Just live everyday as if tomorrow it’s your last. Appreciate the fact this post WW2 period may prove to be the greatest our species will ever have experienced. I’m focussing on deconsumerism, agriculture, health, fitness, friends, family.

    Finally I leave you with words of wisdom.

    “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

    Richard Dawkins

    The end.

    • MJ says:

      Good post. 50% of the world’s population is under age 30.Tht still leaves over 3 1/2 Billion. To get to 1 to 2 Billion people that can support a “solar life”, who do you think will be “cut” first?

      • Daniel Hood says:

        Simple enough to answer the weakest of our species both physically/mentally. Low IQs are equally screwed and that includes the naive or feeble minded. Phase 3 will be about zero sum.

        Phase 1 was “growth” 200 years (we still had wars when things were great)
        Phase 2 was the “plateau” 10-15 years ***we’re approaching the end of phase2***
        Phase 3 will be the “decline” 100 years (the zero sum survival game)

        In phase 2, we’re already seeing the break down of law & order globally and we’ve not even commenced phase 3 yet which will be known as the greatest powerdown in the history of our species.

        Priorities in phase 3 will be about ultra survival mode. Some interesting strategies/tactics will be deployed both at an individual, regional, national, international level.

        Phase 3 will be a zero sum game fighting for:


        If you know the enemy and yourself you need not fear a hundred battles, if you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat, if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, your time in phase 3 will not be much fun.

        Politicians/elite will lie and make many outrageous attempts to convince the world we’re still in phase 1. Let’s see how long they can pull that off for. Have you seen the kicked out of Kiev Ukrainian dictator’s palace recently? Gold plated toilet seats etc. When people finally realise we’re in Phase 3 and the world is in decline, those same elites with gold plated toilet seats will end up being stuffed head first in them.

        It’s incredible to think we’re living through this period. I’m 35, no kids, living in a nation used to all the crazyness.

        Time to gear up my friend on the battlefield.

        • xabier says:

          Such poverty of imagination and lack of good taste: give someone gold, and they use it to decorate a toilet seat!

          Symbolic of our senseless extraction and squandering of resources….

        • MJ says:

          Well, looking at the “numbers” and the time span that will bring them down to a reasonable level, we are indeed looking at craziness.

          • garand555 says:

            @robdelaet: IMO, we conflate being educated with being intelligent. Intelligence will be an asset, as will being “sturdy.” Somebody who is sturdy with a high innate intelligence but poor education may very well be better off a PhD who has lived a life sheltered by the industrial age. But what about somebody who is educated, intelligent and tough?

            Luck will also play a role. Even the toughest SOB on the planet is not immune to a 30 caliber bullet to the back of the head.

            • robdelaet says:

              Agree mostly with you to the point where it is very difficult to be highly educated if you don’t have the hardware to match, but I have seen very intelligent uneducated people, that’s for sure.

          • garand555 says:

            I think you also need to consider what “highly educated” means. I doubt you need to be hyper-intelligent to get an MBA. That’s not to say that people with MBAs cannot be very, very smart, but there is a difference between an MBA and a PhD in mathematics. I bring this up because a lot of our current thinking with education has more to do with credentials and less to do with the knowledge and critical thinking that should come along with education. People want that piece of paper that says Diploma on it so that they can get a job.

          • robdelaet says:

            I find intelligence overrated as a factor for survival. Sturdy, simple rural people who are largely outside the modern monetary economy will probably adapt better to collapse and have less inhibitions to defend themselves against others at all cost than highly educated, urban city dwellers. Every time I have educated, traveled Dutch friends over, I am surprised at their naivety with regards to the toughness of life outside their well protected environment. They would be shot before they would be able to shoot. Having these sturdy people around as part of a larger outfit (including some intelligent, experienced planners) enhances the survivability of everyone in that group.

    • Alfred Russel Wallace says:

      Yes, all those unborn people (that infinite number) must be truly cursing their bad luck. One of the stupidest things Mr Dawkins ever said, IMO.

  4. Survival Acres says:

    We absolutely do not have 10 or 20 years left. In that time frame, the majority of civilization will have utterly collapsed. It’s anybody’s real guess on what will remain, but if civilization ‘continues’ to exist at all, it won’t be anything like it is today.

    This is a very interesting science piece from David Wasdell:

    Everyone should read this. My own readings on these topics (over two decades) indicate that he is correct.

    Soon, temperatures will be far too hot to support any life on the planet. All the other ‘projections’ about growth, future, technology, dreams and ambitions of humankind are now made moot and are in reality, a distraction from the escalating disaster now unfolding on us all.

    What we do with the time now left to us as a species and as individuals is all that matters.

  5. edpell says:

    Some thing change and some persist. I live about 50 miles from West Point, the U.S. Army college. I am quite sure that in 20 years West Point will still be there and still be functioning. On the other hand IBM used to employe 35,000 people locally. Now they are down to about 5,000 and they have said they are selling half of that off and there are rumors the other half will be gone by 2015.

    • xabier says:


      That’s quite an eloquent contrast: the expensive and tax-funded organization of the state endures, while the real local economy declines. Just like Rome, which drove the peasantry into the ground to fund the armies.

  6. timl2k11 says:

    Here might be a good conversation starter about “collapse”. Why don’t we have a successor to the Space Shuttle program? With new, more modern technology, why is there no superior replacement for NASA’s space shuttle program?

    • edpell says:

      SpaceX better and cheaper. NASA a boat load of unfunded pension liabilities and political pork.

    • Tim, despite all the ‘new technology’, space exploration vehicles still use the same means to get off the ground as the wright brothers, ie: exploding chemicals.
      Only the rate at which fuel is burned has changed, and the machines in which it is burned. We have not been able to alter the laws of physics or gravity. You cannot create wealth by burning fuel, you create only an illusion of wealth.

      • timl2k11 says:

        Sorry folks, I wasn’t clear. I meant that this might be a good conversation starter with people you know. I understand why the NASA Space Shuttle program has ended and that there won’t be anything replacing it. The signs of collapse are everywhere if one is willing to connect the dots.

    • InAlaska says:

      I firmly believe that the “high water” mark of our civilization was the Apollo moon landing in 1969. The Greatest Generation had won the last “good” war against evil and we were on our way to wining the Cold War. The future looked bright and promising. After 1969, we had Watergate, the US went off the gold standard, defeat in Vietnam, the First Oil Crisis. The 1980s were a retrenchment. But Democracy began to be corrupted by corporate power. It has been downhill for our civilization and our society ever since that last great human achievement in space. I’m sorry to say it, but we are 40 years past our expiration date.

      • in 1970 the USA became a net oil importer, that was the tipping point. (or high water mark if you will) Few are willing to acknowledge that, but everything changed at that point. Up to 1969 the excess in the economy that oil provided gave the impetus for such endeavours as the apollo project.
        The moon landings brought no long term commercial benefit the planet earth, it was in effect a job creation scheme for PhD’s at NASA.
        Any trip where you return with just photographs and souvenirs is called a vacation. Had there been anything worthwhile to be had on the moon, commercial enterprise would have been there decades ago.
        This is why there will be no meaningful space exploration from now on, we are running out of the necessary (energy) means to support it, and as we are didcovering right now, the necessary energy to support everything else

  7. sheilach2 says:

    There won’t be any more space shuttles because they are too expensive for what they do & 2, we are spending too much $ on endless resource wars to spend on unnecessary programs, like space travel, social programs or infrastructure.
    I have noticed that more oil majors are reporting declines in “production”. How much longer will they be able to find investors to fund their expensive & poor productivity that is fracking?

    As Bush said, “this baby is going down” & the elites are grabbing all the wealth they can from the economy, or what’s left of it before TSHTF as they know it will & soon.

    Next on their list – triage. Who will be on THAT LIST?
    The old, the infirm & “useless eaters” like me.

  8. Hartley Schultz says:

    Hello once again Gail,
    What do you think of the Federal Treasurer, Mr Joe Hockey’s pronouncements at the G20 summit?
    According to him new policies should increase global GDP more than $2 trillion and create “tens of millions of new jobs”. G20 countries will boost new private investment, particularly in infrastructure, increase employment and workforce participation, particularly from women. He also states that “We are absolutely committed to increase trade and spur greater competition around the world and within our own economies. It all sounds lovely doesn’t it?
    In the face of massive federal budget cuts and raising of the pension age, I also note that in Australia, we are now facing a crisis in youth unemployment Prosperity just around the corner isn’t off to a good start here.
    While Mr Hockey also stated that ‘the global economy was yet to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth” he wants us to become more like China in order to achieve employment growth How well do you think this will work?
    Well will the G20 fix all our problems in one go, with a golden age of prosperity just around the corner?
    Kind regards H.

    • edpell says:

      Mr Hockey is a politician. Politicians always say “all is well” and “tomorrow will be even better”, thanks to me. They lie.

      • Interguru says:

        ‘ Politicians always say “all is well” and “tomorrow will be even better”, thanks to me. They lie’
        If they tell the truth, we don’t elect them. We get what we deserve.

        • xabier says:



          In the 18th century in Britain, when the franchise was very restricted, candidates literally said: ‘Vote for me, and I’ll pay well for it! It wasn’t hinted at but stated openly on the hustings.’

          The system was that corrupt – but was it really so bad? The electors got on with their lives and businesses, saw politics for the farce it is and just hoped to benefit a bit from bribes – no empty promises regarding the future, only hard cash was acceptable.

          Today, the politicians get payed off by the corporate interest groups behind the scenes, and the electors get empty promises of rainbows and unicorns just around the corner (which suits the mental level of many of course). Now that is corruption!

    • I certainly don’t think the plan will work.

      I notice that the article says:
      Mr Hockey said reaching the goal would require increasing investment but that it could create “tens of millions of new jobs”

      Increasing investment is precisely the problem. It needs physical resources that we can’t get out, without prices being a whole lot higher than they are now. Prices can’t go higher without wages going higher, and wages don’t rise, when energy prices are high. Oil companies are faced with inadequate cash flow for new investment. They cannot keep on borrowing more and more–it simply doesn’t work.

  9. Christian says:

    As all those participating at G20, and starting by the Argentinean ones who had fired at least one economist who suggested changing the course, Mr. Hockey is just a liar. This kind of people will be very lucky if they don’t pass under the guillotine one of these days.

    Btw, Gail you said your last forecast on energy was the result of data actualization to Limits algorithm. You highlighted what the Italian physicist Ugo Bardi calls The Seneca Cliff, which means the falling being sharper than has been the way up. Both of you use Limits formulae and hold this approach is better than symmetric Hubbert’s model. But there are two dissonances. One is that you see the Cliff appear in the energy production, while he sees it in industrial and food production (however, energy production do really is an industrial one). The other is that you say the cliff is due to lack of investment capital and he says it is due to what in Limits is called “persistent pollution”, even if he does not dislikes to include bureaucracy under this label.
    Bardi’s cliff, here:

    • I expect that pollution plays a role as well. Ugo doesn’t understand the financial implications and is very concerned about climate change.

      • Ann says:

        A lot of commentators are evaluating a new essay from the book, “The Party is Over: How The Republicans Went Crazy, The Democrats Became Useless, And The Middle Class Got Shafted” by Mike Lofgren. His essay about what he calls the Deep State can be found here:

        Charles Hugh Smith has a post about this essay. His post can be found here:

        Juan Cole also comments on the essay:

        I expect Nicole Foss will weigh in at some point, as well, if for no other reason than to counter Charles Hugh Smith on inflation/deflation and multiple claims to underlying wealth.

        I am very interested to read your comments on these thoughtful discussions.

        • Christian says:

          I don’t get all the details, but what is called Deep State is what Argentinean economist Walter Graziano studied in a couple of books. To come back to our main theme here, it’s interesting to note Graziano saw very clearly TPTB (US and UK banks, universities, politicians, MSM and some industries, and CFR structuring it all) are directly standing on oil power, and he wondered what would happen if this was to fall (he wrote in early 2000s and was aware of ASPO’s work). His books helped me to understand why UN never counted with an energy agency: UN was mainly a creation of TPTB with specific purposes, and monitoring world energy flows and policies was not at all one of them. The very core of the economy is to be left out of public discussion and relegated to IEA and OPEC, IEA being directly controlled by oil majors and thus by the “powers in the shadow” who own and, especially, control them. According to Graziano’s approach, we can infer Deep State will be severely hit in case oil majors go bankrupt, and that it will completely disappear if too big to fail banks do so.
          Pretty soon it will be us or them.

  10. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    I would like to tie a few thoughts together to perhaps shed some light on the choices individual families, and small groups of families, can make and how the consequences of those choices might play out in terms of a contracting money economy.

    I’ll start with a conversation between Geoff Lawton and Paul Wheaton, discussing numerous topics…from the trials and tribulations of running a blog to details about permaculture and whether the label ‘permaculture’ has become degraded in the United States. If you have lots of time to listen, you can find the whole thing here: 1 2

    If you trust me to make a reasonable excerpt, you are excused from listening to everything. Geoff says that when he is asked about all the various systems for biological farming (Joel Salatin, rotational grazing, organic, biodynamic, Fukuoka, Ruth Stout and Emilia Hazelip, etc.) he says ‘Yes, they are all good. But more is required. One has to develop an overall design which ties together water, food, energy, social life, and so forth. When a permaculture designer takes on such a total system design, s/he exposes themselves to second guessing by lots of narrow experts. But it is the total system that exhibits strengths or weaknesses…not narrowly specialized solutions. So there really is no alternative to thinking in permaculture terms. What you choose to call it is a different issue.’

    The second resource I will call on is Chris Martenson’s current interview with Dan Ariely about how human psychology related to abstract money virtually guarantees recurrent bubbles. I believe it is behind a paywall, and you have to be a member of to access it. So, again, if you trust me…’It is unfortunate that humans are irrational and easily sold things which either make their problems worse or don’t really satisfy their needs, and that corporations are very smart at selling non-solutions to the public….Bankers mostly aren’t really bad people, they are just working in an environment which rewards bad behavior. And we are doing nothing at all to change that environment.’

    The third resource is the current issue of Yes! magazine, which I do not believe is available on the Internet. The theme of the issue is Education, and how all the hyper-testing is a big mistake. I particularly call your attention to the ‘outdoor education’ article which lauds the results of educating children mostly outdoors. The article describes kindergartens in the US and in Germany where the children spend 90 percent of their time outside, in all kinds of weather. A moderately popular bumper sticker here is ‘No Child Left Indoors’. This method for educating children is just about the exact opposite of educating children to do well on multiple choice computer based tests.

    Now I want to tie these resources together and try to suggest an answer to the question ‘how should we educate out children?’ I will renounce any claim to being an expert. I did raise three children who spent a lot of time in the Missouri woods and rivers…and none of them have been in jail (yet). Most everyone thought I was giving them way too much freedom…clambering up rocks that they might fall off of, canoeing down rivers they might drown in, and bushwhacking through the forests which might contain copperheads, etc.

    If a person is trying to design a life for themselves and their children (the Geoff Lawton challenge), and if one thinks that the resources available to public education will shrink even as the stupidity of much of that education increases, then designing the homestead and the home economy to provide a rich educational experience is essential. One would be well advised to remember Ariely’s observations about the fundamental weaknesses in corporate dependent systems for everything, including education. And if one thinks that, in an Age of Limits, the world the children will have to navigate is going to involve more living in the physical, chemical, and biological world than it will involve occupying cubicles and moving stuff around on screens, then having children spend a lot of time outdoors and being physically and mentally involved in things like harvesting water and growing food and providing shelter makes eminent sense.

    Take, for example, the stories in Yes! about how kindergartners cope just fine with cold, wet, raw days in Massachusetts. Now connect that dot to the notion of building a very small dwelling which is mostly about ‘shelter and rainwater collection’, not a place to go to where the termperature is always 72 and it never rains. And think about how a very small dwelling needs less of everything. Also think about the numerous advantages of getting the neighborhood kids together to engage in projects which actually make a difference. In other words, try to fulfill Geoff Lawton’s suggestion about tying lots of things together into a total system.

    I won’t pretend that the preceding describes how one might go about learning Quantum Mechanics. But it just may be that Quantum Mechanics was a child of the Fossil Fuel Era, while learning how to live abundantly in a much lower energy future is of increasing importance. And it may be that very smart and resilient and energetic children are a parent’s best insurance in a doubtful world.

    Don Stewart

  11. Interguru says:

    If you want something else to worry about: In 1859 a massive solar storm, called the Carrington Event , hit the Earth. It induced high currents across telegraph lines, disrupting communications and actually set some telegraph receivers on fire. Should such a storm hit today it might wipe out our electric grid for months or years. DHS has a report on this. Today this would result in not only no oil but much worse.

  12. Hotel California says:

    Very insightful blog and opinions & comments, even if we don’t all agree. Better than putting your head in the sand and thinking that oil will last forever. My immediate plans are to finish restoring my 1968 GTO and drive it as much as possible over the next few years. My wife and I are trying to figure out where we should move to so that our children and grandchildren will have a decent chance at nice lives. Our research is pointing us to East TX, GA, FL, Nor CAL or Southern OR. I still believe that solar energy will be the dominant energy source for houses after 2040. Yes, you need solar panels and battery for electricity or rubber hoses to heat water on your roof and store it for cooking & showers. I believe these will be plentiful thru oil extraction and recycling efforts thru 2099 or beyond. At some point refining what little oil is left to gasoline will be impractical and we’ll just turn remaining oil into plastics and rubber. And just think of how much fun it will be to ride the train, pedal that bicycle, go to church on Sunday and swap canned fruits & veggies with your friends and family again.

    • Interguru says:

      This reminds me of a probably apocryphal story of an european gentleman in the 30’s who saw the disaster of World War II coming, sold his house and business, and moved his family to the most isolated place on Earth he could find, an island called Guadalcanal.

      IMHO the only for-sure thing we can do is have a good social network.

  13. edpell says:

    Current “New Scientist” has an article on burning underground coal to produce methane. There is 15,000 gigtons of coal that can be used in this manner. There are several Australian companies doing this at several locations around the planet. It borrows technology from frack gas drilling.

  14. robdelate: I don’t think we know what forms that religion will take in the future. My guess is that it will be a lot like permaculture. Some kind of system of thought and action that makes people feel more secure about themselves and the future. Gods can be more or less secular, they don’t have to be ridiculously perfect like the god of Christian theology. It could be Mother Nature, Gaiia, or maybe the spirit of Bill Mollison. We got here by group selection, then cultural selection. Religion happens to be one of the strongest drivers of group and cultural selection. It’s why we’re here. Secularism has only been around since the beginnings of Capitalism and the age of Fossil Fuels. We can afford to be secular now, but once civilization collapses, most of us will be so scared that we will run right into the arms of religion.

    • Paul says:

      Sun-god worship makes a lot of sense to me — the sun brings warmth, food, security from the night — whereas the worship of pop gods has brought nothing but destruction to the world.

    • robdelaet says:

      Hi Charles, could well be that future generations that survived the collapse will be zealously religious of some sort. It just won’t work now for the ones who are not religious.

  15. Daddio7 says:

    I live in rural north Florida. There is a 40 acre potato field next to my house with the plants just emerging. The owner has a large barn and greenhouse two hundred yards from my house. The two nearest neighbors are Mormons. They all have young children, this old farmer (the farm used to be mine) will be a big help helping secure the area and work the greenhouse. We are all well armed.

    With the Balkan and Alaskan oil fields along with western coal we will have sufficient energy for our nation if it is distributed correctly. I’m hoping those two oceans will protect us from the rest of the world.

    Short term may be the worst. My wife worked at a Dollar discount store. One day the EBT system for the state was down all day. By the afternoon there were almost food riots in the parking lot. Imagine if the credit card machines were down for a week, or month! The government would have to declare martial law to protect food shipments. I have a month of staple food items stored and am starting my summer garden. I’m hoping order can be restored in amount of time. Many of my acquaintances are millionaire farmers. Their co-op meetings are held two miles from my house. Their grandfathers and great grandpas settled this area 100 years ago. They’re sure to make a plan.

    • Paul says:

      I hate to throw cold water on the plan but I don’t think the threat comes from outside the US rather the problem is with the 300M+ many of whom own copious numbers of guns and ammo.

      When the SHTF most people in the US will be starving — because most food in the US is produced using pesticides and fertilizers made from oil and gas. When they stop flowing — and as we can see from this article — that day is not far off — the massive industrial farms will cease to produce any food because the soil will be dead without these inputs.

      Once the killer zombies have looted Walmart (within hours) they will then set their sites on all but the most remote places that are producing food organically.

      Given the choice, the US is perhaps the last place I would want to be when the SHTF — imagine this with guns:

      • Yes, gun ownership is a problem. Makes it harder for someone to think he can set up a place in the country, with no interference. But violence has been an issue for a long time, with our without guns.

      • Daddio7 says:

        Our supply system is akin to a series of conveyer belts. A shock to our credit system could stop them but the materials will still be there. There is enough food and fertilizer for a couple of years if it protected, that is what the guns are for. Until the militias get handle on things the zombie hoard will pour out of the cities looking for food. Bad times for sure but oil and coal will not disappear over night. I hope our government has plans for long term shortages and the collapse of our privileged lifestyle but I’m prepared for the worst.

        • sheilach2 says:

          They have “plans” alright but their not for our benefit but for them to maintain control.

          Prison camps, deadly drones, military weapons used on civilians. The people who control the governments are ruthless & greedy & will do what ever it takes to control our lives & when that fails, they will kill us without regret as we are mere worthless eaters or cannon fodder and they are working to replace the cannon fodder with robots & killer drones.

          Don’t for one moment believe that the government is here to help us, they know there is no longer the resources to keep capitalism “working”, look at how the 5% now have 90% of the “wealth”, we are expendable, they will protect those they believe are useful to their ambitions.

          Real wealth won’t be in “money” but in fertile, watered LAND & organic non GMO seeds.

          Only when their oil runs out & their war machines stand idle can we have a chance against them, until then, act like a harmless “sheeple”. Baaaaa.

          • Paul says:


            Everyone knows about the military-industrial complex, which, in his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned had the potential to “endanger our liberties or democratic process” but have you heard of the “Deep State?” Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member with the powerful House and Senate Budget Committees, joins Bill to talk about what he calls the Deep State, a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state, which is “out of control” and “unconstrained.”


  16. Pingback: Granice wzrostu: Jak mamy zareagować? | Exignorant's Blog

  17. Susan Norris says:

    Hi, Gail,

    Everything you mention in this post is what the “transition towns” movement is working on: relocalizing, reskilling, reconnecting with neighbors, etc. Have you heard of transition towns? It was started in the UK (and is apparently working very well there) but is having trouble getting folks interested here in the States (I know, I tried where I live).


    • JudyB says:

      Hi Susan,

      Have you seen the 20 minute TED talk by Shani Graham? Her solution dealt with just her street. I’ve often thought we need to scale down our solutions…i.e. neighborhood level.

      Good luck!


  18. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    A common conclusion from discussions on this website is that everything is going to be horrible. I participated in a Webinar this evening that I believe everyone should pay attention to. It is a discussion between Ruth Buczynski, a psychologist in Connecticut and Kelly McGonigle, a PhD researcher at Stanford. The general subject was stressful situations and how an individual perceives them and reacts to them. Consider the following as bullet points written by an amateur, and most certainly not accurate in detail, but perhaps indicative of broad themes.

    Our brain changes itself much like a muscle. If we want to strengthen a muscle, we must strain it beyond its comfort zone. If we want our brain to handle stress better, we must stress it beyond its comfort zone.

    Stress makes us more social. We make more oxytocin, which is associated with loving and caring. The oxytocin effect is particularly strong in people who are not usually very responsive to oxytocin. So a person who is usually a loner, but who finds themselves in a stressful situation, and reaches out to others, shows the greatest increased response to oxytocin. This is in contrast to the assumption that the usual response is ‘fight or flight’. (It is also consistent with what Janine Benyus said at the Omega Institute seminar last fall.) Affiliation is a core response to stress.

    Cueing the affiliation response to stress makes you healthier. Oxytocin is cardio protective and anti-inflammatory. IF you choose the sociability response, rather than fight or flight. The affiliation response also changes our epigenetics, affecting the neuroplastic parts of the brain.

    Caring for others buffers us from stress. We can choose to train ourselves in compassion. Training in compassion, in Kelly’s lab, results in decreased worries, increased happiness, with no change in stress. (My comment: In short, the stress is real and recognized as such, but the emotional response changes.)

    A lab in Germany trains people off the street in about 6 hours.

    Increased activity in the reward networks in the brain. We no longer collapse in the face of suffering. The training fundamentally alters our tendency to avoid suffering or unpleasantness. The training can be seen as a chain of meditation techniques:
    1. Mindfulness meditation…what is happening right now?
    2. Metta meditation…good wishes for everyone
    3. Compassion…recognizing that bad things are happening and doing what we can
    (Sharon Salzburg led a compassion workshop at Duke Hospital a couple of years ago.)

    Kelly is currently involved in laboratory tests with patients with chronic pain and with war veterans with PTSD. Anecdotally, she is getting very good results.

    Pain is a complex mind/body experience. The mind interpretation is more important than the raw sensation.

    Suffering is particularly dependent on the Interior Cingulated Cortex. Patients in frmi machines can pretty quickly learn neurofeedback techniques to control pain. The machines, of course, are expensive. But it seems that ordinary meditation may have a very similar effect on the Interior Cingulated Cortex. So there are available methods for teaching your brain to regulate your brain.

    Finally, Kelly talked about willpower. Decades of studies have convinced most researchers that willpower is a finite resource. If we are using our willpower to resist sugary desserts, we have less to spend on exercising or resisting credit card debt. However, it turns out that the mindset controls the effect of the use of willpower. If we perceive that willpower is limited, it is limited and we don’t have enough to go around. If we perceive that will power is like a muscle, and the more we use it, the more powerful it becomes, then the more we have available.

    Final Advice: Embrace our brain’s bias for avoidance, and move away from avoidance strategies.

    My Coda: I hypothesize that people involved in Transition Towns and solar power and permaculture and ecovillages and such endeavors who are able to look clearly at the challenges, but remain focused on what they can do to ameliorate the situation, in association with others, will be far better off than those who delude themselves, or those who give up because everything is hopeless, or those who try to grab what they can for themselves while the grabbing is good.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I expect that some religious people may also do better, if they do not have their focus on “more stuff” and “looking out for number one”.

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