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. Bill Hulston says:

    Hi folks..and thankyou for all the many comment`s you have all contributed over the years concerning our future! and what maybe the end of our time on mother earth very soon. I understand that we will all one day no longer inhabite this home we call Earth if for no other reason than we have exhausted what is/was available that was once in abundance and is no more. Mass die off/ through hunger/drought and who know`s what other kind of drama–.Reading your many comments concerning personal well being in a future without FF and how you intend to deal with it has opened my own imagination toward`s a future of change in my own life time..(57yo) and how I can possible ensure some kind of a future for my grown up kid`s and grand kids, who realy know`s! not me that`s for sure but who realy know`s-

  2. mikestasse says:

    Reblogged this on Damn the Matrix and commented:
    This is highly relevant to this blog. All DTM followers should read this

  3. Complete idiotic article.

    • Harry says:

      What a very incisive, constructive piece of criticism, Khannea. This blog is all the richer for your intervention.

      • todd cory says:

        reality is very scary for some… actually most… which is why the myriad of distractions available today are so popular

    • Go back playing your videos games little boy. I am sure you will find enlightment and become an expert at killing people in virtual.

      Don’t forget to buy pink pants to match with your yellow hair cut.

  4. Paulo says:

    I wanted to add one small item about growing your own food especially in response to Don’s comment on permaculture and farming. Although we grow many types of vegetables and utilize two decent sized (cold) greenhouses which extends our growing season from 6 months to 9 months, we also plant 1/4 acre of potatos. If times get tough we will always have spuds and they are extremely easy to grow and save. With fish, etc we simply do not have to worry about actually starving. I give lots away and have scads for seed every year so it is a good security backstop. My next plan is to fire up a still after spring and make vodka instead of tossing the excess in the compost or chicken pen.


    • Ellen Anderson says:

      I think you could feed people, dogs and chickens on potatoes. Not ideal food for them but could ward off starvation especially if you mixed them with goats milk and then threw in eggs with shells (for the dogs.) You could also grow a lot of turnips and leave them in the ground with mulch for much of the winter. I believe that peasants in cold climates used to eat a lot of turnips and leeks. Jerusalem artichokes are also easy to grow and they can stay mulched in the ground. Grains are a big luxury and lots of people are allergic to them anyway. Cabbage can be fermented.
      I am much more worried about climate chaos, disease and those pesky old nuclear power plants when the grid goes down.

  5. suttonbooks says:

    We have organized a series of classes at my church on the topic of Medieval Christianity (the last class on Renaissance and Reformation is tonight). One reason for my interest in this subject is that the Dark Ages that followed the Roman Empire may provide lessons for out time. Obviously this is a highly complex topic, but two themes are worth discussion.

    1) The seminal book of the times was Augustine’s City of God written in the second decade of the 5th century A.D. In it Augustine looks at the City of Man (the collapsing Roman Empire) and concludes that all political systems are impermanent and doomed to collapse. The only permanent institution is the City of God. His book defined the Middle Ages intellectually. For the next thousand years the intellectual challenge was to understand the constitution of the City of God. Hence theology was the Queen of the Sciences. Religion provided more than comfort, solace, ceremony and structure — it was also a challenge that occupied the world’s finest minds. When men lost interest in understanding the constitution of the City of God the middle ages came to an end.

    2) Monasticism was profoundly important; it was the glue that held society together — particularly the rule of Benedict (c.480- c.543 A.D.). The three rules of monasticism are poverty, chastity and obedience. But the heart of monasticism in those days was that the monks removed themselves from society. (The irony was that society came to them whether they liked it or not, and so their principles were corrupted).

    If this historical analogy applies to our times then we can anticipate (a) a revival of religion as part of society’s political and academic structures, and (b) the development and growth of monastic orders.

    • nope—the fundamental idiocies of the middle ages came to an end with the enlightenment, when Galileo, for instance, risked his life by pointing out to godbothering nutcases (who happened to have a lot of political power at the time) that the earth went round the sun. After that numerous scientists became aware of scientific facts that nothing to do with any god. They also perfected the steam engine, which drove society to its present modern state. Though it took the Vatican 400 years to acknowledge they were wrong. So much for the worlds finest minds.
      Now—fast forward to today.
      According to a recent survey, 1 in 4 Americans believe that the sun rotates around the earth, and this in the supposedly most advanced nation on earth! The chinese and the Russians have collapsed laughing.
      Revitalised godbothering has led to a rejection of the most basic science, where 50% now believe that the earth is under 10000 years old.. Why? because a medieval bishop said so.
      We neednt go into the religious beliefs of the wacko who nearly got into the white house last time. We should be worrying about who will be up for the job in 2016. Watching the antics of Korean Kim won’t seem so weird then

      • xabier says:


        And scientific rationalism has got us where, exactly? Hitler’s medical experimenters were not ‘god botherers’…..

        Why throw insults around, it helps no-one.

        Man’s brain is a rather defective mechanism, whatever the belief system.

        • T. G. Neason says:

          I recently posted the following on another site and believe that it is appropriate here as well.

          I have spent the last twenty five years trying to prepare my family and rural community to cope with the traumatic changes that are even now are occurring due to diminishing natural resources, over population and excessive debt. I believe that I have had significant success in this endeavor. Previously, I directed friends and neighbors to TOD for education in these matters. Now I direct them to this and other similar sites. It seems to me that the more people we get on board , the better it will be for all of us.

          I also appreciate the comments on this site because I gain new information and, believe it or not, I frequently recognize flaws in my own thinking. I do have one criticism of some comments. From my perspective, unnecessary ridicule of the views of various groups of people (politicians, political parties, climate change skeptics, Christian fundamentalist, etc.) is destructive. I refer any body who will listen to this site regardless of their personal beliefs. When they follow my recommendation and are greeted with ridicule, they do not stay to get properly educated and in my opinion we all lose.

          • While everyone is entitled to a personal belief system and opinion on anything, that entitlement ceases when they inflict it on others.
            This is why religious fundamentalists deserve ridicule, by insisting that their nonsense is spread into schools (the endless stupidity of the Texas school book saga is a perfect case in point) are we really expected to allow that nonsense to go on, countered only by attempts at reason? Reasoned discussion will get you nowhere, hopefully laughter might…were it not for millions of kids fed their hogwash , (hence the 50% belief in young earth creation) Similiarly climate change deniers, again and again we see deniers given equal discussion time with scientists, as if their point of view was based on sound reasoning and despite being outnumbered almost 100:1 and surrounded by the physical reality of it.
            As to people having their opinions altered, there’s a perfect answer to that, from Jonathan Swift: It is not possible to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.
            So while people might be pointed here to learn about what’s happening all around us, they leave, not because of ridicule, but because opinions on here do not dovetail in with their fixed beliefs.
            This is why newspapers tend to run a fixed line on such matters, they know their readers don’y want to read views that conflict with their own

        • erm—the belt buckle of the SS carried the word,,,Gott mit uns.
          Science will invariably find the sidetracks of perversion. The man who invented poison gas in WW1 was asked by his wife to stop it—he wouldn’t so she shot herself
          I fail to see how facts can become insults. Re reading my post—I can’t find anything that isn’t factual

          • edpell says:

            End of More let’s not discount the whole reformation. It is not as simple as you say.

          • xabier says:


            ‘God-botherer’ is an insult, it is derisory. It might be a ‘god-botherer’ who knows how to save your life one day because they have medical training: would you then call him or her that to their face? You make so many good contributions, why indulge in this hang up?

            The most pious Muslim doctor I ever met used to say that it was only the firm belief that it was God’s will that he heal people that enabled him to treat people who in every way he found truly repulsive (grossly overweight, ignorant and demanding English working class). I thought that was both honest and admirable (and funny).

            I suggest TG is right, sectarianism has to be left at the door along with other weapons, so we can all talk.

    • sponia says:

      “A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer Walter M. Miller, Jr., first published in 1960. Based on three short stories Miller contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, it is the only novel published by the author during his lifetime. Considered one of the classics of science fiction, it has never been out of print and has seen over 25 reprints and editions. Appealing to mainstream and genre critics and readers alike, it won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

      Set in a Roman Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the story spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man’s scientific knowledge until the day the outside world is again ready for it.” – A Canticle for Liebowitz

      One of my personal favorites; sounds just like what you’re describing, too.

      • InAlaska says:

        An in the end, the sacred knowledge being preserved was Leibowitz’s grocery/deli shopping list!

        • xabier says:

          In Alaska

          That is very droll.

          It’s like the old Persian story of the man whose only mule dies: he buries it and prays by the grave, weeping.

          People see this and think: ‘Must be a great Saint who died, and this is his disciple! Allah has blessed us!’

          So they build a tomb, then a mausoleum around it, and finally a great mosque and madrasa.

          St Mule.

          No more irrational than the belief in perpetual growth, of course.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        One of my all-time favorites also. And since lent is just around the corner, we might want to stock up on snacks other than lizards.

    • edpell says:

      Suttonbooks, have you come across any information on the use of, or forbidding of usury in the middle ages?

      • suttonbooks says:

        One of the fascinating features of the later Middle Ages is the number of conundrums that they struggled with. One of them we have already alluded to: the fact that the holiness of the monks made their prayers “more valuable”. So people paid monks to pray for their souls. Next thing you know the church is selling indulgences and Martin Luther is hammering ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg.

        The issue of usury is another conundrum. From what I have read at other posts a feature of Dark Age/Collapse societies is that they do not allow “money to make money”. But, as the economies of the west started to grow in the 12th century the businessmen needed to be able to issue and receive letters of credit. Since it was felt that Jews were already condemned in God’s eyes they took on that role.

        But, in the end, the system broke down and the Florentine and Venetian bankers became prosperous through the use of credit and trade with the Orient. (Look at a typical Renaissance picture such as van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait. — it is crammed with material possessions, almost like their version of a Sears Roebuck catalog.) And, once you have developed vigorous commerce, you need to develop double entry bookkeeping, which the Florentines did in the late 15th century.

        But, during the Dark Ages, money was a rare commodity — even for the powerful. The “currency” was land for the rich, and commodities for everyone else. Usury was forbidden — but so what? But as soon as there is a need for credit the usury laws seem to drift away.

        Regarding discussions of religion in general, it is important to distinguish between what we would like to happen and what we think may happen. My hunch is that religion will expand in coming years, not just at the personal level, but also at the highest levels of power. In the broadest sense of the word it will become orthodox.

        • xabier says:

          And the merchants wrote at the top of their ledgers: ‘For God and Profit’!

          I expect magical thinking to expand rapidly, too.

          The gipsy wife of one of my cousins is making up for loss of income through Tarot reading: nervous people are flocking to her. It keeps their children fed.

      • suttonbooks says:

        One more comment regarding usury: the term covered not just financial loans but commercial trading activities. For example, a store could not just resell products — it had to add value. So a store that simply buys products from a wholesaler and sells them at a higher price to individuals is usurious.

        • Chris R says:

          A good point though surely by definition a store adds value by providing an outlet for its good’s. It has to acquire them, which may well involve sending forth buyers, with wagons and guards if times were not peaceable. Goods for sale are at risk of deterioration, falling out of fashion, theft, breakage, etc. The store owner must also maintain a continuous supply of goods if the store is to reliably attract customers. So a store must charge more for its goods then it acquired them at just to cover the above. Obviously if it then doubled the costs it would be moving into usurious territory but it is probably hard for the customers to judge unless the store next door sells at half price.

          • Usery may hinge upon the difference between “storing” goods (the root word for Store) and brokering goods. Brokering implies a lack of access to resources or information exists. Usery exploits this lack, though such lack may be systemic. Structures that separate resources from consumers may provide important process and flow restrictions that maintain the system. Thus, not only is brokerage a potential inefficiency, it may short circuit pathways that are better left alone. This all goes to the importance of management and regulation of resources above pure economic considerations.

        • I didn’t realize that. Offering goods for sale in one’s hometown would seem to be a reasonable service to charge extra for.

    • xabier says:


      The role of the Church in preserving societies and civilization (after wrecking some of it at the end of the Roman Empire) is well worth reflecting on. Particularly in restraining or diverting the activities of the warriors. Imperfect, but valuable none the less.

      In the 14th century, the Arab father of sociology and Sufi Ibn Khaldun identified ‘group feeling’ as the vital factor in societal survival. He is available in translation and makes good reading. Barbarians had, he noted, more group feeling than soft and decadent urban dwellers……

      Group feeling is the essence of monasticism.

      • suttonbooks says:

        As to whether the church wrecked part of the Roman Empire — it’s what Gibbon thought in the 18th century in his classic “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Another point of view is that the Empire was in chronic decline and that the church established organization and system. The early mediaeval church was not just a spiritual resource, but also a practical necessity. For example, during the dark ages the only people who could write were monks and some other clerics. Therefore, if I wanted to sell a piece of land to you we both had to visit the monastery to have a contract drawn up. This is one reason I foresee a possibility that the church will become universal and orthodox.

        Thank you for the Khaldun reference. I will try to locate it. Indeed, the monks had ‘group feeling’. But that feeling was not just ‘feel good’; they were under strict but sensible discipline. For example, many of the orders required near total silence. (But there’s another mediaeval conundrum — they developed a sophisticated sign language, thus defeating the spirit of the rule.)

        • Chris Johnson says:

          How did primogeniture affect the monastic movement, especially in the early middle ages? The children of serf families had little say-so on their lives, but those who may have enjoyed some relative freedom would certainly be deterred by inheritance rules that strongly favored the eldest born male. Military service to the local authority could also play a role, no?

        • xabier says:


          I agree with you. The Church provided just the kind of organization that the times required: Gibbon was hardly impartial.

          I heartily recommend Ibn Khaldun, a great and very clear thinker on early societies and human behaviour in general. Curiously, he identified excessive piety and religious fanaticism as the cause of Islam’s political decline: only religious study was permitted and the sciences abandoned – this happened later in Catholic Spain in the 16th century.

          It is rather tragic that most of the great thinkers and historians of Islam are not widely available, although French scholars in particular did produce lots of good translations.

      • Lizzy says:

        Xabier, Did you see the BBC series The Tudor Farm? The monasteries played a significant role in inventions and scientific development. An example shown was the invention of clocks. They also ran the grammar schools, educating the sons of landowners.

        • xabier says:


          Yes, excellent series! Unfortunately, too many people associate the medieval Church with burning people at stakes and not much more. I think the film ‘The Name of the Rose’ did a lot of damage: who’d want to be in that monastery?!

          The interesting thing is the way in which the medieval Church picked out clever poor children (including peasants and sons of tradesmen) and made them, in some cases, bishops and abbots. They actively looked for the brightest. One peasant boy made Pope.

    • I think you are right–religion may have a bigger role going forward. The mix of religions may change, however. If people are trying to make the soil yield more, there may be more religions with ceremonies asking for good rainfall, and celebrating good harvest.

      I know Jared Diamond remarks that virtually every early society had a religion. He quotes someone as saying that religion is such a good idea that even if its belief’s weren’t true, someone would have to come up with it. They are particularly helpful in time of stress.

  6. DaShui says:

    I saw on a peak oil documentary this guy, ex congressman Roscoe Bartlett,
    Does he know something we don’t?

  7. Gail, would you care to expand on “Other countries may not see the full effects for perhaps ten or twenty years”? Is it possible for many countries in this interconnected world to go under, without having an impact on other countries? Are there critical countries or groups of countries that would drag down many others?

    Slight misrepresentation: Life expectancies at birth may have been less than 35 years but that doesn’t mean old age was rare. Nor does it say anything about the health of that life.

    Regarding permaculture, I don’t think you’ve quite understood permaculture if you think it is temporary. It doesn’t need organic fruit sprays, nor complex irrigation systems. Few tools, if any, are needed for food forests, for example, though tools help establish them. However, for “organic” farming, you’re probably quite right.

    ‘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.”’ Really? Of course, giving up on religions doesn’t automatically lead to the “wisdom” you cite. In fact, I’m not sure why anyone following such wisdom would read your bloag at all. “Do no harm” is a pagan version of the golden rule but probably sums it up as well as any. It’s common sense to do no harm but religions haven’t always stuck to that in the past, and in a more chaotic future, I’m not sure they will stick to it in that future.

    “Thus, the concern that future fossil fuel use will cause rapid climate change is over-blown.” I’m not sure why you began that sentence with “thus”. This is just an opinion, not a sceince based hypothesis. In fact, rapid climate change is possible even if all fossil fuel use stopped now. Look at the speed of Arctic sea ice loss and of ocean acidification for examples. But fossil fuel use will continue for some time (maybe even for 10 or twenty years if there are countries which don’t feel the effects of limits for that time).

    Get rid of useless pets? So companionship is useless? This is actually an impossible piece of advice for just about anyone who actually has pets. However, for those who do want to keep pets, consider how they will be fed, treated for fleas, etc.

    • Peter S says:

      When she said some countries may not go under for 10 years, I don’t think she meant they will have no effects. She probably (but it’s for her to say of course) meant that they may have a long, slow, slope downwards, with increasingly less and less use of fossil fuels. They “may not go under” means that there won’t be total anarchy and breakdown of the social/economic system.

      But fossil fuel use will decrease, because there is no choice: we can’t afford to extract any faster, and when economies downsize then eventually collapse, there will be less demand. Less oil use, but perhaps not going under for a while yet in parts of the world.

      This isn’t a hollywood film where collapse has to happen over 3 days, or with explosions to let you know you’ve reached the point of no return. Whatever is going to happen will take a long long time, and will be different in many places.

      • Harry says:

        And of course countries like Egypt are already in the early stages of collapse as their net energy crisis bites. Ukraine, Thailand, Argentina and many others are starting to teeter.

        As I have stated here before, my own belief is that the financial system is the weakest link in the chain. There is nothing to prevent the events of 2007/2008 from playing out all over again, except this time the central banks are not in a position to effect a rescue plan.

        The derivatives market is well in excess of 10x global GDP; banks are still ridiculously undercapitalised/overleveraged. What will happen if the event of another bank failure or stock market crash? Nicole Foss likens the scenario to a game of musical chairs where there are many more claims to wealth than there is real underlying wealth. I can only imagine that complete pandemonium would ensue and trade, both local and international, would seize up almost overnight. How it goes from there is anyone’s guess.

        • robdelaet says:

          Add Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Philippines, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Niger,, Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, Nigeria, just to mention the most important ones that are in several stages of collapse, we are talking more than 10% of the world population. Overpopulation, resource depletion, war over resources, overgrazing, deforestation, water scarcity all have multiplied the stress on the local population and they are on a downward spiral, no matter what the latest GDP figures tell you.

          • Don says:

            Some of the listed countries never developed their energy resources to the extent that the US did. They have always been “close to collapse” because they never left this stage behind them to begin with.

            For a nation to prosper it needs, in this order:
            1) high-IQ population;
            2) cheap resources*, esp. energy;
            3) political stability** and fair laws/rule of law;

            * resources can be imported if the country lacks them, e.g. Japan.
            ** although preferable, democracy is not fundamental to political stability, e.g. China.

            1, 2 and 3 together give the population economic stability and well-being.
            2 and 3 can mask the inefficiencies of 1 if the ruling elite and its lackeys are intelligent enough, but the masking cannot go on forever. As cracks begin to appear, so do crackdowns on non-elites complaining about the cracks. The good government must legislate toward 1 becoming a larger, not smaller, share of the population. It is immoral for the elite to stuff undesirables among the non-elite, especially if the elite and non-elite traditionally share cultural and biological commonalities.

            America’s 1 is decreasing very fast and 2 are declining as well. Signs of deterioration or debasement of the nation are becoming apparent for many, especially among the middle class. The solution for those in power is more fuel to the fire: more undesirable people and more resource depletion. I fear the democratic form of government is losing its allure and people are losing the confidence in it, therefore we can expect democracy to come under attack, moreso if people feel the government is not respecting the Constitution or the wishes of the majority. A decrease in living standards adds to undermine people’s confidence in the existing institutions.

            • robdelaet says:

              Hi Don, it´s true what you are saying about the level of energy resource development in these countries, However, the collapse is happening for a multitude of reasons that in the end are all linked to growing population based on world wide use of fossil fuel. Regions like Pakistan or Mali have had their troubles, but these were not destabilizing, mainly tribal conflicts (quite often over resources). A farmer´s family, even a generation back, would have a simple life, but there was food on the table and they had their regular feasts (religious, weddings, etc). But now they are in a much more desperate situation because the number of people has gone up, while the area for live stock and agriculture is deteriorating quickly, due to overgrazing, deforestation, soil depletion, aquifer depletion and destruction by extreme weather events like floods, flashfloods and of course droughts. A city like Quetta with an infrastructure for say 100k people, now holds 3 million, including a million refugees from Afghanistan and a lot of drought refugees from surrounding country side. Water has become so scarce that the truck fleet trucking water around has been completely monopolized by a local mafia and people have to wait for hours to get a bucket of water. Wells are now dug at depts of hundreds of meters. Like Sanaa, a city like that might have to be abandoned with in Pakistan more pressure building on the other big cities, principally Karachi, which as become lawless in many ways. Pakistan and Yemen were never stable states, but are disintegrating into tribal warlord lands, which will not stabilized because there is not enough to go around anymore. Part of the urbanisation in places like Kenya, Cairo, Karachi, Delhi or Damascus is a consequence of people not earning enough from their deteriorated lands. Meanwhile in the cities the electric grids do not cope with a combination of extreme water fluctuation in the rivers, heatwaves, overpopulation. Therefore industries buy generators to keep their businesses running on diesel of which there are shortages, black markets and high prices, etc, etc. All these elements are connected and are part of the collapse.

            • What you describe does not sound at all sustainable. It sounds like the beginnings of collapse.

            • Let’s stay away from the high-IQ argument. Humans are too smart for our own good. Higher intelligence can make the situation worse.

              Political stability is enabled by surpluses that come from the use of cheap energy supplies.

              I think cheap energy is what is pretty much behind prosperity, period.

          • The list is getting pretty long. Not good!

        • Paul says:

          560,000 extra births in 2012, compared with 2010, in country already struggling with depleted resources and too few jobs

          Adding some gasoline to the raging inferno

          • I hadn’t seen this before. Interesting!

            Contraception is expensive. When the government is poor and fighting other causes, contraception drops down on its list of priorities.

      • Oh, yes, I expect a long slow decline (unless climate change alters that picture) but it’s hard to see some countries managing to eek things out on a slow decline if many other countries are feeling rapid decline. I think William R Catton makes this point in his book, Bottleneck.

        • The situation has to be temporary. Right now we have Syria and Egypt doing badly, but that doesn’t necessarily pull down the rest of the world. It will be harder to keep everything together, as larger countries get pulled into collapse scenarios.

      • Right! For a while, it may be that energy efficiency is a worthwhile strategy, if things are still going along pretty well. Some countries will break down more quickly than others. It is hard to know exactly how things will play out.

      • Sylvia says:

        My problem with the “less demand” and “decrease of fossil fuel use” is that this appears to be the beginning of the problem. The less oil we use the more we will have to pay per unit to keep it flowing and economically feasible to extract. And this starts the whole spiral. Somehow we are doomed to avoid decreasing the consumption too much too fast….or am I missing something?

    • To clarify one of the things you talk about, regarding climate change, look closely at what I said. I talked about the concern about future fossil fuel use. I didn’t say anything at all about what past fossil fuel use has done.

      In fact, I would argue that humans have been changing climate since the days of hunter gatherers (by killing off big animals and burning down forests). I have no idea what we can do about it humans’ propensity to change climate though. Like other animals, we make use of energy sources that are available, even to the detriment of the rest of the system.

      • I realise that, Gail, but any future fossil fuel use will now exacerbate the situation, so I don’t think the concern is overblown at all. It may be a slow or quick oil descent (with other fossil fuels following later). If some countries can maintain some semblance of modern society for 20-30 years, as you claim, there will still be more GHGs emitted, which adds to the concern. There is no certainty that financial limits or other resource limits will be the spur for collapse but if CO2e emissions continue on its current path, it is certain that catastrophic climate change will follow. We may not be able to do anything about it now but some may be able to manage that transition better than others if they are aware of the potential shifts. I’d say we can’t do much, if anything, about the other limits either.

        • robdelaet says:

          Agree with you entirely, climate change situation is very dire even if all GHG were stopped yesterday. Lock in of extreme weather, droughts, floods, coastal damage, crop failures etc is, in and by itself enough to cause a collapse as big as the fossil fuel peak question. The extreme weather at 0.9 degrees Celsius right now is already impacting in a big way (Syria, Philippines, Brazil, UK, US, Russia, etc) and we are heading for 2-3.5 without any addition of GHG. It somehow is the only point where I think Gail is underestimating the complexity of the collapse despite the doom picture that emerges from the stated analyses. Makes the picture worse unfortunately.

        • I really don’t see how we can have a downslope faster than collapse gives, regardless of what we do. I don’t know that countries will really have a semblance of modernity for 20-30 years–it is just that perhaps some things will continue to operate. I don’t know this for sure, but our built infrastructure doesn’t all break as once.

          You may not think that there is certainty that financial limits or other resource limits will spur collapse, but we know that growth cannot continue indefinitely in a finite world. The signs we are seeing now are precisely the ones we would expect in advance of collapse.

          • robdelaet says:

            Agree completely, only saying that situation will even get worse because of increased extreme weather, possibly abrupt climate change which is already locked in with the current level of GHG. I presume too that the collapse of the financial system will be the first step, which will break down supply chain and therefore large scale agriculture, meaning famine and chaos. As icing on the cake, those who somehow get self sufficient have to deal with more extreme weather events impacting food supply. Not a pretty picture, but then again it is Monday morning ;-)

  8. John Polain says:

    G’Day all,
    Some of you might be interested in Alan Savory’s Holistic Management. See TED talk below

    and you might also be interested in his web site.‎
    I am a farmer and teacher, and many have found Savory’s ideas enormously helpful. If you think eating less beef is useful to the environment, please consider that the environmental effects of the management method is the key. There were many more animals before factory farming and most of the carbon was in the soil. Anyhow, watch the video and read the book. Cheers,John

    • Very interesting. Thank you! My objection is to the industrially farmed meat that we have in the US. I expect that the people who are trying to live sustainably on a small plot of land with a couple of goats and a cow or two are damaging the land as well. As Savory mentions, it is necessary to mimic nature with large herds, moving. I don’t know whether that will be possible without fossil fuels. If they have been able to do in Africa and other less-developed countries, I would suspect it is possible, perhaps riding on animals to move herds from place to place. In this country, where all of the land is owned by someone, it seems like it would be harder to do.

      I also know that up North, where crops don’t grow well, animals may be virtually the only source of food. In such places, meat may need to be a big percentage of food–if it is integrated with nature, in the way nature intends.

      • robdelaet says:

        Dear Gail (thank you for your great insights) and others. I would like to nuance the Allan Savery solution to use large herds of herbivores to sequestrate carbon and restore rain patterns etc a bit. I do believe in the idea if we really give back those terrains to the animals, including their top predators and do not try to harvest (a major part of) the meat. Enclosed a very critical article about the Savory idea, which, I guess, comes to the same conclusion,
        have a nice day, wherever you are, from Bahia, Brazil.

        • John Polain says:

          Hi Rob,
          Plenty of critical articles about. Savory like many loners is somewhat direct in his views. I have been involved with farmers for many years now and I have seen so many restoring farms as a result of HM. The strongest image in my head from these years is the depth of topsoil (carbon) right next to neighbors fencelines. On one side black soil and root structures extending three and four times the depth of conventional set stockers 10 feet away. Also diverse perrenials as apposed to bare soil, annuals, and colonisers. So I know there is much professional jealousy and competition out there, but I’ve seen many years of wonderful low input results. Cheers,

          • robdelaet says:

            Thanks John, good to hear. It is, like with biochar in experimental phase and I guess some work, some don’t. If you have any examples, hope you can send them.

        • Thanks! Anything that sounds too good to be true, probably is.

      • John Polain says:

        G’Day Gail,
        We have found the issue is not so much the size of the herd, but the time they spend on a particular piece of ground. There are only two ways to overgraze land, 1 is keeping animals there too long, the other is returning them too soon. With portable electric fencing small mobs can be moved every few days with ease on foot. Cattle are very easy to train with low stress techniques. In africa of course they have herders who keep the stock in place.

        Of course if the system totally collapses, and we can’t maintain electric fencing equipment we will have to innovative and develop a new way.

        I love Savory’s low input regenerative thinking. It may be a big part of how we can survive in a low energy world. Ruminants are the perfect creature for a low energy world. They ferment extremely low qualith cellulose and then digest the bodies of the microbes using the protein for their own growth. Using them to create protein for us from low grade natural grassland, and through holistic management actually enhanse the perennial grassland is close to magic.

        Thanks again Gail for your articles.

        • Paul says:

          Nice idea assuming we continue with our current system – but when 7.2 billion people are starving this is not going to happen.

          I can imagine rifles being slung — and entire herds poached and consumed very quickly.

          Perhaps this might be something that will work after the multi-billion person die-off

  9. Interguru says:

    I hate to be a wet blanket, but it seems that almost everyone is ignoring the breakdown of society. Your nice organic farm will not do much good after a truckload of bandits with AK-47s raid you and strip all the food and equipment ( hopefully leaving you alive ). My advice is to become part of a large group that can defend itself.

    • I kind of hinted at that problem.

      • Don’t be so certain of a Mad Max scenario. Movies aren’t necessarily good indicators of what will come.

        • jbsties says:

          “Movies aren’t necessarily good indicators…”

          True, but look at what’s happening right now in Ukraine, Thailand, Egypt, and Venezuela.

        • Paul says:

          Mad Max will be what comes AFTER the initial mayhem.

          Mad Max will be the new normal – it will be what an organized society looks like after billions perish and pulverize each other

          Mad Max is a BEST CASE scenario.

          When you have billions of starving people does anyone think that cannibalism will not become a popular past time?

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  12. p01 says:

    Insightful as usual, except for the deeply ingrained (pun) obesity dogma. Repeat after me, Gail: it’s a storage, not a flow problem :-)
    It’s the plants that cause it by denying us access to the energy in the seeds via biochemical defences. It really is that simple. You get so many things right, why is this one so hard to grasp?
    No huge portions and lack of exercise here:
    And the last time I heard about Egyptians (or all of MENA for that matter) gorging on saturated fat, as the flow dogma goes, was…ummm…never?

    Anyway, it does not matter much at this point, considering the enormity of the imminent catastrophe, but at least in the final hour we should be able to articulate what has caused all this catastrophe, starting 10,000 years ago: Seeds as food.

    Good luck to us all.

  13. Hotel California says:

    The world has enough oil to keep automobile personal transportation going strong in the USA until 2030. After that, gas prices will skyrocket and most of us will slowly go back to riding bikes & horses, riding the train for long journeys, and you will see some decent solar powered vehicles for short trips (50 miles or less). The best way to prepare is to move to a state that has a mild winter but also gets a good amount of rain. Keeping your house warm in the winter will soon (after 2025) become quite expensive.
    As far as climate change, I really get a laugh at the unintelligent comments. Our “carbon footprint” is miniscule compared to volcanoes, etc. If our fossil fuel usage is doing anything, it is preventing us from going into the next ice age, which in fact we are 100-200 years overdue for. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH ON HISTORICAL CLIMATE CHANGES. We are following the same cyclical weather patterns of ice age > slow warming> long warm period> back to ice age that have existed for 8+ Million years. Alaska had their longest frost season last year and our country is undergoing record cold and snow storms right now. The Ice man cometh.
    We should really be focused on banning the chemical pollutants that are poisoning our fish and plants and stop with the silly “climate change” nonsense. Every time we mention “climate change”, Al Gore makes another dollar.

    • InAlaska says:

      Please do your own “research on historical climate change,” as I have just lived through Alaska’s warmest summer on record, the very same year that we had the longest frost season. Climate chaos is here whether its warming, cooling or both simultaneously. It is human caused and severe. Please stop denying this. The vast bulk of scientific consensus has come in on this topic. This type of misinformation is an obstacle to informed debate.

      • garand555 says:

        Politics has entered into this. Unless you know some of the people who actually do the research, or at least avidly read the scientific journals and understand the math and the science, it is going to be tough to wade through the political BS.

        That being said, CO2 does absorb certain spectrums of the IR band and re-emit them. In random directions. If you understand black body radiation, you will understand why this means that rising CO2 levels will trap more and more energy in the atmosphere and oceans. I am skeptical that we can really predict the consequences of retaining more of the energy that makes it to the surface of the planet at this point. The earth is just too complex. I am not skeptical that this will have lasting effects on the planet, because calories get things done.

    • hate to point this out (again) but for 7.9 of those 8 million years there were no human beings. Climate changes were long slow and didn’t matter much, species evolved to deal with them.
      For that last 100000 years there were no settled inhabitants over 90% of that time period. Again, cold and warm periods didnt matter, Earth’s inhabitants were just too sparse.
      Only in the last few centuries have people grown in numbers to create vast cities that exist through artificial means, In cold areas they need constant heat, in hot areas constant cooling.. Faced with rapid climate change, they will become unsustainable.
      It’s not climate change per se that’s the problem, it’s the speed at which it is happening.
      A million years ago we didn’t have an infrastructure

      • xabier says:

        From personal experience when very poor I know that lack of energy for room-heating can be very adequately compensated for by thermal clothing (which is indeed how people lived in colder climates before fossil fuels provided central heating -‘Put another jumper on!’ ), A nice drink helps too…..

        But that a modern sealed glass building is simply impossible to live in when the air-conditioning goes off and it is a hot day (a nightmarish experience of this once in London).

        Goodbye, brave new cities of the Gulf states!

    • Danny says:

      Hotel I wish you were right about energy etc…but I don’t think you are…your predictions and postulations seem like back of envelope calculating. So we don’t have to worry about anything for 10 years?

    • I think you miss the financial aspects of our problems that are coming much sooner than 2025 or 2030. Read my post A forecast of our energy future: why common solutions don’t work. I would agree with moving to a state that has mild winters and plenty of rain–except that we won’t all fit there.

      • InAlaska says:

        This is tru and if only we could know which states will be the most forgiving in which to live. Bill McKibben has argued that climate geography is changing so fast now that a state with mild winters and plenty of rain one year can be a drought stricken, flooded or snowbound state the next year. The earth that we evolved on is not the same one we are now living in. This is the fundamental problem with our converging catastrophes. As Chris Martenson has pointed out, changes in the Three E’s: Energy, Economy and Environment our now inextricably linked together. These three variables are interrelated in ways that we cannot yet fathom. With a devastated economy and less energy availability, just when we will need a predictable and forgiving earthly habitat for farming the most, we won’t have it.

        • I would argue that our belief in constant climate has been too strong in the past. If we look back, climate hasn’t been very constant. As long as we were hunter-gatherers it didn’t matter too much. When people started “owning” land and making large investments, it suddenly did make a difference. I am doubtful that there is anything we could do to get to a “level climate”.

      • Everybody demanding asylum in Cuba?

        • Cuba supposedly imports 80% of its food. Won’t work.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail
            We know that, in terms of calories, at least Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico are heavily dependent on imports…

            ‘Puerto Rico imports 85 percent of the food its residents consume’

            A Carribean Island doesn’t sound like a very good place to be in a crisis.

            Don Stewart

    • Paul says:

      $100 oil is already very expensive no?

      It is already causing economic collapse no?

  14. GreenHick says:

    Thanks for this, as always. A sage overview. A quibble with the somewhat cavalier treatment of runaway climate disruption. I concede that one of a number of plausible scenarios–a cascading energy / credit supply collapse–is likely to curtail fossil fuel use more sharply than we are likely to to achieve voluntarily. But voluntary and forced fossil-fuel curtailments are not mutually exclusive outcomes, and in any number of other scenarios we might see synergies between climate- and energy-conscious choices. This just seems to lend itself to another set of false binaries. Your thinking on renewables seems inflected with a similar forced-choice paradigm–if renewables aren’t THE solution, they have little value.

    • Hotel California says:

      The only realistic useful renewables are solar and wind.

    • There are two kinds of renewables:

      (1) Renewables that are made with renewable materials, like wooden wind mills and water wheels.
      (2) So called renewables, that are made with fossil fuels. To me, they are more like batteries that degrade over time. The only “renewable” part about them is that a renewable energy source must be used to activate the temporary battery. These are high priced. In some cases, an individual homeowner may want a panel or two to run devices. Batteries and inverters both tend to be short-lived, so the panels are best used to run things that can run on direct current–cell phones or computers, for example.

      Solar PV can be temporarily useful, off the grid. Wind turbines that can be made and repaired with local materials are likely useful. Other wind turbines should not be called “renewable” in my view.

      • Joe Clarkson says:

        Aloha Gail,

        I agree that solar and wind are not going to replace fossil fuels, but as someone who has used solar PV for several decades, I think you misunderstand the lifespan of PV related equipment, unless by “temporarily”, you mean several decades.

        I am still using a few round-cell PV modules manufactured by ARCO in the late 70s. Factory warranties for most modules are around 25 years. I expect that the useful life of a PV module approaches 50 years.

        Inverters don’t last nearly as long, but the first inverter (Trace) I used here at my present off-grid residence was placed in service in 1988 and taken out of service (still functional) in 2004. It was replaced by a couple of Outback inverters that have worked continuously ever since. I conservatively estimate that the useful life of a household inverter is about 15 years. With a couple of spares on the shelf as replacements, inverter AC power would be available to a homeowner for about 50 years.

        The only battery technology that has a 50 year life is nickel-iron. It may be that the new Aquion battery will last that long, but it is too early to tell. Nickel-iron batteries are expensive, but are probably the way to go for long-lived storage. I am presently using large lead-acid cells. When they end their useful life in the near future (about 10 years in all), I will switch to either nickel-iron or perhaps the Aquion battery if their potential is proven by then. In any case, it is possible to craft-manufacture a lead-acid battery in a small workshop, so they may be around longer than expected.

        I know that solar PV equipment is very expensive and not available to most people, but if one has the money to invest it can provide nearly a lifetime of dependable electricity. I am 65 years old and even though I hope to live for as long as possible, I expect that someone will still be using my present system long after I’m gone.

        • Solar with backups is a solution that may work for a wealthy small percentage of the population, provided big changes don’t intervene that make moving necessary, and provided that the owner plans well enough in advance. But it doesn’t work as an overall solution to society’s problems, long term, or even short-term.

          • Joe Clarkson says:


            But question you asked is “What should our response be?”. Since there are apparently no really effective collective responses, you concentrate on individual ones.

            My family’s response has been to live in an agrarian tropical community and prepare to provide all our food and water from on-site or within walking distance. Our energy now comes from solar, wood, propane and gasoline. When collapse removes the propane and gasoline from the list, we will be left with solar and wood (the last gasoline I ever use will be in the chainsaw; after that it’s the ‘misery whip’ now hanging in the shop). Our neighbors in the surrounding community are in a similar situation and are our best defense against whatever civil disorder there may be. Our individual defenses are as adequate as we want to make them.

            I think our response has been about the best we can do. Rather than being a burden, our preparations are what we would be doing anyway just for the fun of it. For those who can do something similar, I highly recommend it. Don’t wait; now is the time to “get outta Dodge”, get out in the countryside and get planting.

        • Paul says:

          I just bought some Goal Zero solar gear — they informed me that if the batteries are used every day they will last maximum 3 years.

          If used sporadically they will last maximum 15 years.

          Also they tell me a laptop cannot be effectively charged with drip feed from the panels – it must be charged via the battery.

          I see the solar as more of a toy that will let me run an LED light or two — or access some files on my computer for a period — but certainly not something I would count on for very long

  15. Paulo says:

    Well, Gail….I have found your last two essays quite pessimistic, to put it bluntly. I only hope it is wrong as to the severity of our step down. I understand that your belief in a fast collapse is based on our dodgy economic state(s), worldwide, but how it plays out will only be understood in hindsight. To accept such a rapid collapse scenario assumes that people will idly stand by and watch it happen. I don’t believe that the Janet Yellens of the world can do much, but I do believe that individuals are capable of enduring much, and that it is possible to build a life out of problems, and around problems….one step at a time.

    I have thought of you often the last few weeks; every time the Atlanta weather has been mentioned in the news. I have also read that Atlanta is one of the most car dependent cities on the planet. It seems unbelieveably vulnerable and I wonder if your physical location has coloured your conclusions? I am sure that it has. I do agree that there could be some very very rapid disintegration of our complex and interdependent systems, and I fully expect many cities will experience violent and ugly protests with little prodding. Right now people are discouraged and resigned to ‘getting by’, but further rises in food prices or additional lurches in unemployment could very well incite similar riots and protests of the late 60s, imho.

    My concern is that approaching these changes from such a negative state will encourage many folks to disregard your fine work and thoughtful analysis. Your statement, (“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.”), was a breath of fresh air in your essay and I believe it is the most important idea broached. People need to understand that there is much they can and should do to be prepared for a downshift in our lifestyle and opportunities. To assume/accept that one will be a casualty in so many ways will discourage people from taking those first steps to survive and/or prosper.

    My wife and I took many steps, (almost ten years ago now), to simplify our lives and build in resiliency and survivability. Without going into our personal details it has been extremely rewarding and exciting. I think the most important attainment(s) was understanding the difference between needs and wants, getting rid of debt, and learning to live well on less income. It has provided us time to live deliberately. If I could recommend one important step for your readers it would be to get rid of all debt and live within your means. Everything else will eventually fall into place from that mindset. For example, if you cannot ‘get by’ in an expensive city on what you earn, then take steps to move and build a new life. With desire and motivation the ways and means unfold. Be courageous and move forward, God knows others are looking for examples and leadership.


    • garand555 says:

      “Right now people are discouraged and resigned to ‘getting by’, but further rises in food prices or additional lurches in unemployment could very well incite similar riots and protests of the late 60s, imho. ”

      If you are talking about riots over food prices, the protests are going to be worse, especially with how our police act. When rumbling bellies meet brute force, the potential for full-throated violence is very high, and the louder the bellies are rumbling, the higher the potential. High food prices were a big part of the Arab Spring.

    • jphsd says:

      I don’t think it’s a case of people idly standing by. The forces set in motion can no more be stopped than the tide coming in can.

    • Paul says:

      Re: debt — I wonder if those who do not have the financial means to prepare themselves for the imminent crash should be piling on debt?

      Does it make sense to finance a small farm and all the gear required to operate it?

      I may be wrong but I wonder what will happen to debt when the SHTF – if billions die and the rest are living in a state of near starvation — is anyone going to bother to try to enforce any contracts? Will anyone even be able to find the contracts when the world is in total chaos?

      My inclination is to say to hell with it – leverage the system that we have on the basis that you will not be paying anything back down the road

      • garand555 says:

        If people are starving to death, I imagine it would be tough to find somebody to enforce an eviction. However, I would urge you to not do what you’re talking about unless you have a really good idea of when SHTF. If you time it wrong, you lose.

      • I am hesitant to say, “Go pay off debt,” for precisely the reason you outline. I really don’t know how the current situation will play out. Homeowners with mortgages can’t all be thrown out of their homes, because they can’t pay off the loans. At the same time, there is a lot of historical precedent for new governments coming in and redistributing land holdings in different ways.

        If the situation changes, we may very well have to move. In that case, all of the preparations we did in one area may be for naught. But at the same time, we will likely need to be part of a group to survive. Do we reform family clans, and those family clans move together? A cab driver I talked to a while back claimed that in the past in Asia, family clans often moved together in times of adversity.

        • Sylvia says:

          Perhaps in the first phase of a downturn it is not good to have debt. We saw what happens….banks do enforce, start foreclosing and evict. In essence it is maybe better not to have debt in a deflationary and deleveraging environment because the probability to be able to serve the loan is getting lower, no job, no money. Only if chaos and anarchy develop out of such a downturn also enforcement will cease, I’d thin this will take a little while. Our system is so large, there is a lot of inertia built in.

  16. Don says:

    Thanks for a good article. However could you please explain why you said, “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.”

    I live in Australia and use permaculture principals, that require as large a variety of species as possible to ensure a reasonable harvest of some regardless of weather. As much food as possible is produced by long lived trees. Vegetable production is within gardens that have raised concrete edges to allow drainage and prevent most weed problems. They are fertilized with sheep manure and compost. Pests are managed by organic methods. Hand tools suffice in this set up and we have a supply of these that should last a couple of generations. The sheep keep the grass short surrounding our house to reduce bushfires problems as well as providing our meat and wool. Chickens provide eggs and reduce insect numbers. With this set up our family should have a couple of generations to transition to what may eventuate.

    • T. G. Neason says:

      Prepping, stock piling, hoarding are terms that I frequently see used by those who share my view of the future. As I read their comments and advice, I some times see what I consider to be a fallacy in their thinking. That fallacy is striving to maintain the current lifestyle (off electric grid systems, electric vehicles, huge quantities of supplies such as food medicine, etc). I have no problem with any of these things but eventually inverters fail, stored supplies are exhausted, and electric cars will eventually wear out.

      It seems to me that the mind set should be planning for the period after stored supplies run out and modern equipment fails. For example, extensive hands on experience in saving seed and budding/grafting fruit trees. It only takes one night for a deer to girdle that five year old fruit tree and the local nursery no longer exist. Draft animal breeding and care for use after the tractor and hay baler can no longer be repaired or you can no longer purchase hay baling twine/wire. We can learn and should be learning now from the Amish farmers . People who live in areas where there is adequate rainfall should now be planning on a water supply after the stored water is gone. In a previous post I mentioned brick lined underground cisterns for storing water. Eventually, you may have to fire your own bricks and use wooden gutters but access to water on the back porch is far superior to the creek half a mile down the hill. These are just a couple of examples of an endless list that every serious prepper should be considering.

      This is another dimension where cooperative relationships pay off. A small community can develop a wide range of essential skills for long term production. My family’s skills are augmented by a neighbor that raises sheep and a group of women who spin and weave. Others make soap and cheese. Today they purchase supplies but all of the supplies needed can be produced in the community.

      In my opinion, all planning should begin with the question ‘What can we do with local resources?’. The availability of outside resources will be ‘icing on the cake’.

      • garand555 says:

        “In my opinion, all planning should begin with the question ‘What can we do with local resources?’.”

        I think that is the essence of what most preppers are missing. I know that in most (i.e. not nuclear war) TEOTWAWKI situations, there is enough wild game behind my house to sustain my entire neighborhood for a couple of seasons without fully depleting the supplies. I know that I’m not going to be able to just go down to the nursery and get a packet of Cosmic Purple carrot seeds. I *might* be able to go down to the nursery that grows its own seed plants and specializes in localized cultivars. I know that the soil must be tended with whatever I can get locally. I also know that if we are to use the wood in the bosque behind my house, we’ll have to agree to very strict rules about how much can get used, replanting trees and returning the ash to the soil among other things. The funny thing is, if we were smart about it, the Bosque would wind up in better shape than it is now, under the care of the state.

        Here’s another thing to think about if you live in a populated area or near one:

        If SHTF, and people are dying off and you manage to survive, who will be occupying their houses? Not only would there be potentially useful tools and other things in those houses, the houses themselves contain a lot of useful building materials. Gail talks about diminishing returns with mining raw materials. I would argue that in the event of a die off, that becomes much less of an issue, because there are already a lot of refined materials above ground, and with fewer people, that means a lot to go around. While a massive die off is not something to look forward to in any way, shape or form, the survivors would do well to be opportunists.

        • InAlaska says:

          I agree with your sentiment here. We will certainly have a very large “scrap economy” with many hundreds of year’s worth of metal, wood, glass, tools, furniture, etc. etc. that will come in very handy. As awful as it sounds, if there is a massive die off, there may also be millions of human remains laying around that can be returned to the soil.

        • You are right–we have a lot of mined material already available. Dmitry Orlov talks about people making businesses of taking apart old buildings for their useful parts and reselling them.

          There are two things I see as serious problems. One is that if a person wants pure raw materials, so one can make a particular alloy that you need for a high tech device, then a person is pretty much up a creek without a paddle. In fact, I have a hard time seeing how a person makes things like electrical transformers for the grid, computers, Internet servers, and many other things we depend on.

          The other issue is that if we want to melt metal to make something different from its current form, we still have to heat it very hot. That likely takes charcoal. So we may mostly have things that can be used in their current form, or bent a little.

          If fossil fuels are not available, the prospect of taking apart a factory, and shipping it elsewhere to be reassembled really won’t work. I think that is another use Dmitry mentioned for goods that were no longer needed.

      • I agree with you. It is too easy to let temporary resources lull a group into complacency.

      • Joe Clarkson says:

        Aloha T.G.,

        Although I’m one of the “preppers” you refer to, I wholeheartedly agree with most of your comments. However I do think that even though all of the ‘legacy’ equipment I now use to provide typical middle class luxuries (electricity, indoor plumbing, etc.) will not be maintainable in a few decades, its availability will ease the burden of transition somewhat. I have lived without electricity very happily, but if I can easily keep it available, why not? A washing machine is great for saving time that could better be spent in the fields. And my solar powered electric log splitter is great for my 65 year old back, though I could still use a maul if I had to.

        I have a planning horizon of 50 years, long enough that my adult children would be very old by then. I really do think it will not be too hard to keep the power on in my house for that long, even if the whole industrial economy vaporizes tomorrow. I’m also confident that the HDPE piping I use to move pond water around by gravity will also last that long. After that, who knows? If it’s back to hunting, gathering and living in caves, I’m sure that will be fine for the folks alive then. I just don’t see any reason to go there until it’s necessary.

    • I haven’t seen your operation. What little I have seen of operations here indicates that people are making use of fossil fuel based techniques–everything from electric fences to keep animals in or out to watering done with electric pumps and plastic hoses. Trucks or tractors may be used to move dirt and transport soil amendments. Maybe you have figured out ways around such things. My observation is based on a small sample of what I have seen people actually do. Maybe your situation is different. Organic is not equal to “sustainable without fossil fuels” in my view.

      • Don says:


        “Organic is not equal to “sustainable without fossil fuels” in my view.”

        Our plans are predicated on no fossil fuels or electricity after the next five years. All our preparations have alternatives if not being used now at least ready to be used when required. Our organics do not use any fossil fuels now. At present we have no draft animals but have given serious thought to doing this in the near future.

        • garand555 says:

          I’ve been around horses most of my life. They take a lot of feed. Keep that in mind.

        • Then you are doing quite a bit more than most. It is possible to get along with a much smaller plot of land, if a person assumes that pests won’t get more of the food in the future, and if a person assumes that lack of refrigeration won’t matter in the future (and may other fossil fuel-based assumptions).

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Gail

        May I suggest that you are making the same error as the would-be package driver who refuses to get a driver’s license. While you are convinced that, unless we continue to do everything the way we do today, it’s back to the Stone Age…that just isn’t necessarily so. It might turn out that way, but then again it might not. And it is a certainty that someone using Stone Age tools as their ‘competitive advantage’ today isn’t going to leave much in the gene pool of economic activity.

        Consider John Thackara’s essay on battery boost bikes:

        ‘In China, ‘battery-bikes’ are outselling cars by four-to-one. Pedelec sales are soaring in Europe, too. Is this the start of system-wide phase-shift in transportation?’

        ‘Enormous amounts of energy are wasted shipping objects from place to place. An example from The Netherlands: Of the 1,900 vans and trucks that enter the city of Breda (pop: 320,000) each day, less than ten percent of the cargo being delivered really needs to be delivered in a van or truck; 40 percent of van-based deliveries involve just one package. An EU-funded project called CycleLogistics calculates that 50 percent of all parcels delivered in EU cities could be delivered by cargo bike.’

        I will take Thackara’s word for it that the battery boosted bikes are enormously more efficient in fuel use than are delivery vans. If you look at Steven Kopits talk, you see evidence that ‘unprotected sectors’ of the economy DO adjust to the price of oil. For example, young people and cars. Remove the government sponsorship of the car and truck industry and it may very well collapse and reassemble itself into a much smaller car and truck business along with a large battery assisted bicycle industry. The sum total, in terms of GDP, will be perhaps half what exists today. But now think about the consequences of that action. The low-productivity uses of oil (such as driving a big truck up and down residential streets delivering small packages) are eliminated. What remains are high productivity uses of oil, such as driving ships across oceans. That means that the price of oil can increase, and the high value users will be willing to pay for it because the productivity of the oil is so high. Fresh Alaska salmon airfreighted to your door will likely be a thing of the past.

        The same might be said of solar PV. The lightweight electric fences used in rotational grazing get a lot of value out of the fencing, which is done at a fraction of the cost of either grid electricity or heavy metal non-electrified fencing. It may be that the PV business goes through some turmoil, possibly brought on by the new invention of a photosyntheisys- like electric generation and storage system at the University of North Carolina. But if the UNC system makes big solar farms and expensive grid electricity obsolete, then specific, portable uses such as electric fencing for rotational grazing will probably be survivors. A one megawatt UNC-like system can operate a rice cooker. And generations of Asians and college dorm students have demonstrated that one can cook an awful lot of stuff with a rice cooker. Fancy kitchens go the way of the Alaska salmon.

        Both these examples are illustrative of the ‘creative destruction’ which is characteristic of unfettered capitalism. It has been the unwillingness of governments to permit the creative destruction which is keeping a semblance of the 20th century operating in a very different oil world.

        In short, if you insist that ‘only Stone Age Solutions need apply’, I think you are being unnecessarily gloomy. You might be right. But you may very well be wrong.

        The strategy that makes sense in terms of both gardening and small farming is to use the tools you have available today to build the capital you might need in a much more constrained future. Things such as water management, planting trees, passive solar, and just learning how to nudge an ecological system in ways that are human-friendly. all take energy. There is no evidence that we don’t have enough energy to do it…there is evidence that most may choose not to do it.

        Don Stewart

        • We have the conflict between “use less” and “use very much shorter supply lines”.

          I would agree that there is some period of time where using less is likely to be a reasonable strategy. Part of the reason I object to the emphasis on this strategy is because it clearly is a temporary strategy, and may be a very temporary strategy if credit starts becoming unavailable and supply lines break down. In the past, there has been an overwhelming belief that the “just use less” strategy will work, more or less indefinitely. I find it very hard to believe that the “just use less” strategy will work for very long, because, for one thing, government is so dependent on the surpluses of the rest of the economy. The government piece of the system–the roads, the safety permitted by having a good police force, the ability of the government to provide subsidies to the many poor–is likely to fail early on. It will be a fairly different system if the roads are not maintained and there are a lot of hungry poor people, even if the bicycle system would in theory work for small packages.

          This is all related to David Korowicz’s essays on how loss of one part of a system lead to losses on other parts of the system. It will no doubt take a few years for failures in one part of the system to work there way fully through the system. My point is that we need to be aware that these approaches that cannot be maintained with local materials are temporary approaches. If we are not planning for this, we will discover ourselves in a very unhappy situation, with way too many people for a given area without fossil fuels.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail
            You emphasize the importance of keeping the government working. Charles Hugh Smith has recently written some articles where he states that for many government programs, we would be better off if the government simply disappeared. For example, he thinks that a cash system of health care would reduce costs tremendously. Similarly, he developed a statistic that the government’s cost of ‘helping’ poor people is several multiples of the money it would take to simply give them enough to lift them out of poverty. Whether you accept his numbers or not, it is pretty clear that bloat like Obamacare and the money printing simply cannot survive in a world of limits. Therefore, it seems to me that our urgent task is not to keep the government working, but to bring into being a very much smaller and more focused government. I will agree that, looking around the world at the collapsing governments, they are not a pretty sight. Still, I would argue that if we continue thinking that we must support unsupportable programs, then we will end up like Ukraine.

            Similarly, the Brown Truck model of retail and the Mall model of retail are both unsustainable as Limits tighten. Therefore, any current measure which provides at least a temporary respite, such as the bicycle delivery schemes, needs to be considered. Both the ‘photosynthesis like’ low density electricity production invention at UNC and the bicycle scheme threaten to segment the market in ways that are unfriendly to the current dominant businesses. The photosynthesis system might split off most of the residential market, leaving factories as the primary customers for centralized electricity generation. The bicycle scheme might split off the light weight packages from the heavy packages. Market segmentation is one of the foundations of capitalism, and generally disrupts the existing structure. For example, Amazon disrupted the world of chain bookstores, just as the chains previously disrupted the world of the independent bookstores.

            One of our problems is that we are seldom able to let market segmentation work in the government sector. If we do open something to competition (such as the drug plan in Medicare), it is so tightly bound by restrictions that the differences end up being superficial because fundamental segmentation is impossible. In effect, we just create more cost because a bunch of identical competitors are busily trying to convince the public that they are, in fact, different…when they are not different.

            I believe it is a true statement that if oil had never sold for less than 250 dollars a barrel, we would nevertheless have today a thriving business in oil. It wouldn’t be as large, but very high value applications would have been identified and businesses would have formed to service those high value applications. If we accept that notion, then it is clear that we must let segmentation operate now in order to sort the low value applications which cannot justify the use of expensive oil from the high value applications which will be willing to pay 250 dollars per barrel. At 250 dollars a barrel,quite a bit of non-traditional oil might be produced. But in order to avoid a complete collapse, we must let the segmentation work. Which is generally going to involve a business model which still uses some oil, but very much more efficiently than it is being used by the businesses which currently serve the particular market. Therefore, we should welcome more efficient businesses as evidence that the necessary segmentation is working. The alternative is the collapse you keep talking about.

            Don Stewart

            • Market segmentation is a way to try to improve efficiency. Improving efficiency is a way of making a barrel of oil go farther, and thus be worth more.

              Can running in the direction of improved efficiency really save us? I would argue no, collapse is really too baked into the cake. One way of seeing it is in this graphic. Loss of efficiency in energy drilling, metals drilling, water extraction and many other areas is just too great, to get the economy back to where it was previously.

              Now subsidy to economy is disappearing

              The increase in extraction costs is too great for efficiency gains to keep up, no more how hard we try.

              Collapse comes in several different ways:

              Collapse comes in three ways

              The change is not enough to prevent collapse in the ways collapse occurs. Loss of government is a huge problem, because it implies a loss of order. There is no one enforcing rules. It is not even clear that previous laws have any meaning. Efficiency savings don’t compensate for the lack of security and the lack of anyone to keep up roads, bridges, etc.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail
              I wish I could draw graph lines here, but I don’t have the tecnical savvy to do it. A phase change happens when the existing paradigm is undercut by new alternatives.

              For example, suppose that oil production costs are at 100 dollars a barrel, and increasing at 10 dollars per year. But let’s also assume that the average of 100 is composed of different paradigms: existing field conventional oil at 20 to 50 dollars, new conventional at 80 dollars, tar sands at 120 dollars, and new fracking at 125 dollars. Let’s also suppose that both tar sands and fracking have quite a lot of potential production, if the price can just rise to 150 dollars and stay there for some decades. (This would, I think, be consistent with your resource triangle).

              At the present time, oil is the quintessential commodity. But the actual usage of oil is highly segmented and serves markets with widely varying intrinsic values. For example, most people would think that the oil used to produce pharmaceuticals is intrinsically more valuable than oil used to fuel drag races. In the US, 60 years ago teenagers used a lot of oil to drive up and down mainstreet, small town USA, to impress and attract the opposite sex. That market segment seems to have died out, so I guess the marginal value of doing it no longer exceeds the higher cost of doing it.

              Now let’s suppose that the teenagers figured out much more efficient ways to get together than driving aimlessly around in automobiles. These more efficient methods may use only one tenth as much oil, but still yield the same product which is that teenagers get together with each other. So the old practice was only acceptable with 20 dollar oil, but the new practice, which is almost certain to involve some oil, somewhere, may well be acceptable with 150 dollar oil. Or maybe even 300 dollar oil…since hormones powerfully incent teenagers to find the opposite sex.

              What we have in this example is an illustration of how market segmentation can work to eliminate the low value uses for oil, while preserving high value uses through technological innovation. The technological innovation need not necessarily be in the direction of ‘high tech’. The innovation might involve social media, but it may also involve activities such as crop mobs or community gardens or grange dances. Crop mobs, community gardens, and grange dances (as we would do them today) do have an oil component, but it is pretty small compared to driving aimlessly around in a two ton car. The innovations also don’t produce much GDP, and so provide little opportunity for government taxation. Which powerfully incents enlightened governments to drastrically curtail their activities. (Most governments are not enlightened, and will need to collapse.)

              What about the industry that produces the oil? And here we just have to accept the ‘creative destruction’ that the economist Schumpeter identified early in the 20th century. Exxon-Mobil may not survive, and its stock and bondholders may lose the money they think they have, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that oil won’t be produced from the tar sands. One of my points is that we had better try to make the bankruptcy process work as efficiently as possible so that paper assets, rather than real assets, are destroyed. We are, of course, doing the opposite.

              In conclusion, I think that your assumption that all of the all MUST disappear very rapidly is wrong. I agree that if governments continue to act as I perceive they are acting today, they can make the oil disappear. But I think that criticizing or dismissing technological innovations (whether high tech or low tech) which reduce oil usage while still achieving the fundamental goals is a mistake.

              Don Stewart

            • The problem I am talking about is that the financial system “breaks.” It can’t be replaced by the same kind of financial system, because the current system depends on growth (or at least not decline). We currently can’t run our current economy on $100 barrel oil without huge amounts of QE, which can’t last. We need to fix that problem, before we can even imagine that we could run a future economy on $150 barrel oil.

              The question is whether the kind of changes you are talking about are big enough and soon enough to fix our financial problems. I would argue that they are not. It doesn’t hurt to try making them, but ultimately the problem is likely to be difficulty in keeping the financial systems and governments going. Governments are likely to prove too hard to downsize to reflect the new economic reality.

          • garand555 says:


            I agree that our governments are making things worse, not better. Unless you can afford attorneys, it is difficult to really get into the farming business due to all of the regulations, so instead of small local farms, we get all of our food from Mexico, China, the Midwest, etc… Take away subsidies and excessive regulations, and I suspect that small local farms would be a lot more competitive in a world where oil costs are rising. We desperately need to reorganize our economy to prepare for the future, but we are not allowed to, and a lot of this has to do with crony capitalism.

            The point about using less vs shorter supply lines is getting right to the heart of the matter. If we produced the bulk of our necessities locally, we would use a lot less oil, and the pressures of rising prices would be much less pronounced. It would likely also help fix the chronic unemployment problem that gets swept under the rug. I don’t think you could deal with areas like NYC where you have to feed and clothe 8 million people, but part of the problem is that we’re simply overpopulated. The other part is we are regulated to the point where it is difficult to start restructuring our economy to deal with expensive oil. The system is just too rigid, and it will break once the strain gets too great.

            That’s not to say that there is no use for government, but right now, it is doing harm. What is even worse is that so many are dependent on government that, even though this dependence may be bad, they will be in a world of hurt should the government collapse.

            Shifting gears here, but I would watch food prices closely, given the severe drought in California and the polar vortexes having an effect on the number of cattle in the US. How much higher do food prices need to go for Americans to start reacting poorly, as they did in the MENA region? We are already terribly divided and angry. What would a 50% or 100% increase in food prices do, especially if sudden? I think that we may be in for a very interesting summer.

            Also, look at gasoline consumption in the US. It has gone from around 60 million gallons per day back in 2007 to 23 million gallons per day. Cars are more efficient, but people are also driving around a lot less than they were. The economic recovery is a sham, and people must be made to realize that the good old days are never coming back.

            • Interguru says:

              Buying local and reducing food transport miles is not as simple as it sounds. From a 2006 article from the Economist

              And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

              This is in Britain where cars are smaller and distances driven are shorter.

              RIght now we, as individuals, can do a lot by carefully planning our shopping trips. Still there are limits. Again from the article.

              Food is central to the debates on the environment, development, trade and globalisation—but the potential for food choices to change the world should not be overestimated. The idea of saving the world by shopping is appealing; but tackling climate change, boosting development and reforming the global trade system will require difficult political choices. “We have to vote with our votes as well as our food dollars,” says Mr Pollan. Conventional political activity may not be as enjoyable as shopping, but it is far more likely to make a difference.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Interguru
              If you had been reading this for the past couple of years, you would doubtless be sick of my promotion of gardening. But the cost of driving to the store for a head of lettuce is a very good example of why you should be growing the lettuce in your backyard or in the neighborhood community garden or even in a planter on your balcony. Lettuce has 50 or 100 calories per pound, which is practically nothing. It will cost you a hundred or a thousand times that in calories to drive to the store to buy the head of lettuce.

              One of the reasons for eating the lettuce is because your body needs the antioxidants that are in green leaves. And the fresher the leaves are, the more antioxidants they contain. A green leaf begins to deteriorate the moment it is cut off the plant. In studies, giving people who have been exposed to radiation the antioxidants in green leaves offsets the bad effects of the radiation (moderate doses).

              On the other hand, consider a staple such as wheat. Suppose you buy a 50 pound bag of wheat. It will last you for months. So the expenditure to drive to the store is much less in terms of per calorie cost. And dried staples such as grains do not deteriorate very much even if they are stored for a couple of years.

              In short, the solution is to garden for the low calorie, high nutrient foods such as vegetables and fruits, and to buy the staples from farmers in the vicinity. ‘Food miles’, as an abstract measurement, doesn’t necessarily mean very much.

              (If you live in a densely populated neighborhood in a big city, you probably have a store on the corner, which you can walk to.)

              Don Stewart

            • Interguru says:

              I love gardening. I did it as a kid, and I did it whenever possible as an adult. I stopped when shade encroached on my property and age and health encroached on my strength. All my shopping is within 3 miles of my house. I sometimes bicycle, but again I usually drive because of decreasing strength. Still it’s a short drive. I seldom have to buy gas.

              Gardening is great and should b encouraged, but like many other good things, it is not a magic bullet. I remember my mother’s Victory Garden during WWII. In bulk they had a large effect, but I doubt they made a large difference the outcome of the War.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Interguru
              The Victory Gardens may have made more of a difference than you might, at first, think. A current hot topic in research is Epigenetics. Think of our DNA as a library of blueprints for making specific components which can be assembled into a human. Where do the instructions for using some specific set of the blueprints come from? In what order? Exactly when in the development from fertilized egg to adult human? Etc. The answer is that the instructions comes from the ‘environment’. To a toxicologist, the ‘environment’ is the toxins the person experiences. To a psychologist, the ‘environment’ is the chemicals released as a result of brain behavior, such as stress hormones or the hormones which bathe us when we fall in love. To a dietitian, the ‘environment’ is the food we eat. To a personal trainer, it’s about physical activity. Etc. In short, it’s all the things we experience, including our time spent in mother’s womb.

              During the winter of 1944-45 the Dutch were severely stressed for food. Studies which have followed up on people who were in the womb during that hard time have found all sorts of medical maladies in later life.

              Britain during the war was spared the worst of food shortages in some measure because of the Victory Gardens. And so those people who are now around 70 have been spared some measure of suffering from a variety of chronic diseases.

              Don Stewart
              PS Now, of course, we are engaged in a massive experiment to see how a fetus fed it’s mothers junk food diet will turn out.

            • Grand,

              I agree with pretty much everything you say. Gasoline consumption is down. A big piece of this seems to be young people not having jobs, and thus not being able to afford a care.

          • garand555 says:

            A lot of the food in the grocery store these days in my super markets says “PRODUCT OF CHINA” on the packaging. No amount of food miles that I am going to add even comes close to that. On top of that, local food production does not necessitate doing away with central distribution centers. We have a local co-op that has a central location for people to shop at with food from various local farmers and ranchers. The food at the grocery stores here is often produced, processed, packaged and shipped from over 1,000 miles away.

            Yes, going back to local production would take a lot of work, but we are not going to have a choice, and food miles will come down out of necessity.

        • Christian says:

          I think we must see more clearly which kind of technology must be targeted, neither electricity nor stone. Iron Age is easy to maintain for some centuries if we leave mining for recycling and distribute its product now. It is easy to maintain some 17th century tech society using one iron kilogram per capita each year, not wasting it producing things such as weapons. Roads and infrastructure will gradually erode, but that’s exactly the point with entropy; the State must look forward.

          • We could perhaps target a lower level of technology, if people would agree to it so that everyone had the same level in mind. But it would be hard to see this happening voluntarily.

            I haven’t looked at what one iron kilogram per capita per year would mean in terms of forest use. It clearly wouldn’t be a whole lot of iron. A lot of it might need to be used in government projects–say bridges. Or industrial projects, such as printing presses and factories to make paper. Or axes for cutting down trees. At the same time, the biggest need would be in metal tools used in agriculture–wood does very poorly when it comes to dealing with heavy turf. There certainly wouldn’t be I-Phones or Television sets.

  17. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Here are a few thoughts about preparing for Limits to Growth. I have said most of this before, so I will be as brief as possible.

    My experience is as a backyard gardener and as a worker on a 5 acre organic farm. I last worked on a large acreage farm as a teenager…60 years ago. I do have an interest in both biological farming and the potential for collapse as well as climate change.

    If you live in a crowded city with zero access to land and no possibility of access to land anywhere in your neighborhood, then I don’t have much advice. If you farm hundreds of acres of beans and corn in Iowa, I have nothing much to suggest. So what I have to say boils down to people who have access to their own yard, or a neighborhood garden, or a small farm, or a group of suburban homeowners who want to co-operate to grow food..

    If you are strictly a hobbyist, and are growing food for the fun of it, or for more food security, then making your efforts pay off in terms of money isn’t crucial. If you are a small farmer, then making your efforts pay off with money IS crucial. Since this point has been consistently misunderstood in the past, I will belabor it a little. Let’s suppose you want to work as a package delivery person. So you go down to the Brown Truck Store and apply for a job. But it turns out that you are convinced that we face an imminent collapse and simply haven’t bothered to learn how to drive. Can you predict the outcome? But let’s extend the case study a little bit and suppose that you are a delivery driver who lives in an apartment and hasn’t got a clue how to provide food and water for his family. If collapse comes, then what are your prospects? In short, if you are trying to farm or garden and make money, you must straddle the ditch. You have to make money today, and that almost certainly requires the use of machinery and fossil fuels. But you also need to be thinking about making your farm resilient if the machines begin to break and cannot be fixed and fossil fuels become unavailable. Tossing brickbats at small farmers who use tractors and pick up trucks may make you feel superior, but it is sound without substance.

    You will very frequently run into trade-offs between time and money. If money is no object and you want instant results, you can most certainly go out and buy fertile farmland. If your budget is miserly, then you are going to need to improve the land you have or buy some relatively poor land and improve it. Here is a video of Darren Doherty in Australia talking about a field where he intends to plant trees. He has been preparing the field for 10 years, and doing it very cheaply. He has built very fertile soil for his trees. It will take the trees perhaps a decade to become very productive. However, they will begin to accumulate monetary value very quickly, since investors will recognize the quality of the work. If this is your plan, get started tomorrow…there will never be a better time.

    It’s important to decide whether you want to strive for calorie self-sufficiency or whether you want to assume that you will be able to purchase calorie dense non-perishables (such as grains), and you want to grow the higher priced and perishable veggies and fruits. If you want to be calorie self-sufficient, you probably need perhaps 3 acres for a family. A tiny garden can provide you with valuable veggies and some fruits.

    So what I will assume is that you are going to be somewhere between a small gardener and a very large gardener. In any case, selling your products for a monetary profit isn’t your first consideration. Nevertheless, you want to become as nearly self-sufficient as possible. You do not want to go to the garden shop every year and buy fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides. First, you would be spending scarce money. Second, in a collapse, the garden stores may disappear. You do not want to be dependent on irrigation from deep wells distributed by drip lines, for the same reasons. You don’t want to be dependent on a plow or powered tiller for the same reasons.

    If you have plenty of cash today, there is no reason not to use an irrigation well and drip lines. Collapse might happen next week or next decade…you don’t know for sure. But in the meantime, you want to be building the drought and flood resisilience of your garden. You want to learn how to fix nitrogen from the air into your soil, and you want to learn how to use the soil food web to recycle phosphorus religiously. You want to learn how bio-diversity serves as your best bet in terms of pests. You want to learn how geese can help you control noxious weeds. You want to learn how to accumulate carbon in the soil and foster an amazing amount of biological life in the soil. You need to practice various forms of water conservation so that rain that falls on your land stays on your land.

    Doing all the things that I mentioned in that last paragraph doesn’t have a single technique associated with it. It depends on where you are and what you are trying to do and which gardening philosophy you find most appealing. To give you some sense of the range of opportunities, I suggest:

    Geoff Lawton’s series of videos
    Pay particular attention to the backyard garden and small farm examples. You will have to give them your email address.

    Eric Tonesmeier on carbon farming

    Eric also wrote a very good book on homesteading a very small urban lot in an old Massachusetts mill town. As he says in the preceding video, it is about ‘leaves and fruits’…the most expensive stuff you can buy in a grocery store, not many calories, but essential to health.

    Jill Clapperton, the soil scientist, gives you the facts about biological farming

    While Jill is talking to farmers with lots of acreage, you will find that the same principles are applicable in a small garden. The tools she is talking about would be essential to survive in a collapse.

    Patricia Foreman talking about chickens and how they fit in an urban garden

    Please note that, at the current time, backyard chickens are not a way to make money. However, in a collapse scenario, chickens may fit very nicely into your garden. Other animals such as rabbits or earthworm composters also deserve consideration. Think recycling.

    Toby Hemenway has a new course on Food Forest Design & Care for Cities and Suburbs. This one costs money. Toby wrote Gaia’s Garden about a decade ago. I assume this new material covers some of the stuff he has learned over the decade.

    If you get through all this stuff, you will be on your way, understanding the lay of the land. You could spend the rest of your life defining and refining your gardening practice.

    Don Stewart

  18. Eclipse Now says:

    Our response should be growing food in the desert. As Australia’s prestigious The Conversation said yesterday:

    “Isn’t it remarkable that we recognise the fact that the world faces huge problems in terms of water, energy and food security – and yet we tend to tackle these as separate problems, as if they have no interconnections.

    So here’s a radical idea. What if the world’s food, water and energy problems were tackled together, in a way that lowered costs and made the whole greater than the sum of the parts?

    A project is taking shape in Australia that promises to take just such an approach. It’s very small in scale at the moment, and is limited to just fresh vegetables – but it does demonstrate great potential because of the links it builds between water, energy and food.”

  19. T. G. Neason says:

    In 1943, farm labor was in short supply in East Texas because of the needs of the military/ industrial complex. My father, a poor tenant farmer had acquired a small amount of capital and needed farm laborers. He found and relocated a group of six families of Appalachian decent. They were illiterate, could not operate cars or tractors, and the young men did not meet the requirements of the military draft. One of the men, head of a family of four, was about fifty years old and had never owned a pair of shoes. They worked well in the fields for $0.25/hour (the prevailing wage at that time in that local). They married, had children, sang, danced, drank home-brew, and seemed to enjoy life to the fullest. While my family fared a bit better, we too were happy living in what today would be seen as primitive conditions.

    I tell this story to illustrate that people can labor under harsh conditions and live in, what are today, considered primitive conditions with out despairing.

    However, we now have in the US a significant population that are not prepared to cope with a reduced lifestyle. Prior to 1945, the law of ‘survival of the fittest ‘ was still operative. For example, my mother died of pneumonia in 1941 because penicillin was not widely available. Since 1945, advances in medicine and unheard prosperity for all have allowed the weak to survive. Take away the current accommodations and they can not survive. My wife has cancer and requires an expensive rare drug to survive. Take away the drug and she dies very quickly. The numerous grossly obese people riding shopping scooters at Wal-Mart will not survive the transition. People who have no skills and an entitlement mentality will not survive. The person who continues to inhabit a thirtieth floor apartment in a major city will have a low probability of survival. I could continue with this line of thought but you get my point. Bottom line is that there is no hope for many.

    As I stated in a previous post, I recommend the following; 1) Develop close relationships with family, Church (or other organization such as Grange), and community, 2) Develop essential* skills, 3) Acquire essential tools, and 4) Invest in well-watered arable land.

    All of these actions take time. We do not have much time left in which to prepare. Bite the bullet and take definitive action today. Place your available capital in a piece of land, live in a shipping container if necessary, and focus on preparing to cope with the coming collapse.

    * I define essential as any thing that puts food on the table and a roof over the table.

    • Thanks for your insights. I think most of us would find it hard to believe that a 50 year old in the US would never have owned a pair of shoes, but times change.

    • while that working group of illiterate farmers might seem idyllic, they were in fact within a protected ‘bubble’ in one sense, ie working for wages within a stable environment.
      energy depletion will destabilise our environment, and we will not be able to exist as happy peasants

      • rob de laet says:

        I work with illiterate peasants, who were born just a few hundred meters from where they are working. They are completely happy, very strong, hard working and get up every day at 5 a.m. If you ask them to take them to the city they decline, hate the idea. A lot of their ´knowledge´ is nonsense but they do very well with little. They would miss little if the world collapsed, except some simple clothes and a stiff drink for weekends (but that can be made easily),

        • I agree with you–but this only works in isolation. It cannot be magnified into an existence for everyone,—or maybe such small groups will be the only survivors
          The people you speak of know little else, city dwellers expect city living to go on ad infinitum

          • robdelaet says:

            Yes, I am saying that these sturdy people might hold out longest and could be the backbone of new local rural communities that manage a new way of life. Mind you there are probably as much as two billion of these simple farmers still around worldwide.

        • I hope that they truly would miss little if the world collapsed. I know China and India are both using fertilizer made using fossil fuels (primarily coal). Even what we thing as less developed parts of the world are getting more integrated with the rest.

          • robdelaet says:

            I gave them a motorbike two years ago, but before that they were using horses. Clothes, dry rice varieties, salt and guns (I have never touched one) are the main things that would be needed to live and of course sufficient (and not crop destroying) rain.

    • xabier says:


      It’s the difference between material poverty – which does not preclude happiness, – and destitution.

      The most miserable people I have encountered recently have been very rich, and worried about not making ‘enough’.

      It always cheers me up to observe their folly.

      Good advice, thank you.

  20. Very good suggestions Gail, and I agree on your emphasis on family and relationships. If we look at the Amish, who basically work without fossil fuels, they rely a lot on family getting and making what they need and then the rest of the community when they are doing larger projects like barn-raising, etc.

    Also, relationships and connections are important for mental and physical health. We need to think a lot more about preventative health if the medical system is not there or is greatly diminished.

    If less money and resources are available then volunteerism will become more important. Now is the time to volunteer and help organize civic and volunteer associations. This will go a long way to keep the level of social trust and inspiration to do good for others.

    I would also add to these suggestions the importance of maintaining citizen participation in all levels of government, from the local to the federal. In my opinion, government will become more important in the future, not less, because of the potential for disruption, revolution, destruction or appropriation of property, protection from invasion, and the prevention of civil wars and the growth of private armies. Without fair representation, people are at the mercy of rogue governments or militias, and public goods are squandered on the few and witheld from the majority. Governments, and district boundaries can be re-organized, but they need the participation of citizens for it to be fair, equitable, and workable. The more inequality and the less representative political systems are, the more resources are squandered on security for the elite, and prisons or concentration camps for the masses. The more people perceive the system as unfair, the lower the level of overall trust, which functions as a kind of lubricant that keeps the wheels of commerce, etc. working.

    Furthermore, citizens need to be well informed about science, health, nutrition, farming, and the political system. Widespread ignorance and false beliefs can lead to disasters just as sure as other physical or financial causes.

  21. Harry says:

    That would be ‘somnambulant.’ That’ll teach me to use long words when I’ve been at the mead. :)

  22. Ert says:

    Thanks Gail for your follow-up to your last article.

    What finally brings the system down (financial, climate, energy) and how fast may be a scientific mind-game – clear is for me at least, that the current construct may not survive another 10 years. My base for that: The current growth-dynamic in China can not double again – and if China slows…. this apart from all the other pretend and extend games. And IF the growth in China continues… then China WILL compete with the west regarding resources, which may cause other trouble.

    Therefore anyone may make a mix of your suggestions, which fit their individual circumstances and capital available…. whereby the last issue is a big one for many.

    A suggestion I can make – if it is an personal option – is to reduce work, and use the spare time to prepare, travel, learn, enjoy! What is there for a purpose to “burn” good time now – in exchange for money that doesn’t and mathematically can’t keep its purchasing power? Surplus money for work in exchange is like a “time bank” – but be aware that it is nor burned by the “Grey Men”, which you may know from the novel “Momo” (

    • Danny says:

      Yes I used to stress about not having enough money in my 401k by the time I retire which would be about 20 years from now. I don’t worry about that anymore… has been replaced with worry how my children are going to survive in the future…Danny

      • Danny says:

        Also, you say that some places have 10 maybe 20 years to feel the full effects? How can that be? In your last post you wrote 2 years; With everything being interconnected I don’t see how you can have Greece pulling down Europe, then that pulling down China…and then the U.S. A collapse anywhere in one of these countries will lead to collapse and exposure everywhere. The only thing keeping things going is a false perception that the PTB have everything under control. I think people have this preconceived notion, especially here in the United States that it won’t happen in my backyard. I don’t know maybe you are right it might not happen for 10 or 2I years here. I thought 2014 was going to be the year here.

        • Even if the crash starts in a year or two, it may take quite a few years to see the full effects. My chart showed world energy consumption declining in the period 2015 to 2035. So when I say the full effects may not be evident for 10 or 20 years, I mean that things may deteriorate over a period of time, rather than hitting all at once. (Or things could go pretty quickly, if it is a financial crash. We don’t really know.)

          Furthermore the decline doesn’t have to be entirely even by country. Some countries may be able to hold on longer than others. If China buys up available oil fields from around the world, perhaps it can somehow keep itself going beyond the US and Europe. It has a huge amount of manufacturing, and has set up its own arrangements with countries it imports raw materials from.

          • Danny says:

            “If China buys up available oil fields from around the world, perhaps it can somehow keep itself going beyond the US and Europe.” That is very hard to imagine especially after reading this
            According to the BBCs Robert Peston, “China has built a new skyscraper every five days, more than 30 airports, metros in 25 cities, the three longest bridges in the world, more than 6,000 miles of high speed railway lines, 26,000 miles of motorway, and both commercial and residential property developments on a mind-boggling scale”. All in just the past five years. While debt rose at a very rapid clip of 15% of GDP every year(!), to go from 125% to 200% of GDP in those same five years. If they go down we go down with them….they were clever to hitch their ship to ours…Danny

          • richard says:

            Electricity and finance seem to be nodes that connect to almost everything,
            hence their health may indicate the current system state.
            World industrial production to nov 2013 is here :
            and UK electricity production is here :
            This shows that UK electricity production peaked in 2005/2007 and is
            currently down almost ten percent. A reasonable expectation is for an
            increase in the efficient use of electricity of some one percent per
            annum, hence UK industrial production has probably plateaued in recent years.
            This has had the benefit of forestalling the need to build new generation,
            except for some renewable generation. UK renewable generation favours
            wind because the government got its finances wrong, and doubled their subsidy
            for all practiacl purposes. That seems to be a common theme with renewable
            generation across the globe where mistakes get built. As an aside, the best
            base load power plant – CCGT – runs at an efficiency of perhaps 55%, but to
            cater for renewables we need gas turbines, (we would prefer hydro, but that’s
            difficult) and gas turbines are less efficient.
            The UK should have been building new nuclear generation by now, but nobody
            wants the waste buried near them, or perhaps big enough bribes are not yet
            on the table. The current UK nuclear plants are having their lives extended.
            Old control and communications cabinets can be replaced by printed circuit
            boards, but cast iron pipes carrying seawater and designed for 40 years
            service, that’s more of a challenge.
            My take away from the UK and perhaps Europe is that a glide path on
            electricity is possible for perhaps the next 25 years, if “we” avoid doing
            something really stupid.
            China, not so much.
            I recall reading about the opening of a new skyscraper in China. An expert
            had flown in from England and expressed surprise at the poor energy efficiency
            of the structure. Not a problem cam the reply, we have built a new coal-fired
            power station to support it.
            I’ll just add a comment on buildings here. Most UK buildings are designed for
            a lifespan of 60 years and that means building built around the end of WWII
            are at the end of their useful lives. These seems to be huge resistance in the UK
            to replacing these with energy efficient structures – the ones you heat only when
            no-one is inside – depending where in the UK you are – there is significant
            climate variation – an ideal structure might be 7 metres deep, 14 metres wide,
            and two or three stories high. Just worth thinking about when you see what
            is being built.

            • Thanks for the links. I hadn’t run across the World Trade Monitor previously. Emerging Asia certainly does well (as long as credit keeps pumping).

              I think the question relating to all of electricity supplies of countries is whether the governments of the countries can keep themselves going, or whether the need for huge cutbacks in spending will pull them down. Also, how the banking system can keep going.

              My charts don’t show everything going down at once. It is quite possible that some governments and electric supplies will continue on for a while, and while others hit hard times much sooner. Someone suggested to me that the tendency will be for the buildup to be slow at first, and gradually build up strength, like an avalanche. This may very well be the case.

          • Paul says:

            I don’t see how some stand up better than others. As we saw when Lehman went down the global economy was essentially seizing up.

            When the S really HTF I am doubtful that central banks will be able to do anything — they are already doing everything they can — and I expect as this goes further sideways they will find new ways to do even more — increase taxes further – seize assets — seize money from your bank account — force pensions to be invested in gov debt etc….

            So when we do collapse they will have exhausted absolutely ever single last option that they can think of.

            The global economy will completely collapse – trade will collapse – the movement of energy supplies will collapse — oil extraction and exploration will stop.

            • You may be right. Perhaps some countries are more isolated–say African countries–of China can somehow corner a market on oil, and keep its economy going longer with debt. We can see right now that collapse is uneven. It seems like a reasonable bet that it will be uneven going forward as well.

        • InAlaska says:

          Danny, I’m with you. With three kids 14 and younger, I can no longer afford to just think of myself. It was easy to be selfish, but no so much anymore. I devote most of my time to putting things in place now that will help them out later. For example, hunting, learning to farm, do small scale animal husbandry, and chopping lots of firewood. After I’m gone, (if there is an environment that can support life) they will be able to survive, perhaps even prosper. Still, a long shot, given how interconnected everything is and that makes me very sad.

    • Harry says:

      “What is there for a purpose to “burn” good time now – in exchange for money that doesn’t and mathematically can’t keep its purchasing power?”

      This is a great point. The value of money in the final days of fossil-fuel powered growth is elevated to the same absurd degree that it was debased in the collapsing Weimar Republic. In return for a few hours of tapping on my keyboard I can, should I wish, summon lamb from New Zealand, bananas from Costa Rica, vodka from Russia and water from Fiji to my door. I have recently started buying books on First Aid, gardening and self-defense online – vast quantities of useful information for mere pennies. The library of Alexandria has nothing on me. We live like gods but the entitled, somnamnubulant populous is mostly oblivious to its extraordinary privilege. What a shame. It will miss it when it’s gone.

      • Ert says:

        ” I can, should I wish, summon lamb from New Zealand, bananas from Costa Rica, vodka from Russia and water from Fiji to my door”

        Haha – that’s a good comparison to show how our “Money” is leveraged by the “right kind” of available energy. But is the leverage disappears, so does the purchasing power.

        Therefore – as you show – I do quite the same: Try to invest in very essential products, knowledge and tools that provide value now – and in a scarcer energy future. And a thing I may stress: Gardening with all the involved experience has to be learned in cycles of some years and is a lot of fun. Some things – like for example a self-made bread – can not be expressed in money.

      • Danny says:

        I would like to recommend Tom Brown’s field guide to wilderness survival…..and while I am at it Sheds by David Stiles

    • Peter S says:

      Or you could be working, to get some money, to get yourself to another relatively safer part of the world. That’s not going to pay for itself. And that’s the position I’m in.

    • There are a lot of employers who more or less 60 hours a week of work. I have a hard time understanding why people would want to work so much. Sometimes it is possible to get a part time (say 70% time) work assignment, at lower pay.

  23. Ert says:

    Here is a very interesting video presentation from Mr. Kopits regarding Oil-Price dynamics: Global Oil Market Forecasting: Main Approaches & Key Drivers held at Columbia University:

    Mr. Kopits of Douglas Westwood discusses supply versus demand driven prices in regard to oil, shows what most do wrong when looking at future prices, discusses demand dynamics of china, future oil prices & supply, etc. pp.

    A very intriguing presentation that brings lot of insights into the oil-game.

    • Thanks for mentioning this. Steve Kopits sent me a link too. I think where Steve and I differ is on what the impact of more slowly growing oil supply will be on the economy. At some point, the financial system cannot take the slow economic growth, and debt defaults start becoming a problem. There is also a question as to whether new drilling will drop off, as capital expenditure drops. If this happens, world oil supply may start to shrink. This will put further pressure on economic growth.

    • Thanks for mentioning this. Steve Kopits sent me a link too. I think where Steve and I differ is on what the impact of more slowly growing oil supply will be on the economy. At some point, the financial system cannot take the slow economic growth, and debt defaults start becoming a problem. There is also a question as to whether new drilling will drop off, as capital expenditure drops. If this happens, world oil supply may start to shrink. This will put further pressure on economic growth.

      • InAlaska says:


        Have you considered what effect a global debt jubilee would have on the collapse model? If the world’s leading economies could agree (once things get bad enough) to a mutual debt jubilee, this would essentially hit the restart button and everybody gets another chance. How would this be carried out? Is it realistic? Desperate times may call for desperate measures.

        • garand555 says:

          It would be carried out by saying “All debts and derivatives are hereby canceled, world wide,” and having a lot of agreement that this should happen along with an enforcement mechanism to make sure it happens. First, you’d have to get governments to agree to this. Then banksters. Then businesses who will extend their clients a line of credit for *their* goods. I could care less about the governments and the banks, but the supply house that actually has skin in the physical goods game? I’d go for it knowing the alternative, but damn. While you are doing this, it would probably be a good idea to have an alternative currency waiting with a plan to introduce it as painlessly as possible.

          All of that is just broad generalities. Whole economies would need to be reorganized. You think the US would get to import the same amount of oil under this kind of thing? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Betting on it would literally be betting lives on it. Maybe yours. Local necessity production would be a must for us.

          This, IMO, is not realistic. It needs to be done before it is apparent that we are experiencing desperate times. Normalcy bias and cognitive dissonance will prevent that. Potential necessary shifts in power would prevent people from understanding that it is apparent.

          So, no, it’s not going to happen IMO, even though that is what you would want to as the first step for a soft landing.

          Enjoy the status quo while you can.

        • To the FiniteWorld community, the info at this site needs to be considered
          Apologies if it has already been intoduced.
          Gail, I would be especially interested in any response you might have to the opinions and facts set forth at JC Collins’ site.


          • Interguru says:

            “This fiftieth year is sacred—it is a time of freedom and of celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families. ”

            —Leviticus 25:10

            This is usually interpreted to include debt forgiveness.

            At first glance this looks like bronze age nonsense, but it reflection it is quite insiteful. If you look at modern economic history, about every fifty years there is a economic collapse which lead to de-facto debt forgiveness.

          • edpell says:

            Debt forgiveness happens every seven years, return of family land happens every 49 years (7×7).

          • No, I haven’t seen this article before.

            While the US dollar has been going downhill, this particular resolution of the problem does not seem very likely to me. I don’t think people at this point have a lot of faith in the IMF Special Drawing Rights. Somewhere I have a concern–if virtually all of the counties in the group are having debt problems, why doesn’t the IMF in total have a problem–can it really depend on anyone to support it for the long term. The amount of gold China holds wouldn’t seem to make much difference.

            Somehow, energy needs to be behind any kind of money, and I am doubtful that this really will be the case for very long with the IMF Special Monetary Rights.

        • Paul says:

          That does nothing to address the fact that the remaining oil is difficult and expensive to extract.

          A debt jubilee would result in a catastrophic blow to the global economy from which we would never recover. A massive market economy is not something that can simply be ‘reset’ at 0 like the odometer on a car.

          There are consequences – see page 56>74

        • With a debt jubilee, everybody gets a second chance, but it really doesn’t fix the situation. I see two problems:

          We need increasing debt to get ore out of the ground, metals out of the ground, and to allow consumers to buy things. After a jubilee, the likelihood of being able to obtain more debt is greatly lessened. Why, in a shrinking economy, should people be able to repay debt with interest? It doesn’t work.

          The debt that existed prior to the jubilee backed up a lot of things that we consider essential–banks, pension plans, insurance companies, what people thought that they had for savings, funding for nuclear power plant dismantling. In fact, most factories are financed with debt. What happens if we can’t have any more of these things? It seems like that becomes a big problem.

          We can continue to trade goods in current time, if there is no saving for the future involved. But doing so is likely to lead to much shorter supply chains.

          • Paul says:

            Some good points Gail. Consider pension obligations – what happens to those – do we simply wipe out government and corporate obligations in this jubilee?

            If so what happens to all the people who live on pension income? And what impact does that have on global growth if these people have no income?

            A debt jubilee has a nice ring to it — almost sounds like a fiddle and dancing party!

            In reality there would be an infinite number of economy destroying unintended consequences.

            This is not as simple as simply saying we reset everyone back to zero and start over again.

          • Christian says:

            Debt jubilee is just a minor point in complete social restructuring. Debts will be erased along with the whole capitalist system, one way or another: by collapse or will. There is no problem with the impossibility of creating new debt, because debt has become a complete lie, even if some people here find some difficulty to get it. Pension funds will never result in retirements, actual debts will never be repaid. It’s a fact.

            Things are to be in real time, slowing down. Supply chains will shorten in time, but state control would make the important ones to run. This does not means to think and act without looking at the future, because this can be easily performed, more easily than with debt hiding the real prospective and trying to sell “more”. If any, our true debt now is with our children and cannot be measured.

            If societies and governments are to do something about transition and life, the next society must be so radically different to this one that all property (public and private, financial and physical) is to be somewhat erased. Even “a lot and a plot” could be a wrong organization, given we are used to live in some kind of urban environment and completely unable to work it alone in such a different way of life. Small towns of say 5000 people sharing some land and its products would likely to be better. So, each town could also include some specialization in crafts and labor: peasantry, carpentry, textile, leather, forge, medicine, trading… Of course, it would be much better if such human aggregates hold already related people (families, friends, neighbors)

            • Christian,

              I think you are right. It is the whole system that goes away–something that is hard for us to “get our minds around”. It is not just debt that goes away, but the whole capitalistic system.

              Supply chains will shorten. Perhaps governments will try to keep them long, as you suggest, but I expect that governments will be a big part of what fails. As governments apply to smaller and smaller territories, the supply chains that they can control will be shorter and shorter.

              Our current private ownership of property has a lot of problems, if debt doesn’t work very well. From a point of view of keeping the land productive and sharing in harvests, I expect that some form of common ownership might work better. Exactly how is another detail. We won’t be able to keep up today’s homes, with or without solar panels, I expect. We probably will be building little huts with local materials.

  24. On overpopulation, have you looked into the work by professor Hans Rosling? Reproduction rates are lower than ever. But we are still already bond to be 9 billion until 2050. There is no stopping unless we cut reproduction rate well below 2. Todays population pyramid has a very wide bottom with young people, this is the explanation to this fact.

    • garand555 says:

      Knock out the oil supply and the population will come down very rapidly. Even if we were to undergo a population collapse (which I think is likely,) and even if we were to figure out how to kind of bounce back into industrial/quasi-industrial society, population control would be on the table, even in otherwise free societies. This population growth is unsustainable, and that which cannot be sustained will not be.

      • edpell says:

        There has always been population control. It is the four standards disease, war, starvation, and pollution induced deaths (new version of pestilence). Before 1700 no provision was made to feed the poor by governments maybe some local within the church. Before 1920 there was no provision to have the U.S. government feed the poor. If you mean a society beyonds its means will not be able to provide food, housing, medical, education, transporation to all particularly the poor then yes we will have population control. It will simplely be a passive policy of not feeding the poor.

        • garand555 says:

          I’m talking more about voluntary population control. We will have a choice in the future. Do we want to breed away and have a low quality of life and continue to wreck the planet, or do we want to voluntarily limit our numbers and have a higher quality of life? This is a taboo subject right now, but, should there be a massive human die off, it will not be so taboo. I will point out that we are perfectly capable of wrecking the planet without industrial technology.

          I don’t want to live in a society that dictates people’s reproductive choices, but I also don’t want to live in a society where I have to watch people starve to death and possibly kill starving people just to keep my food and not starve to death myself. I suppose freedom in most aspects in life, combined with intelligent resource management and a warning: “If you have 16 children and cannot feed them all, we will not provide you with food because you were unable to comprehend that you must live within finite means” is about the best we can hope for without being draconian.

          • Joe Clarkson says:

            The issue of family size is not at clear cut as most people think. Certainly the world needs fewer people. This means fewer children.

            But if a family is attempting some serious preparation for self-sufficiency by setting up a small subsistence farmstead, a lot of kids can be beneficial. It is amazing how many routine chores around a farm can be performed by a four year old kid. If you don’t happen to have one around, that chore will have to be performed by an adult who probably has more important things to do. Plus, there is the age-old issue of who takes care of the elderly and infirm.

            If farm families need to be big families and there aren’t enough direct biological descendants on the farm, people will have to be brought in from outside, either as children or younger adults. Fortunately for the subsistence farmer, it will soon be very easy to find people of any age who will be willing to work real hard for “three hots and a cot”. That’s what I’m counting on.

            • Your are right that children are helpful for helping with farm labor and also for taking care of adults who are older or ill. There likely will never be a time when people voluntarily cut back very much on the number of children they have.

      • jphsd says:

        Indeed. The original LtG plot shows that death rates increase as pollution increases, followed shortly thereafter by birth rates increasing. A reversal of the demographic transition. It doesn’t take long for the population to reduce in size when death rates exceed birth rates.

    • Danny says:

      I don’t know, war wipes a lot of people out. I could see China or the U.S starting another war somewhere soon…just to keep their systems alive. Danny

    • Thanks! I don’t think I had run across that talk before. We have a real problem with the number of young people there are today around the world.

      • xabier says:


        Even in the old developed economies with very low birth-rates,(except among the poorest strata) there are young people leaving school and college with no hope of decent employment (Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece) at an alarmingly high 50% +.

        But of course it is so much more volatile in the Mid East, North Africa, and so on with much younger populations with no hope at all.

        It does not bode well.

  25. I am a faithful reader of your blog and follow it with great interest. I know that our world has limits, but then they read stuff like this:

    How do you treat it?

    • The issue we are facing is financial one, indirectly related to the high cost of oil extraction. It is not the standard “peak oil story”. It is much more the Limits to Growth story from the 1972 book by that name. It has to do with the whole system being squeezed by the high price of oil, leading to more unemployment, lower wages for many people, and inadequate tax revenue for governments. The issue is diminishing returns, similar to the diminishing returns that other civilizations reached prior to collapse.

  26. Its a very common misunderstanding to think that a life expectancy of 35 years means that most people only lived until around 35. However It only says that on average people lived 35 years, This average being dramatically lowered by extrem high child mortality. In fact, even when life expectancy was 35 it was still very common to live until you were in your seventies, provided that you didn’t die as a young child.,

    • InAlaska says:

      You’re right. Even in the far past, once a human made it past adolescence they tended to live into their seventies. It was the high infant mortality rate that kept the average at about 35 years. Child birth, diseases, famine and accidents are what got most infants and children.

      • edpell says:

        YES! Thank you this always drives me nuts. Average 35 does not mean the average for people who reach age 40 is 35! In fact I would expect the average age at death of people who reach age 30 will be longer if the sick and weak are culled out when young.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        I don’t think that is quite right. Certainly, it is true that infant mortality was very high in ancient times. But adult mortality was also very significant with all the accidents and illnesses combined with a lack of real medicine. A seventy year old was very, very rare in hunter-gather times. A whole tribe of 50 or a 100 people might typically have one septagenarian. These “ancients” were prized and given food and shelter. In return, they were a repository of oral wisdom about food and other resources, possible rare events and also folk tales which they passed down. They had other abilities too. Sometimes their long-sightedness (if not obscured by glaucoma etc.) conferred the ability to see very distant objects better than younger members of the tribe.

        • xabier says:


          I learnt my craft of bookbinding from a man of 80: he was no worse a teacher for being so ancient, and in fact the best one to learn from. His teachers fought in WW1. And I’ve recently had some excellent instruction in close combat and killing from a friend who is 75 and formerly a selector and trainer for the SAS: again, a wealth of experience of the practicalities of such things. How nice it must have been to sit by the camp fire with the old warriors and hunters…..

          I have been struck reading biographies of people from the 20thc how many died 55 to 60, even among the rich and privileged.

          A surgeon friend said that he’d observed that if people make it to 80, they often sail through that decade quite well, before the horrors of one’s 90’s when the body has just had enough.

          And we should never forget ‘The creaking hinge that hangs longest’!

        • The numbers I have seen in suggest that old people were pretty rare. I would agree that mortality was high, all along. Also, in some periods, life expectancy was only 20, not 35.

          • I’ve seen just the opposite. As I’ve said, life expectancy at birth of, say, 35, does not mean that most people live to about 35 years. It seems quite reasonable that there would have been many people who survived childhood and lived way beyond 35.

          • the original figure of 65 as a pension age was introduced as the pension point for the German military, somewhere around the 1880s, by Bismarck I think. That age was chosen because so few old soldiers were alive to receive it.
            Similiarly in UK, 70 was chosen, for the same reason

  27. garand555 says:

    “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.”

    It is more than just food that will need to be localized. I would ask, how many people know how to raise and shear sheep, or grow cotton, and spin those fibers into thread/yarn? How many people know how a loom works or how to weave? What about shoes? If the lights go out for good, what about weapons after people run out of ammunition should security be necessary or for hunting? There are a lot of things that should be produced locally, and I would actually argue that one of the best solutions that we are not going to take is massive decentralization when it comes to producing the bulk of our necessities. Heavily populated areas would have more than a difficult time with this, but it would certainly give less populated areas a much better chance of coming through the other side.

    Also, regarding raising crops, look into landrace farming. The gist is that you take a genetically diverse population for a given crop (i.e. start with something like Painted Mountain corn or get a large number of varieties of corn,) plant them, and let them naturally cross pollinate. If it does not survive long enough to go to seed, it does not belong on your farm or in your garden. Ensuring genetic diversity is a means to help deal with pests and disease. It raises the chances that at least some of the individual plants will be resistant to a disease or pest that moves in. The selection process, at least in the beginning, should be self evident. If a pest gets the plant, it’s likely not resistant to local pests. If the heat kills that plant, it’s not suited for your area. If it thrives, it does well with your soil’s PH, your soil’s mineral composition, is competitive with the local weeds, and either got lucky or is resistant to local pests and diseases.

    This does not mean that you don’t have to tend to the soil. You do. You are taking things out of the soil when you grow food, and that mass does not go back into the ground magically. Ensuring that the critters, microorganisms and fungi that are beneficial to plants are present is also a very good idea as it gives a much better chance of the bad organisms being out competed. But you don’t have to amend the deep soil, you don’t have to worry about soil PH, you don’t have to worry about spending money spraying pesticides or spending 6 hours a day on manual pest control.

    Landrace farming also works with animals too.

    (We also discussed recycling human waste in the comments under another article, so I thought about it, figured that hot composting it, then putting it on a field that is going to be fallow for the year might be a viable option. Then I looked into it. Hot composting it, then letting the pile sit for a year to give the pathogens that may have been missed by the heat die off looked like the best course of action.)

    • I agree. There is are a lot of details to be considered, and many things besides food that need to be localized. Since I am not an expert, and I didn’t want to scare everyone to death, I didn’t try to cover everything.

      • garand555 says:

        I bet a lot of the people who are experts are likely not the type to have a computer. They know what it takes because they do it themselves.

        I would think that the most important things that people would need to worry about are:

        Shelter (including heat in the winter)

        I would also throw in materials/tools for hygiene.

        • You are probably right about your list. If there are too many of us, hygiene will be what gets us though. The are too many germs that we ultimately can’t get away from.

    • InAlaska says:

      If you are composting your own (and your family’s human waste) you are in less danger of toxic pathogens than if you are talking about a large, bulk fecal waste recycling. If you keep it small scale (your own), you should be fine to use it within a year.

      • garand555 says:

        I’m not too keen on handling other people’s poo anyway. I’m not even too keen on handling mine, though once composted and aged, it wouldn’t bother me to use on crops.

        That sludge or biosolids or whatever you want to call it is another story. Call me skeptical, but I seriously doubt they remove all of the industrial waste that it was mixed with.

    • edpell says:

      Shoes are an interesting need. Plymouth Plantation, cira 1650, imported their shoes from England! Maybe this will be harder than it seems.

      • I have not been throwing out shoes that are in reasonable shape. They are something that may be hard to come by. It’s good to have a spare pair around.

      • Danny says:

        yes we have only two cobblers in our area….but I could see that being an important trade….however when you need new soles they are usually bought in china and shipped over here.

    • Population density is the spoiler for night soiling. A better solution in the short term (while population is still too high) is to use dry toilets, allow the waste to dehydrate (solar?) then pyrolize (char). the heat of pyrolization will kill pathogens and stabilize the carbon in a form that is a good soil builder. Before applying this ‘biochar’ you need to charge it with nutrients from other composts of animal manures and plant residues.

  28. Harry says:

    I always enjoy reading your posts, Gail, which is perverse of me given the gloominess of the overarching themes!

    I personally envisage a fairly swift descent into chaos once our brittle financial arrangements are shattered by the next credit crunch. The economists have no more rabbits they can pluck from hats. Bank runs, clumsy attempts at capital control, cashpoint malfunctions… I don’t see a way back from all of that. So any attempts at preparation I make are made with the understanding that here in SE England there will be many angry, frightened people within a relatively small geographical area. Survival will be a lottery but as a father I have to try.

    I have been looking into Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism as a possible means of ‘inoculating’ myself against suffering. Part of that involves the elimination of psychological time, as with the Kenyans you reference who mourn and move on, because psychological time is the foundation of the false self: “The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whaterver form. Both are illusions.” [Eckhart Tolle]

    And really what are we? This is a question worth dwelling on. We are not the physical body and we are not the thinking mind, as Descartes suggested. There is no verbal response that measures up. But if you sit very still and breathe and feel your way into the enquiry a beautiful mystery opens up.

    • I am sure there are many approaches out there.

      I know historically I have been able to “bounce back” pretty quickly. Perhaps part of it is not setting unrealistic expectations for what is ahead.

    • BC says:

      Harry, you describe what in Zen is “no-thing”, “no-thingness”, “no mind”, “the Void”, “emptiness” (of all “things” not “no-thingness” or not “what is”), or “the natural state of being”; that is, consciousness unconscious of consciousness conscious of itself. There is no “I” or “me” there or here or anywhere, i.e., “no mind” to perceive itself as the illusory thoughtforms projected by the mind in opposition to this or that “thing”.

      There is the Zen story of the man and the mountain. At first, the man, observer “I”, perceives the object, “the mountain”. But then the man perceives that it is thought constructing an illusory projection separate in time from the projected object, “the mountain”, which does not exist. Then, there is the realization of no time nor separation of this vs. that, or this thing to be conceptualized and retained or possessed. The observer and the observed then are at once one and simultaneously “no-thing” to be, possess, or to cling to. The mountain is thus not “the mountain”, and mind is “no-mind” or “no-thingness” to possess any-“thing” at all.

      Further, thought is incapable of perceiving its own ending; otherwise, there would be no thinker to think that it is no longer thinking about not thinking. Therefore, thought must construct all manner of illusory places to abide in order to persist in the next instance and ultimately beyond the demise of the body, e.g., Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, Paradise, life after death, etc.

      But for Zen “no-mind”, there is no place, i.e., “thing” projected by thought, for mind to abide. There is only “emptiness” of all that is not full of “no-thingness”. One purpose of meditation is to perceive “without measuring” or without fixing thought’s projection on “things”, i.e., no thinker thinking about thinking about thinking or not thinking.

      It is said that Zen is easy, but it is also hard. Zen is the natural state, but we are socialized, conditioned, and rewarded to live otherwise in an increasingly technological/artificial, highly socially and psychologically constructed, winner-take-all competitive society of a few “winners” and everyone as “losers”.

      Moreover, it is also said that “enlightenment” is “carrying water and chopping wood”, i.e., an ordinary existence. Thus, there is “no-thing” to be but what the natural adequacy with which Nature has endowed us.

      Some misinterpret this to mean nihilism, i.e., living without meaning or without hope; but the state of being is one of recognizing that all conceptions of “meaning” or “hope” are thought attempting to continue indefinitely into the illusory “future”, which, of course, does not exist.

      Even “the Now” that Tolle describes can never be experienced my thought/mind, as the instant mind attempts to seize and grasp “the present” or “Now”, a picosecond has passed, and the “present” is “the past”.

      But within the illusory temporal space between this picosecond and the next is the infinitude of “no-thingness” or “emptiness” or all that is or “what is”, i.e., there can be nothing else but “no-thingness”.

      Some Zen “non-thinkers” have observed that there is no “self”, immortality, nor reincarnation as is generally conceived, which, again, is an illusory thoughtform; however, the body is perpetual in that its constituent elements are continuously recycled and reorganized by Nature/the universe, as human life most certainly derived from stardust, and into this dust the body returns time and again for as long as human life persists on this planet or perhaps beyond. The highest value of the human body to the planet’s ecosystem is Nature’s requirement for compost for terrestrial plants. :-D

      So, in this larger context, one is stardust; one is “no-thing”, the natural state of being. Realizing this requires no more effort than breathing and other bodily functions. One cannot NOT be “no-thingness”. There is “no-thing” to desire, covet, long for, or lose, which are illusory thoughtforms to which the mind clings, leading to disappointment, “failure”, resentment, anxiety, fear, anger, violence, and most of the sources of suffering we humans experience. We want so desperately to become some-“thing” that we can never be.

      One can only “be” (in the sense of not desiring “to become” the illusion of “being”) a living exemplar of “no-thingness” or “what is” to others (another illusion); all else is illusion and the source of suffering for oneself and others.

      The realization of this illusory thinking can be a revelation to the mind and a kind of “vacation” of the mind/consciousness from all that it is not and can never be.

      Finally, “humor” is the state of mind/consciousness of fluidity and “going with the flow”, as it were; this is a very Zen kind of “no-thing”. :-) Therefore, Zen is humorous, and that Zen is the natural state, the natural state of being is humorous, fluid, and full of “no-thingness” but “what is”. If one can experience humor in all aspects of living, there is Zen . . . and here . . . and over there. :-)

      Thus, the “meaning” or “purpose” of living is the realization that one is immortal funny stardust existing where “no-thing” is always happening. :-)

    • Eivind Berge says:

      Actually, there is one more economic rabbit we haven’t tried yet. Not within the repertoire of the banks, but outside it. Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies could decentralize banking. If we get used to doing business with cryptocurrencies before the banks fail, then the banks can fail and disappear and we won’t even notice — not until the Internet fails. Max Keiser just did an episode on how Scotland now has an historic opportunity to secede and adopt a national cryptocurrency and thus become a rich nation. There is an effort underway to make a national coin for Iceland as well.

      Using Bitcoin would avert all the problems with capital control, bank runs and so on. So it seems to me the adopting cryptocurrencies is one way to be more resilient against collapse, and this should be on the list of responses we ought to start now.

      • Harry says:

        Thank you for that, BC. I am still working on my moment of self-realisation as immortal, funny stardust, extant in the eternal no-thing!

        Eivind, when we experience a minsky moment in the financial markets and trust is gone, I would imagine that internet-dependent crypto-currencies will be even more vulnerable than standard fiat currencies. A good rule of thumb is to always choose the local and the straightforward over the complex. Cash under the mattress will be useful in the short-term.

        • BC says:

          “Thank you for that, BC. I am still working on my moment of self-realisation as immortal, funny stardust, extant in the eternal no-thing!”

          Harry, there’s no work required; no “self” to realize (rather, realize it doesn’t exist); you’re already there; you’ve made it, only there are no credentials to be obtained, accolades to receive, nor legitimacy to be conferred by our betters. :-D

          It’s like waking from a nightmare and realizing that one is in one’s warm, cozy bed with the dawn’s early light shining through the window, showing the way to the kitchen and a cup of French roast or Earl Grey as an early-morning companion as one’s “awakening”. :-)

          U. G. Krishnamurti: No mind, no self, no separation of the biological entity and thought from Nature and external stimuli, thinking and illusion, and human species as nothing special:

          “No-thing” can be known, i.e., all “things” do not exist and thus are only illusory projections of thought desperately trying to experience/internalize stimuli as “things” that thought can conceptualize and possess perpetually.

          Thus, death of thought (“self”) is the freedom from the prison in which one is sentenced to a life of desiring all the “things” that thought cannot “know” and “possess”.

          Knowing that thought (and its perpetual movement in illusory time) cannot “know” and “experience” any-“thing” is the “key” to the lock of the door of the prison of the mind.

          We spend our entire lives trying to be “someone”, which is really a “thing” that cannot exist, and then we wonder why we are sad, alienated, depressed, dissatisfied, resentful, and unhappy.

          But we have an economy that promotes, and a few who profit handsomely from, the myriad dysfunctions resulting from mind/thought trying to be what it can never be. The more we want what we cannot have, the more we suffer, and the more a few profit from our suffering.

          The “r-evolution” is that of consciousness, i.e., mind/thought, the ending of the sources of suffering, which is an individual choice, not a gov’t program, ideology, a pill, medical procedure, religious sect’s belief system, guru’s path, choice of spouse, occupation, socioeconomic status, paper or plastic, hybrid or Hummer, etc.

          “Be the change we want to happen” is a cliche now, but there is no “change” to “be” because “change” is a construct of thought’s desire that can never occur; and, besides, change is occurring perpetually, over which we have little influence, and effectively no control.

          “Turn off your mind,
          Relax and float downstream;
          It is not dying;
          It is not dying.

          Lay down all thoughts,
          Surrender to ‘the Void’;
          It is shining;
          It is shining.”

          “Wake up!”

          This is (always was and is) “The End” (a love song about losing “self”).

          “Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain,
          And all the children are insane.
          All the children are insane,
          Waiting for the summer rain.”

          Remember, “no-thing” is happening. :-)

      • I am a little skeptical, especially if electricity is one of the things that we cannot expect to continue long term.

      • BC says:

        Eivend, Bitcon and its peers are like shooting gallery targets for the most remarkably clever hacker types, some merely curious to see if they can hack the systems, and those with nefarious, criminal intentions, some of whom have already succeeded. These are vehicles of confiscation and in part a function of the mass-social financial bubble mindset of hyper-financialization of the economy.

        Moreover, there is no privacy left on the Internet. Should the NSA (or pick your agency in your favorite domicile) want to monitor and collect a dossier on you or me, it is so easy for them to do that it is practically automatic today.

        Also, should any private corporate-statist entity with the ability desire to render you and I “disappeared” or virtually/digitally non-existent, including our bank account balances and other financial assets, Bitcon included, it is a simply matter of a few clicks of the keyboard or overnight systems update or account reconciliation.

        Resistance really is futile. We are all being absorbed by the neo-imperial corporate-statist Borg’s global intelligent systems Google/”UniComp” (Levin’s “This Perfect Day”) into a “Brave New World” in which our self-determination is rapidly vanishing.

        There is no way out. We are, like it or not, realize it or not, part of the illusion and surreality of “The Matrix” and “The Grand Illusion”, and we are “Fooling Ourselves” if we don’t perceive it for what it is.

        Now, if you are among the vanishingly small number of singularly talented hacker types who has figured out how to program yourself into multiple entities across geographical regions and intertemporally layered virtual cloud spaces, existing neither here nor there, nor anywhere, for long, and yet anywhere you like, and yet somehow functioning relatively normally while avoiding the “Electric Eye” (Rob Halford and the boys of Judas Priest were 20-30 years ahead of their time), perhaps you and I (or our virtual multiple selves) should connect and collaborate. :-)

        • Eivind Berge says:


          I agree there is no way to escape from state entities if they are out to get you. They can easily spy on you and if they want to kill you they can just send a drone. But if any entity whatsoever wanted to take my bitcoins, the only way to do so would be to torture me into revealing the password. It is easy to have this level of security provided you keep your computer secure at the time you encrypt your wallet with a strong password (bitcoin addresses and private keys can be generated offline, so this is totally doable). Making bitcoin transactions does not require privacy on the Internet or even encryption, as all transactions are transparent public knowledge anyway, so the spy agencies can monitor all Internet traffic for all we care. No one has the power to reverse transactions either. Bitcoins exist in the blockchain, which is distributed with a complete copy on each of over a hundred thousand nodes currently (running a full node yourself is optional). And if only you know the private key to your bitcoins, it certainly isn’t a matter of “a few clicks of the keyboard or overnight systems update or account reconciliation” to take them. More like a trillion years of brute-forcing with all the computing power in the world, or torturing you to reveal the password. And they can’t do that with everybody. If you keep your money in the bank, then the bank or government can simply freeze or seize your account at will, but that is physically impossible with Bitcoin. This is an extremely crucial difference. They could demand your bitcoins, but they can’t take them without your cooperation. Bitcoin is thus as far from a “vehicle of confiscation” as you can get. It both functions as a physical asset like gold for purposes of exchange (only better) and it is impossible to steal like a physical object at the same time.

          And no, Bitcoin hasn’t been hacked. Not the core protocol. If you have had your bitcoins stolen, then that’s because you didn’t take security seriously. Or if you trust someone else with your bitcoins, such as a web wallet, then your coins can be stolen if security there is inadequate, but you don’t have to do that. And all the hacker attempts only make Bitcoin stronger, as vulnerabilities are exposed and patched, all of them minor so far.

          The real problem with Bitcoin when it comes to collapse is it can’t function without the Internet and electricity. But I think it can make our lives better until we get to that point and perhaps help push collapse further down the road. It’s not like the plastic cards most people use today will do us any good at that point anyway.

          • BC says:

            Eivind, Skol! to your brilliant reasoning and your presumed laudable objectives.

            Regrettably, I have personal knowledge that the security apparatuses/apparati of the US, UK, German, Russian, Chinese and, sadly, Swede and Swiss have already cracked the security of Bitcon and several of its peers/competitors. In fact, the very nature of the “security” that now exists “reveals itself” (hint) to “the Matrix” in so many ways, I am loathed to share it, especially over this medium.

            The modern-day incarnation of the Anglo-American and German (and marginally Dutch, Swiss, Milanese, and Danish) bankster syndicate’s Reichskommissariat has again occupied Norge (and most everywhere else by now), only this time digitally and globally via the Internet.

            This bird has flown:

            May the Norwegians always have sufficient wood, bark up OR down:


          • Paul says:

            What use is bitcoin – or gold – or anything be – when there is not enough food to go around?

          • Eivind Berge says:


            Bitcoin would not be trading right now for 600 dollars if security was compromised. If governments knew how to compromise security, then other hackers would too (it is open source after all) and someone would use it to enrich themselves. Bitcoin is very sensitive to bad news, so the value would drop if this information came out (and perhaps the core developers would even find a way to fix it). I doubt you have information no one else in the Bitcoin community has. If there were even a single transaction known to have circumvented the basic security features of Bitcoin, then I would certainly not trust it anymore, but there is no evidence of that so far.

            Paul, I know Bitcoin can’t create food or energy. But it can ensure purchasing power when fiat currencies fail, as long as there is not a true global shortage of resources. For example, I hear the people of Argentina are now experiencing inflation and capital controls. By last count (three hours ago) there were 805 full bitcoin nodes in Argentina, and many more using thin clients. I imagine these people are glad to be holding Bitcoin instead of pesos now. If collapse is slow, I think cryptocurrencies can help a lot against the kind of disturbances Argentina is going through. You have to admit it could be decades at least until it becomes physically impossible to maintain the Internet, and a blockchain is extremely resilient since it is distributed in so many copies. You don’t even strictly need the electric grid to keep up with Bitcoin, at least not everywhere. Keeping up with the blockchain is actually within the limits of amateur packet radio technology:


        • Sylvia says:

          I can see the Winklevoss twins coming to my door one day offering 1 million in Bitcoin for a chicken ;-)

      • While I wholly support the notion of decentralized or money-back currency versus the fiat systems across the globe plaguing everything, I tax almost everything that comes out of Kaiser’s mouth with a pound of salt. “$500 SILVER IS AROUND THE CORNER!” and other boastings make his credibility wane considerably. Now he is on the Bitcoin bandwagon. My knowledge of this is better than average, but if there is a decentralized crypto in our future, there will likely be multiples; thus eroding the value of just one. And price volatility is out of my realm. We should adopt these cryptos, but there is another downside as well… If the collapse is as real as many are predicting, there will be no Internet, thus no opportunity of transferring it back into a true medium of exchange. I can’t virtually transfer my Bitcoin if the networks are down; but I can still trade my useless hyperinflated dollars and coins; and can always use physical bars & coins of precious metals. (Now I will check out what Max said, because I always keep an open mind. But open enough to not have been chasing silver @ $45/oz. ;))

      • Peter S says:

        Money (inside a successful economy) only represents resources and energy. Bitcoins aren’t going to create any more oil, or stop people polluting our planet. Maybe it could stop bank runs (but then again, it could just as easily promote speculating and more bank runs), but that hardly matters when there are nothing to buy.

        • garand555 says:

          One could argue that “honest” money (i.e. no debt based currencies, no fractional reserve banking,) would have forced us to make some very difficult decisions in the past to stave off the disaster that we are likely to face. Maybe, maybe not, but it is something to think about.

      • Any value contained within any monetary system is a representation of the energy available to the society that uses it.
        we must not try to conceived of ‘new societies’ where old forms of currency will somehow retain its value
        and yes…this also applies to bitcoin. The value of bitcoin will dry up if there is no raw energy input to prop it up. You cannot go on exchanging mythical money and expect a return of real energy input/output
        Your 2000 calorie daily intake of energy has to be physically produced somewhere, bitcoin currency will not create the conditions for wheat or beef to grow and be delivered to your table.

    • xabier says:


      I too am stuck in the South of England, which is squeaking at the seams with people: the latent pressure is enormous.

      Try the Sufi contemplation:

      ‘Contemplate Death at all times: wake with it, work with it, sleep with it. Then, when you know what it is: LIVE!’

      I’ve found it helps to gain perspective lacking in consumerist culture, and above all reconnect to the positive when faced by these rather depressing possibilities.

      • Harry says:

        Thanks Xabier. I am much more at home with the passionate Sufis than I am with the glacially tranquil Zen crowd.


        “There is a candle in your heart,
        ready to be kindled.
        There is a void in your soul,
        ready to be filled.
        You feel it, don’t you?”

        It makes me catch my breath every time I read it.

        • xabier says:

          Sufism also fed into the Troubadour culture of Europe, and into a chivalrous attitude to life: both life-enhancing things. We have to keep our spirits up!

  29. robdelaet says:

    Thank you for your helpful article. In 2009 I bought a 200 hectare farm, contained in a forested valley in the coastal mountains of Bahia, Brazil with 70 hectares of prime forest at altitudes of between 600 and 800 meters and enough cleared land to feed 50 people if done well. The valley is secluded, has several perennial springs, a lake and 4 houses (including one I built with castle thick granite walls that can be defended and can survive the heaviest downpours). All in preparation of what Gail is telling plus the disruption from climate change. The farm is well placed, because it survived the worst drought in living memory in Bahia and water kept flowing from the mountains, all be it a trickle, while just 20 km away the cows were dying. Still my preparations ran into trouble because I cannot convince enough of my friends and family to join me in the effort and I realize now that you are right about the fact that social relations are probably more important than all of this.

    • Exactly. Social relations are a big deal. I heard a talk Guy McPherson gave, in which he talks about how he had made huge preparations in New Mexico, in a project shared with another family. After working for a while on it, he decided he couldn’t get along with the other family. This is before any real trouble hit. A person wonders what happens when real problems hit.

      • InAlaska says:

        Thank you, Gail. For this article. It is, indeed, a terrifying future that we are contemplating, but it is also pleasing to read your suggested options as a way to make oneself as ready as possible. I know, personally, that I always feel better after getting up from the computer and actually doing something about my personal situation. Your latest post builds a framework in which readers may structure their own efforts. More please…

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        “After working for a while on it, he decided he couldn’t get along with the other family. This is before any real trouble hit. A person wonders what happens when real problems hit.”

        There’s a lot of reality right there. Greater wealth by way of the energy available from the oil age seems to have made people less tolerant of each other. I read an article by a psychologist who says in older societies people were much more tolerant of occasional odd behavior by fellow citizens. We have been spoiled by our ability to sequester ourselves from others, but soon we will be forced to mix together. Should be quite a show.

        • garand555 says:

          “We have been spoiled by our ability to sequester ourselves from others, but soon we will be forced to mix together. Should be quite a show.”

          I expect that some agricultural land will be devoted to grains for whiskey and beer as well as marijuana for this reason.

          • Stilgar Wilcox says:

            Agreed garand. We can already see that as pressure builds towards collapse there are unprecedented street & pharm drug usage. Once shtf, it will be back to the basic reality altering substances so we can drink and smoke merrily as groups together. My advise to people is stay off anything you won’t be able to get after collapse.

            When I lived in Scotland in the late 70’s working on the offshore rigs, week-on, week-off, my friends and I frequented the pubs in the evening. People thought it was strange people in America stayed home and watched TV in the evenings. We always had fun and never were lost for words. It was very social and enjoyable being with all those people. Of course after a nip or two of Grouse and a couple of pints of Guinness on tap, it would have been hard to be anything but giddy.

        • I am not sure whether they were tolerant of odd behavior or not. I know that deaths from violence were much higher than now. People who did not behave according to society’s norms may have gotten thrown out (meaning nearly certain death).

          • Don says:

            I was going to say this.

            People were less tolerant, not more.

          • xabier says:

            Yes, the person from the next village is potentially a deadly enemy, to be dealt with accordingly! Breaches of custom are severely punished.

            A famous writer in Spain used to say: ‘Village life is much more malicious than people imagine.’

            I’ve found that here in England……

          • Paul says:

            I live in a village in Indonesia — indeed if a local person goes against the norms to aggressively or continuously — they are sent packing. As you can imagine this seldom happens – the boat is not often rocked.

      • robdelaet says:

        Well still looking for nice people to try and create a self sustaining, somewhat protected invironment :-)

        • Hello Rob, where are you located? Do you have access to, knowledge of likeminded networks in Asia?

          • rob de laet says:

            H Daniel, I am the Brazilian state of Bahia. Have spent a lot of time in Asia. There are quite a few eco/organic/spiritual villages in India, partly still based on Gandhi´s philosophy. They are called ashrams usually. A famous one is the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondycherry, in the South. Been there and found those people incredibly self righteous. However I am not in contact with these networks, Kind regards, Rob

      • sponia says:

        I am reminded of a study I read somewhere once, that claimed the large size of the modern human brain developed as a coping mechanism in response to an increasing population density and the resulting complexity of human society; that most of what we like to think makes us special is really just there so that we can learn to tolerate each other in close quarters. When the coping mechanisms break down we are at each others’ throats, driven mad by the over-crowding. I’m not entirely certain if this impedes or improves any single person’s chances for survival. In some ways, we really have become too smart for our own good.

    • edpell says:

      Any neighboring land available?

  30. 666isMONEY says:

    A few days ago I became aware of the methane problem (arctic ocean warming up releasing massive amount of methane causing temperature to rise and mass extinction), the author of this article, Dr Guy McPherson, believed Peak Oil would stop global warming but then a few years ago, he discovered more signs of methane release and now concludes that any day now, we could have a massive methane release and extinction. (This is soooo scary: your comments please.)

    • I have absolutely no idea what we can do about such a methane release–probably absolutely nothing.

      Humans have lived on earth in a variety of climate conditions, 98% of the time as hunter-gatherers, according to one calculation. With rapidly changing climate, a hunter-gatherer lifestyle will probably be necessary. If there is a big enough temperature change, only part of the world will be habitable.

      Such a methane release wouldn’t change the other things I say–make the most of the time you have now. We don’t have a very certain world. We never know how long we have left, but such a release would make it shorter yet.

      • robdelaet says:

        A catastrophic methane release is definitely a possibility but proof of it happening is not conclusive, increased methane levels might have other causes. Sam Carana has a complete climate plan to try to stop run away climate change. Have a look.
        Of course it means a lot of integrated coordinated world wide action, which right now is not in the cards. Let’s hope we are not getting this on top of all the other horsemen riding our way.

    • InAlaska says:

      Yes, the idea is related to “tipping points” where we may have already set in motion a cascading series of events that will lead to severe global warming regardless of whether we continue to burn fossil fuels in the future. The methane hydrate releases at the bottom of the ocean and the disappearance of the polar ice cap (causing ocean warming) are the two chief culprits. We may, simply, be done, at this point. A new book has recently been published called, “The Sixth Extinction,” by Elizabeth Kolbert. I highly recommend this for a clear-eyed look at where we are headed. It is scary. Best wishes to you.

    • Ert says:

      At this is up-to-date news regarding the global climate situation. The recent posts focus on the situation in the arctic and on the behavior of the jet streams – doesn’t look good.

      Please note, that even the US-Military is planning on 2016 for a ice free arctic: Navy researchers predict summer Arctic ice to disappear by 2016, 84 years ahead of schedule (Source: I have other sources stating the same – even Jeremy Jackson.

      I see that “Penguins and Ice-bears are toast” is already baked in… even if it all collapses tomorrow. But when the ice is away… then other feed-backs take over.

      • I am not sure we even know what all of the other feedbacks are, if we have an ice-free arctic. I also am doubtful that we have a way of fixing it. We are kind of stuck, wherever we are. We have our infrastructure built in one place. If climate changes, it needs to be in a different place. Oops!

      • I take everything at the arctic-news blogspot with a pinch of salt. That site doesn’t publish comments that question the articles’ validity so there is no serious discussion there. My advice is to try to find confirmatory sources for everything there and read the articles with a critical eye.

        • robdelaet says:

          Agree about the pinch of salt regarding the Arctic blogspot, although I trust their motives and data, their conclusions are continuously of the worst case scenario kind.

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      666ismoney, I know Gail does not delve into the climate change information much, so it’s easy to understand her position that it won’t be a problem due to the coming economic changes. However I have split my time equally to the study of both peak oil with it’s economic implications, and climate change and my view is both are dovetailing towards dramatic change, even to the point of being on a similar if not exact timeframe. Example given: Right now we’ve already changed the weather by increasing the temperature of the Arctic, which reduced the temperature gradient (difference in temperature between the Arctic and the tropics) which has increased the amplitude (wavy line) of the jet stream that drives the direction of storms. In other words that trajectory is much more pronounced, moving from north to south. Examples of this are the persistent high just off of CA that is directing storms farther north causing extreme drought in the central valley where 1/3 of the nations food is grown. We will experience shortages and much higher produce prices this Summer. 2nd example is the frigid air driving far south into the US repeatedly this year. In separate cases two guys got so frustrated with snow piling up they aimed guns at the heads of snow plow operators because they shifted snow on to their properties. The other major tipping point to come is methane releasing from shallow regions of the Arctic. As ice volume continues to decrease it will release at some point initiating full blown runaway GW.

      At the same time descending EROEI is causing ever more economic pressure. The timing on peak oil by many accounts is 2015. The timing on an ice free Arctic by many is 2016, but we don’t know the timing of when the tipping point will release methane en masse. What if grocery stores are being pillaged as panic sets in at the same time methane releases en masse? It could happen, and the more I read the more it seems like they are timed together. Look at the following verbiage from the link in the first response to Gail’s newest post:


      The only reason that hasn’t occurred yet is because there is a time delay known as thermal inertia, in which the current CO2 levels require time for the added energy in the atmosphere to transfer into the oceans. Many GW deniers point to 1998 as the peak temp. year, but what has been shown is the extra energy has been absorbed by the Pacific. Well, there is a 76% chance of an El Nino occurring this year and 100% by 2015. What will that do to Arctic ice melt this Summer and next? I think we are approaching a dual disaster of economic and climate factors.

      At the same time the idea of humans becoming extinct I think is very unlikely. Even in the dinosaur extinction event small mammals survived underground during the day and came out during the night. Why wouldn’t people do the same?

      In any event, best to start preparing, like Gail says.

      • You may be right.

        As I recall, in the last IPCC model, the warming of the arctic did not show up as one of the major findings. The model was looking more at other things. This isn’t to say that the arctic wasn’t warming–just that the model didn’t really look at that fine detail, and certainly didn’t forecast the kind of warming we have seen in recent years. So it gets frustrating, if one hopes for the model to tell us what actually will happen by region, rather than a global temperature estimate.

        I really don’t know what one does. We don’t have good options for fixing the problem, certainly not in the timeframe needed (yesterday!)

      • Leo Letendre says:

        At high temperature food crops dont grow well , strong wind , drought , hail , storms with heavy rain , lack of fertilizer ,will make food production very difficult and unrealible . Human specie will become extinct because of lack of food . Like so many past civilisation.
        As a farmer I have already seen the warming and changing climate since 3-4 years.
        I am almost terrorised of our near future climate extremes.

    • Julian Brown says:

      McPherson is being unduly apocalyptic. A massive sudden methane release in the near future is possible, and indeed likely in the course of this century. However, such a catastrophe has happened several times in the past and it most certainly did not result in the death of the ecosystem and the oceans boiling away into space, as McPherson suggests might happen !
      The trigger in this cycle is going to be man-made CO2 emissions, for sure, but there is no reason to believe that the amount of methane released will be any different from last time around.
      The build-up of anaerobic gunge in the permafrost sediments is, after all, a natural process of Gaia’s organism, and she is not known to be a suicidal lady….
      So relax on this one. Gail’s near-term deflationary collapse scenario is what we should be concentrating upon. I find her advice absolutely spot on, and there is clearly a great deal each one of us can do constructively without worrying about The End of the World.

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