How to prepare for peak oil impacts – Some thoughts from 2007

For a few days, I am working on an academic article. Since I don’t have time to do research and write something new, I thought I would post an article I wrote in 2007 on how to prepare for the impacts of peak oil, together with a few updates for 2011. This article was previously posted on The Oil Drum and was a chapter in what I called a Peak Oil booklet (found here).

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We know that peak oil will be here soon, and we feel like we should be doing something. But what? It is frustrating to know where to start. In this chapter, we will discuss a few ideas about what we as individuals can do.

1. What will the first few years after peak oil be like?

It is hard to know for certain, but a reasonable guess is that the impact will be like a major recession or depression. Many people will be laid off from work.

Gasoline is likely to be very expensive ($10 a gallon or more) and may not be available, except in limited quantities after waiting in line for a long time. Fewer goods of all types will be available in stores. Imports from third-world countries are likely to be especially unavailable, because of the impact of the oil shortage on their economies. 

[2011 Update: Gasoline prices may not rise as high as $10 gallon; the problem may be that at lower prices than $10 gallon, oil prices send the economy into recession. There may actually be a glut of oil supply because of recession or depression, because many cannot afford the high priced oil. For example, state highway departments cannot afford high priced asphalt. This is related to low “energy return on energy invested”. If the goods and services made with oil aren’t great enough to justify its high price, high oil price can be expected to send the economy into recession. Countries that use a lot of oil for purposes other than creating new goods and services are likely to be especially vulnerable to recession.]

Money may not have the same value as previously–opinion is divided as to whether deflation or rampant inflation will be a problem. Investments, even those previously considered safe, are likely to lose value. Things we take for granted–like bottled water, fast food restaurants, and dry cleaners–may disappear fairly quickly. Electricity may become less reliable, with more frequent outages. Airplane tickets are likely to be extremely expensive, or only available with a special permit based on need.

2. If a scenario like this is coming, what can a person do now?

Here are a few ideas:

• Visit family and friends now, especially those at a distance. This may be more difficult to do in the future.

• Learn to know your neighbors. It is likely that you will need each other’s help more in the future.

• If you live by yourself, consider moving in with friends or relatives. In tough times, it is better to have others to rely on. It is also likely to be a lot cheaper.

• Buy a bicycle that you can use as alternate transportation, if the need arises.

• Start walking or jogging for exercise. Get yourself in good enough physical condition that you could walk a few miles if you needed to.

• Take care of your physical health. If you need dental work or new glasses, get them. Don’t put off immunizations and other preventive medicine. These may be more difficult to get, or more expensive, later.

• Move to a walkable neighborhood. If it seems likely that you will be able to keep your job, move closer to your job.

• Trade in your car for one with better mileage. If you have a SUV, you can probably sell it at a better price now than in the future.

• If you have two cars powered by gasoline, consider trading one for a diesel-powered vehicle. That way, if gasoline (or diesel) is not available, you will still have one car you can drive.

• Make sure that you have at least a two-week supply of food and water, if there is some sort of supply disruption. It is always good to have some extra for an emergency–the likelihood of one arising is greater now.

• Keep reasonable supplies of things you may need in an emergency–good walking shoes, boots, coats, rain wear, blankets, flashlights and batteries (or wind-up flashlights).

• Take up hobbies that you will be able to continue in a low energy world, such as gardening, knitting, playing a musical instrument, bird watching, or playing cards with neighbors.

• Join a local sustainability group or “permaculture” group and start learning about sustainable gardening methods.

3. Do I need to do more than these things?

It really depends on how much worse things get, and how quickly. If major services like electricity and water remain in place for many years, and if gasoline and diesel remain reasonably available, then relatively simple steps will go a a long way.

Some steps that might be helpful to add once the crunch comes include:

• Join a carpool for work, or make arrangements to work at home. If public transportation is available, use it.

• Cut out unnecessary trips. Eat meals at home. Take your lunch to work. Walk or jog in your neighborhood rather than driving to the gym. Order from the internet or buy from stores you can walk to, rather than driving alone to stores.

• If you live a distance from shopping, consider forming a neighborhood carpool for grocery and other shopping. Do this for other trips as well, such as attending church. If closer alternatives are available, consider them instead.

• Plant a garden in your yard. Put in fruit or nut trees. Make a compost pile, and use it in your garden. Put to use what you learned in sustainability or permaculture groups.

• Meat, particularly beef, is likely to be very expensive. Learn to prepare meals using less meat. Make casseroles like your grandmother’s, making a small amount of meat go a long way. Or make soup using a little meat plus vegetables or beans.

• Use hand-me-down clothing for younger children. Or have a neighborhood garage sale, and trade clothing with others near you.

4. Should families continue to have two, three, or four children, as they often do today?

With the uncertainties ahead, it would be much better if families were very small–one child, or none at all. The world’s population has grown rapidly in the last 100 years. Part of the reason for growth is the fact that with oil and natural gas, it was possible to grow much more food than in the past. As we lose the use of these fossil fuels, it is likely that we will not be able to produce as much food as in the past, because of reduced ability to irrigate crops, and reduced availability of fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides. In addition, manufactured goods of all types, including clothing and toys, are likely to be less available, with declining fossil fuel supply. Having smaller families will help fit the population to the available resources.

If couples have completed their families, it would probably be worthwhile for them to consider a permanent method of contraception, since birth control may be less available or more expensive.

5. Are there any reasons why steps such as those outlined in Question 3 might be too little to handle the problem?

Besides the decline in oil production, there are a number of other areas of concern. Hopefully, most of these will never happen, or if they do happen, will not occur for several years. If they do happen, greater measures than those outlined in Question 3 are likely to be needed.

Collapse of the financial system. Our financial system needs growth to sustain it, so that loans can be paid back with interest. Once peak oil hits, growth will be gone. Economic growth may even be replaced with economic decline. It is not clear our financial system can handle this.

Collapse of foreign trade. Many factors may come into play: The cost of transportation will be higher. Airline transport may not be available at all. Fewer goods are likely to be produced by the poorer countries of the world, because of power outages related to high oil prices. Rapid inflation/deflation may make monetary transactions more difficult.

Rapid climate change. Recently, scientists have discovered that climate change can take place over a very short period of time–as little as a decade or two. Temperature and precipitation changes may cause crop failures, and may make some areas no longer arable. Sea levels may also rise.

Failure of the electrical grid. The grid tends to be vulnerable to many kinds of problems–including deterioration due to poor maintenance, damage during storms, and attacks in times of civil unrest. Maintenance is currently very poor (grade of D) according to the “Report Card on America’s Infrastructure” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. If we cannot maintain the grid, and upgrade it for the new wind and solar capacity being added, we will all be in the dark.

Water shortages. There are several issues–We are drawing down some aquifers at unsustainable rates, and these may be depleted. Climate change may reduce the amount of water available, by melting ice caps and changing storm patterns. City water and sewer systems require considerable energy inputs to continue functioning. If these are not provided, the systems will stop. Finally, systems must also be adequately maintained–something that is neglected currently.

Road deterioration. If we don’t have roads, it doesn’t matter whether we have cars. In the future, asphalt (a petroleum product) is expected to become more and more expensive and less available. It is not clear whether recycling asphalt from lesser-used roads will overcome this difficulty.

Decline in North American natural gas production. Natural gas is especially used for home heating, making plastics and making fertilizer. It is also used in electrical generation, particularly for extra load capacity when demand is high. Conventional natural gas is declining, and it is not clear that supply from other sources can make up the gap. [2011 update – we now have shale gas and other unconventional making up the gap, but there are uncertainties how long it will stay with us]

Inadequate mineral supplies. A number of minerals are becoming less avaialble, including copper (used in electric wiring), platinum (used in catalytic converters), phosphorous (used in fertilizer).

Fighting over available supplies. This could happen at any level. Individuals with inadequate food or gasoline may begin using violence. Or there may be fighting among groups within a nation, or between nations.

6. Are there any reasons for optimism?

Yes. We know that people throughout the ages have gotten along successfully with far fewer resources than we have now, and with much less foreign trade. Financial systems have gotten into trouble in the past, and eventually new systems have replaced them. If nothing else, barter works.

We know that among the countries of the world, the United States, Canada, and Russia have reasonably good resource endowments in relation to their populations. They have fairly large amounts of land for crops, moderate rainfall, reasonable amounts of fossil fuels remaining, and populations that are not excessively large.

We also know that Cuba successfully made a transition from high oil usage to much lower oil usage, through the development of local gardens, increased public transit, and bicycles. A movie has been made about the Cuban experience.

7. What should we do, if we want to do more than described in Question 3?

Some web sites (such as Life After the Oil Crash and advocate moving to a farming area, buying land and hand tools, and learning to farm without fossil fuels. Typically, an individual purchases an existing farmhouse and adds solar panels or a windmill. The web sites generally recommend storing up large supplies of food, clothing, medicine, tools, guns, and ammunition, and learning a wide range of skills. These sites also suggest storing some things (liquor, razor blades, aspirin, etc.) for purposes of barter.

This approach may work for a few people, but it has its drawbacks. Making such a big move is likely to be expensive, and will most likely involve leaving one’s job. The individual will be alone, so security may be a problem. The individual may be dependent on his or her own resources for most things, especially if the farm is in a remote location. If the weather is bad, crops may fail. Living on the edge of a small town may prevent some problems, but such a move would still be a major undertaking.

8. How about Ecovillages? What are they?

These are communities dedicated to the idea of sustainable living. These communities were set up in response to many issues facing the world, including global warming, resource depletion, and lifestyles that are not fulfilling. They were generally not formed with peak oil in mind.

Each ecovillage is different. Organizers often buy a large plot of land and lay out a plan for it. Individuals buy into the organization. Homes may be made from sustainable materials, such as bales of straw. Gardening is generally done using “permaculture”- a sustainable organic approach. Individuals may have assigned roles in the community.

The few ecovillages I investigated did not seem to truly be sustainable–they bought much of their food and clothing from outside, and made money by selling tours of their facilities. The ecovilliage approach could theoretically be expanded to provide self-sustaining post-peak oil communities, but would require some work. Some adventuresome readers may want to try this approach.

9. Is there a middle ground? What should be people be doing now, if they want to do more than outlined in Questions 2 and 3, but aren’t ready to immerse themselves in a new lifestyle?

As a middle ground, people need to start thinking seriously about how to maintain their own food and water security, and start taking steps in that direction.

Food security. We certainly hope our current system of agriculture will continue without interruption, but there is no guarantee of this. Our current method is very productive, but uses huge amounts of energy. If we can keep our current system going, its productivity would likely be higher than that of a large number of individual gardens. The concern is that eventually the current system may break down due to reduced oil supply and need to be supplemented. Vulnerabilities include:

• Making hybrid seed, and transporting it to farmers
• Getting diesel fuel to the farmers who need it
• Transporting food to processing centers by truck
• Creating processed food in energy-intensive factories
• Making boxes and other containers for food
• Transporting processed food to market

If diesel fuel is allocated by high price alone, farmers may not be able to afford fuel, and may drop out. Or truck drivers may not be able to get what they need.

It is in our best interest to have a back-up plan. The one most often suggested is growing gardens in our yards–even front yards. Another choice is encouraging local farms, so that transportation is less of an issue. It takes several years to get everything working well (new skills learned, fruit trees to reach maturity), so we need to start early.

One type of crop that is particularly important is grain, since grain provides a lot of calories and stores well. In some parts of the country, potatoes might be a good substitute. It would be good if people started planting grain in gardens in their yards. There is a lot to learn in order to do this, including learning which grains grow well, how much moisture and nutrients the grains need, and how to process them. If the grain that grows well is unfamiliar, like amaranth, there is also a need to learn how to use it in cooking.

Individuals (or local farms) should also begin growing other foods that grow well in their areas, including fruits and nuts, greens of various types, and other more traditional garden crops, including beans. For all types of gardening, non-hybrids seeds (sometimes called heirloom seeds) are probably best for several reasons:

• It makes storing seeds after harvest possible, and reduces dependence on hybrid seeds.

• There is less uniformity, so the harvest is spread over a longer period.

• The reduced uniformity also helps prevent crop failure in years with drought or excessive rain. Some seeds will not grow, but others will. (Hybrids are all or nothing.)

Imported foods are likely to shrink in supply more quickly than other foods. If you live in a country that is dependent on imported foods, you may want to consider moving elsewhere.

Water Security. Here, the largest issue is whether there is likely to be sufficient supply in your area. Another issue is whether there will be sufficient water for your garden, at appropriate times. A third issue is whether there will be disruptions in general, because of poor maintenance or because the process of treating fresh water (and sewage) is energy-intensive.

With respect to sufficient water in your area, if it looks like there is a problem (desert Southwest, for example), relocating now rather than later is probably a good idea. Transporting water is energy intensive, and new efforts at developing energy (like shale oil or more ethanol) are likely to make the water supply situation even worse.

With respect to water for gardening, consider a rainwater catchment system for your roof. Runoff water is saved in barrels, and can be used for irrigation in dry periods.

General disruptions of water supply are more difficult. Keep some bottled water on hand. You may also want to consider a tank for greater storage supply. Rainwater catchment can be used for drinking water, with the correct type of roofing (not asphalt shingles!) and proper treatment, but this is not generally legal in the United States.

10. What kind of investments should I be making?

A person’s first priority should be buying at least a little protection for a rainy day – some extra food and water, comfortable clothing, blankets and flashlights. I suggested two weeks worth in Question 2. If you have money and space, you may want to buy more.

Paying down debt is probably a good idea, if only for the peace of mind it brings. There are some possible scenarios where debt is not a problem (hyper-inflation but you keep your existing job and get a raise). In many other scenarios (deflation; job lay-offs; rising food and energy prices) debt is likely to be even harder to pay off than it is now.

Land for a garden is probably a good investment, as well as garden tools. You will want to invest in gardening equipment, some books on permaculture, and perhaps some heirloom seeds. You may also want to consider a rainwater catchment system, to collect water from your roof.

You may also want to invest in solar panels for your home. If you want round-the-clock solar energy, you will also need back-up batteries. Buying these is questionable–they tend to be very expensive, require lots of maintenance, and need to be replaced often.

There is a possibility that the financial system will run into difficulty in the not-too-distant future. Some ideas for investments that may protect against this are

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)
• Bank accounts protected by the FDIC
• Gold coins
• Silver coins

If you want to invest in the stock market, we know that there will be more and more drilling done for oil and gas done in the next few years, so companies making drilling equipment are likely to do well. Small independent oil and gas companies may also do well, doing “work-over” business. We know that there are likely to be shortages in some metals in the years ahead (copper, platinum, uranium), so shares in companies mining these types of metals may do well.

Investments in biofuels should be considered with caution. Most ethanol from corn appears to be heavily dependent on subsidies. If it should ever have to compete with other fuels on a level playing ground, it is likely to do poorly.

I would be cautious about buying insurance policies, except for short-term needs such as automobile coverage, homeowners coverage, and term life insurance. If we encounter a period of significant deflation, insurance companies are likely to fail, because bondholders cannot pay their debt. If we run into a period of rapid inflation, the life insurance or long term care coverage you buy may have very little real value when you come to use it.

11. Should I move to a different location?

There are many reasons you might want to consider moving to a different location:

• To find something less expensive. If times are going to be difficult, you do not want to be paying most of your income on a mortgage or rent.

• To be closer to friends or family, in the difficult times ahead.

• To share a house or apartment with friends or family.

• To be closer to work or public transportation.

• To be closer to a type of employment that you believe will have a better chance of continuing in the future.

• To have better fresh water supplies.

• To join a community with similar interests in sustainability.

• To leave a community that you feel may be prone to violence, in time of shortage.

There are disadvantages as well as advantages to moving to a new location. If many others are trying to move at the same time, you may not be welcome in the new community. You will likely not have friends and the support group you would have had in your prior location. Because of these issues, it is probably better to move sooner, rather than later, if you are going to move. If you balance the pluses and the minuses, it may be better to stay where you are.

12. We hear a lot about various things we can do to be “green”, like buying fluorescent light bulbs. Do these save oil?

Most of the “green” ideas you read about save energy of some kind, but not necessarily oil. Even so, they are still a good idea. If there is a shortage of one type of energy, it tends to affect other types of energy as well. Doing “green” things is also helpful from a global warming perspective.

Here are some green ideas besides using fluorescent light bulbs:

• Move to a smaller house or apartment.

• Insulate your house, and have it professionally sealed to keep out drafts.

• If any rooms are unused, do not heat and cool them.

• Keep your house warmer in summer, and cooler in winter.

• If you no longer need a big refrigerator, buy a smaller one. Be sure it is an “Energy Star” refrigerator.

• If you have more than one refrigerator, get rid of the extra(s). Refrigerators are a big source of energy use. For parties, use ice in a tub.

• Separate freezers are also big energy users. Consider doing without.

• Eat less meat. Also avoid highly processed foods and bottled water. All of these require large amounts of energy for production.

• Get power strips and turn off appliances that drain energy when not in use.

• Turn off lights that are not needed.

• Rewire lights into smaller “banks”, so you do not need to light up the whole basement when all you want is light in a small corner.

• Get a clothes line, so you do not need to use your clothes dryer.

• When cooking, use the microwave whenever possible.

• Reduce air travel to a minimum. Air travel results in a huge number of miles of travel with corresponding fuel use.

• Recycle whenever you can.

• Eliminate disposables as much as possible (coffee cups, napkins, plastic bags, etc.)

13. Should we be talking to our local government officials about these problems?

Yes! At the local level, there are many changes that would be helpful:

• Laws permitting people to put up clothes lines in their yards.

• Laws encouraging gardens to be grown, even in the front yards of homes.

• Laws permitting multiple occupancy of houses by unrelated individuals.

• New local public transportation plans, particularly ones that do not require large outlay of funds. For example, a plan that is more like a glorified car pool might work.

• Allocation of funds to study the best crops to be grown in the area, and the best cultivation methods, if energy supplies are much lower in the future.

It would also be helpful to make changes at higher levels of government, but these are beyond the scope of the discussion in this chapter.

14. What other resources might we look at to get ideas about what is ahead what we might do now?

The Community Solution is an organization that puts on an annual sustainability conference and issues reports on energy-related solutions.

Global Public Media has a number of talks on relocalization.

Closing the Collapse Gap is a humorous talk by Dmitry Orlov. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, and its oil production dropped about that time. Dmitry compares the US situation to that of the USSR.

Rolling Stone has a short summary of The Long Emergency, a book by James Howard Kunstler.

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 financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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28 Responses to How to prepare for peak oil impacts – Some thoughts from 2007

  1. Owen says:

    I have a feeling this is going to appear out of sequence. There was no reply box under Aheva’s comment.

    Kitegal is right. Collaboration is far more efficient. As for the 800 k, it’s foolish to think they act with a single, unified collective(hive, if you will) mind. There will be panic and terror as well as delusional ideas.

    Well, it’s 800K for NYC. In that neck of the woods it will be 10% of each town/city anywhere near. As for collaboration being more efficient, well, if that’s your postulate, you’re not allowed to restrict it only to the good guys, and also declare the good guys to be immune to terror and panic. The bad guys get to collaborate, too. And, of course, in their minds, with their kids at their hips walking along with them, they are the good guys just trying to feed their family. You’re the evil hoarder of castle surrounded wealth.

    Also, communities can band together.
    There might be chaos and anarchy but human beings crave order and stability. There will quickly be stability, if the price of it will be blood and oppression, then so be it.

    Absolutely. The path to order and stability is to out-compete the competition and dictate the nature of that order and stability to ensure advantage for themselves. “Quickly” is one winter, to kill off the primary threat. If the blowup occurs in March, that is a very long time for the hordes to find each enclave and overrun it and maybe become to new leadership (and the new citizenry, having killed the originals). If it occurs in March, that growing season is denied to the enclave because it will be too visible. So generally speaking, each invisible enclave needs to store 18 mos of food — enough to traverse one winter and one subsequent growing season.

    If the blowup is in September, perfect. Only one year is needed.

    In the end, the Army will do what is necessary if such a scenario comes to fruition, but I think, again, it’s easy to use hyperbole and dramatic scenarios.

    The Army will be getting daily phone calls and emails from their individual families who are desperate for food. Those soldiers will be demanding answers. They will hang around long enough to fight off any invasion attempt intended to suppress US oil consumption, but then they are going AWOL for home to feed their wives and kids. The US Army is not going to be the salvation of the advertised castles. That’s just absurd.

    As for where does best — I am bullish on Africa and particularly Brazil in the post Peak starvation scenario. Brazil particularly gets 3 growing seasons a year. No winter.

  2. Jb says:

    Following up on the rationing idea, looks like the Brits are working on it:

    How long can the politicians and the oil companies keep up the illusion here in the US?

    This morning on Squawk Box, John Hofmeister former Shell Oil exec. suggested that if we could only get the politicians out of the way, we could go back to producing 10mb/d, no problem! He suggested we could transition to something other than hydrocarbons over a 50 year timeframe. He made absolutely no mention of the capacity of proven domestic reserves, rising demand and declining output worldwide, environmental costs, CO2 emissions or how we get out from under our debt overburden to do all this. . I guess we won’t hear the truth unless it’s profitable.

    • It is frustrating. The oil companies and former oil company executives don’t think they can talk about this issue. I suppose it would adversely affect the price of the stock.

      Back in 2007, petroleum companies (National Petroleum Council) were more or less forced to look at peak oil by then-secretary Bodman. They came out with the report “Facing Hard Truths about Energy“. It was only for that particular report that the companies were willing to somewhat admit to the problem. This is a link to the post I wrote about the report back in 2007.

  3. Owen says:

    My own survivalist 2 cents as a former military person says this:

    Have guns. Don’t use them. They will kill you. The purpose of a gun post Peak is to shoot your way out. Not to defend what you have.

    They make noise. In the post Peak die off, your greatest threat is other humans. “Community” is suicide. Every extra mouth is another 2000 calories a day to produce, and every extra mouth is one more that can spill the beans, as it were, and make your enclave a target destination for mobs of thousands. Gunfire does that, too. Gunfire, like fires for warmth, advertise your presence and the likelihood you have food. Gunfire, and fires/smoke, are a dinner bell for the mob.

    The priority of threats are this: 1) People 2) Thirst 3) Cold (if it’s winter) 4) Radiation 5) Starvation. It doesn’t really matter where you are NOW. Odds are extremely high that where you are NOW is not where you need to be THEN. Have a plan to walk where you need to get to, and have that locale equipped with artesian ( or mountain stream) water, 50 miles from cities, in a mountain area with harsh cold and snow, not downwind of a nuclear target and with game (and stock it with seeds).

    Do Not Grow Food Visibly Until One Winter Has Passed. Winter deals with threat number 1. Wherever you need to get to should be buried in forest slightly up a mountain side with maybe enough hydro power for heat on clear days. Only be warm with a fire at night or in an overcast/snowstorm (smoke invisible).

    The idyllic community with everyone pulling for everyone else will be overrun by a mob, who will feed themselves with storage for a week or two and then everyone there dies. Suicidal approach.

    • Kitegal says:

      interesting thoughts Owen. How about a community which is skilled/trained in fighting and has weapons? Lets say some bad ass ex military guys like you join a small community of farmers. Then there may be a doc and others who can produce crop and know how to tend to farm animals. Some may have skills as guards (with some trained dogs for example or other nasty critters). They all eat a lot but in such a community you can produce enough to feed them and make it real hard (using geographical advantages like diverse water bodies, hill-sides etc.) for others to conquer. You can even build a place like the medieval castles, with a moat infested with nasty dwellers (a biologist even may be helpful here), thick, high walls and so on. If they could do this in the medieval times we could probably build it too.

      It was not always the marauding hordes which survived better, it often was communities (not idyllic ones of course but the ones with teeth).

      The unique strength of humans is that we do have language and hands with opposable thumbs. We are made to collaborate and together deal with difficult situations better than alone. The only other species with similar collaborative skills like primates have, are canines. And they are on the top of the food chain too (even manipulating people into feeding them and treating them well, ha!).

      So – I think the collaborative approach has more chance of success then the individual approach. Evolution shows that (not for the individual but for the species).

      Apart from that – I hope that such an end-time, mad Max scenario is real far away, I don’t wanna live through that.

      • Owen says:

        Well, first of all, I was an officer. While I suspect my fellow officers and I all thought of ourselves as tough, I’m also pretty sure none of us would have declared ourselves to be “bad ass”. This, btw, is the problem with most of the survivalist websites online. They are all run by this “former Green Beret” or that “former Army Ranger”. They are now 50, fat and alcoholic. The guys of an age that you have in mind are still in the military and will be nowhere near your enclave when the trucks stop bringing food to shelves. Do you want to feed a bunch of fat, 50 yr old drunkards who are self-declared bad asses?

        Think about the scenario as it would unfold logistically. One week, Walmart’s grocery trucks are late. People arrive to find sparse shelves and the manager screams to his regional director that he’s going to miss his monthly numbers if they don’t do something. The truck shows up a few days later. The next week, it again doesn’t show up and now there are politicians on TV screaming about tapping the SPR to maintain the stability and safety of citizens blah blah. That works for another week or so, until the inevitable war breaks out and presto, the trucks stop.

        90% of the people are going to cross their arms on their chests and watch TV to see when the gov’t is going to fix everything. The other 10% is headed out.

        10% of NYC is 800K people, on foot or stolen bicycles, and they are headed for wherever they know there are farms. These are the smartest, bravest, most enterprising, and probably toughest 10% of the population and They Are Coming For You. They are coming, armed, for your (sorry) silly castle that you built and that CNN covered and showed to them. They are the smartest 10%. They will raid a National Guard armory enroute and bring mortars.

        They will eviscerate your community of sharing lovers of their fellow humans.

        • Aheva says:

          Kitegal is right. Collaboration is far more efficient. As for the 800 k, it’s foolish to think they act with a single, unified collective(hive, if you will) mind. There will be panic and terror as well as delusional ideas.

          Also, communities can band together.

          I expect a lot of racial and cultural lines to be drawn quite quickly. We saw that in Katrina.

          Multicultural socities will be much more vulnerable than those who are not.

          But to agree again with Kitegal, I also hope not to live through it. And I think it’s possible to overblow the implications to, essentially, civilizational collapse. There might be chaos and anarchy but human beings crave order and stability. There will quickly be stability, if the price of it will be blood and oppression, then so be it. Humans have shown to accept that as a necessary sacrifice if that is how it is viewed.

          In the end, the Army will do what is necessary if such a scenario comes to fruition, but I think, again, it’s easy to use hyperbole and dramatic scenarios. Reality is messy and complex. Some parts of the world might actually be (relatively) well spared whilst others, especially in Africa and parts of the ME and Central Asia, might be in total disaster.

  4. Kitegal says:

    having a scientific education myself and reading this “cold fusion” article makes me cringe a bit. Having everything important in a “black box”, no description of details – and yes – no theory makes this a quite unacceptable piece for a reputable journal (peer reviewed or not). I suspect it is quite possible that it might rather be some kind of chemical/catalytic reaction in the “black box”. I suspect that due to the use of hydrogen and some metal being inside there. At the very least I would want to exclude this possibility and document it. Anyways – if the process works perpetually and never wears off they have a point. I doubt it.

    Back to Gail’s article. We (my family) are doing most of the things you are suggesting in your article Gail and what some of the folks in the comments are adding. From living in a perfect place, to growing much of our food, working with the community and learning “off the grid skills”, to even keeping ourselves in a real good shape etc. Now – that does not have so much to do with PO but our desire to be independent. Still – it does not feel to me like in a quickly unfolding PO scenario we would sail through it just so. Maybe we gain time, a year or 2 over city-dwellers but there would be so many unknowns and vulnerabilities. I rather don’t want to think about it and enjoy the beautiful life as it is right now.

  5. Arthur Robey says:

    And now the Cold Fusion device is reported in Psyorg.

    They have bypassed all the fragile egos and vested interests and are taking orders and making marketable products.

    “We are arrived to a product that is ready for the market. Our judge is the market. In this field the phase of the competition in the field of theories, hypothesis, conjectures etc etc is over. The competition is in the market. If somebody has a valid technology, he has not to convince people by chattering, he has to make a reactor that work and go to sell it, as we are doing.” Rossi

    • Usman says:

      “Rossi and Focardi’s paper on the nuclear reactor has been rejected by peer-reviewed journals, but the scientists aren’t discouraged. They published their paper in the Journal of Nuclear Physics, an online journal founded and run by themselves, which is obviously cause for a great deal of skepticism. They say their paper was rejected because they lack a theory for how the reaction works. According to a press release in Google translate, the scientists say they cannot explain how the cold fusion is triggered, “but the presence of copper and the release of energy are witnesses.””

  6. Arthur Robey says:

    Good morning fellow doomers,

    It looks as though the Italians have converted mass into energy using Cold Fusion.
    12 KW of it.
    Nothing subtle about that.

    Time for a cognitive dissonant moment of our own.

    • Owen says:

      You know, there’s nothing really complex about a little generator and a light bulb. Why don’t these cold fusion demonstrations ever have a plain old amperage meter in line with a generator’s output flowing to a light bulb? Under the water they need to heat up can be a hot plate, also with an amperage meter and voltmeter on it.

      Instead, they always have these esoteric temperature measurements that are just begging to have mistakes included from ambient contamination.

      This is all bogus until I see a light bulb lighting up and the hot plate removed from under the water. Show me that; then I nod. Don’t show me that and I’m not wasting my time reading the reports.

      • Arthur Robey says:

        “Don’t show me that and I’m not wasting my time reading the reports.”

        This is a good example of the vulnerability of the left hemisphere of the brain. It is in a powerful position as it controls logic processing and communications. (We are using it to communicate here). But it’s vulnerability is that it cannot assimilate information that it has not already incorporated.

        It is only when the Right (gestalt) brain experiences the reality, that the new information is passed over to the Left for assimilation.

        Another example of this is the reaction of perfectly normal people to the notion of heavier than air flight. It was not even reported in the media as everyone “knew”(Left hemisphere) that it was impossible.

        • Arthur Robey says:

          The Cold Fusion experiment is reported in the Journal of Nuclear Physics, which of course, is peer reviewed.

          The reason that this is important is that the power source is small and easily transportable.
          A cup full of petrol (gas) will lift one tonne through 1 kilometer (.6 mile).
          A cupful of deuterium will lift the same tonne through 30 million miles. It has an EROEI that is off all chemical scales, because it is nuclear.

          This experiment produced dry steam.
          When I boil a kettle on the stove I do not need a generator, an ammeter and other complicated apparatus to prove to myself that the water is hot.

          This apparatus is quite capable of making me a nice cup of tea, and staving off nuclear war over dwindling resources.

  7. Arthur Robey says:

    Thanks Gail.
    I shall print out this copy and post it on the work notice board. Then we will not be preaching to the choir.
    There will be a strong strong positive correlation between ignorance and opinion.
    (The greater the ignorance, the greater the cognitive dissonance and the stronger the opinion.)
    “Hope is not a battle plan.”

    Like Dimitry Orlov my battle plan is a yacht. No rates and taxes. A humongous shark infested moat. Mobility. No debt. (Yachts are considered toys and are sold off in droves in a tough financial environment)

    Lots of luck everyone. And happy planning.

    • marty schoffstall says:

      My cousin has been living in a travel trailer for 15 years with his wife, connecting up at various farms through the years and given he is an ultimate handyman who can do anything, he has work, his wife is a nurse so she is “on the grid”, he and their location are not. I’ve always like the boat idea but there is a limit to how much diesel fuel one can have, even with a trawler, and it is a little pricey!

      I was pretty impressed during Katrina with the non-government organized church camps that became camper camps, rejecting all government aid/help,
      using people’s “put aside” food, patrolled by crackers with shotguns.

  8. Nick says:

    I find your Oil Drum posts quite grounded, honest and relatable compared to most others, so it is unique that I find this article very disingenuous. That you suggest gardening is of equal importance to low-energy ‘hobbies’ such as bird watching and playing cards is worrisome, especially in the USA. Your readers, and most of the developed world, live amongst a precarious, unsustainable food system that is structurally dependent on fossil fuels for fertility and mechanization – a necessarily finite pursuit. In reality an appropriate action for all individuals to take urgently is organic soil regeneration, as soil will be the most pertinent and strategic of resources during both the transition and the end state.

    • This was one of the first posts I wrote. You are right; some of the things are probably not very well thought through.

      How to deal with the food system is a big question. I think organic soil regeneration is the answer in some places. In others, like where I live, the land is suited best to be forested, and we need to be looking for forest crops that fit with the soil conditions. The situation is really too complicated to be discussed in one post covering 25 subjects.

    • Bicycle Dave says:

      Hi Nick,

      I find this article very disingenuous

      Seems a bit harsh – and:

      appropriate action for all individuals to take urgently is organic soil regeneration

      This would not be my first “urgent” priority – it is not clear to me what how people in the middle of Chicago engage with this action on an individual basis. I agree that it is important and we should all support government and corporate policies that address this issue.

      However, it seems to me that nearly everyone can get behind both personal action and policy support that is directed towards changes in our car culture. I know from your other comments that you advocate substantial changes in the way we consume oil for personal transportation. And, I know that you have a good handle on how our current car culture impacts climate change issues.

      Gail suggests a number of transportation related actions – I would put a basket of these ideas very near the top of list. Her suggestions related to improved energy efficiency for buildings should also be a priority. This is not to disparage any issues related to food production – I just think they share the lime light with transportation and buildings.

      • marty schoffstall says:

        Having recently bought another farm (was being used for GMO corn, inorganic fertilizers, et al), I can tell you that the soil conditions are pretty horrible in the corn “belt” of PA, the amount of organic matter gets very very low. Now being a “collapse” oriented person (ala Tainter) trying to see my children and community have something in the future my general input to friends is really the amalgam of what all of you are talking about:

        – find low energy transportation from bikes, to scooters, to electric utility vechiles (I have a polaris EV for one farm, and the panels to charge it, its 1kw max input is “just right” in my mind).
        – get food and water security through storage and filtration options
        – upgrade the soils of their lawns, build lots and lots of raised beds with perfect soils for veggies and then plant flowers if you don’t want the headache (i tell them to steal the leaves of their neighbors!)

        I’m skeptical of national strategy pursuits on soils for the US, they are going to churn and burn the current system because it
        is going to generate exports, i don’t have to read between the lines when O’Bama talks about this.

        Interestingly almost all of these recommendations are being adopted by my small group of friends (10 families) except for the transport. This is the structural problem of the suburbs, it isn’t 1-2 miles by bike to buy bangers&mash, pint of beer, my perscription, and goto the bank. It is 5-10 miles to do anything at all while thousands of cars scream past you. The cars will go away through time but the distances won’t.

  9. Owen says:

    Sorry, can’t agree with most of it because of its fundamental rejection of probability.

    Madeleine Albright, dovish Secretary of State in a center-left wing Democrat administration, once said “You mean we have this magnificent military and you’re telling me we can’t use it?” She was speaking to military people at the time, telling them to be more willing to go to war.

    No one is going to wave a magic wand and render mankind’s nature something different from what it has always been at its core: competitive. That is the most probable reality of the future, specifically: Mankind Will Not Change Its Nature.

    Given that, manufactured justification for war designed to destroy other countries’ consumption is the very obvious way to win bigger slices of a shrinking pie. China cannot “catch up” if it cannot consume oil. Destruction of its oil tankers lifeline would do that, as well as deny its military a means of effective retaliation. Similarly, they are vulnerable to destruction of rice shipments from Indonesia and Thailand. Flashpoint: Senkaku Islands. A Japanese call for help will be a superb excuse to extend/prolong US dominance.

    And before folks react in horror and anger and slam fists into walls, try to calibrate probabilities properly. Probabilities don’t care what your preference is. No response should include the words “like” or “hope”.

    So in this context, preparing for a world post Peak should focus on inevitable military issues. Don’t be downwind of targets. They will get a few licks in before losing.

    • You might be right about military issues. I see them possibly happening closer to home–local areas fighting over US oil, gas, and coal, for example.

    • marty schoffstall says:

      you are like the sequel to Dick Cheney’s “The American Way of Life is not negotiable”. It seems that this operation against say either China or India would have to be both strategic and covert, I’m not sure we can do both of those at the same time. Just imagine the Europeans howling over this. I agree it would be “easy” since it is more a Mahan denial thing then a control thing. And there would be incredible irony that the funding and buildout (if not partial ownership in many cases) of infrastructure for LNG and petroleum assigned to China would go elsewhere.

      What is really fascinating to me is seeing the Tunisians agitated considering how much NG from algeria goes through Tunisia. As England has done for this winter it might behoove some of the southern europeans to build some LNG port capability.

      • Owen says:

        Well, what are the odds?

        Will an American mother accept that her child is denied transport to school so that a Chinese person can have transport? No.

        Will an American pension recipient accept elimination of assisted living vans to the local library so that a Chinese child can have transport to school? Maybe.

        Will an American politician who knows he will not win re-election due to high unemployment — which cannot improve without more oil or lower oil prices — suppress Chinese demand? Be he Democrat or Republican, we all know the answer to this.

        The odds are what they are. The pie is shrinking and no one is going to accept a smaller slice so someone else can have a bigger slice. Military interdiction of competing consumption is inevitable.

  10. Jb says:

    Terrific Gail; thank you. I especially appreciate the 2011 update since the economics of peak oil and the overburden of debt seem to be telling the story at the moment. Long lines at the gas pump might be just around the corner, but it looks like rationing by price will continue for a while. Best of luck with your article.

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