On January 26, Bloomberg Businessweek printed an editorial by Charles Kenny titled, “Everything You Know About Peak Oil Is Wrong”. This editorial reflects several common misunderstandings.
According to Kenny:
Titled Limits to Growth, their report suggested the world was heading toward economic collapse as it exhausted the natural resources, such as oil and copper, required for economic production. The report forecast that the world would run out of new gold in 2001 and petroleum by 2022, at the latest.
Limits to Growth gives a table that might be interpreted to show that oil and gold new extraction will be exhausted by the dates indicated. The book is careful to explain that the situation is more complicated, though. The way the book summarizes the issue is as a price problem:
Given present resource consumption rates and the projected increase in these rates, the great majority of non-renewable resources will be extremely costly 100 years from now.
In fact, high cost is precisely the issue with oil right now, and we are still ten years away from 2022. A graph of recent crude oil production is shown below. The amount of production has not been able to rise above about 75 million barrels a day (MBD) since 2005. At the same time, price is very high.
If we look at gold production and prices, it shows pretty much the same story: stalled out production and very high prices.
The problem is a two-fold problem: it is a price problem, and a problem of not being to increase extraction as much as one would like. The issue is one of declining quality of resources, as lower grade ores are found, and more difficult to extract oil is found. There are plenty of resources available; the issue is that we cannot afford the high cost of extracting them.
Kenny says, “Far from being depleted, worldwide reserves of minerals continue to climb.” He then goes on to list a whole host of resources: natural gas liquids of 1.2 trillion barrels, shale oil of 4.8 trillion barrels, and tar sands of 6 trillion barrels.
These are lower and lower quality resources. In order to make sense for these resources to be extracted, it is important that the cost of extraction not be too high. Many of the large oil importing nations went into recession in 2008-2009 when oil prices climbed to $147 barrel, and quite a few economies are struggling now, with prices in the $100 to $110 barrel range. Unless we can get the oil out at a reasonable price, there is no point in even counting them in the base.
There is also an issue of how quickly resources can be extracted. Canada has been attempting to develop the oil sands since 1967, but even after more than 40 years of attempted development, only 2% of the world’s oil supply is from this source.
Kenny also doesn’t seem to understand that Daniel Yergin is far from an unbiased observer. He says,
And yet according to renowned oil analyst Daniel Yergen [sic], technology advances and new discoveries have allowed oil reserves worldwide to keep growing.
Daniel Yergin is chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and Executive Vice President of IHS. The companies he works for do consulting work for oil companies. These oil companies would like you to think that their prospects for the future are as good as possible. In many ways, Daniel Yergin’s role is not too different from that of Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. If a person checks back, one finds that many of Yergin’s rosy predictions have proven false.
Kenny has another overstatement:
New technologies suggest the dawn of U.S. energy independence.
This is flowery language, but doesn’t represent the real situation. A big part of the reason our imports are down in recent years is because US oil consumption is down. People who are laid off from work drive less, and with high oil prices, fewer people take driving vacations or go by airplane. The EIA shows this graph of net imports.
We are still importing 45.2% of “products supplied”. This comparison is on a volume basis, not on an energy basis. If the comparison were on an energy basis, we would be importing over 50% of petroleum products. Biofuels and natural gas liquids, which are lower energy than oil, are treated if they were substituting for oil on a barrel for barrel basis, but they really are not.
We hear a lot about having very low natural gas prices right now, because of higher production of natural gas combined with a warm winter. Unfortunately, having more natural gas doesn’t fix our oil problem. Our oil problem is the fact that price is too high because of inadequate world supply and also because much of the cheap-to-extract oil is already gone. We have had to move on to more expensive-to-extract oil supplies.
Over time, natural gas may make a small dent in our oil problem, if a few vehicles can be converted to natural gas. But the large size of natural gas tanks and lack of refueling stations make them unsuitable for many uses. The amount of natural gas available for substitution also isn’t all that high, relative to the world oil deficit.
Kenny also said:
Limits to Growth suggested the world would be on the verge of complete economic collapse around about now, with industrial output falling to its level of 1900 by the end of this century, as resources vital to sustaining a modern economy dried up. However dire today’s global financial crisis, we are nowhere near such a doomsday scenario.
I would disagree with Kenny on this. He doesn’t seem to see the close connection between high oil prices and the economic problems we are seeing today. With high oil prices, people cut back on discretionary goods, resulting in layoffs among people who work in those industries. For example, fewer people have jobs in vacation industries (for example, in Greece and Spain) if oil prices are high. This leads to recession and debt defaults. If one country defaults, ripple effects can spread to banks around the world.
Our economy has a high level of debt. We need economic growth in order to repay that debt with interest. If oil supply remains flat, or worse yet, falls, it will be difficult to produce the level of economic growth needed to prevent debt defaults.
Hopefully, Kenny will be right about the issue of economic collapse, but it seems to me that the possibility should be a serious concern. Peak oil and the related issue of Limits to Growth are real issues, even if Charles Kenny doesn’t understand them.
This post was written for ASPO-USA’s February 6, 2012, Peak Oil Review.
Good article. If I could make one point, which I’m sure you know anyway –
every time you talk about “all the cheap oil is gone” you are really talking about “all the high ERoEI oil is gone”. In other words new oil wells are getting more and more energy-intensive to discover, turn into production wells, provide the necessary pumps and pipes and storage tanks, build new tankers and loading jetties, and build new or upgraded refineries to process the lower quality oils.
When you say it like this, it emphasizes the fact that we have a negative feedback situation here.
The oil price rise reflects this, it doesn’t drive it. Our fiat money system and fractional reserve banking means that money can be created out of thin air, so a high price of itself is not insurmountable. This allows Yergin et al the trick of saying “higher prices will bring more oil to market”. Whereas the energy barrier cannot be overcome due to the First Law of Thermodynamics, and if you explained things that way, Yergin would find it less easy to bamboozle the population.
Peak Oil is nothing to do with oil price. The price affects who can afford to buy the oil, but it doesn’t affect how much of it there is.
I’m sure you could find the words to say that concisely – better than I can.
Talking about the first law of thermodynamics would put the article over the head of a fairly large share of the audience. I am told that blog posts shouldn’t be written at more than a 10th grade level. I write some of my posts at different levels, but this one was intentionally “dumbed down”. When I am working within word limits (as for ASPO-USA and some other sites), I often have to choose between a long complete explanation, and a shorter, easier to understand explanation.
Also, with the low price of natural gas, I am not sure the issue is entirely EROEI. If someone can use lots of natural gas to produce oil (oil sands, for example), the price can be acceptable, even if EROEI is low.
This is for Justin and anyone else who is feeling pressure about making the right decision in the face of uncertainty. Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking: Fast and Slow, on page 348, explains one of the problems and offers his personal solution.
Paul owns shares in company A. During the past year he considered switching to stock in company B, but he decided against it. He now learns that he would have been better off by 1200 dollars if he had switched to company B.
George owned shares in company B. During the last year he switched to stock in company A. He now learns that he would have been better off by 1200 dollars if he had kept his stock in company B.
Who feels greater regret?
The results are clear-cut: 8 percent of respondents say Paul, 92 percent say George.
The only difference is that George got to where he is by acting, whereas Paul got to the same place by failing to act.
Back to me. Kahneman then goes on to discuss this phenomenon in more detail. In one version, doing what everyone else did carries the least regret–even if everyone else made a mistake. While this is a universal human attribute, we can lessen the effect if we understand what is going on. Kahneman describes the pep talk he gives himself.
The conclusion I would draw is that many of us see that things are going to change–but we don’t know exactly how and when. The ‘safe’, regret free way is to continue to do what we have been doing and what the crowd is doing. Anyone who decides to change their life based on some intellectual fact finding and reasoning is bound to feel exposed in terms of potential regret. It may help to read Kahneman’s book. It’s a really good book, but most good libraries should have it and you can just pick it up and look at these few pages if you don’t want to buy it. It is also in bookstores at the present time in the US. So you might avail yourself of the opportunity to browse.
Thank you for that anecdote. I suppose changing gears might involve less regret if one changes to something that is truly satisfying and rewarding on levels other than monetary.
Last night I was watching/listening to a timeless piece of philosophy by Alan Watts called “Conversations with Myself.” You may be familiar with it; if not I recommend searching for it on YouTube. It was filmed in 1971 and he discusses having spoken to a number of thought leaders at the time about a proposal to gather great minds from all over the world and all spectrums (teachers, philosophers, religious leaders, heads of state, etc) to address the looming ecological crisis of our time. After some discussion they all came to realise they wouldn’t know what to talk about that would really do anything to change the course of events. They could scream about it and so on but what does that really do? Any action they could take would probably make things worse, since it’s action and attempts to control that caused the problem to begin with. Again it’s the recurring theme of any attempts to operate within the system to change the system will be ineffective in doing so. I thought this was relevant to your anecdote above, as well as recent discussions.
I’m familiar with Kahneman’s book and have seen it on the Kindle store. I might just pick it up and add it to the other 4 or so I’m reading at the same time.
I have found that used books can be helpful, too, especially with old out of print books. I don’t have a lot of time to go searching through the library, and my library is poorly stocked to begin with.
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Response to Gail’s comments about the olive grove and drip tape.
Dear Gail and Others interested in water
The first question an industrial oriented person who sees drip tape in an olive grove is likely to ask is ‘where will you get the drip tape after the collapse?’ and the second is ‘how will you pump water into the drip tape after the collapse?’. But to a Permaculturist, the first question is likely to be ‘Is this farmer getting maximum benefit from gravity?’ and the second is ‘Is this farmer making maximum utilization of soil storage of water?’. Much of Permaculture teaches practical ways to accomplish those last two goals. Drip tapes may be involved (so long as they are available) and an electric water pump may be used (so long as the electricity works), but they are not the essential components. Drip tapes can be replaced by on contour channels of various kinds and draft animals can be used to turn mechanical pumps. For a kitchen garden, hand pumping may suffice. So the focal issues are effective use of rainwater in partnership with gravity and maximizing water retention in the soil.
Here is an inspirational story about a farmer in drought stricken Africa and how he turned personal misfortune and unpromising land into a Garden of Eden. You can see similar ideas implemented in the Mediterranean using stone walls to control the flow of water through an olive grove. I, of course, have no idea what Gail saw in terms of these fundamentals.
Zephaniah Phiri Maseko
This is a marvelous Blog. It has a wide range of opinions, going from Owen’s belief that we are facing an Extinction Level Event to Don’s perception that if we can just change the Culture and utilize the environment in better ways we could avoid a masive Die Off.
For the near term, the likelihoods remain somewhere in the middle I think. A rapid extinction seems unlikely in the near term without some very powerful Death Vectors coming to bear. Asteroid Impacts, Super Volcanos, Global Thermonuclear War, that sort of thing. On the other hand, a large scale change in the behaviors of the current population toward more sustainable Ag practices with a lower energy footprint also seems unlikely.
so the Near Term outcomes here seem to fall somewhere in the Middle of these scenarios.
Not really discussed as an intermediary “solution” so far is what appears to me to be the most likely one, which is extreme Fascism/neo-Feudalism.
The FSofA currently runs the largest Military Machine ever built on this planet, insofar as we know anyhow. What are our parameters for survival if this military structure is used to wipe out competing Homo Sapiens? How will we react and behave on the local level if our Military is used to confiscate and acquire more Oil fields in other parts of the world? How do you live under a vast Military Dictatorship, which in many respects is what we already have?
Until the FSofA Military butts up Directly against the Chinese and the Ruskies and we have a ful on War conflict with them, it seems to me that this structure here in the FSofA will become ever more powerful, removing freedoms and rights of the individual willy nilly as was the case with the Patriot Act. Internally disassembling the Military Industrial Complex is extremely difficult by volition and really I think can only occur when the Military Machine is no longer able to feed itself by energy thefts.
So for the near term, while this miltary machine exists in its current form, you mainly have to figure out how to survive uder the Fascist State. What are the best strategies for that? Do you want to be a Land Owner in the Fascist State who has his produce Taxed to support the State? Do you want to avoid Taxation by subsisting at such a low level you have nothing worthwhile left to tax? Can you Run Away to somewhere ELSE to avoid these problems or at least postpone them for a while longer?
My choice has been to Run Away for as long as I could, as far as I could. I started out my life in the Belly of the Beast in NY Shity, I ended up some 50+ years later here on the Last Great Frontier of Alaska. There really is no further away for me to run and hide anymore, and the corruption surrounds me now on all levels. I have my plans to Bugout even from here to New Zealand or even so far as Tristan da Cunha, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, but I know in my heart that really I can run no further away than I already have. I must find a way to SURVIVE under the Fascist State as it is, there is no real FREEDOM anywhere to be found anymore.
Eventually I believe the Fascist State will collapse, and there will be FREEDOM to be found again, but I am not confident this will occur in my lifetime. The remainder of that is to be found in finding ways to live inside the Fascist State as best as possible with the fewest compromises possible to my ethics. To do that, I run away, I hide. But I have run OUT of places to do that now as the Big Show comes ever closer to my Theatre.
I applaud each and every person here who is seeking alternatives, whatever they are. Most cetainly, there are better ways of doing the Bizness than what we currently are engaged in doing. Unfortunately though, until this system completely COLLAPSES, you cannot run away from the problems, nor can you solve them locally either. Survival now is all about living inside the belly of the beast until the beast itself dies.
Reprint at Forespros http://www.forexpros.com/analysis/businessweek-gets-it-wrong-everything-you-know-about-peak-oil-is-‘not’-wrong-113240
Forexpros has been reprinting quite a few of my posts recently.
For an article by Gene Logsdon about the problems with huge machines and soil and how the old ways were better, see:
Look at the amusing picture of the behemoth stuck in the mud. Think about soil compaction. Think about the half million dollar machines that cannot be allowed to rest, even when the land needs a rest. Scan back up in his blogroll to the article about how ‘no till’ results in soil compaction and less rain moving into the soil and think about the floods we have experienced in recent years. Are you really sure that huge machines and massive doses of Round-Up and ‘saving fossil fuels’ with no-till is a good idea? Or maybe plowing with oxen or horses on much smaller farms with higher yields per acre?
Well, as this article mentions, North Dakota isn’t really suitable for Agriculture in general if you take away the Roundup and the water pumped up from the aquifer. Its grazing land and never produced much Ag based food when it was farmed with animal labor.
Far as what is responsible for the recent massive flooding, its simply that there is more water vapor up in the atmosphere. Total Heat Content in Joules in the world’s Oceans has risen by an order of magnitude over the last decade or so from around 10exp22 Joules to 10exp23 Joules. This means the Oceans evaporate more water. Such a massive increase in heat content is not the result of anthropogenic causes, it represents too much energy. The oceans are likely heating up because the core of the earth is doing that, and cooking the oceans from the bottom up. The evidence that the core of the earth is heating comes int he form of increased vulcanism and increased tectonic activity, also rappidly rising over the same time period.
Precisely what is responsible for this isn’t clear. It could be some kind of gravitational stress, increased neutrino flux or it could be geomagnetic in nature. The Polar migration has increased from about 4 miles per year to about 40 mpy. It is definitely clear though that as a system the Earth is processing more energy than it did a decade ago.
Anyhow, the result of this is that we see more Wild and Crazy weather all the time, more Hurricanes, more Tornadoes, more Big Snowstorms and more Floods. The snowpack in the Rockies this year I think is bigger than last, itself a record year. This means the Mighty Missippi which flows through the plains states is likely to record 500 year floods once again.
If you are farming in the floodplain, its quite likely you’ll be farming in muck again, and horses and oxen don’t do a whole lot better pulling through muck than tractors do. A lot of this land will simply have to be taken out of production as traditional Ag land.
When you add up reduced production levels and reduced land mass suitable for farming, you come up with lower total amounts of food production possible from these methods. There are alternative methods like Hydroponics and Aquaculture, but until we start to ramp up these methods we won’t be able to make up for the food shortfall simply by returning to traditional methods of Animal based labor farming. Well, at least not until the population numbers fall off significantly anyhow.
Traditional Ag has its limitations. A very significant one is changing climate and rainfall patterns. We will have to adapt our methods to the New Normal and build robust systems of food production that can withstand different forms of climate change. This will happen in due time, but likely not in time to save a significant portion of the world population of Homo Sapiens from Starvation.
Dear Reverse Engineer
My points are simply these:
1. Low fossil fuel input agriculture is more adaptable to climate extremes than the current system of hyper industrialized farms
2. ‘No till’ results in less storage of water in the soil. This makes droughts more damaging and makes flood more likely. Much of Permaculture revolves around storing more water (as well as carbon) in the soil.
3. Small farms produce more food per acre than large farms.
There are no knowledge barriers standing in our way. The barriers are cultural. For a good discussion, see the current Chris Martenson interview with Charles Eisenstein.
I am not saying that the cultural barriers are insignificant. If our culture cannot adapt, it will die. As many others have done.
I do not deny any of the 3 points you raise here, All I really am saying is that traditional Ag methods are not by themselves capable of supporting anywhere near the current population of Homo Sapiens on Earth.
In the right locations done well, traditional Ag methods might be sustainable. If you live in such a neighborhood where there is sufficeint rainfall, where you wil not be flooded out every other growing season and where you can breed up enough draft animals to replace the tractors, it could work. That is a LOT of Parameters Don, a lot of “ifs”.
I personallly do not like traditional Ag because in general it seems to end up in desertification. The entire Middle East is resultant from 1000s of years of traditional farming practices which reulted i desertificatio of that locale.
With better knowledge now, its possibel that Ag can be made sustainable, I am not certain of that though, and in general I do not like the pardigm because it requires Land Ownership, which i the end creates a classes of Have aqd Have Nots. I do not think ANYBODY can be an “owner” of the Earth. This is Hubris beyond belief to me. If you “own” a farm and claim its produce as your OWN, you realy are not any better than a Bankster. The earth belongs to us ALL, not any individual.
Dear Reverse Engineer
I am not really defending ‘traditional Ag’. What I am advocating is the best that we now know how to do. For example, Joel Salatin has grown about 4 inches of topsoil and sequested a huge amount of carbon in his farm over the last 30 years using mob grazing and other practices. Albert Bates told me that two of his children have bought run down farms and are growing topsoil and sequestering carbon. There are some phenomenal demonstrations of water management in Permaculture.
As for the question of tractors and other fossil fuel powered farm machinery versus draft animals. We have, at one extreme, Helen and Scott Nearing who lived for 50 years or more on a homestead with no draft animals and the only fossil fuel powered machine was a pick up truck that they used to haul supplies. I know a financially successful small farmer who has no tractor but does use a rototiller rather infrequently. Most farmers are going to prefer to use a (preferably old) tractor. But we need to remember that tractors are not the most energy intensive part of the food cycle. The most energy intensive part is actually distribution, including the trip to the grocery store. Which is why urban farming for vegetables makes so much sense and why we need to copy Cuba and others. And, are, indeed, well into that process now. I work at a 5 acre farm which has a tractor. I would guess that it uses about three gallons per week of biodiesel produced on the farm. That’s not much.
And, of course, we can all hope that Wes Jackson and company at The Land Institute can give us perennial crops sooner rather than later.
In short, I see no reason to wring our hands other than the cultural barriers. (Which, I admit, could kill us all). A little common sense and education plus what remains of our fossil fuel heritage should get us through OK. I was talking to a student at the local Sustainable Agriculture program and she told me that the core of the educational curriculum there is now the carbon cycle. That’s not ‘traditional ag’, it is the best thinking and experience we have.
I am a fan of what the Nearings were able to accomplish, and frankly in THEORY I think as long as decent water and sunlight are available, you can compost and recycle all the nutrients in your system virtually indefinitely.
Let us do a thought experiment. For the most part on this board, nobody thinks 7B is a sustainable number. Don pitched out in this thread a number many think is sustainable of around 500m-1B people, including whoever authored the Georgia Guidestones. This represents approximately a 90% Die Off, which is certainly a whole lot better than a 99% Die Off. Certainly way better than the kind of ELE Owen projects with 100% Die Off.
OK, so by some vector here we knock back the population to 500M tomorrow. Let’s do it as fairly as possible with a mutation of the Bird Flu Virus with a 95% Infection rate and 95% mortality rate with no medical interventions possible that can affect the outcome of infection.
We are now left with a population of 500M people who obviously have a KICK ASS Immune system and in terms of Survival of the Fittest are Conquerers in the Extreme here. These folks can knock down ANY virus at all just with their Immune system! Very robust population you are left with here.
So now, with your new population of Khans, you go and divy up the earth into 250M individual Plots of land (assuming balance of males and females remains here) which each is in theory assuming the weather and water availability remains constant are sufficient to support 6 people at any given time. This would be Farmers John and Mary, their two Kids, Zeus and Aphrodite and Grandparents Odin and Venus. LOL.
As long as Odin, Venus, Zeus, Aphrodite and John and Mary stay on their plot of land and the climate parameters remain the same as when you divvied up the surface of the Earth to begin with here into chunks that can support 6 people. Definitely, as soon as Zeus and Aphrodite are old enough to Reproduce on this plot of land, Odin and Venus have to take the trip into the Great Beyond. You can’t support 4 generations on the same plot of land here.
In reality of course, larger areas and political units will congregate up. If one area gets particularly good weather for a time the peoples wil produce more than 2 each as replacements. Unless you force abortion or tube tying to prevent further procreation after the first two are born, well, “accidents” happen. What happens when unfortunately Zeus loses his footing in the mud behind his Oxen Neptune and Loki and is dragged to his death in the mud? Unless John’s Vasectomy can be reversed, he can;t replace Zeus in the paradigm.
All of this is written in an effort to show why maintaining a PERFECT Steady State balance between Births and Deaths of Homo Sapiens is extrememly difficult to accomplish, and to accomplish it in the first place takes some very extreme withdrawal of reproductive rights of the individual. To KEEP Global population of Homo Sapiens at the theoretical maxima of 500M, everybody has to agre not to produce more people than a given plot of land can suppot. In AGGREGATE people just will not do that, a least at this stage of the game they will not.
A more likely steady state is where populations rise ad fall, with wars, famines and plagues taking down the population periodically. This is how it has gone through most of the historical record. The main issue we deal with now on the Global Level is the presence of Nukes. If we let these babies loose here, we cqan screw the whole pooch rather quickly, Left to typical checks and balances, Homo Sapiens will survive, just at much lower numbers in aggregate.
I agree that there is definitely an issue with any farming method, over the long term. We are basically destroying ecosystems, and setting up a situation where soil is eroded more quickly. If irrigation is used, it very often increases the salinity of the soil over time. I think what Don is thinking of is short-term, how he or anyone can succeed. In many ways, we are outside of our ecological niche. It is impossible to avoid destroying ecosystems, if we expect human population to remain high.
I believe the key point in what you said is ‘if we expect human population to remain high’. The best estimates I have seen for best practices in agriculture imply a stable human population between 500M and 2 billion. But remember, compound interest works in reverse, also. If every male had one child and then a vasectomy (much easier than the female plumbing), then population would decline pretty rapidly. Coupled with frugal living, it is easy to construct plausible scenarios getting us to 2 billion or to 500M. The hangup, of course, is the cultural factors. Our candidates for President are not (or at least not only) idiots, they reflect back to us what our culture demands if one wants to get elected.
I think we part company in terms of a sustainable agriculture. For example, here is a current review in Amazon of a book written one hundred years ago:
Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan (Paperback)
This book describes in a fair amount of detail the several thousand year-old practices of several Asian cultures for successfully maintaining the health of their soil through community composting and spreading that on the fields. While these practices are culture-wide, a single farmer could do much of it on his own farm or multiple farms as a community practice in order to pool composting resources. What’s odd is that those countries in “Farmers of Forty Centuries” have been able to feed large numbers of people using the methods outlined in this book, yet they have recently been turning away from those tried and true methods in favor of European and American farming methods, both of whose methods have impoverished their soils.
We know more now than those Asian farmers did. I see no physical reasons we can’t do it. But the cultural factors may prevent us.
I was talking with my daughter in Portland, OR earlier today, and we were discussing the Martenson/ Eisenstein conversation. We both agreed that people will continue to demand at the top of their lungs that everything continue on as it was in 2006–but then slowly and quietly adjust to the new normal. My daughter agreed with me, and pointed out a number of things which have happened in Portland where people are adjusting to the new normal. I wonder, for example, about the plunge in US consumption of gasoline. Is it really an economic collapse? Or, as some speculate, that people have decided that they need to severely restrict optional travel? So cultural factors might possibly be a stone wall in the short term but much more pliable in the long term. Ugo Bardi’s recent history of the last Roman Empress included the fact that she was half Barbarian. Would any Roman in the time of Julius Caesar have considered the notion that a half Barbarian could ever be a Roman Empress?
I agree that agriculture in Asia was much better than in US. But now they are turning to US methods.
I heard while in Spain that very old olive groves (hundreds of years old) were being cut down and replaced with ones on drip irrigation. If we have processes that pretty much work, but don’t extract the maximum amount of energy/food value, there is going to be temptation to change them for something that supposedly improves the amount of output.
I think the issue on going to older methods is that they generally don’t produce as much food. It will be hard to get any political group to agree to produce food for 2/3 or 1/2 of the current population. So it seems like it will be hard to go to a lower level, even if we could.
Also, our systems are set up for the current level of usage–for example, roads, electrical usage, sewer system, even the post office. If we cut back, even if it is for a good reason, it is hard to make the system work at a lower level because some costs are close to fixed. For example, the US post office is facing financial problems, related to lower usage, because of its fixed costs. As another example, we probably have to maintain the entire electrical transmission system and sewer pipeline system, even if usage decreases.
Provided we are willing to dedicate more people to growing food, we increase yields. Now some would argue that money is what is real and having more people grow food is a step backward. Others see growing food as one of the great, rewarding occupations. At any rate, there is no necessity for anyone to starve–provided we are willing to do what we would need to do…dedicate more labor to the project.
As for drip irrigation systems. Most Permaculture people are supremely practical. They see drip irrigation lines and plastic high tunnels as fundamentally things which are worth doing. Some of them even see jetting around the world teaching Permaculture as worthwhile. But Bill Mollison, one of the originators of Permaculture, said that fossil fuel usage could be cut by 60 percent without damage to anything actually worth doing. So I think it is more about ‘what is worth doing’ and ‘what is a frivolous waste of resources’ than drawing some line in the sand.
Similarly, if you ask a farmer if driving a tractor with fossil fuels is a good idea while having tens of thousands of people drive two ton SUVs to a rock concert is a frivolous waste, he would probably agree. So the issue is about values which go beyond money. In short, what the Economists think about the ‘value system’ is not compatible with actual survival. Which implies that our cultural values are not compatible with survival. This distinction seems quaint now, but would have been instantly recognizable in my distant youth. All us children of the Midwestern Progressives understood these things in our bones.
As for modern systems. The Rural Electrification System worked fine in the 30s with far less usage of electricity than we have now. If more people move to and live in the countryside, but are farming with considerably less fossil fuel energy, it is not clear to me that there is any crisis in terms of paying for the electricity system.
As for the Post Office. I just got my Mother Earth News. They are appealing for readers to write their Congress people to object to the unfair treatment of the Postal Service. According to MEN, late in the Bush II Administration some legislation was passed requiring that the Post Office account for pensions in ways that private corporations are not required. According to MEN, the income statements you see reflect pension accruals for postal employees not yet hired. MEN says that the Post Office had an operating profit last year, despite the lower volume. In short, what MEN sees is a political effort to put the Post Office out of business and turn it over to purely private interests by ‘proving’ that the Post Office cannot run efficiently. I don’t know much about it–but would trust MEN a lot more than a Republican congressman.
I agree that a society which is shrinking its footprint on the Earth is a challenge to our culture. Which includes the monetary system based on debt and unlimited procreation. My point is still that the culture is the real problem. We know how to do Sustainable Agriculture, pretty much. We have good prospects of doing it better than the Asians, if we can get the culture on board. We can estimate that even with zero fossil fuels we can support a significant population of humans with a thriving culture. The current Culture is the problem.
I agree 100% that culture, which is made up of stories, is the problem. I see some promising signs that the stories are changing (eg. Eisenstein, Richard Branson’s latest book that describes future success in business being driven by purpose rather than the bottom line). Currently our cultural values and stories (meaning yours, mine, and other like minded people on this blog) are in the minority, and we know that majority rules. What I believe we’re seeing is a tipping point. I hope we can push it in our direction. I must admit I’m feeling really dark at the moment. I’m scrambling for the exit door in the dominant culture theatre, the first step of which was quitting my ‘career job’ and attempting to start my own venture, but it sure isn’t easy because I’m still restricted by the rules of the ‘game’ (primarily money required to do anything) in executing on my plan as I’d like to. We’ve really painted ourselves into a corner haven’t we (this growth/debt culture)? The system is all pervasive and any attempts to escape it seem futile. Don’t escape it then? Well it’s a catch 22 because living it seems so unnatural and against the grain of my being.
Lets take an example. I’ve a keen interest in nature and working with it. I see permaculture as a very attractive way of living. However, it requires land. Since I rent, I’m restricted in what I can do. I don’t have the money to buy, as mentioned before property is absurdly overvalued in Australia and I’ve been praying (among thousands) for the bubble to burst. The culture of home ownership is so strong here that it seems impervious to all attempts to pop it, which is very frustrating as I’ve been waiting for 10 yrs now. The latest events in Europe and Australian banking system exposure to debt there looks like it could be the external factor to bring some relief to the market and while prices have declined, it’s still out of my reach (without taking on huge debt).
In short, I don’t require many ‘things’ to be happy and I’d love to live a simple outdoor life, but even that seems unattainable due to my circumstances.
Sorry about the ramble but I needed to vent my frustrations.
I hate to sound so pessimistic. But here goes:
1. We SHOULD have had a crash in property values in the US. But the Powers That Be have decided to print money and hand it to banks to prevent land values from falling to their production value. So it is still extraordinarily difficult for a young, aspiring farmer (or a middle aged, aspiring farmer) to buy land and farm it responsibly and pay off their mortgage. Yet successful financial speculators have no trouble buying ‘horse farms’ and getting the ‘agricultural tax’ on their land and also erect a McMansion. Ben Bernanke looks with favor on this latter enterprise, while the World Bank tries diligently to exterminate any remaining examples of the first species. I don’t know what will happen when and if Australia goes through a financial crisis.
2. 150 years ago (1862) the United States Congress passed the Homestead Act. This permitted aspiring farmers to move west, claim land, and get it for free. Why 1862? Because the South had seceded and could no longer block it. Why was the South interested in blocking it? Because then, as now, the controlling interests in the South would have wanted to give that land to the monied class and let them sell it on credit to poor farmers. Now, of course, it is considered heresy in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin to make land available to poor people. Somehow, through mysterious mechanisms, this entire country has come to have a religion of DEBT. We build altars and sacrifice our first born to Debt. And Debt drives our behavior–as you know only too well.
3. As I listen to Eisenstein and your countryman Steve Keene, it seems to me that some ‘reset’ is required. I hate to recommend a revolution–because they usually end badly–but I don’t know how else we get out of the trap.
All I can do is wish you luck. If I had a magic bullet, I would certainly fire it to solve the problem.
One of the issues is how long electricity production can be maintained. As long as it can be maintained, and major systems of all kinds kept together (water systems, sewage systems, road repairs, governments, etc). In this case, the approach of using less works–which is what most sustainability groups have focused on.
There is a real question in my mind regarding how long the these systems can be held. Even major debt defaults could lead to overthrown governments, with an unknown follow-up–new government of totally of totally different type, breakup similar to Former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, civil war or military takeover. With respect to the olive groves, if the old system which did not require fossil fuel inputs had been kept, the population would be better off in the case of such disruption than if it had to depend electrical supply in a world that is falling apart.
It’s easy to come up with scare statistics about the power of huge tractors and how the lack of fossil fuels to power same will lead to tens of millions of dead people. However, the most recent evidence we have is from Cuba in the mid 1990’s. They lost all their oil. They used huge tractors. There was no petroleum to power the tractors. The tractors went into museums, and the people turned to small farms and urban agriculture. (The same sort of solution that is very popular with people like Joel Salatin and many Permaculture people and your favorite local farmer). Briefly, nobody starved. They did get healthier as the excessive consumption of calories was no longer possible. After a few years of learning curve, ‘we got our paunch back’. Whether getting your paunch back is a good idea or a bad idea isn’t the point.
The point is that there are plenty of people in the US promoting this sort of behavior right at this very moment. Failure to participate is, of course, one’s right. One also has a right to starve.
My local Botanical Garden has an upcoming class on growing hard wheat (the kind you make bread with), taught by a local baker who uses the hard wheat grown on local small farms. This has all happened in the last five years in a region where no hard wheat has been grown for at least 50 years. Gene Logsdon, the Ohio farmer who writes frequently for The Energy Bulletin, is the author of a recent book on growing grains on small farms. One of his points is that yields go UP when grains are grown on small farms. IF there is starvation, it will be the result of stupidity of one kind or another. Not that I rule out stupidity.
One of the hurdles faced by the Cubans was the ancient distinction between ‘the Europeans’ and ‘the Africans’. (This is all second hand, so suspect.) When the oil disappeared very suddenly, the social imperative was to grow ‘European’ crops–not ‘African’ crops. But, you may remember, Cuba is a tropical country and so you might suspect that African crops would be a better fit. And so it turned out to be and so the Cubans have been learning.
Lest you think that such distinctions are confined to Cuba, consider two of the leafy greens I have eaten in the last two days: stinging nettle and chickweed. Both these are ‘weeds’. Both are quite nutritious. Both are growing wild right at this very moment outside my door. Do yourself a favor and consult PubMed ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed). Search on the words ‘stinging nettle’ and just peruse the recent research on the many health benefits one can enjoy just by harvesting some of this absolutely free ‘weed’. Then think about all the people who haughtily demand lettuce grown in California, which is 95 percent water, and shipped across the country using fossil fuels. Why not eat the free weeds and cure cancer?
We will starve if we behave stupidly. If we are able to muster as much spirit as the Cubans showed, we won’t.
Another option not discussed so far in this thread is Hydroponics. I have a good friend who grows 80% or so of his own food in Hydroponics tanks set up inside his own house, which granted use Electricity for the Grow Lights but that comes from a Hydro plant nearby. In the right climate though, you can do hydroponic growing outside and use sunlight.
There is no tilling of soil involved in hydroponic gardening, no Oxen necessary. The lack of draft animals avaialble is a strawman argument for the most part. Fish farming also requires no Oxen. No-till Ag also requires no Oxen.
I agree with you that generaly speaking mass starvation isn’t necessary, though because of the way the systems are currently set up and the fact that on the mass scale we aren’t making the changes necessary now, such starvation will occur in many if not most parts of the world.
The main problem you face is not in the Production of food. It is in its distribution, especially once the total amount produced is less than the total population needs for survival. In fact, if it just comes close, you run into price problems similar to what you see in Peak Oil problems.
The problem you have is not producing the food in this situation. It is protecting and defending what you produce until such time as there is enough for everyone.
This is why the move to local food production, already occurring, is so important.
See my note down at the end of the blog roll
We probably need lists/pictures for each part of the country of suitable “weeds” that we can eat. I know I have a book, but I don’t think it is for around Georgia.
I like the debate between Owen and Reverse Engineering. I am more in agreement with Owen.
Let me offer you some inside about winter. I live in Canada around Montreal island. I am about 44 year old. I always done of lot of biking especially during summer. Two year ago I decided to start biking in the winter as a cardio sport. I was in for a surprise. The biking itself is fine. It is the way the body react to cold. First off, I was always having ears pain after riding on hour at -5 degree Celsius. Because I could not find a hat that work for me I decided to make my own. So I bought a sewing machine and started to make hat. I took my 15 model to make it right. My final model has two cord with one under my chin and one around my neck so cold air does not comes in. But this was still not good enough. So eventually I came up with a three layer system. A small polar fleece hat, ear mug on top and finally the soft shell hat that I made on top. This seems to work fine but it is bit warm. Then there is the problem of body sweat released during biking. Because the road are not equally plowed you are constantly making effort and thus sweating. After an hour your clothes are wet. Even if the dry fast they are still wet. I don’t mind because I go back into my house. But imagine if you are alone in the wood hypothermia could become a problem rather rapidly. Just try winter camping and having no spare cloves because you feel down hands first in a water stream.
So to make my story short, I plan seems to work fine until you try it. I don’t talk about the fact the cotton fabric just does not work well in winter. You need polyester or nylon fabrics such as fleece (another petroleum product) in winter climate.
My plan has change, I will probably try to be nomadic instead of staying in place. I will try to trade some skill for what I need. But I don’t really believed in this plan either, but I could not come up with anything better. So I tend to agreed with Owen on his Mad Max scenario. An plan looks good until you tried it.
The saying is, “The devil is in the details.” Some of these ideas look good, until you try them. If you fall and get hurt, and are already wet, your chance of hypothermia before you can get to a warm place would seem to be awfully high. Looking back at what our ancestors did doesn’t seem like that bad an idea–they had a chance to test the ideas in practice.
Dmitri Orlov recently wrote a piece about Bicycling in the Winter in Boston, you might want to check it out.
In any event, bicycles aren’t a permanent solution anywhere. Where do you get the rubber for the tires? Anyhow, once there is snow on the ground, skis and sleds are better than wheeled wheeled transport. You don’t do all the pulling yourself, that is what you use Dogs for.
Gail observed that historically speaking most of the population lived in warm climates. Reason for that is that the cold climates can’t support large populations, only small ones. Up here in Alaska, the native population prior to European invasion is estmated to have maxed out at around 50,000. However, we have better technology for boat building and fishing even in the absence of Oil, so I suspect Alaska could support 100,000 people. That would represent around an 80% Die Off or out-migration, which is a whole lot better odds than the 99% Die Off you’re likely to see in the more densely populated southern climates, and far better than the 99.99999% Die Off likely in the Big Shities.
It is also a canard that you need high tech fabrics to survive in such an environment, animal skins and furs provide what you need. However, the polymer fabrics we do have are long lasting in the extreme and can be recycled and handed down I suspect at least two generations with repair. Personally, I keep two full sets of winter gear I never wear at all. Its all brand spanking new, and when I go to the Great Beyond I’ll hand it off to some younger friends, along with my used set which is in fine shape. Besides this, just taking one Bear or so every couple of years provides a full set of winter clothing which doesn’t even require that much tailoring if skinned carefully. Add some caribou skins and trap some furry creatures and you are good to go to 50 Below. I have a beautiful pair of Red Fox Fur Mittens I got in barter from a neighbor. They are Musher’s Mittens and go all the way up your forearm, so I never wear them. Too warm. If I was outdoors all the time though, then they would be useful.
In short, the total population of Homo Sapiens in any given neighborhood has to back off to just what it can support, but it doesn’t have to back off to Zero.as Owen predicts. It may do that, but it is not carved in stone.
You are right that some people lived in cold areas. With proper planning, they probably can continue to do so.
Mainly Gail, you just have to learn the parmeters involved with living in a very cold climate. Most people do not like it, and this is a GOOD thing for people who do. Alaska doesn’t have very many people living here to this day for the simple reason it is so COLD and uncomofrtable inthe Winter. Same can be said for Siberia.
You don;t want to migrate to places everyone else is migrating to, you want to go OPPOSITE the flow of traffic. Few people want to go to cold climates, no matter WHAT the rewards are. It has been over the last 30 years hard to attract people to Alaska even though salaries on the Slope are far higher than they are in the lower 48. These folks simply cannot take the cold and the isolation.
When the Slope closes for Bizness, most of the current population of Alaska will leave of their own free will, it will not take Die Off to depopulate Alaska. Only those who embrace the Cold and Love it wil stay here. Like the Inuit who lived here before, those few people will have much to pick from, as long as they are tough enough to survive the environment. It is a far better paradigm than what you will get in the warmer climates where many wil seek refuge. For that refuge, they will sacrifice their FREEDOM. Here on the Last Great Frontier, those who can survive the environment will have their Freedom, restricted mainly by Nature, not the whim of other men. For me, it is a far better place to finish off my life than in a warm climate. Here in Alsaka, a small measure of FREEDOM still exists. It is gone completely fromt he Lower 48 now, and it will not be retrieved in our lifetimes. It wil only get much much worse down there.
If you can work it out, going where others aren’t interested is certainly a good strategy.
I am the SPAM Can KING! Another post in the SPAM Can awaiting Gail’s mouse click!
I’ll respond here to a few comments made above on the Land Ownership question.
Land “ownership” is basically an outcome of Agriculture which has been codified into common law, and the monetary system is an outgrowth of that which provides a distribution mechanism for the produce of an Ag based society.
When the monetary system fails and then Da Goobermint collapses, nobody really Owns any land anymore, not until you can establish some new form of Goobermint that proteccts Property ownership rights of individuals.
Into such a vaccuum many other systems can step in, and you can be sure one will since nature abhors a vaccuum. If it descends to Mad Max, local Warlords are likely to take control over farms to support the gangs/militias they need to keep control of an area. On larger scales, Fascist or Communist solutions are likely. In any event, no Farm in even the most remote location can protect its own land without some sort of cooperative protection scheme being put into place, which essentially is the process of forming a local Goobermint.
Whatever the solution is in a given area, its unlikely to occur overnight except under some very extreme circumstances. The FSofA Goobermint and its associated Military while it may go completely BROKE still has sufficient integrity where the whole food production and distribution scheme could be put under Military control, and that could last for quite some time. If/when the Military loses its access to Oil and its products, then the Military itself will fracture, probably then producing many Local Warlords out of former Military Base commanders.
One thing is for sure, no individuals even the most prepped with Guns and Ammo can stand up to an assault from the local Military, so for as long as the Ammo holds out, the Military will run the show. When they run outta Bullets, then you really see some reorganization taking place. Run outta bulets they will, since Rogue Commanders will all be fighting each other in the Civil Wars such an outcome necessitates. However, I don’t see lack of Ammo here in the FSofA for at least another decade.
“rocket stoves” “rocket furnace”
I’d like to rebut a few more of Owen’s Mad Max predictions as absolutes or even as likelihoods under many scenarios you can conjure up for a global power down. Unfortunately, every time I write something more than a couple of paragraphs here it gets hung up in the SPAM filter, I’ve got at least one post still missing. I’ll try to keep this one short enough to make it through the filter.
Suffice it to say that first monetary collapse has led in the past to empire collapses, read that Rome and Babylon, but in the wake of such collapses smaller political units form up. You can have massive losses in some towns, and near total survival in others. There were some towns in Germany that recorded near total population loss in the Dark Ages, while others regrouped.
The loss of copious energy means the loss of much of the waste currently going on, and generally speaking under the current paradigm the overall population will decrease substantially, but it is unlikely to be uniform in distribution. Various forms of Triage and Rationing are likely. Goobermint failure on the large scale will result in Ad Hoc Goobermints forming on the small scale.
Unless you are absolutely first class out in the Bush, your survival chances would be smaller out so far than they would be in a larger community that reorganizes to make use of its local resources as a Tribal Sized group. 100 is good, 1000 still better.
In any event, I wouldn’t make a Final Bugout to the Yukon Territory without any less than 10 People, 5 Sleds and 30 Dogs. You also better know WTF you are doing out there in the winter. You should have at least 2 Mushers who have run the Iditarod and completed it. Even if you survive that way, unless you eventually meet up with some others, you haven’t enough genetic diversity to prevent inbreeding problems. Its not a very good long term survival paradigm. The small community/tribal paradigm is better.
It is often hard to reply here. Shrug.
Yeah, I alluded to the intelligent selection of your 10 people above. Purely family as the selection criterion starts to guarantee slackers . . . or diabetics.
And I wasn’t clear about one critical item. This hunker down mode is about First Winter. Winter kills the city hordes. Once they’re dead, they’re dead, You can have a fire Second Winter. Or Third Winter. You can have even cropland after First Winter. The hordes are dead. You can plant your handful of acres for the 10.
You basically have to store 1 year of food for your 10 people, and augment it with snared/hunted meat (snaring small game hunts for you 24/7 without burning calories). If the Upheaval occurs in March, tractors won’t get gasoline, crops won’t get planted and the die off will be powerful by September, even before Winter. If the Upheaval occurs in September, Winter kills immediately. Being good in the Bush loses some imperative when you store for 1 year and plant crops the next Spring.
The Upheaval will be some discrete event, perhaps the nuking of the Gulf coast refineries. The SPR will be either empty in a few months, or inaccessible if they are within the radiation zone. The good part about that, if there is a good part, is you won’t have any decisions to make about when to leave for your sanctuary. It will be clear that the time has come.
Ten is indeed not enough for genetic diversity, but that concept is not a great one for the post Peak apocalypse. “Genetic Diversity” suggests “let’s get started rebuilding”. There won’t be any rebuilding. There won’t be any recovery. The oil will be gone. Civilization’s decline will be permanent enroute eventual extinction as each enclave has a crop failure or disease.
I guess I’m like Bicycle Dave in that I still hold some hope the crisis will be less harsh than you’ve described, or we might find some mitigation strategies that soften the landing. Naivety? Perhaps. The facts certainly stand on their own and I have gone through the period of psychological despair they elicit. Remaining in that place for any length of time is no way to live, so I take Gail’s advice and try to enjoy what time we have left while also thinking about strategies should things play out as described here.
Owen your ‘winter’ strategy has some merit, but what of the areas where winter is mild, or non-existent, like where I call home, Australia? We will have plenty of access to saltwalter and where I am is surrounded by large families of kangaroo. Even without their meat, Aborigines had a nearly vegetarian diet so there’s proof one can survive off the land with the right knowledge (which I intend to learn more about). Also, I don’t fully appreciate why humans will eventually become extinct just because there’s no oil. We survived proportionately much longer without than with it. Won’t things simply return to pre-fossil fuel civilisation once population stabilises?
Reverse Engineer. My uncle lives in the Yukon as a fur trapper and can survive in the bush for great lengths of time, but is still dependent on civilisation for a number of resources, including petrol for his snowmobile (though this is likely a convenience he could live without). Assuming the writing on the wall becomes obvious while one can still travel internationally, I’d seriously consider joining him. Oh, and I get a kick out of the way you write. “Final Bugout” gave me a chuckle.
I’m a Gonzo writer 🙂 If you like Gonzo, you should join Reverse Engineering. I seriously water down what I write on Other People’s Blogs. Some folks think if you write Gonzo you aren’t “serious” enough in your approach. I’ve had this chat with Bicycle Dave from the other end. He is NOT a fan of Gonzo.
You don’t prep for something like this with Snowmobiles. That’s why the paradigm has 30 Dogs. There is plenty of fuel in the Yukon for Dogs, and besides pulling the sleds they make excellent hunting partners. You train them to run down the Game toward you. Saves a lot of running around on your part. Besides that, they are an excellent Early Warning System for Zombies, and if the Zombies don’t have their OWN Dogs, you’ll never see them anyhow. They’ll never make it out so far as you, not in Winter. No Dogs, no Snow Machines with Gas, you go about NOWHERE up here in the Winter.
I think people in warm areas have a better chance of surviving, just because they do not have to worry about the issue of keeping warm, and at least some food can grow year around, meaning that less has to be stored/prepared. Historically, the highest populations have been in warm parts of the world.
We also don’t know what the rate of the decline will be. 100 years is a long time to us, but not a long time in geological time.
I agree that warm areas are a different kettle of fish.
I have put a great deal of thought into this matter, mostly as a function of high altitude atmospheric prevailing winds and fallout from the inevitable nuclear exchanges, and the likely targets. It’s because of these that I reject going south in the US. The northern cities will empty and most will head south. Chicago will empty and head to Iowa and wipe out whatever communal beret wearers they find there. Philly and Pittsburgh will empty and head to the Amish. New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, the Ohio cities, St. Louis . . . all of those are headed south as temperature drops. Visualize coast lines of Georgia and Florida lined with hundreds of thousands of people standing elbow to elbow with fishing poles casting into the surf. Behind them are the urban gang members with Uzi’s waiting to steal whatever fish are caught.
The point being warm is too obvious. The primary threat is people. Not cold and not hunger. People can kill you faster than either. Warm is obvious. You’ll be walking right into your primary threat.
But to the contrary, I am bullish Brazil. They have spectacular agriculture. They have 3 growing seasons a year. (!!!) They have oil and they have refineries, though the Chinese are trying to control that supply and therefore those rigs will be destroyed by the US Navy. But in general, if they just have the fortitude to man their borders with ruthless troops to mow down the refugees trying to get in, Brazil can dominate the world. I’d bet they can hold their die-off to a mere 50%, down to 90 million. Good chance that will be the largest population of any country when the time comes.
Another note on the ‘eventual extinction’ idea. I’m not sure this takes into consideration the existing tribal humans in the jungles of South America, etc. They certainly don’t depend on oil and while they won’t be ‘rebuilding’ I imagine they can simply keep on living as they always have. Civilisation collapse is not a new concept, and humans have yet to go extinct. Can you provide more details on the scenario you’ve described?
The fundamental difference here is you think this is an Extinction Level Event that will include a full scale exchange of Thermonuclear ICBMs, and I consider that to only be a marginal possibility at this point. You also envision this as a Fast Crash Scenario as opposed to a Long Emergency (borrowing the term from Jimmy Kunstler), which again is a possibility, but not necessarily the most probable scenario.
I can give you a lot of reasons why Global Thermonuclear warfare is unlikely, but I’ll just stick to one for brevity. The dislocation here is Global, which means every society is going to be more engaged with their own Civil Wars than international ones. Chinese will be fighting other Chinese while Amerikans fight other Amerikans. You don’t need to use Nukes to take out the other guy’s Oil Refineries, Missiles tipped with conventional warheads are just fine for that. There is simply no point to using Nukes in such a scenario.
What seems most likely to me at the present time is a monetary system crash followed by reorganization of the Nation States into smaller entities via a Civil War vector. Oil and its fuel products won’t become instantly unavailable, they’re being Triaged already. You’ll see various types of Comunist and Fascist solutions before you wind down to a complete Mad Max. So if you choose the Bush, you are likely to have to stay out there for the entire duration of this period, not just one year.
No, not extinction level event of nuclear exchange.
The extinction scenario derives from The Oil Is Gone. You cannot grow. There is no improvement. Stagnation eventually kills.
There will be no interplanetary colonization. No advance of science. Calories get consumed walking behind oxen. No one has any time left to build rockets. There is no significant terrestrial travel. Sailing ships for a while. Weeks to get from Asia to the US. Then the weather satellites fail and some of those ships don’t reach destination.
Spare parts for radios and computers can’t ship. Raw materials can’t get to the semiconductor foundries to do anything with them. People can’t get to work. Executives can’t relocate for horizon expansion and skillset improvement. Overall sales plummet because they are limited to local areas.
Planet wide stagnation. Shrinkage to enclaves. One at a time each will be wiped out by natural disaster or disease. Extinction becomes inevitable.
Grow or die. There is no happy contentment medium.
First off, there are many ways to grow besides technologically. Second, its in the historical record that people lived for 10s of 1000s years without sigificant changes to their style of living, the Aboriginals of Australia being just one example.
You have a very parochial way of looking at things Owen. If we don’t “grow” in technological sense and “stagnate”, we therefore must inevitably go Extinct? You are drawing a conclusion which makes many unsupported assumptions, It might be correct, but not necessarily so and really not likely at least in the near term. Too many other equally likely scenarios can play out.
Well, improbable things stay improbable. A stagnant village of Abos stay stagnant and the odds of a plague wiping them out in a (not any year, a ) year is 0.001%.
The odds of a plague wiping that village out over 500 years is perhaps 0.22. Or more specific, the odds of a famine/drought/plant disease nailing them in 500 years are XX%.
The odds kill you when you are sitting stagnant and letting time pass. Have a look at famines. The 1696-7 year was not pretty. 33% of Finland died. 41% of Prussia. That’s not ancient history. Irrigation was understood. They weren’t sacrificing to gods to make food in 1700. Their number came up, as it were.
Monsanto won’t be shipping anything.
No Red Cross with UN Refugee Programme biscuits when crops are bad and everyone is isolated. No trucks and planes arrive with crates. Time passes, disasters hit.
Grow or die.
You are doing the long version of the Zero Hedge Tagline. “On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to Zero”. The main leap of faith you take here though is that the timeline is very short and the mere disappearance of Oil is in and of itself sufficient to precipitate an Extinction Level Event without even the Nukes.
Anyhow, some 70,000 years ago another bunch of Homo Sapiens faced imminent Extinction when Toba went ballistic. In a world covered in Ashfall, somehow those 10,000 Human Souls made it through that Zero Point. It has been DONE before, it can be done again.
Well, this is all speculation, but no, it hasn’t been done before. This world has not existed anymore.
The Toba Bottleneck occurred with all sorts of resources available near the surface. Salt, for one. Those easy salt mines are used up now. The next Toba bottleneck will find the 10,000 spread far apart with no chance of “stumbling onto” this or that to save one’s butt because all the this or that iron ore or copper or whatever close to the surface has been mined and isn’t there to be stumbled upon to save the species.
So the issue is not “it has been done before so it can be done again.” It’s “It has been done before and therefore can’t be done again.”
Or better might be . . . there has never before been 6 billion rotting corpses in the rivers breeding all sorts of disease. The Toba folks didn’t face that.
Species survival odds are not good. We had our chance. We failed. We didn’t discover FTL propulsion and now the party is over and so it goes. Maybe it’s always like this. Maybe that’s why there are no alien visitors. Maybe civilizations always run out of oil and decline to extinction before FTL can be discovered.
Back to the Peak Salt problem. Gail put my post up from last night, so that is in here now.
Look, while Salt is a necessary ingredient in the diet of ALL mammals, only Homo Sapiens bothers to mine it up. This because the Ag diet tends to be somewhat lacking in Salt content. Chimpanzees don’t mine salt, and they do just fine running 95% the same genome you and I have. If you are near the ocean, Salt is always available, it is left behind when water evaporates in tide pools. It can always be collected. However, if your diet includes salt water fish and filter feeders, they have plenty of salt in them already. If you just DRINK salt water and your body is low in salt, its going to flow across the membrane of your small intestine by osmosis.
Massive numbers of rotting corpses may be a fate for some of the Big Shities in a fast enough crash, but you know even the Plague years survivors managed to burn and bury the dead. In low population zones, dead bodies will get picked clean by scavengers and decomposers.
The fact many minerals have already been close to “mined out” isn’t a real big problem since it is all still here, its just sitting in landfills. A vastly reduced population will have all the minerals it needs for a long time to come just by scavenging the flotsam and jetsam of the Age of Oil.
About the only way to squash out Homo Sapiens COMPLETELY is either by thorughly poisoning the atmosphere or by sufficiently changing Ocean pH to bust the food chain down at the phytoplankton level. Then the atmosphere would rapidly become depleted of free Oxygen, and about all life forms above the level of the Tardigrades would be extinguished.
I do not discount the possibility of either of these things, but the mere disappearance of the Oil Resource OR of Salt Mines or Phophate mines is not a sufficient condition for species extinction. Neither were accessed prior to the Age of Agriculture. Homo Sapiens is just another Great Ape, and assuming the rest of the food chain below Homo sapiens doesn;t disappear completely, some of these Predators will survive. The species won’t recover very fast, the rest of the ecosystem has to recover before that can happen, and that could take millenia. For a real ELE to occur, we need more than just the disappearance of the Oil Resource.
“Sailing ships for a while. Weeks to get from Asia to the US. Then the weather satellites fail and some of those ships don’t reach destination.”-Owen
I missed this one in the first read.
You need SATELLITES for Navigation? I don’t think so. If you did, North America would never have been colonized by Europeans, Hawaii would never have been colonized by Polynesians and World War II with all the Battleships and Aircraft carriers could not have been fought either. Satellites are a VERY recent invention upon which Global Navigation of the High Seas depends not a whit really.
I will grant though that intercontinental travel via Sail will not be very safe to engage in for quite some time to come. People will expect all arriving Saiolboats to be full of Pirates or Raiders and just rowing into shore in your Longboats would likely result in your being killed on the spot by whatever Locals still occupy the location.
Two quick comments.
1) Salt is not about mineral diet requirements. It’s about food preservation. An enclave of 10 people will waste about half a deer. They won’t be able to eat it in the 48 hrs it takes to start rotting. They won’t in general be able to put food away for tough times. Salt does that. Yeah, the body needs it, but that’s not the source of my salt focus.
2) Satellites keep ships away from hurricanes. Not a navigation thing.
Salt is not the only means of preserving meat. You already postulated using a micro-hydro electric system, so you could can the meat or use an electric drying rack. Also in winter, this whole area is one big freezer anyhow. You can build ice houses that will last through the summer.
Also, most of your animal protein comes in the form of fish which you can consume all of immediately. You can also trap smaller animals rather than taking large ones like Moose.
Anyhow, if you are just worried about the first year of Zombie Hordes, you can live off your stock of freeze dried foods, you don’t need to hunt at all that year. After that, you get out the Smoker.
Far as hurricane avoidance goes, you just have to take your chances on that as the mariners of old did. Not going to be much commerce going onthat way anyhow. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
Thanks! Sorry abut the spam filter problem. It is not really length that hangs it up–it is slightly off-color language that tends to hang it up.
I was traveling and speaking the last few days (at the University of New Mexico), with limited Internet access, so I didn’t have much time for responding to comments and finding lost comments.
I thought that might be the problem so I deleted the F-bomb, but it STILL wouldn’t publish.
Here we go again. ANOTHER post in the SPAM can. No off color language either.
The further afield we venture, the more liquid hydrocarbons we can “count”, which makes the picture quite rosy if we conveniently ignore the issue that the further afield, the less we can “count on them.
By extending the same method of reckoning, there is an obvious solution to the fossil-fuel problem – just include all the planets and their moons:
According to the Wikipedia entry about the Lakes of Titan, one of the moons of Saturn
Titan hosts within its polar lakes “hundreds of times more natural gas and other liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth..
Reminds one of the Mock Turtle’s song in Alice in Wonderland’s The Lobster Quadrille:
“The further off from England the nearer is to France —
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.”
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This is a response to Justin Nigh
I am 71 years old. I live in North Carolina, USA. I know very little about Australia (except that when people like Bill Mollison draw diagrams, the sun is shining from the ‘wrong’ direction). I understand that land values are quite expensive.
After listening to Nicole Foss confidently predicting deflation (so hand onto your money until land gets cheap) and watching the Federal Reserve print money to keep land in the unaffordable range, I finally settled on this strategy:
1. I don’t try to be self-sufficient in grains and dried legumes. They require a lot of land to grow–and I have very little land. They are easy to ship.
2. I try to grow as many low calorie density, high water content plants as I can. These are expensive because they are expensive to ship. They also lose nutrient values rapidly after harvest. So I grow leafy greens everywhere and use the Permaculture method of stacking. Urine is my principal fertilizer. If you recycle all your urine, and you are eating food not only from your own yard but also from someone’s farm, you are adding back more nutrients than your plants are taking from the soil. Urine contains about 90 percent of the nutrients that were in the plant. So, in round numbers, you may be adding back 150 percent of the nutrients the plants took out of your soil.
3. I also work at a nearby farm. The farm is 8 miles away. If there is no gasoline whatsoever, then I can ride a bicycle to the farm. The farm is located on the property of an intentional community, to which I have contributed some money. While I have no legal rights, I feel pretty comfortable that they would not force me out. The farm supplies a lot of veggies such as root crops and string beans and the like. Most of the leafy greens come from my own yard and are harvested minutes before we eat them.
4. Between my small yard and the farm, I either grow directly or work for half our calories, and probably 70 percent of the cost of our food.
5. Neither my wife nor I have had a cold for the last 10 years. Neither of us have been diagnosed with any chronic disease. Both of us have low blood pressure and reasonable overall health indicators. With any luck, we will die after a short illness. Life style can do this for you. Medical Science cannot.
My largest concern is actually drinking water. Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture has some neat drawings of cisterns for capturing drinking water. Farm houses in the US (and back to ancient Greece and Rome) had cisterns. But they have fallen into disuse and are seldom built anymore. It would be very hard to build a cistern at my house. There are some ponds, and the water would be drinkable with a good filter. But filters eventually fail. So drinking water is an issue.
As for hot and cold weather. Because we are thin and have a low metabolic rate (because of our life style), we don’t suffer much from hot weather. We do get cold in the winter. So we just add layers. We routinely wear long underwear. If we have a particularly cold snap, our pipes might freeze. So we would have to drain our pipes for perhaps 10 days each year. That is an annoyance, but doable.
We don’t owe anyone any money. But our children are all 500 miles away, or more. So we can’t rely on family.
Your own solution is doubtless going to be different than mine–which is imperfect. But I think that just identifying the primary challenges and starting to work on them is good for what ails you. It took me about 18 months to locate the farm–and I have been there now for 3 years. I thought about trying to buy some land within a few miles of the house. My daughter in Portland, Oregon tells me that theft of food is a real problem unless the farmer actually lives on the land. I suspect the theft problem will only get worse. I posed the question to Dmitri Orlov once upon a time. He suggested getting Bikers to camp on the property. Whatever works, I suppose.
Hope this helps
That’s a thought out arrangement, which puts you ahead of many.
But it’s time for secondary and tertiary thinking.
What happens when your bicycle breaks and there are no spare parts?
With no hot water for washing, disease will come.
Where is your salt supply? A 100 pound field dressed deer will feed you for two days, max. No, you don’t eat 100 lbs. You eat 3 pounds in two days. The rest spoils as 48-72 hrs is a lot of time for bacteria to go crazy in the absence of functioning immune system.
How will you stay warm in winter with no fires burning the smoke from which will bring the enemy to you? Mountain streams can drive banks of car alternators (there will be hundreds laying around so failure/malfunction doesn’t matter) and run space heaters. Far superior to solar.
Anyway, think tertiary. And not in terms of years. It’s not years. It’s forever.
As I have said, survival for humans is a matter of small groups cooperating (extended families, clans, etc.) and also everyone has to examine their own situation. My situation is that ‘forever’ is perhaps 15 years and then it’s not my problem anymore. In terms of clan, I have done the best I can given the cards I have been dealt.
Of course a lot of things can go wrong. The farm could fail financially and there goes a lot of my food supply. In the meantime, I am learning skills (seedsaving, etc.) and living rather frugally. I expect the bicycle to last 15 years, about the same as me.
As I have also said in another post, it doesn’t pay to get too far ahead of the curve. As Chris Martenson says in his post today, we are already in the collapse. But the collapse may take a long time–think the Roman Empire or even Napoleon. It pays to know how to forage and children should be taught (http://www.leafforlife.org/PDFS/english/Colorgbk.pdf), but it doesn’t make sense to take to the woods today, in my opinion.
I could be wrong. But I sure don’t regret the things I HAVE done…Don Stewart
Thank you Don, Owen, Joe Clarkson, and Gail for taking the time to provide some thoughtful advice. It would seem our choice to not buy property and continue to rent while saving as much as we can is the course we should keep on. I’ve always preferred the flexibility of renting (not to mention avoiding debt slavery), which may serve us well in what’s to come.
Don, we are both 33 years old, in great health due to a well balanced vegan diet and plenty of regular exercise. I suppose that’s a bonus going into this mess. However, I suspect we’ll have to adjust that diet and incorporate animal products again should it really fall apart. We too are growing mainly green leaf produce in our backyard garden. We also have a large rainwater tank that is directly plumbed into the house for use in toilets and washing machine. These are commonplace in Australia, particularly newly built homes like the one we rent, as you might expect with the cycles of drought we experience. They may prove useful as sources of drinking water down the track. Interesting you mention bikers. I’ve recently seen groups of them, as we do now and again, in the area and was contemplating how peak oil would affect their lifestyle. While they would be good deterrents to protect property, I’d be uneasy having them so close at hand should they decide I was no longer required.
I’ve previously discovered some intentional communities in the area and will investigate them further.
Owen, your advice about salt makes sense. Salt is quite heavy, especially in the volume I imagine you’d need to preserve a large game animal. Given we may need to be very mobile to survive, I wonder how we’ll manage to get around with kilos of salt in tow. When we start to think about how to survive we realise how much there is to consider and how easy it is to miss important details like this.
Something I’m especially conscious of is the fact I recently left my full time job to start our own business. I had a career in IT for the past 10 years and being a high-stress job, couldn’t tolerate it any longer. I suppose computers will have less relevance if things play out as described by Gail, so perhaps nothing much lost there. However, the new venture I’m undertaking is very reliant on the transportation system and refrigeration. I’m already fairly committed and changing gears now would be a problem on a number of levels. If things don’t turn out as bad as we think, it should be OK. If not, well I guess we just put our other skills to work (I also used to work in horticulture).
As for family clans, my parents live in Canada (where I’m from) and we only have my mother-in-law and an aunt/uncle nearby. Neither of which I’m comfortable discussing this with in great detail. I’ve broached the issue briefly with my mother-in-law and she didn’t take much notice, dismissing it as pessimistic. Though she has spent time living on land with very little creature comforts, so at least she will be more resilient than most. The aunt/uncle are conservative and likely to think I’m absolutely nuts. I know I’m not, but even my own optimism likes to think I am sometimes.
This is just to think about. When you kill a deer, there are two courses of action you can take. The first is to smoke it or salt it or freeze it or pickle it or otherwise preserve it for your own use over a long period of time.
The second is to have a feast for your clan or extended family or friends and neighbors. This is the option favored by most hunting and gathering groups. You kill the deer this week, one of your neighbors kills a deer next week. In both cases, you get some deer meat to eat. But in the second alternative, you avoid all the labor of preserving. And you don’t develop stomach cancer from all the salt preservative. Stomach cancer was one of the leading causes of death back when meat was regularly salted to preserve it.
This is another reason why I think that survival needs to be understood as a small group phenomenon.
Incidentally. Consider the effect of game laws. We have in the US a plague of deer. They eat everything. But we have a ridiculously short deer season. So you have to go out and shoot your deer and then preserve it. The more sensible course of killing a deer when you need some meat for a communal feast is, essentially, against the law.
As Orlov says, the collapse of the governments is one of the advantages we can look forward to.
This is a case of “managing the commons”. The problem with no regulation, is the likely outcome that “all the dear will be hunted”, leaving no dear for anyone. Regulation may not be ideal but it is preferable to no regulation.
Anarchy is unlikely to be beneficial for social of environmental outcomes. Orlov may be spectacularly wrong.
Don and Justin-
Just a note about water.
My family has lived on catchment water for over 25 years. We have a rodent-proof covered catchment tank and house roof. The house roof is painted metal which drains through PVC piping into the tank.
We live in an area with little air pollution (what little we have is from volcanic haze).
Considering these conditions, we have never filtered or sterilized our water for any purpose and have had no problems. We felt quite comfortable giving this water to our young children.
I can see from your posting you are Long on Mad Max.
First off, if you strip and dry the meat its not going to spoil in 3 days.
Insofar as roving Zombies spying your fires, moving around 50 miles through the bush takes quite a few days with no mechanized transport. If you are doing a nomadic lifestyle, by the time they get to where you were, you are long gone.
In any event, we are likely to go through a period of extreme fascism and then warlordism in most areas before its the Last of the Mohicans out there in the bush. Making it through that period takes different strategies.
I’m a former Air Force officer. I bring a military perspective to what is usually somewhat left wing Peak Oil thinking, and by that I mean not so much long Mad Max as short the concept of globally agreed upon uniformly distributed resources.
It’s just silly to think that everyone will accept an annual 3% decline . . . of whatever parameter. The US burns 24% of oil production with 4% of global population. The world will insist on sharper US GDP declines, sharper US oil consumption declines (same thing as GDP decline) and sharper US lifestyle declines than the rest of the world endures, because we have a lead and to close that lead they won’t speed up. They’ll slow us down. Yes, everyone will slow down. They’ll steepen our decline rate to close the lead.
There is no way in hell any US president of either party will sign onto that. They’ll lose re-election for sure. And, of course, they’ll have an alternative. Suppress competing demand for oil. Militarily. That wins elections.
Okay, so not long Mad Max. Long inevitability of disproportion.
Drying/smoking requires fire to do it efficiently. If you put it outside in a rainstorm, you’re not going to dry it well, and it will still spoil.
No, don’t carry salt around. Remember, 0.001% can survive in place. You have to prepare what you want/need in the location that has it and then plan to walk there. Meaning a mountain cabin with a flowing stream for micro hydro power, no road leading to it, 50 miles from town, with a cold/snowy winter, AND NEAR A SALT MINE. Cities were formed on rivers near salt mines. The word salary comes from salt, because Roman legionnaires were paid in salt or more commonly were paid a salt stipend to purchase it (outsourced).
Yes, salt will cause stomach cancer. Stomach cancer will develop and kill slower than starvation.
I do agree with the enclave concept, though “small group” seems unlikely to be safe larger than 10 people. Odds just explode of having slackers if your only criterion is family unit, and even 10 generates huge risks of big mouths pre deployment or even on the mountain during deployment. Shouting fights must not happen. They reveal presence.
But you do need more than one person for standing watch and posting sentries. The hairy chested survivalists who spend 80 pages picking out what gun to have never consider that it will not be effective when you’re asleep.
Your perspective definitely is one of a Military nature, and under certain circumstances, some of the ideas you propose are quite valid. For myself, I am a person who has lived a Nomadic life for a long time and observed how communities and people operate on different scales and under different parameters.
Anyhow, if you are just prepping for a year in the Bush and can preposition Preps, Salt is not an issue, its just one of the preps you cache. If you are anywhere near Salt Water, evaporation provides the long term supply of salt you need.
In Winter, you don’t have to salt anything in a cold climate. You live in a big Freezer anyhow. You also can build Icehouses in the winter that will make it through virtually the entire Summer. If you are running a decent size Tribal Group, building Icehouses is not a problem and takes no Oil whatsoever. Did the Inuit mine Salt? Hell no, and they lived up here for at least 10,000 years without doing that. The salt comes from the saltwater fish you eat.
Your concern about “Slackers” is an artifact of the type of society we currently live in. In Tribal Societies, people do not “slack” for if they do they are Shunned. You simply do not last long once you are shunned in a Tribe. Tribal groups assemble up spontaneously when disaster strikes, and those who do not know how to cooperate and who do not provide some value to the Tribe as a group are rapidly shunned. So your best bet is to start out with a decent size group that can protect and defend the resources in your area, and then work out a Political system that allows for adequate distribution of those resources. You’ll never be able to do such a thing inside the Belly of the Beast in Big Shities with populations in the Millions, but in sparsely populated regions with towns in the 10K and less range, this is much more possible to do.
I will not make the case that the paradigm is foolproof, not by any means. It is however a better paradigm than going Full Primitive out in the Bush. The best alternative is not the Military Survivalist one. Its a Tribal one organizing up a decent size group of people to work together for the Common Good. You have to be in the right locations to do this, but Alaska is not the only one. I can name others down in the Lower 48. The Bayou of Lousiana is one place you could do it also. Just differnet parameters for living in a swamp which I do not particularly like. Borderline Desert areas are another. The Bushmen of the Kalahari still do it this way. Its not impossible, its just outside what we have been used to. If you are tough enough, you’ll figure it out in due time if you are there and have your tribe. When the Going gets Tough, the tough get Going.
I tried 3 times to respond to this one. FAIL. I’ll post it on Reverse Engineering.
Seems to be members only. I’m not much of a joiner of unknown things.
“Members Only” keeps out the Trolls 🙂
Where will you get Heat to survive in 30 Below temps?
Do you live in an environment where the temps go that low on a regular basis? I do, and although I keep my Cabin around 45 degrees to keep the internal piping from freezing, its hardly necessary to do that.
Cold weather living is all about INSULATION, not about Heating. The interior temperature of an Igloo depending on its size and the number of Dogs and Peoples inside it tends to hover around 40 degrees no matter how cold it gets outside the Igloo. This because all those Living Breathing bodies inside the Igloo are themselves cooking at around 98 degrees or so and the snow provides fabulous insulation values.
Do you know the derivation of the word “Eskimo”, which is not what Inuit and Aleuts call themselves? Its an Algonquin word which means “Raw Meat Eater”. Why did these folks eat their meat Raw? because on the tundra there just ain’t a whole lot out there to Burn at any time, particularly in the winter. A little dried dung is about all you got here for fuel.
I haven;t run the Iditarod myself, but I have friends who have. They mush for dyas on end with no heat. As long as you have enough FOOD for yourself and your Dogs, you are ALL little heat engines burning the stuff, and all you need to do is INSULATE from the cold. You flip over the sled and you and your dogs hunker down while the blozzard piles up the snow around you. HTF do you think Penguins survive in Antarctica? They are warm blooded and can’t even build any type of shelter at all! They pack together in groups and rotate penguins to the exterior while the interior penguins warm back up.
In any event, we are a LONG way from not having shelters or burnable Coal up here in Alaska, just how MUCH of it we do burn is a matter of choice and lifestyle. You do not NEED to burn any of it at all, even at 50 below, long as you can feed yourself and isulate yourself from the cold.
I have treated the Salt problem already at least 3 times in this thread, so I am not going to repeat that again. Suffice it to say, “Eskimos” have NEVER had a salt mine, and they did just fine without one. Salt comes in the diet of a carnivore, its captured already by the creatures it eats. If you real needed Salt Mines, Eskimos never could have survived for all these millenia since Toba went ballistic. If yu really needed to burn stuff for heat, they would not have been able to survive either. But they DID.
Done once, it can be done again. Perhaps not by former Air Force officers, but there are still some Inuit who can do it, and I for one intend on learning just as much as I can from them before this all goes to hell in a handbasket.
Another one in the SPAM Can here 🙂
I don’t normally follow politics. I was watching TV last night and there was a clip of Candidate Gingrich stating something like: “Peak Oil is not real, Peak Gas is not real, they are devices of the Liberal Left used to scare and attack us’ – (not a direct quote, going from memory.)
Don’t underestimate the importance of this. A Major Political Candidate has acknowledged that Peak Oil as an idea exists. How does that saying go, first they ignore you, then they attack you, then… what comes next?
Just so we are clear here, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that would indicate that Obama is very aware of the peak oil/peak resources problem and its limits to growth. Chu, his energy secretary, is very aware of the problem. What one has to next think is: what is the benefit politically of admitting to it? What is the benefit if realistically you are just going to be called a crackpot by the other side and marginalized. It’s also questionable whether anything they could/would do would even make a difference. It’s highly unlikely that everyone would agree to anything and the citizenry would reject changes that effect their personal freedoms or personal interests, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor.
We live in a society that in my opinion makes dealing with PO in a constructive way near impossible. We are divided now like no other time in history except the U.S. Civil War. We are on our own (and I mean each one of us, not us together).
I agree that a lot of these folks know about these issues. If I look hard enough, I can find a quote in the WSJ from Alan Greenspan saying that peak oil came sooner and harder than expected (or something like that). But no one want to panic the people.
Of course The President knows about Peak Oil. The EIA and the IEA know about it. The
oil companies know about it. US Armed Forces know about – everybody that matters knows about it. How else could they have done such a good job at covering it up? They have experts like Yergin and many others busily thinking of ways of defusing the issue. Keeny’s article is just one example of many, and look how easily the arguments can be knocked down. But that won’t stop them trying to kick the can down the road for a bit longer.
I think you are right, on both issues–everyone knowing and kicking the can down the road. Kicking the can down the road a bit farther is the name of the game.
“We are on our own (and I mean each one of us, not us together).”
Bingo. But why? Perhaps because everything we need and used to do for each other has been monetised. We can all go into our homes and have everything we need. Why would we interact with our neighbours if they can’t offer us anything we don’t already pay for? This is the source of our loss of community, increasing disconnection from each other, and subsequent loss of purpose and meaning. I don’t need to know the guy who makes my food or fixes my washing machine. If I offend him or vice versa I’ll just pay someone else to do it.
However, we’re running out of social, environmental, and cultural fuel for the growth engine. There’s little left to monetise that hasn’t already been. This is a another factor, along with peak oil, contributing to the end of growth.
An entry in Permaculture Activist, a US magazine, written by Dave Jacke describes the research into an agricultural system in use in Italy from the late Middle Ages until it finally died in the 1950s. It was rediscovered when some ecologists found a peculiar distribution of alder trees. Alders fix nitrogen, and can be coppiced, and are fodder for browsing animals. A complex system of agriculture evolved involving wood, grains, and animals. The system would have had a multi-year rotation of activities and crops:
Firewood harvest and sod burning
Grain production (in the nitrogen rich soil) and young alder coppice
Wood pasture with pollards
Firewood harvest and sod burning and around again
‘Every year, the percentage of the landscape at each phase of the cycle would remain the same, more of less, yet every year the location of each of these patches would move: a mosaic that would be stable at the landscape scale, but every changing and cyclic at the patch scale’.
‘The complexity at the landscape scale would allow, if not demand, a significant division of labor: shepherds, wood cutters, grain farmers, wool processors, butchers, and so one would be needed. It would take a whole village to run the system well.’
So you could do this with either a gigantic corporation which owns everything and employs workers for as little as it can pay them, or else you can do it with independent entrepreneurs who have learned to co-operate for their common good. It is so obvious to me that the latter option is the one we desperately need. But, as you observe, we are unused to thinking in terms of co-operation and will have to relearn these basic skills. Are we up to the challenge?
That is a good point, about everything being monetized, so we don’t need each other. We don’t need to join a church any more either, because economics tells us everything we need to know about values–he who dies with the most toys wins. Jobs are in different states than where we grew up, so we move across the country and leave our family.
A lot of the growth engine came from monetizing things that we used to do for each other–day care for children, assisted living arrangements for the elderly, fixing things that don’t work. I remember one of my grandfathers used to make book cases and various built in arrangements with wood. My father did some of that too. Now most of us today would just buy shelves from Home Depot. Moving all these things from the “informal” to the “formal” economy added to “growth”.
I have no need to learn about values, because I can find the best price for everything on the web.
The politics are not pure.
The Left wing activists believe Peak Oil is absurd and likely a manufactured Right wing meme to force drilling more wells and win more exploration subsidies for Big Oil.
The Right wing activists believe the Peak Oil meme is an attack on God and the overarching concept that God will not present you with impossible tasks that preclude growth.
I’ve personally seen more sneering at Peak Oil by liberal Democrats than by Republicans, though I am sure mileage will vary.
We certainly do seem to be seeing more attacks on Peak Oil in the press now. I am wondering if at some point facts will show the natural gas hype to be simply hype, and things will suddenly unwind. But the situation may still be perceived as a financial crisis, especially if defaulting European debt sets off debt defaults around the world. (I think the European debt problem is tied to high oil prices, as well.)
Greece oil consumption is 400,000 bpd. At Brent $114 this is 5% of GDP/yr.
That’s a crushing drain.
I was surprised too. I sent him the link, he replied “thanks”. then tweeted.
The propaganda outlets are about keeping the debt slaves in harness to serve the owners.
A tweet from charlesjkenny
charlesjkenny Charles Kenny
Opposing view on my column –Everything You Know About Peak Oil is ‘Not’ Wrong wp.me/p3dRG-3PW via @gailtheactuary
Really! I wouldn’t expect that.
Prepare, prepare, prepare…
I don’t know if it is possible or meaningful to “prepare” at an individual level. I suspect we would really have to prepare at a regional or national level to make any sort of difference. Consider the effects on healthcare, information and sanitation, for example, or other services that we rely on. Will these processes remain intact or functional in any way? If not, how can we prepare?
I know historically, family clans have sometimes migrated together when conditions were bad in one area. That way they could help each other out, when conditions got bad. So I think survival might be possible at the clan level, if the basics are covered.
The status of healthcare is very much tied to the ability of cities to provide the population with fresh water and with sewage treatment. I expect that if we lose our ability to provide the population with fresh water and sewage treatment, death rates will skyrocket, especially in cities. We really need to figure out how to deal with these issues early on–prepare for gathering our own water and suitably treating it; also composting waste of all types. These would seem to be at least as important issues as arranging for a future food supply.
I know I will sound like a broken record. But…
For healthcare, live an optimum lifestyle. No chronic disease, few infections.
For information, learn to read the clouds to tell you what weather is coming. What else is so important?
For sanitation, you should already be recycling all your urine. And get a composting toilet.
Get a copy of a good Permaculture book (lots of libraries have copies of Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture) and absorb his positive vibes. All you need is for the various governments to stop persecuting you.
I will admit that some people are poorly situated. Before you despair, look at what Orientals are able to do in crowded cities. If there is no hope where you are, go somewhere else.
I’m interested in getting your opinion on my situation and what I might do to best position myself for what’s coming.
I live in Australia and moved out of Sydney a year ago to a regional centre about an hour out of Brisbane. There is a lot of undeveloped and farm land in the area. Housing in Australia is extremely unaffordable; amongst the least affordable in the developed world. I refuse to buy property for this reason and am very averse to debt for reasons that should be obvious to most here. Although we have what would be considered significant fiat holdings, it may only cover 25% or 50% (dependent on what standard of living we’re willing to accept, myself being more open to lower standards than my partner) of the cost of land and residence. This is why we rent our house. We do have a small organic garden that provides some food, but really is insufficient as a replacement for food we bring in.
The problems with our position are fairly obvious. If the proverbial hits the fan, the landlord is likely to move us along and occupy our residence (they are also renting and this property is an ‘investment,’ something that’s very popular in Australia and personally I believe is damaging on a number of levels). If we buy land we will be slaves to the debt system and may lose the land if we can’t service the debt.
Like many, we feel trapped by the system and it’s almost impossible to operate outside it’s boundaries.
I think it is likely that post-peak living conditions will tend toward the feudal. One of the few things with intrinsic value is agricultural land.
Once this becomes obvious, people will migrate to the countryside in order to survive. If one is not able to own land outright (and also to protect it with weapons and social support, which are other intrinsic goods), one must work on someone else’s land as a share-cropper or hired hand. Land owners will also need lots of help once they cannot rely on machines to do farm work.
I suggest either trying to buy a share of an intentional agricultural community or find a place as a farm worker on a farm with older owners who need younger laborers.
For example – My wife and I are fit, healthy and own good farm land, but we are in our sixties. Our next big project is to build another residence (or two) so that our adult children and other extended family can move to our land and help out. Failing that, we know that there will always be plenty of young people willing to work hard with us if given a place to live.
What protects your Ownership of the Farmland?
That is an issue I wonder about too. If things get bad, truly desirable assets may be taken over by the government. This can be done through high taxes.
It seems like flexibility is important. We can’t plan on storing up for the future, and having it in the end.
I have recently been studying feudalism in Poland during the Enlightenment. Those were interesting times, too. I didn’t know, for instance, that Poland as a country ceased to exist for some 123 years because of their responses and reactions to the instability and subsequent revolutionary ideas of the period. Over a century later, it was re-created at the end of World War One. I had no idea. Although it was a big thing at the time, subsequent events in History now tend to overshadow this period in Polish History. If you’re interested in a uniquely Polish Solution, see ‘organic work’ under wikipedia:Poland
One of the most common assumptions people make is that Land Titles and Property Ownership Rights will be maintained after a monetary collapse, but its not likely they will be. Why should they be since such titles are were issued by a corrupt state using a corrupt monetary system? The Bolsheviks simply confiscated everybody’s land and communalized the ownership. I’d expect a more Fascist solution here, with Monsanto and Conagra being handed the property rights to all land suitable for Agriculture. We are pretty close to there already.
I, too, have wondered about how property ownership will hold up. If there is a need to move to less mechanized agriculture, then there will be a need to somehow change ownership of land to match the new situation (either individual plots, or communal ownership). If the government doesn’t have money to buy the land from current owners (and I can’t imagine that it will), it seems likely that it will take it from whoever owns it.
For what it is worth, I don’t think that banks can repossess everyone’s home. So even if there are debt defaults, it may be those who think they are going to be repaid that bear a lot of the pain.
On the other hand, owning a house ties you down when you may want to move. This is especially the case if property values drop.
So there is an argument either way.
We have a home that we own without debt–less expensive than what other people would say we could afford. That approach can work, in some circumstances.
I wanted to reply to Reverse Engineer’s comment about home ownership, but there was no reply option shown. Please make sure that all comments show “Reply” below.
As to the issue of land ownership- If ownership of all resources, including land, is to be decided by raw power, ultimate “ownership” depends on how much power is brought to bear on my land and family.
For individuals and small groups of “brigands”, we will rely on our community and our weapons. For much larger forces, such as state forces during martial law, nothing can be done.
However, if one owns a relatively small parcel that is debt free and not in a particularly strategic location, far from population centers, and not particularly suitable for commercial agriculture, it should be less tempting to powerful forces. This is my situation here in Hawaii.
I am not sure why the “reply” box didn’t appear, but it is possible that the number of comments in a thread had maxed out. I raised the limit from 6 to 10, so hopefully that will fix the problem in the future.
I agree with you, that small parcels that are debt free, and not in very good locations to be consolidated into a big tract, are much safer in the long run.
Tidbit of significance.
With a John Deere quality plow blade (that revolutionized agriculture in the 1800s), an optimal team of oxen can plow 1 acre of land in 8 hours. A 400 horsepower John Deere tractor can do it in 2.3 minutes.
Point being, large tracts of land are something that only works with 400 horsepower tractors. Tractors are required to do 10,000 acre farms for 7 Billion people before growing season expires.
The oxen can do 20 acres in, say, 18 days, assuming it doesn’t rain and that you have 6 oxen (to rotate into the yoke and rest them every few days). It’s also useful to remember that oxen have to be raised and trained from a young age. Maybe 2-3 years to be functional, and they must be shod. The constant strain on the hooves will tear them apart without steel shoes around them.
This is 1850s technology, we’re talking about. US population 1850 = 23 million. That’s a 93% dieoff.
We don’t think of these details. When I was at an Emergy conference in Florida, an attendee from Sweden told me about attempts had had at trying to raise oxen and use them for plowing. He started with standard sized oxen, and found that their caloric requirement was too high, relative to the food produced in that part of the world. He now is using smaller cattle. He said his research had shown that 100 years ago, cattle (used as oxen?) were half the size they are today.
It doesn’t matter if Peak Oil is well understood in the MSM.
It doesn’t matter if Peak Oil is understood by the general populace.
That which is inevitable is immune to treatment. People knowing about it won’t change the 6 billion die off. In that context, the many blogs appearing are somewhat counterproductive — from the perspective of wanting to see only the prepared survive.
Meaning, many more prepare. There is a rich food supply for nomad armies that will wipe each enclave out and thereby last, themselves, much longer.
Winter is the friend of the prepared. It kills the primary threat.
I share a similar philosophy to you on this issue. How does one prepare against the inevitable hoards though? How does one not become their target and/or defend against them if they show up someday?
I’ll babble here about how to prepare.
Item 1: Way too many survivalist sites are run by overweight 50 year old “former green berets”, which means they spent 3-4 years as an enlisted man, trained by jumping out of some perfectly good airplanes, got some excellent firearms training and excellent infantry training and even got some living off the land training that someone, somewhere, who had never lived off the land for 5 years, thought was legit — and all of this 30 years ago when he was 20.
Item 2:The decline and subsequent tries to survive will NOT be uniformly distributed. This is not going to be a gentle, evenly spread out bit of mild sacrifice. There are not going to be any volunteers to endure a larger lifestyle drop than those presently at a lower lifestyle. No one is going to tolerate 10% GDP drops when someone else is enduring only 2% drops.
Item 3: The Chinese can park SLBM capable submarines in Venezuelan waters and be within nuclear tipped ballistic missile range of the entire Galveston to Mobile gulf coast oil refinery complex. About 8 hits would be all that is needed to eliminate perhaps 70% of US oil import/refining capability. You need 1, repeat, 1 sub for that. The Chinese have more than 1. China would soon lose all of its east coast to retaliation after that, but it’s a numbers game at that point. If they are enduring 10% declines while the US tries to orchestrate only 2% declines, they are looking at perpetual inferiority. That’s not tolerable to anyone. They will act. If they can wipe out 80% of US population via starvation and endure the same % losses, a 20% Chinese survival will vastly outnumber America and likely can force shipping of food via sail from the US to those remaining Chinese. IOW, our remnants starve worse and they win if we wait too long.
Item 3: The way you deal with hordes is you keep your mouth shut and you plan your preparation to be the opposite of what most will do. You do not flee winter. You seek it. Winter is your friend. You are going to defeat the hordes with winter. They aren’t going to know you’re there. You use winter to kill other humans, who are your primary threat. You do not burn fires during the day so smoke can lead the enemy to you. You burn fires only in snowstorms or on moonless nights. You keep quiet. You show no lights after dark. You go to snowy mountains. You hope your mountain stream based micro hydro system that is your heat source power doesn’t freeze. You rely on archery and atlatls for hunting because guns make noise. You do not rely on solar that can be covered with snow. You do none of this within 50 miles of a town larger than 20,000 people. If they don’t know you’re there, they won’t walk 50 miles.
That was insightful and interesting. Thank you. One would hope it does not become this nasty but given that I think most Americans have become fairly similar to zombies in their thought process and actions and only those who refuse to get in line are considered “weird”, I think there is a strong likelihood that the zombies do indeed become a larger threat than anything else to a person’s individual survival. You gave me a few things to think about here for my own preparation.
I will have to agree that the range of solutions is less than a person would like. But we can still live a good life in the present, and hope that the downslope won’t be too fast. We can also look for what might appear to be at least temporary solutions in our own situations. Perhaps we can even find somewhat permanent solutions, for at least some part of the population.
Good point, the penultimate sentence. It fits with traditional wisdom. I think of the old, traditional prayer, “Give us peace in our time, O Lord.” Plus, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Or turn our attention away from the grandiose and, as Candide reminded Dr Pangloss, tend our garden(s).
Meanwhile, prepare, prepare, prepare! For my part, I need to clean my bicycle chain, replace a string on my guitar so I can serenade my wife (she’s Hispanic and falls for a serenade time and again), make up for a misspent youth by learning statistics (all I did, in those youthful days in Ann Arbor, was learn enough to get a decent grade and then forget it; Laplace [i.e. Heaviside] Transforms were so much more fun), and teach my granddaughters while I can: they still think I am delightfully cool and awesomely wise (it can’t last).
Another one of my posts is hung up in your Spam filter.
I found it and fixed it.
This is why I live in Alaska. We got better Winters up here than anybody else, short of maybe the Siberians.
However, while a few real good Back Woods types stand a better than average chance at survival by going WTF out into the Yukon Territory and going Full Primitive, overall I think you’ll see a shrinkage down to Tribal Size groups in the neighborhood of 100-10000 Human Souls. This is the most effective Political Unit Size for population survival overall and worked the longest from about 70,000 BC when Toba went Ballistic right up to around 10,000 BC or so.
Here in the Matanuska-Susitna River Valley, we currently have a Population of around 60K, spread across a territory bigger than most US States. In my town, there are perhaps 6000. Anchorage has around 350K, but I suspect as the services decline that most will evacuate. Depopulation occurs in many ways besides rapid death, you already see depopulation occuring in many areas of the Maine and Vermont in the smaller towns there.
When I first started tracking the Collapse in 2007 after the failure of Bear Stearns, very few people up here saw the writing on the wall. Now it is many more. The society I do not believe will collapse overnight, at least not in this location. Diet will have to change, but we definitely can produce enough from the Fisherie and the local Farms to produce enough food for the current population as long as we have some Oil, and there is plenty still available up here. Not enough to keep the Pipeline running more than another 4 years or so without drilling ANWR, but plenty to move through the refinery in Fairbanks and then through the rest of the Anchorage-Fairbanks rail system. Also plenty of Coal in Healy.
Far as how the conflict with the Chinese will play out, one expects both sides will engage in taking out each other’s military assets first. Its going to be difficult if not impossible to do any kind of Invasion, since Troop Transport ships are just Sitting Ducks for missiles. So both sides will essentially be limited to their own land masses. The Chinese have far greater Water Resource issues and far more vulnerability to disease vectors when their sewage systems start failing in earnest in their Big Shities. The Chinese Population will collapse rapidly and take a disproportionate hit on population by percentage.
It behooves nobody to engage in an exchange of thermonuclear ICBMs, the populations will collapse without them. Tactical Nukes my be used on the battlefields in some locations, but even that does not make a whole lot of sense. Of greater threat on the Nuke level are all the spent fuel ponds surrounding all the currently operating reactors. Eventually these will collapse and you’ll have lots of Fuk-U-shimas. You definitely do not want to be downwind of these places.
Congrats on Alaska. Almost no one can survive in place, but maybe you’re the exception. The most substantial part of “prepare” has to be the walking trip to where you will go. You’ll have to shoot your way out of a mob in a city and start walking. This isn’t as bad as it seems in that if you simply have a plan, you’ll be ahead of 99% of your competition. They will have no plan.
Find salt. You can’t survive without it.
One should not be IN a Big Shity to begin with once the slide to the kind of Mad Max world you’re postulating begins in your neighborhood. If you haven’t evacuated before then, you seriously reduce the likelihood you can get out at all.
Mad Max BTW isn’t an inevitable outcome. A seriously repressive Police State may preceed that outcome.
Far as salt goes, long as there is seawater around to evaporate, you can do OK.
As you type, more disinformation is being spread. Now from Bloomberg.com
Those oil barrels in the lead photo remind me of a couple of Sci-Fi movies…hmmm
Notice (near the end of the article) that Mr.Yergin has decreed that we will have 130 mbd by 2030. So, happy motoring and all you can eat – not to worry.
Also, Gail you should note from the article that we can get plenty of oil right here in the good old USA for $50 to $60 a barrel – so, no worries about the economy either.
In all fairness, they did note in the last sentence of the article that we might need to “reconcile fossil fuel combustion with the risks of climate change” – really!
Please note high sarcasm content on my part.
I find it hard to believe that Kenny is really concerned about any of the Limits to Growth issues.
Bloomberg is the parent of Businessweek. They seem to have a one-track mind.
Actually, I take anything about Peak Oil in mainstream publications as A Good Thing.
Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
It looks like we’re in the second or third stage, having endured willing ignorance for at least a decade.
It also reminds me of Thomas Pynchon: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”
This may, therefore, be a tactical error on the part of the status quo. Such editorials cannot help but provoke “the right questions” from more people — and allow people such as Gail the opportunity for intelligent rebuttal.
That is a good point. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Nice on the whole, but it’s Kenny, not Kenney, and adding something showing change in US consumption (-2.5 mbpd) vs increase in extraction (+.5) might be better than just saying a big part.
Writing for ASPO-USA, I was limited in how long I could make the post, and I was at the limit (or over) already. But that is a good point. I fix the Kenny issue. He couldn’t spell Yergin either.
“Charles Kenny is a fellow at the Center for Global Development and the New America Foundation.”
He is, as they say, talking his book.
The New American Foundation lists Daniel Yergin as a board member and personal funding contributor ($10K to $25K group).
Interesting! I suppose that if you want your ideas spread further, you get yourself heavily involved with a foundation (donate money, get on board), and get the employees of the foundation to spread your view of the truth. I suppose the New American Foundation is supposed to be an educational not-for-profit institution.
Make no mistake, the battlefield is the hearts and minds of the people. We need our story to be more attractive than theirs. Perhaps we need to reduce our appeals to the mind and focus on the heart instead. The previous discussions of rational vs emotional would suggest this is where the low-hanging fruit is to be found.
Excellent post. It’s good to see some critical thinking rebut the business press cornucopians who continue to deny the reality of finite resources and the end of growth.
It never surprises me that the mainstream media never gets PO correct. It never gets sustainability correct either and only seems to highlight the actions of far left radicals so as to de-legitimize the reality of finite resources.
It is hard not feeling alienated in these dying days of our empire and global consumption pigout. Is the Superbowl not the ultimate experience in everything disgusting about our culture of overuse, over extravagance, arrogance and insanity? Don’t worry, everything will be okay, says the media!
Hi John, just curious – who are these far left radicals?
Let me help you,
They are the guys who think the maximum speed limit should be 35 so that bikes can integrate with autos on the road.
I would think that the guy who suggested that, would make a fine US transportation czar! However, I would agree that we should show some restraint in punishing those who violate the 35mph limit (so as not to be considered too radical).
On a more serious note: there is an odd aspect to the kind of discussions we carry on here. The comments of most folks imply (or state outright) that the impending FF shortages will have apocalyptic dimensions – and, most also see no way of avoiding collapse. Never the less, if some mitigation strategies were possible, then stretching out our oil supply would seem to be at the top of the list to buy time for things like lower birth rates, etc. A 35 mph speed limit would seem like a minor imposition to ward off the four horsemen. And yet, our car culture is so ingrained that even here (or TOD) this sounds like a far too radical proposal. I understand most US citizens would rather die than have their “car liberty” attacked by evil government – but is 35 mph really so radical in comparison to what might happen in a few decades? BTW, I think the phrase “give me liberty or give me death” was actually first spoken by Colonel John Verner
Stribling (or maybe not).
Nice to see you back Dave,
If one buys into a future as dire as “Our Finite World” makes it out to be. We are going to 35mph by choice or nature. By choice would mean 55mph today and a target of no new oil based fueled transportation vehicles by 2030.
Then again, one could put their head in the sand and “Drill Baby Drill”.