Reaching financial limits–What kinds of solutions are available?

We live in a finite world. At this point, we seem to be reaching limits in several different areas:

  • Cheap oil. Our economy runs on cheap oil, but there is a limit to the amount of cheap oil that can be pulled out of the ground. There is still a lot of expensive-to-produce oil left, but this is not a substitute for cheap oil.
  • Fresh water. Fresh water is used for drinking, for growing food, for producing oil and gas, and for creating electricity, among other things. In many parts of the world, we are using fresh water faster than aquifers can replenish.
  • Climate Change. Our agricultural system depends on relatively constant climate. Changes to climate, whether caused by humans or not, are a problem. It is possible that this year’s hot summer is caused by climate change.
  • Soil fertility. Soil fertility depends on adequate depth of top soil, adequate humus content, suitable bacteria in the soil, and proper mineral balance. We have been able to hide soil fertility problems through greater use fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, but these are not permanent “fixes”.
  • Pollution. There are many types of pollution that are problems, from excessive carbon dioxide, to mercury in food sources, to endocrine disruptors, to algal blooms.
  • Human population. The number of humans on earth is out of balance with world ecosystems and keeps growing, year after year.
  • Financial system. Our financial system depends on growth, but growth in a finite world system cannot continue forever. High oil prices tend to lead to recession, and reduced economic growth–hence the need for cheap oil, rather than expensive oil.

The question then becomes, “What can we do?”  Are there any solutions available, even if they are only partial solutions, as high oil prices and other limits squeeze the economy?

Many of us sense that we likely are not too far away from a contraction imposed by nature–something that looks like a severe recession that will help bring the world back into balance. While we probably cannot completely “fix” the situation, there seem to  be several things we can do, in the way of mitigation.

1. Manage your finances to try to avoid the impact of a possible crash. My crystal ball is not as good as it should be, but it is hard to believe that the stock market will continue to rise, as we get closer to the limits nature is imposing. Recession will hit, and the result will likely be both lower oil prices and lower stock market prices. Default rates on bonds are also likely to rise.

I am not sure there are any entirely safe investments, but actual goods and land you own would seem more likely to hold value. Cash would seem to be safer than stocks or bonds. Things like tools you expect to need in the future would seem to be especially good investments.

2. Plan your own family size with world limits in mind. Most people will still want to have children, but stopping at two would seem to be a good choice. It would be even better if families would choose to stop at one.

3. Get family planning back on the world agenda.  When Paul Ehrlich wrote the book Population Bomb back in 1968, he got the need for family planning on the world’s agenda at that time. Now, it is off the world’s agenda, as richer nations feel that the situation will fix itself, as education of women rises.  I am not sure how to get the issue back on the agenda, but free “rhythm method” classes for women around the world would seem to be a start.

Figure 1. World Population by Area based on data of the US Energy Information Administration. FSU is Former Soviet Union.

4. As layoffs hit, depend more on family and friends. Even before layoffs hit, it would be in our best interests to strengthen ties with family and friends. Then, if misfortune hits, there is a better chance of being able to move in together, if the need arises.

5. Plant trees and bushes with edible fruit or nuts. In terms of protecting the soil, perennials seem to be much better than annual plants. Complementary plants and animals will be needed as well, if long-term fertility is to be maintained. There are other things that can be done to upgrade the soil, but these generally require time and money.

6. Look for simpler and cheaper ways of doing things. The usual pattern is to move toward more complex and more expensive solutions, with ever-better technology and more bells and whistles. We need to be going the other way though–toward simpler solutions that are easier to maintain with local materials, and cheaper. LEED certified homes sound great, but what we really need is homes that are closer in size to what we usually think of as  storage sheds, and that can be put up quickly with local materials. It would be great to have state of the art commuter trains, but we need to be planning based on what communities can really afford, and that may be bicycle paths.

7. Appreciate what you have. We are very privileged now–we enjoy a wide selection of food, generally seasonable weather, and nations that are mostly at peace with one another. Every day, think about the good things that are part of your life–the squirrel on your lawn; the ability to zip around in a car or on a bicycle; the job you have that allows you to pay bills; the time you spend with family members. Even if things go downhill, there are likely still to be many good things. We need to keep looking for these every day.

8. Don’t focus too much on bad things that might happen. We really don’t know what exactly will happen. About all we can do is be flexible and continue living our lives as best we can. If we take care of our bodies by exercising and by eating well, that will be to our benefit, regardless of what happens.  Learning skills that might be helpful for the long term, especially if they are enjoyable now might be good as well (playing a musical instrument; doing crafts; studying how we coped without fossil fuels before, as through Low-Tech Magazine).

9. Be prepared for minor outages. If things go downhill, there will be more chance of outages of various kinds. The most likely of these is that you will lose your job and not be able to pay your bills. There is also the possibility that food or water or fuel for your vehicle will become unavailable. It seems worthwhile to do at least some planning for emergencies. I personally am not an advocate of hoarding, but it does make sense to keep some inventory on hand.

Energy Observations

I might note that I am doubtful that energy solutions will come quickly enough to fix our many interrelated limits problems before a financial crunch hits.

Clearly, if we have an adequate supply of cheap oil substitutes, we can continue to hide many of our other “limits” problems. For example, if there is enough cheap oil substitutes, countries like Saudi Arabia can get water from desalination, so fresh water ceases to be as much of an issue an issue. Soil problems are also less of an issue, if we can continue to use fossil fuels for fertilizer and irrigation.

There are some renewable energy sources that may be helpful for individual families, but don’t really fix our problem with a lack of cheap oil.  For example, solar can be used by families for heating hot water, and a reflective solar cooker can be used for cooking. Neither of these directly substitutes for cheap oil, though. Wind and solar PV can both be used to generate intermittent electricity, but again, this is not really a substitute for oil, certainly not in the time frame to prevent a financial crash in the next year or two.

The closest substitutes for oil are biofuels, but these are in direct competition in the use of soil for food. The next closest would seem to be natural gas, since existing vehicles can be converted to use natural gas. Even this takes time and money, so I am not convinced that natural gas, if available, could prevent a contraction in the next 12 to 24 months. So in the end, we find ourselves thinking about what other solutions to a potential financial crash are available, besides oil substitutes.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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152 Responses to Reaching financial limits–What kinds of solutions are available?

  1. Stu Kautsch says:

    You sure are getting a lot of comments these days! Here are mine:
    The “solutions” in the title might be a little more honestly “approaches”. “What approaches are possible?”
    The link toward the top on soil bacteria did not work BUT it led me to discover the Ohio State University Ag school information site. Thank you, thank you! Two of my best friends ever graduated from the school, but long before the WWW, and I had never visited that site. Once again, your attention to detail has benefited readers who click links.
    I’m not sure I’ve been in a “doom and gloom” mood for maybe ten years. Collapses happen all the time, both in nature and in our civilization. The important thing is to respond to it intelligently and try to get one’s family and community through it intact. It means learning a lot and working a lot, but I didn’t have anything better to do, anyway.
    Doom and gloom also happen to be (partially) functions of outlook. (Few of us have considered the end of feudalism as a catastrophe, even though it must have seemed so to many people of the time.) Your suggestion of appreciating what we have is part and parcel of forming a new culture; our civilization’s collapse seems a lot less ugly when the TV is turned off and I’m out back picking the tomatoes I worked so hard on.

    • THanks for the suggestion on title. I will keep it in mind, the next time I write a similar post or article.

      I think this is the link I was trying to make: I am not sure if it will work if you click it later–sometimes links are strange.–I checked back, and that is what the link in my post says. I don’t know how to fix it, short of downloading it to my site, and putting the link to it there.

  2. Don Stewart says:


    I have been doing a little thinking about the blogosphere in general and your blog in particular. Here are my thoughts.

    Manfred Max-Neef identified some fundamental human needs that fall into nine universal catgories. One of the needs, as an example, is subsistence–we have to eat and drink water and breathe air, and so forth. Today’s humans have some ideas about how they are presently accomplishing subsistence, they may have some ideas about how their ancestors accomplished subsistence, and they may have ideas about how they themselves or their descendants will accomplish subsistence in the future. Then along comes some pesky blogger and casts doubt–for either or both the short term and long term future. Since the individual probably has not thought about any fundamental changes, they cannot visualize how they will achieve subsistence if the props are knocked out from under the present system. Therefore, the overwhelming response will be denial. Some will just stop listening, some will vigorously counterattack, some will resort to vicious slander. In any event, a reasonable discussion of alternatives may be very hard to achieve.

    In order to get some idea of the obstacles, below I list Max-Neef’s categories and the way I perceive the current dominant method of coping. If you–or anyone else–cast doubt on the coping method, then you can expect the denial response with the attendant dysfunctional behavior.

    Subsistence: I will put in a lot of years going to school which will prepare me for a high paying job which does not involve physical labor. The economy will expand, and my income will steadily increase. The climate will be stable and someone, somewhere will grow food for me. There will be local supermarkets which will gladly take my money and give me food from global sources. Builders will construct me a house which I will be able to buy with a mortgage which I will be able to pay easily with my earnings.

    Protection: Physical protection will come from the police and our country’s military as well as my own guns. In addition, I will purchase insurance policies which guarantee my health and retirement benefits. Also, the government will subsidize my old age pension. Because I am well-educated and will have a good job, my home is secure and I will not default on my mortgage.

    Affection: I will be relatively well to do and I will take care of my good looks at gyms and yoga centers and with plastic surgery, etc.. This will procure for me the affection of those I know.

    Understanding: I will learn to manipulate abstract symbols and recieve virtual positive reinforcement.

    Participation: I will send electronic messages into the void and receive mostly silence as a response. Nevertheless, I have expressed my opinion. To protect myself, I will cultivate cynicism.

    Idleness: I will be distracted by electronically delivered media.

    Creation: I will assemble my own unique form of idleness.

    Identity: I will be recognized by my unique from of idleness. Perhaps I will purchase a T shirt which advertises my form of idleness.

    Freedom: I will have the ability to choose my Identity. No events in the ‘real world’ will shatter any illusion about my freedom.

    Having written it out this way, I can only conclude that it is all a dream. I suspect that reality is going to shatter a lot of illusions. HOWEVER, when the list is written out this way, alternatives do suggest themselves. For example, in Sharon Astyk’s post today she is talking about education in 19th century in New England. She comments that one of the pastimes people had was getting together and listening to recitations. So one form of idleness was being good at reciting something written by a famous person. I am old enough to remember this (I am truly ancient and grew up in a backwater swamp where civilization had not yet penetrated.) So should the current form of Idleness disappear, I do have some ideas about what could replace it. I can tell you it wouldn’t be so bad–except that I no longer think I could memorize too many famous writings–having killed too many neurons over the years. We would also quickly discover the reason why real poems have meter and rhyme.

    Don Stewart

    • At one time, oral transmission of history was very important. Before people were widely literate, there was a lot of memorization, so as to be able to pass down important stories to people’s children. So this has a long history. People couldn’t necessarily afford many books either, so reciting stories to children was a way of entertaining them. I remember my grandmother telling me stories as a child–the same ones, over and over.

      Television and video games seem to play much too large a role today. Where do children learn values, and what is important?

  3. robert wilson says:

    Have you posted at The Oil Drum or at other energy related sites. If so, in the interest of transparency, are you willing to tell us the name or names that you have used?

    • PeteTheBee says:

      The Oil Drum is too nutty.

      Gail is a bit biased, but no-one can deny her number crunching prowess.

      If/when I publish something of general interest on this topic I’ll link here, to be sure. I’m a published author, but in a very narrow CS/math field and don’t want to dilute that image at this point.

  4. PeteTheBee says:

    What exactly did I say that was so insulting? Gail is discussing financial limits. The US consumes energy in three ways – coal, gas and oil. The price for the first two, measured in any reasonable way (relative to inflation, relative to household income, etc) is very cheap. This is reflected in cheap home heating and electrical bills.

    The price for the third is somewhat expensive, but the US is importing less and less of this resource. (And if we lump the US with Canada, the import number goes down even further). US+Canada is using less and producing more oil.

    Sorry if these things are offensive to you guys. But they are on point.

    • PeteTheBee says:

      Coal and gas, together, are a bigger part of the US energy pie than oil. Gail could perhaps put together an “aggregate energy affordability index”, summing together America’s total energy bill and normalizing it by household income or inflation. If she did, you’d likely see that there is a fair bit of truth behind the idea that “energy is cheap in America right now”.

      This is off point how?

      • step back says:


        So here’s the thing (or two).

        1. There are people in our society called “accountants” and supposedly they account for all the details. Except they don’t. They account for only the “price” thing and that is a man-made fantasy number rather than a measure of anything physical.

        2. America’s “total energy bill” includes not only the money-based “price” for fielding armies all around the world to keep the spice flowing but also the social costs of families losing their loved ones (soldiers who make the “ultimate sacrifice”) and also the social costs of creating large groups of “foreign” folk who start “not liking us very much” because our drones killed members of their wedding party and the ecological costs of Global Warming, water, air and land pollution, etc. What is “cheap” about that? If we’re going to talk “truth”, shouldn’t we talk the “whole” truth rather than the one constructed from man-made delusional dollars? (You know, the kind that Helicopter Ben spins off out of thin air and in the 10 to the 12th order of magnitude as he quantitatively eases his hot air machine over the land of the free and the home of the baseball fans 😉 )

        • PeteTheBee says:

          Well, I think 1 and 2 are sort of off point for a discussion about financial limitations.

          But I think the price signal has real value, and it is telling you something about natural gas supplies.

          • step back says:

            “Finance” is a fancy way of saying, “making promises to each other based on money”.
            The question is, can we live up to our promises or are our promises becoming irrationally exuberant (as Ayn Rand’s friend sometimes asked)?

  5. Don Stewart says:

    There have been some comments about trolls. Without taking any sides in that dispute. I find this post by George Washington over at Zero Hedge to be useful:

    How to combat disruptive tactics relative to internet discussions. First is a list of tactics. Concluding is his recommendation for countering.

    Don Stewart

    • step back says:

      My position is that PTB is espousing a belief system followed by a large number of people, namely that “price” proves the point (i.e. that Peak Oil is not upon us because WTI did not go to $200/bbl and above as Mat Simmons had predicted) and therefore he is not a “troll” who is merely trying to garner attention for himself. Rather he represents a position held by many of our species mates.

      PTB’s initial comment is here (for those who want to look at it for themselves):

    • step back says:

      2. One more thing I forgot to mention:
      PTB’s comments are directly in line with the main topic of Gail’s post, namely “Reaching Financial Limits”

      PTB is talking in “financial” terms.
      He is arguing “price” and production.
      So what right do “we” (on the other side of the debate) have to shout him down and shame him out of this discussion? Are “we” not then the ones who are the trolls pushing him off of our “bridge” rather than he luring us into the dark shadows under his?

      That is why I took exception to the “Don’t feed the troll” comment.
      Not because I side with PTB (I don’t)
      But because PTB’s comment seemed to me to be in line with the “financial” aspects of Gail’s post. A “Don’t feed the troll” comment can be trollish in its own way.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Step Back
        I take no position on the subject you discuss at all. I note two things:
        1. In other contexts, I have been subjected to several of the abusive practices mentioned by George Washington. So it does happen. Whether it happened here or not is for each of us to decide.
        2. By forcing those who object to a particular line of comment to point out, by reference to the list, EXACTLY how the comments represent bad behavior, then they actually open the discussion to more ‘dissensus’ viewpoints and thus make the discussion more resilient. I have also experienced the situation where I respectfully dissent from the position being put forth by the blogger, cite my references, and had my comments censored just because (I think) the blogger has his mind made up and won’t brook any dissent. IF the blogger had used George Washington’s reference list, then I suspect that a tiny bit of doubt might have entered his mind.

        So…I think it is a good discipline–both to expose maliciousness and also to make sure that one is distinguishing between genuine maliciousness and valuable dissenting views with some logic and supporting evidence.

        Don Stewart

      • Jan Steinman says:

        I have a close relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I know there is huge difference between the message, and the way it’s presented.

        PTB may have been directly addressing Gail’s posting. He may even have had valid points. But he presented in a manner that is seemingly intended to inflame and polarize, rather than inform and educate. That makes him a “troll” in my book, which doesn’t come from the creature under the bridge, but rather from a fishing technique — in this case, he was fishing for flames, not rationally taking part in a debate.

        So why should we insist on a “rational debate?”

        It’s simple. This is Gail’s blog. Gail sets a high standard — she takes nothing personally, sticks to the facts, provides references, and owns up when she doesn’t know something or when she’s speculating or drawing conclusions.

        I reserve the right to call anyone a “troll” who can’t at least approach that level of decorum. If they want to behave in an inflammatory, polarizing manner, there are other places on the Internet that encourage such behaviour.

        • step back says:

          Well let’s get back to the real issue: How do you respond to someone who sees “price” as a validation for the way they model the world?

          More specifically, there are those who say the Peak Oil (insert derogatory label here, i.e. doomists) are/were wrong in their predictions because the “price” of oil has not gone up to $200/bbl as some in the PO movement had predicted.

          They see the world simply as a PQ graph (Price on one axis and Quantity going out to infinity and beyond on the other). How do you respond to those people? (Aside from responding in kind by calling them names and thereby shutting down the discussion.)

          • PeteTheBee says:

            I use “doomer” in a gentle way. If every time a global problem is resolved, you then find a new one to be your basis for TEOTWAWKI, then you’re a doomer.

            I was just hoping Gail would be a non-doomer, and address the “shale gale” in a thoughtful (yet somewhat skeptical) way.

          • step back says:

            I for one was not offended by your playful use of the “doomer” label.
            I could have just as easily come back and called you an irrationally exuberant cornucopian.
            However, I want to get past the playful name calling game and get to the real issues:
            1. Is “price” a valid way of understanding what is going on?
            2. Where is the EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) analysis for fracking?
            3. Where is the ecological costs analysis for fracking?

          • PeteTheBee says:

            I am an irrational exuberate cornocupian. If you hold the long view, such people have been rewarded since the dawn of the industrial age.

            The ecological costs of fracking are besides the point. Americans have a very strong legal tradition of letting drillers drill and miners mine – there is no legal basis to take away someones mineral rights to frack their land. There is a mountain of legal precedent in the other direction.

            The EROI of fracking is difficult to discern — but bear in mind a BTU of gas is a lot more valuable than a BTU of coal. Arguably 1.5 to twice as valuable. So fracking doesn’t necc need a high EROI to be a profitable and financially sustainable activity.

            The price signal always has some meaning. It isn’t perfect, but it’s not arbitrary.

      • “Trolls” are at some times helpful, because they ask questions that quite a few readers were thinking, but didn’t have the courage to ask. The questions give me or someone else a chance to respond to their misunderstanding.

        If the only commenters are from the “choir”, the difficult questions may not get asked, or the dumb questions that many are thinking may not get asked.

        I also have discovered that I can learn things from a wide range of people, even ones who sometimes seem like trolls. Sometimes they bring a perspective or additional information I hadn’t thought about.

        In some cases, there is a point at which the behavior becomes obnoxious to all, and must stopped. It is not always clear where that line is.

        • step back says:

          My sentiment also. Ditto.

          Never let the label on the speaker’s head distract you from seeing the value of his or her message.

          Call him troll, call him left wing, call him right wing, call him late for dinner; none of that takes away from value that might be embedded in his/her message. Open your ears, open your mind and you might learn something. Or —you can choose to remain close minded. Simple as that.

  6. I don’t think promoting family planning is nearly good enough. People have small families when they feel economically secure and believe they will be housed in old age. Hence, adequate family planning happens only when serious wealth redistribution does.

    The statistics on this topic are about as clear as anything out there. But people are scared to talk about wealth redistribution, because it is the ultimate poison pill in corporate politics.

    None of which is a good reason to avoid the truth, which happens to be quite simple in this area.

    • I agree with you, that people do not have small families unless they think that the state (or someone else) is going to support them.

      I am afraid that in the future, we are going to find that the state is less and less able to support us. The trend toward small families may stop then.

      Actuaries nearly always assume that populations will be growing and that investments made will be growing (if a program is not simply pay as you go), making funding feasible. Once this changes, it becomes very difficult to make a “salable” pension program.

  7. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, August 12, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  8. Gail always offers sound advice, but I rather think much of it hinges on people being nice to each other in the face of economic collapse. Don’t forget economic collapse means food and energy collapse too, and there are numerous circumstances where that could happen literally overnight, rather than some kind of gentle downslope.
    For example: Iran may or may not have nuclear weapons, but if they have, and if their lunatic rulers (as opposed to our lunatic rulers) are pushed to the limit by sanctions etc., they might just use them to wreck the world economy (Saudi oilfields right next door). Nuke the Saudi oilfields and the Saudis go back to being camel traders and goat herders, that will happen anyway when the oilflow stops.
    Or maybe it’s just empty threats and posturing. Let’s hope so.
    Then we get onto ‘alternative energy sources’. While many people are aware that energy comes in different forms, the vast majority imagine that because windfarms and solar panels produce energy, it’s the same as fossil fuel energy . We are media-fed all this alternative stuff, our brains just read the word ‘energy’, that somehow if we build enough windmills, our need for oil will diminish and life can go on as ‘normal’. All nonsense of course. Our factories, infrastructure and modern society flourished because we found creative ways of burning coal oil and gas. But more than that, the products of those factories also needed hydrocarbon energy inputs to use them. Producing wind turbines just gives you —wind turbines, it doesn’t restart the consumer economy, it just pays wages while wind turbines are being built, and then, nothing. Same thing applies to solar collectors. In order to sustain our society, we must have constant inputs of fossil fuel energy. When it stops, we stop.
    A gradual downturn and de-industrialisation? Fine. Then one day you get sick and turn up at the hospital. Except that a hospital is one of the biggest energy sinks ever devised by man. You’re told that its now closed, and the doctors and medical staff have all decided to deskill and grow medicinal herbs instead.
    Our economic system has been built by using energy, (that’s the free stuff we dug out of the ground) not by farming energy. Unfortunately people confuse the two, and think of them as the same thing.
    I hate the truth as much as anybody, but this is what we face in our immediate future

    • Leo Smith says:

      On the button.

      I never realised till I started blogging how few people are actually able to carry a line of thought,. be rational and logical, examine the premises of arguments that lead to conclusions. etc etc.

      Once it didn’t matter, you drew your leaders and politicians from an elite who could. And the social contract was they worked hard to get it right and you gave them power money and a good life.

      Now they just get the power the money and the good life, and spout anything that will get them elected. And people believe in them. It’s not peak energy, it’s peak social accountability as well. We have been betrayed by our compassion into giving power and influence to people who have no understanding of it or its responsibilities. All they see is the good life and the ministerial expense accounts. It wont survive the first external shock, whether that be oil running out, seismic events or global climate change.

      In fact its happening right now: Lacking any fundamental skills in problem solving, logic and strategic thinking, whatsoever, and having no sense of responsibility to any institutions at all, world leaders are powerless to affect anything beyond their pay cheques.


      (in-ep-toc’-ra-cy) – a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

      • politicians have always spouted whatever was most likely to get them elected. As long as raw energy was being fed into the system, it was of no consequence. Now that energy is in decline (because of the cost of it), political rhetoric is shown for what it is, just hollow words.

      • step back says:


        I hope they ask Luke Wilson to do that movie as well; maybe as a sort of sequel to Idiocracy.

    • robertheinlein says:

      As far as I can tell, we have far more pressing problems than energy. Just today, I saw that Cold Fusion will be on the market in 2013. Quoting from the Australian vendor:

      10KW Home E-Cat Heating Unit
      Estimated Price $2000-2500
      Estimated 6 months re-fill cartridge cost $150
      Estimated Lifetime 20 years

      So, if energy isn’t the limiting factor, what is?

      Desertification of agricultural resources. Aiguo Dai of NCAR just produced a new paper entitled, “Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models” and he found:

      “I conclude that the observed global aridity changes up to 2010 are consistent with model predictions, which suggest severe and widespread droughts in the next 30–90 years over many land areas resulting from either decreased precipitation and/or increased evaporation. ”

      We are going to lose most of our capacity for growing food. That’s going to be a harder problem to fix than energy. Can we synthesize enough food cheaply enough to feed the expected 9 billion human population? I don’t think so. This is what is going to cause the great human die-off.

      • ROFL on cold fusion! Would you like to wager on that one? You are falling prey to a very old scam with that Aussie. He’s been promising market emergence for years.

      • yup—I saw that cold fusion salesman too—he had one cold fusion cartridge and three upturned cups. You had to bet on which cup the cartridge was under. It was the best money making scheme you ever saw, and all by using cold fusion too. And they said cold fusion would never amount to anything.

    • I think you are right.

      I agree that we are likely to face some really bleak situations, which could occur virtually overnight. Unfortunately, I don’t have a remedy for them, and sitting and worrying about them won’t really help. So my advice still stands.

  9. Don Stewart says:

    My food co-op sponsors Sunday morning concerts on the lawn. This morning was a perennial crowd favorite–the Magnolia Klezmer Band. Think…Jewish weddings in eastern Europe and the lower east side of Manhattan and in Philadelphia. It was a wonderful morning on the lawn, and it prompted a few thoughts about this post.

    Let’s start with the little kids from 2 months old to 8 years old. They are out there cavorting to the music with zero self-consciousness, amazing athletic abilities, and the capacity to form and dissolve relationships with parents and other kids in the twinkling of an eye. In other words, it’s all about Right Now and what I want to do and what is happening and what opportunities present themselves.

    Second, consider a Klezmer Band. First is a big beat. What it means to be human at it’s most fundamental level. Playing for a wedding among a people who are very poor and most likely oppressed by the Christian majority. So…very low expectations about how ‘nobly’ your fellow man is likely to behave. But a very basic optimism in terms of one’s ability to deal with what life dishes out.

    Third, this band plays a lot of Jewish weddings in this area. They had an enthusiastic set of dancers this morning, so they finished with a traditional 20 minute dance set. The leader commented that a 20 minute dance set is beyond the capacity of most current wedding attendees. So…if we think we are more fit that preceding generations…think again.

    Fourth, consider the song Bei Mir Bist du Schoen. One of the biggest hits of all time. Late 1930s. Composed for the Yiddish theater in New York. But rejected by a temperamental star. Sammy Kahn, the songwriter, was at the Apollo theater in Harlem when he heard it performed by an African American couple. He bought it for $50. Six weeks later the Andrews Sisters recorded it, it sold millions of records, everybody who was anybody recorded it. The song has all the animal instincts going for it: a driving rhythm, a memorable tune, good sounds coming off the tongue. The content is as follows: yes you have some defects: your face is a little lopsided, you aren’t very bright, you have a wooden leg, etc.–but to me you are beautiful. (This same theme was in the Tin Pan Alley song My Funny Valentine–but that song doesn’t have the animal spirits going for it.)

    The Bei Mir Bist du Schoen song reminds us that happy unions aren’t necessarily between super-models. Mother Nature has designed us to fall in love–we just have to let Mother Nature do her thing.

    If we combine the sheer joy of the children, the ability of a poor, oppressed people to enjoy life, the physical health to dance, and the lessons of Bei Mir Bist du Schoen, then I submit that whether we thrive or suffer in the coming Long Descent is mostly about how we anticipate the future versus the reality of that future. If we confidently expect to be married to a super-model, with a McMansion, and to never have to exert any physical work, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and depression. If we have learned to enjoy life with what we can reasonably expect, then things may be very good indeed.

    I think that the value of a post, such as this one from Gail, is to calibrate our expectations to what is realistically probable. Adjusting to that expectation is the responsibility of each individual, family, and small group. I am sufficiently pessimistic that I doubt the ability of large abstractions such as ‘Americans’ or ‘the Global Human Community’ to respond.

    Don Stewart

  10. red_queen says:

    Having only one child is a truly terrible idea. Whatever supposed benefits an only would have are more than offset by the burden of caring for 2 aging parents, especially across large distances, as is not uncommon in the U.S. Perhaps a better solution would be choosing to birth one child and adopting more.

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  12. Don Stewart says:

    The small farmers in our county have a bulletin board administered by the County Agent. The usual topics of conversation are focused on the details of farming: a new pest attacking soybeans, someone wanting to rent some goats to clear some land, etc., etc. However, occasionally topics are discussed which have broader societal implications. One such topic discussed over the last week or so has been dacha farming in eastern Europe. I will quote a couple of posts, and then make a few random comments. If you have read Orlov’s work, you will be familiar with the concept of dacha farming.

    ‘Great discussion. Actually, dacha farming has a similar parallel in Poland in the slightly different form of city garden plots. During communist times, large plots (usually 1/5 to ¼ acre) within city limits were actually designated for urban farming and for thousands of families, they became a critical source of food during waves of heavy rationing during the Communist period. Fortunately, the end of communism did not end these garden plots and they are lovingly passed down to the next generation. They almost never change hands outside of the original owners families given their notional value.
    It is actually surprising how many folks spend their weekends at their plots during most of the year with the exception of winter. In Krakow, where I live, the plots are constantly wary of developers, who are always looking for loopholes to try to privatize them.’

    ‘Hi, all, I was very interested in the post on dacha farming. I have been to Russia five times, and I knew many people in the university in Kostroma (Durham’s sister city), who grew fruit and vegetables for the winter at their dachas or small plots. The city allocated such plots, and some people went back to villages where they had family. In the early 90s when the economy was so bad, and full professors could only earn about $200 a month (their food cost at the time about what ours did, though they had lower housing costs and few had cars), growing and preserving food was vital for survival. I didn’t think of myself as a dacha farmer, but I have focused since 1999 on growing as much of my own food as I can, on about half an acre, including the house: small orchard, chickens, vegetable garden. I now provide myself about half my food, and I use shovel, hoe, though weed-eater and mower, which I don’t think my Russian friends had. I sent the dacha farming email to the son of my writer friend, who is like a chancellor (they call him a Rector) at a regional university in Sharya, and they had an ag conference with papers, a few years ago, and I sent one on our sustainable movement. But now I realize they were ahead of us in the dacha farming.’

    My comments:
    1. None of these farmers are surprised at the disaster in the corn belt. It was just a question of time.
    2. Most of these farmers think times are going to be tough and those who don’t have a garden are going to be stressed.
    3. Most of these farmers make a high percentage of their income from farming a couple of acres or less. They work hard and are generally cheerful. Most are quite diversified, so that the failure of one crop doesn’t sink the farm.
    4. Despite the fact that their income is derived from sales to ‘city people’, they enthusiastically support gardening. When I decline to buy eggplant at the farmer’s market because I ‘have eggplant coming out the ears’, they smile and nod. If you compare to the behavior of Rex Tillerson at ExxonMobil, this is incredible. Which just goes to show that you have to be a sociopath to rise to the top of a corporation, but you can be a nice person and farm.
    5. A couple of things strike me about the note from Poland. First is that these people have been through hard times and aren’t going to ‘eat their seed corn’. They do not trust the global economy to feed them fresh veggies–so they resist the cash waved at them by the developers in order to maintain their self-dependence. IF the global agricultural system is able to survive another 25 years, will their children also resist the cash? Second is the nuanced view we get of life under communism. The need for cash was actually pretty small. The State provided garden plots and (at least in Russia) housing and heat. In addition, the State provided inexpensive public transit. An individual was actually more self-reliant than someone in the US where cash must be paid for everything, and the way to get cash is to sell yourself to some corporation. In Czarist Russia, I have heard that 15 percent of the population had sold themselves into slavery just to secure life’s necessities. Stress is an ever-present threat when one’s necessities are threatened. In the US, the typical reaction (at least from the right) is to ratchet up the stress. In the future, it may reward us to think very carefully about how a family is supposed to provide the necessities. Third thing is the ever present danger from the capitalist model of Enclosure–the government passes title to the land to the wealthy who drive the ordinary people off. The writer from Poland notes the threat, but thinks it is being repulsed. I hear that it is occurring daily in the Global South. Fourth, many people in the US strongly resist the notion that, in order to eat, they are going to have to grow some of their food. They equate it with slavery. I think that a discussion between the Poles and the US people on food stamps would be an interesting one to eavesdrop on, but I think they simply wouldn’t communicate with each other.

    Don Stewart

    • I saw some of the dacha gardens in Russia when I was there in June. The soil was an amazing black color–something those of us dealing with red clay and rocks rarely see. I think that to some extent the population had nature on its side–there was at least some reasonable top soil in the area (without having to buy it or start building it from scratch). Given the location, the gardens probably were on the too wet and too cold side, though.

      I agree that people are ahead if they can have gardens.

      • Don Stewart says:

        The territory from Berlin to Moscow is cold and wet. I am certainly no expert on how it has been gardened. But my understanding is that two of the staple crops are rye and cabbage. Rye is one of the most nutrient dense of the grains and there are still bakers in Germany who make traditional rye bread. And cabbage has many virtues, among which is making sauerkraut or kim chi. These staple winter vegetables are fermented, and so do not require heat to make–a sharp distinction with canning. Fermented cabbage is full of Vitamin C and other micronutrients…Peter Bane and his partner in Bloomington, IN makes lots of fermented cabbage to eat in the winter and report that they do not get colds. Which indicates a strong immune system. And some years ago a study found that Poles in Poland who ate a lot of cabbage had little breast cancer–but when they moved to Baltimore and ate ‘American’ diets, their incidence of breast cancer soared.

        So I wouldn’t be too quick to label the gardens in that cold and wet area as ‘not very good’…Don Stewart

        • Don Stewart says:

          In fact, should you be embarked on the dubious project of drinking enough red wine to live forever, you should know that the Pinot Noir grape has the highest resveratrol content, and that the Pinot Noirs from the coldest, wettest regions have the highest resveratrol. Those regions are Burgundy and the Niagara plateau in upstate New York and Ontario. The resveratrol is a defensive compound that the plants make, and the amount they make is partly determined by the environment they are coping with. More cold and wet equals more resveratrol produced. There are many other instances where plants make defensive compounds in response to environmental challenges which turn out to be quite beneficial to humans who eat the plants. Which should raise doubts about all those ‘we’ll garden in skyscrapers’ dreams.

          The only point here is that plants and human health is a complex subject which we understand better than we did 50 years ago, but still don’t understand very well. For example, most attempts to extract what we think is the ‘magic ingredient’ in the plant and put it into a pill don’t work nearly as well as just eating the plant. There are synergistic effects in the real plant that we do not understand and cannot replicate.

          So…now that we all understand that…I expect Tour companies to start offering ‘a tour of the coldest, dampest parts of the world’ instead of all those boring trips to tropical islands. The Botanical Garden leads trips to Scotland where windswept, damp, cold places are explored with hand lens, on one’s knees, a few feet at a time…because of all the fascinating plants and plant communities. The Next Big Thing?

          Don Stewart

          • Jan Steinman says:

            A couple examples: when an insect attacks most plants, they produce a class of chemicals called “salvestrols,” which fight cancer. Food sprayed with pesticide — even if the pesticide is thoroughly cleaned off — is never attacked by insects, and never develops salvestrols.

            Another example: there is a class of herbs called “adaptogens,” that help us adapt to stress. Almost all these plants grow in stressful environments, and lose their stress-relieving qualities if grown in more cushy climes.

            I’ve been taking Rhodiola rosea. Its efficacy tends to decline with use, so I’m going 30 on, 7 off. I’ll tell you, the past seven days have been hell, but then it’s amazing how much it changes things once you re-start.

            I bought some seed, but although Rhodiola will grow almost anywhere, it really only develops its medicinal properties when grown in very cold environments. I’m trying to think of creative ways to stress it here in plant-friendly SW BC, so it will develop its full potential.

        • I am thinking about trying to grow a little rye and cabbage here in the winter. Fall crops are planted pretty soon here.

          We eat quite a bit of both.

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  14. stravinsky7 says:

    p.p.p.p.p.s. my sincerest apologies for always replying to my own posts 😉 but that one was a good one at least, i hope.

    You see, I got ahold of this 2005 Argentinian wine, and I have this cough and couldn’t go to bed… And although I don’t like Argentian wine as well as Chilean, well, I seem to have drunk the whole bottle, so well… I basically just hope this makes sense in the morning as well as it did just now.

    The capital produced by the resource gets energy-spent like 5 times while the energy gets spent, well…. once. Not profound but I’d never heard the point stated before so I thought I’d say it. Basically it means we’re all overpaid as EROEI decreases. Because transforms on resources can’t be done at the same rate as before. hmmm. yep that’s about it.

    hi gail! *waves*

    ummm.. because ((energy to non energy sector)/resources)/population
    is a losing battle,

    (when energy to non-energy sectors of economy is decreasing faster than resources, and population (hereby christened civilized population) is only increasing.

    sigh again. not really a doomer motif but yikes.

    possibly, it will make the velocity of the dollar slow down. (That’s the alternative to having been overpaid)

    aight im out.


    • stravinsky7 says:

      x.s. sorry for being so off-topic. i came in with a set of recent observations, and had not read your post, but in a fwiw sense (in the TOD sense).

      Transformations happen, and you have an opinion. and are getting it out. I totally agree with what you have to say. the future is cloudy, good advice.

      another fwiw, it’s hard to transfer true wealth across the kind of changes you are talking about, outside of replication (what it would take to allow multiple families to efficiently deal w/ crises/changes), and those that have that kind of wealth, would not. It will be interesting to see who the winners and the losers are, and their methods.



    • You are right. Thanks!

  15. robert wilson says:

    I agree with Joe. I first became interested in the concept of what is now called peak oil around 1956 when I first heard it discussed by the McGill Biology Professor Norman J Berrill ( a friend of Julian Huxley). I am pro science, pro energy and have always sought the truth. For years I was a fan of Alvin Weinberg and had great hope for nuclear power. I enjoy various creature comforts and the trappings of modern civilization.
    PeteTheBee, In my opinion you are hopelessly deluded if you really believe that significant basic facts have changed.

    • PeteTheBee says:

      ” if you really believe that significant basic facts have changed.”

      priced natural gas lately?

      some of the lowest inflation adjusted prices on record.

      it’s drive down coal usage, so now that’s cheap too.

      coal + gas > oil

      that’s the way it works in the US. So we can stop pretending energy is expensive in this country, becuase coal, gas, and electricity are now all cheap. and the futures market is forecasting them to be cheap for many years to come.

      i guess you can pretend energy is expensive even though most of the energy you purchase is cheap, but that doesn’t really make sense to me

      • stravinsky7 says:

        hey gail. just a few thoughts. I have stated this before, but what I am more and more seeing is that all this is about eroei.

        sigh. worn out term.

        that is the difference between this and every situation before this.

        as eroei decreases, the energy cost to the non-energy sector of society increases, as the pay to the energy side per unit decreases.

        add to this the velocity of the dollar, and the recursive function of capital stemming from said resources, and this effect gets multiplied.

        i could be wrong but it seems like an avenue to pursue.

        wish i had been more dilligent in school.

        happy trails,


        p.s. put my first app in with an alternative energy company yesterday.. I have a decent resume, so lets hope they’re able to hire. They seem h-e-double-hockey-you-know-what’s bent on energy production, resume included multiple mentions of efficiency. hope they’re interested.

        p.p.s. of interest to the above point is that as eroei decreases, pay to individuals must decrease MORE than the eroei did, because it is being spent (and in a very real sense energy-spent) much more than once.

        p.p.p.s. thank you for your ever excellent job.

        • stravinsky7 says:

          p.p.p.p.s. gawd that doesn’t paint a happy picture. prison labor, anyone?

        • I think you see part of the problem.

          The other problem is what I would describe as “front-ending of investment”. Back in the good old days of 100 to 1 EROEI, it was possible to quickly pay for investment. There was a lot of cash flow immediately to finance new investment.

          Now we have hit a double whammy: (1) Lower EROEI and (2) Bigger share of investment long before the output actually becomes available. There is less and less cash flow, and we need to spend it earlier in the cycle. The “solution” to date is to finance additional investment through more debt, but this approach is wearing very thin. It is the lack of ability to keep up investment that may bring the system down. See my post Can we invest our way out of an energy shortfall? Renewables tend to be very bad in terms of front ending of costs, so tend to be much worse as solutions than their EROEI would suggest.

      • There is a difference between “cheap to extract” and “cheap in the marketplace”. The sellers of natural gas are losing their shirts. There are new SEC rules that indirectly allow natural gas sellers to do really strange things (which I need to write about). Even so, there are huge write-downs in Natural gas assets, and more to come. (Why Chesapeake’s Massive Write-Downs Matter) Once the problems come out, the large amount of cheap natural gas will go away. We will probably have a much smaller amount of natural gas, and volatile pricing. Because natural gas needs to compete with coal, it can’t sell above $4/mcf and be used much for electricity, but it is impossible for many producers to make money at that level. (Some producers can, however.)

        • PeteTheBee says:

          So you suggest shorting CHK and ECA?

          I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

          What do you care how much wine Aubrey McClendon has in his cellar. Energy (coal and gas) are cheap in America, and will be for many, many years (look at the futures market).

          • I agree that the US will do better than Europe, but we have a huge fiscal cliff to get past. The jobs situation has never really gotten back to where it should be. Having all of the local natural gas and coal has no doubt helped the US.

            One issue is that we are reaching a financial tipping point. Europe’s problems may very well tip over to the US, if our own problems aren’t enough by themselves.

          • PeteTheBee says:

            “Europe’s problems may very well tip over to the US, if our own problems aren’t enough by themselves.”

            They might – or American companies might just eat the lunch of European countries.

            I.e. the third world and America might continue to grow while the frack-less, GMO-less Euros shrivel.

            That is certainly the current news trend, for those that read the news.

      • step back says:

        I feel sorry for you because you’re doubling down on “delusional dollars”, talking about “price” and what is “cheap” versus not.

        Say you were alone on a desert island with nothing but a pile of gold and the sea level rising quickly around you due to Climate Change. What good does that stash of gold do for you? You’re simply going to drown anyway. Can’t you see that? Or is the glint of the gold blinding you from seeing reality and causing you to buy into the delusions?

        • PeteTheBee says:

          What an odd analogy. The gold bugs are doomers, to a man.

          What if you were considering rationing your food stores, and then a new vendor opened up down the street selling reaosnably priced food. Would you turn up your nose at his wares or pretend they didn’t exist, or would you say “hey, turns out we don’t need to ration anymore”

          The peak-energy movement was rooted in high prices and dwindling supplies. This situation no longer exists.

          • step back says:

            There you go again (as (ir)rational Ronald might have said), dancing to the tune of the delusional dollars.

            There never was a peak “dollar price” of “energy” movement.
            What there was instead was a peak of annual production for light sweet crude movement.

            Production of light sweet crude has peaked.
            In the USA.
            In the North Sea.
            And probably in KSA (although they won’t admit it)

            That’s why everyone is going out to “play” with other minerals and other mineral extraction techniques (i.e. fracking). The “peakists” were proven correct. That part of the game is already over. Time to move on to another noise making game.

          • PeteTheBee says:

            Oil production in the contientental US has reverse peaked – it has bottomed out and is rising.

            Canada’s oil production is rising as well.

            There absolutely was a “peak energy” movement. Shall we review all the “Oil Drum” articles that talk about “peak natural gas – it’s even worse than oil”. There were many such articles written – some by Gail The Actuary herself.

            Now the “peak energy” movement has abondoned natural gas, because it’s in a glut, and claims it’s only about oil. In fact, you can even watch Gail say the problem isn’t oil so much debt.

            Certainly looks like a doomer movement more than anything else. Whenever a problem is solved, they find a new problem to replace it.

            At any rate. American pays the WTI Cushing Spot price, for the most part, when they buy their oil. Chart this price relative to the median household income for the last 50 years. You will be very very surprised by such a chat, I assure you …. oil in the US is actually quite affordable, by any reasonable reckoning, and far cheaper than it was in the 70s.

      • RJ says:

        Sure dude. I’ll just pretend I can stuff a lump of coal in my gas tank tomorrow and pretend to go to work.

  16. PeteTheBee says:

    Out of curiosity, do peak-energy-doomers get bummed out when the economy heals, unemployment declines, stock market rises, and energy prices remain affordable?

    Personally, I would get bummed predicting catastrophe year after year while everyone else is having fun.

    • Joe Clarkson says:

      No. We Cassandras take our satisfaction from knowing the truth and telling it to others, not whether we are believed by them. Nor will we smirk with schadenfreude when reality does force others to finally believe. It will always be disappointing to have failed to avert tragedy.

      And when BAU just keeps on going, we are glad for a little more time to plant a few more fruit trees or put in a little more garden.

      • PeteTheBee says:

        “when the facts change, my opinions change. what do you do, sir?”

        • The facts haven’t changed. My job is to explain that, so that people are not deluded by the ridiculous assertions we read in the press.

        • The facts haven’t changed. My job is to explain that, so that people are not deluded by the ridiculous assertions we read in the press.

          • PeteTheBee says:

            SP 500 > 1400

            Henry Hub under $3

            These are the facts that have changed significantly over the last 4 years.

            (and this isn’t even going into the cheap price of American coal, which would be interesting to track)

            cheap American energy is healing the American economy, Pretending it isn’t so doesn’t make it not so.

        • step back says:

          Dollars are Delusions, they are not “facts”.

          Mind you I am not against money per se if it is rationally administered (which it is not).

          It boggles this “doomer’s” mind that so many people like PTB see money and Mr, Economy (you know, that anthropogenic creature who wields the Invisible Hand and praises the Wisdom of the Tulip-Chasing Mad Crowds) as being “real” and “facts” while the math of the finite (Gail’s Finite World) and the Laws of Physics and Thermodynamics as being the fantasy.

          When did this come to be the New Rationality?
          When did science get tossed out the kitchen window as if it were a stale salad and when did the incantations of the Wall Street priests become the true “Truth”? Sigh.

          • PeteTheBee says:

            Lots of very smart scientists have driven natural gas to the low price it is.

            No-one is debating that fossil fuel resources are finite. The point being, large amounts of fossil fuels are now available at a cheap price. That hasn’t been true for a long time, and it is true now.

        • Leo Smith says:

          FACTS never change Or they were not facts to begin with.
          You might care to ponder that in some depth.
          Conditions may change and interpretations of facts may well change.

          But the FACTS are that we live in a finite world*, and therefore there is a limit to how many people and what resources they can have access to.

          The question is how near we are to reaching it, not whether it exists or not.

          *if we take rational materialism as our factual basis: there may be alternative universes full of oil, but we lack the way to access them – even the way to begin to study how we might access them.

          • PeteTheBee says:

            The resources estimates change as newer technology makes more resources available.

            Without engaging in a semantic debate, that is close enough to “facts changing” for most people.

            Coal and gas are now copious and cheap in N America, and oil is trending strongly in that direction.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Don’t feed the trolls, folks.

      • step back says:

        The creatures who lurk under the bridge (trolls) need to be taken out into the sunshine every once in a while just like any of the rest of us. Name calling does not become us.

        Just like a broken clock, even a troll may have one or two valid ideas per day.
        You want to dismiss them? Fine. Just click “X” to tune out of this conversation.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          Pax. I hear you.

          But I did mean don’t “feed” them. We can acknowledge truths from opponents without engaging them in a way that feeds their need for attention. I’ve seen too many dialogues that could have been rational co-learning experiences turn into shouting matches.

    • Actually, quite few peak-energy-doomers do get bummed out, but not by the economy healing. Most of them still don’t get the connection between the high oil prices and the economy. They think oil production will go down, of its own accord, and are bummed out when it doesn’t.

      They also get bummed out when oil prices start declining, and fewer people look to them for the “answer”.

      I think I understand as much as anyone about the situation. If a person understands quite a bit, there are always things to write about, so “burn out” is not as much of an issue. If a person is not try to “get rich quick,” or “become a national hero,” or even “support a family on earnings from peak oil writing” then ups and downs don’t mean as much. I am one of the lucky ones who don’t have to try to make a living doing this, so I “hang in there”.

      • Don Stewart says:

        This will be a small appreciative gesture toward statistics people (including actuaries) and nurse practioners.

        An elderly friend of ours was scheduled for joint replacement surgery. The morning before the scheduled surgery she found out that the preliminary work had determined that she might have had a heart attack and that there was a spot on her lungs. Perturbed, she called her family doctor–who turns out to be a nurse practioner. The NP immediately called the surgeons office and cancelled the surgery. (This is the equivalent of a mouse insulting a mighty Eagle.)

        A couple of days later I was in the NP’s office getting my annual checkup. I complimented her on her brave and swift action. She said, ‘I’m close to retirement’. I said,
        ‘well, you know the joke about surgeons’. She said ‘no’. I said, ‘Surgeons: sometimes wrong but never in doubt’. She laughed. (I first heard that joke maybe 60 years ago. Then I remembered that her husband is an MD, and said ‘I hope your husband isn’t a surgeon’. She said ‘No…he is in biostatistics…he doubts everything’.

        Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary scientist, said ‘don’t tell me the mean, show me the distribution’. Which is another healthy indicator of doubting everything.

        Recently I have been in a very one way discussion with Peak Oiler #2 who tells me that Peak Oiler #1’s recently published paper ‘can’t possibly be right’. I try to offer reasons why it might be right. But #2 won’t hear of it–he has a Grand Theory and #1 and the facts I mention are in conflict. #2 is absolutely confident he is correct–it can’t be any other way.

        I like statisticians better…a little doubt leavens the day.

        Don Stewart

  17. Don Stewart says:

    I think that this article in the current issue of Permaculture Activist magazine is relevant to Gail’s current post. The writer is Tom Ward, who makes his living teaching and designing.

    ‘I certainly have done a lot of retrofit design, but I’m thinking of ultimate design all the time. This leaves me queasy when I am juggling industrial materials and constantly evolving intermediate technologies. If we are not looking to long-term, carbon-fixing solutions, we are spinning our wheels in the sand. So detailing off-the-shelf technology experience is not very rewarding. The materials and tools may not be available much longer, or the devices are produced for obsolescence and are constantly ‘upgraded’. This leaves us flailing with consumer industrial materials at the end of empire. The ultimate solutions are biological, social, and difficult to imagine in a very busy end-time scramble to set up life boats or acquisitive dilettante showcases (that pay the best wages for design work).

    Pay attention to the ultimate goals of water and carbon capture and storage. I am challenged indeed to keep this in mind and to not be distracted by requests for the retrofit sort of tech-heavy information.

    We are presently developing advanced curriculums in optical surveying, DC photovoltaic home energy independence, and social forestry.
    *The surveying course uses tools that can be maintained or built from scratch, and no batteries are allowed. We have taught the course twice, and it is a success.
    *The DC/PV course development is a nightmare with lots of alternative solutions and not much intermediate or ultimate utility. Let’s go to bed when it gets dark, get up early in the morning, and read books that can be printed on hand presses.

    Let’s review the five R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, and lastly recycle. The first imperative is to do without. The second is to be conservative. The third sings out for cooperation and sharing. The fourth requires re-skilling, and the last requires an industrial infrastructure.’

    Back to me. Why is surveying without electronic equipment important? Because management of water requires accurate elevation measurement so that water flows can be controlled with gravity. The acequerias in New Mexico were laid out hundreds of years ago by illiterate people with no electronics. And they fall slowly and steadily in elevation so that the water in the ditch flows not too fast and not too slow–just right. We need to recover that skill, and Tom Ward is teaching it.

    Gail frequently expresses concern that we may simply trade in our dependence on fossil fuel energy for an equally unsustainable dependence on industrial wind and solar energy. Ward has the same concerns. He IS trying to make a living doing designs, and people build 5 million dollar ‘solar houses’ on expensive lots (with view) in the western mountains. So, as he notes, doing things for dilettantes pays the best. So, having a conscience and some sense of what is coming, he suggests that these super-rich people might watch the sunset, perhaps sit by a campfire for a while, and then go to bed. And get up early with the sun to milk the cow or gather the eggs or do their other morning chores. Since that would bring him no commission–and probably very few takers among the super-rich, the suggestion probably goes largely unheeded.

    Finally, note his disdain for ‘lifeboats’. We humans are social creatures and we will survive or perish in small groups. I find myself falling into the trap of thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ when I should be thinking ‘how can some of us get together and get through this and come out the other side?’.

    Don Stewart

    • I am glad Tom Ward is thinking about this issue. I wish it were a little easier problem to get around.

      I think the easiest place for people to get confused is on the question of how many people can be supported per acre (or some other such measure). If we assume today’s technology, including refrigerators, drying ovens, electric fences, quick transport of goods to market, easy transport of soil amendments, electric pumps for irrigation, little problem with animal pests, etc. the answer is that the land requirement is quite low. Some functions can no doubt be handled in different ways, but not all of them. It seems like land requirements would be quite a bit higher if some inefficiencies become necessary–for example, feeding other animals as we feed ourselves.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        Tom Ward was one of my Permaculture Teacher Training instructors. I have a great deal of respect for him!

        He claims to get about half his daily calories by foraging. He led us on an incredible “herb crawl,” where he staked out one square metre and identified every single plant growing there — along with their palatability (very few plants will actually make you sick) and their nutritional value.

        If anyone makes it through the coming dark times, it will be Tom!

        For the Pacific Northwest, you can support about 1.5 persons per acre on average, but it sure depends a lot on the quality of that acre!

        • Nick Palmer says:

          Divide the land surface area of Earth by the population which will give you the total land surface we currently have per capita. It’s a square 145 metres on a side – or about 2.1 hectares.

          • Joe Clarkson says:

            As of 2008, worldwide arable land was 0.2 hectare (about 1/2 acre) per person. Agricultural land, including permanent pasture and other land in ag use but not suitable for growing crops was about 3.5 times as much. This amount of land could probably feed the world without fossil fuel inputs, IF the land were already fertile without them. Unfortunately, only a tiny fraction is really fertile. Much of it is suitable only for holding plants upright during the application of water, fertilizers and pesticides.

            But even if the half of the world population that lives in the cities could be magically transported to “their” 1.75 acre farm, what would they be able to do when they got there? Not much.

            My take on the situation is that if you are under 55 and not already living where you can grow or gather all your food without much in the way of outside inputs, or able to join family or close friends who can (and have plenty to spare), you are likely to die an early death from hunger, violence, or an untreated medical condition. For many folks, that fate might be preferable to the life of grinding rural poverty that awaits most of the “lucky” survivors. Bad times are coming. It will take exceptional luck, pluck and preparation to survive them gracefully.

          • Some of this surface area is pretty unusable by humans, though.

            It seems to me that part of the idea of Permaculture is to try to make use of as much of the unusable area as possible, either by using animals to eat the food from “wild” areas, or by making compost and getting soil amendments from “wild areas”, so that other areas are more suitable for gardening/farming.

            There is an interesting article that was recently published in Nature called Approaching a State Shift in the Earth’s Bioshpere. It was written up by Science Direct in an article called, Evidence of Impending Tipping Point. It suggests that we need to figure out a way to use less of the world’s natural output or at least stop increasing our use of the world’s natural output. A big issue is the continued rise in population, and the need to feed/house the new population.

            It would seem to me that the outcome is that we really can’t keep increasing our share of the world’s natural output, although perhaps we can shift the way we produce food from our current approach to one that does things differently. It is a limit I hadn’t really thought of for Permaculture.

        • Sounds like he has an amazing level of knowledge.

          A person who gets half his calories from foraging has much less of a problem with crop failure than the rest of us. Dmitry Orlov tells that the people of the Soviet Union still did (do?) a certain amount of hunting and berry gathering, to supplement their gardening, because crops were so uncertain.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            We picked 38 kg of wild blackberries last year, steam-juiced them for room-temp storage, and then made jelly with them all year. After juicing, the pulp goes through a Roma food mill, and the seedless pulp goes into the freezer, to later go into our zero-mile ice cream. The seed cake then goes to the goats, to help make the cream for the ice-cream — and to give the lighter-coloured goats purple lipstick! Life is good!

            I suppose if refrigeration goes away, we’ll just have to use the pulp to make a huge amount of crisp or cobbler to sell at the market.

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  19. justnobody says:

    I live in Canada, province of Quebec. First I prepared for daily live disruption and inflation in energy cost.
    For example in winter I set my thermostat at 15 Celsius. It is cold but manageable if you have the right clothing.
    Because big retailer care more about the look of clothing then their energy efficient, I had to sow my own clothes.
    Basically I sowed a lot of polar fleece shirt, neck collar and sock with a vapor barrier at the bottom of the feet.
    I also sow pants made of softshelf fabric. Polar fleece is warm and dry really fast in a dryer at low temperature
    setting ( about 20 min) so you save on energy cost. Cotton is the worst winter fabric as it absorbs body humidity.

    I was cold during sleeping time. So I sow blanket in polar fleece using old polar fleece shirt and new fleece. I am now up to six layer and
    It is really comfortable. I usually wear a tuque while I sleep. I sleep warm and cosy, you can not imagine.

    To prepare for fuel shortage, I have a bike cargo with a box on top of the rear wheel. I have a lot of grocery store at about 15 min in bike.

    Also have plan to get out of the city and hide in the wood for a month using the same technique and winter equipment use by mountains

  20. robert wilson says:

    Excellent advice. I had a vasectomy in 1970 after having fathered two children.I rank that action as one of the top three decisions of my life. It was relatively difficult to get a vasectomy in 1970 unless one had living children and spousal consent. I suspect that it might be easier today.

  21. PeteTheBee says:

    “Most people will still want to have children, but stopping at two would seem to be a good choice. It would be even better if families would choose to stop at one.”

    What said and misleading advice to give to the next generation.

    Look, Gail is a hoot and all, but don’t take her too seriously. These doomsayers have been around for as long as there has been civilization.

    If you have a decent career, live a non-extravegaent lifestyle, work hard and take care of yourself, and, most importantly, have a loving spouse that wants to raise a big family with you … go for it.

    If that is your dream, don’t let this fear-mongerer destroy it.

    • PeteTheBee says:

      meant to say, “What sad and misleading advice”.

    • Hoot: A cry of scorn or derision, a state of being laughed at or ridiculed

      “IF you have a decent career” That’s a big “if” in today’s world.

      So what happens to all the children of the hard working who can’t find a job after college and have lots of debt ? When there isn’t enough fresh water or soil to grow the food ones children needs ? When the pollution in the air and ground makes your children sick ? When government, medical and the educational system goes bankrupted because of the large number of unemployed ? When the world runs out of resourse ? When there is no means of transportation to get to work ? When our plant is dead from over human population ?

      Let’s keep the “hooting” for ourselfs

      • PeteTheBee says:

        ” “IF you have a decent career” That’s a big “if” in today’s world. ”

        In that event, your time is better spent seeking and building such a career than listening to someone (whose lucrative career allowed her to retire early) rant about oil, water, gas, and the apocalypse.

        • So if someone was unhappy with a “decent career” and not a “lucrative career” might they take your advice if it made them feel better about their own economic situation?

          • PeteTheBee says:

            People are free to make trade offs between doing what they love and doing what pays well.

            My point being, these rantings are more along the lines of science fiction and young people in particular shouldn’t take this “don’t bother with your career, don’t raise a family” rantings very seriously.

        • “My point being, these rantings are more along the lines of science fiction and young people in particular shouldn’t take this “don’t bother with your career, don’t raise a family” rantings very seriously.”

          Your point isn’t well taken. Go somewhere where name calling takes precedence over analysis. That’s clearly the level of dialogue you are operating at.

  22. Ross says:

    Gail, I like the blog but felt compelled to post something about this post in particular. It surprised me that, apart from friends and family, you do not mention the importance of community in human survival. Living and engaging within a community is the only thing that has allowed humans to become the dominant species – people alone in the dark will die from cold, hunger or predators – this has not changed. Communities better find, produce and share resources and can establish a range of services that a single family or small group can’t and provide for a larger number of people. Post-‘crash’ the only way we’ll all survive is if we survive together.

    I would also hold off giving any financial advice – no one can predict what would happen to ‘finance’, especially if we cannot define the ‘crash’ event we’re discussing. I think 2 things are obvious however: your money in the bank is only worth something if the bank and currency are viable and, as such, no investment is ever totally safe. I think money in some form will always exist (simply because barter systems are too inflexible), and it certainly will unless this ‘crash’ really is the end of the world as we know it. However, the only assured ‘investment’ you can make is something useful and tangible (e.g. agricultural land, foods, tools etc. as you highlighted) because even if it’s monetary value falls it can produce. Capital invested in necessary entities/ companies also produces but requires a successful company and a functioning economy (functioning, not necessarily growing or ‘doing well’).

    Ultimately, money only exists to be used for purchases, what’s the point of going into a ‘crash’ with much in the bank at all – you’re betting the currency remains stable and the bank survives and regardless you’ve not used it productively to secure things you’ll actually need during this time or for the future. If you need more money post-‘crash’ you sell something (that you have or have produced).

    It comes back to my communities point above – if large enough and solid enough communities exist post-‘crash’, the concept of using money for goods and services and therefore having savings, loans, banks etc. will continue, at least to an extent that these facilities exist, even if they aren’t ubiquitous. More interesting would be the possibility of different exchange rates/ how trade functioned town to town depending on very local economic factors (i.e. Town X has more people [more money in circulation] but Y has greater resources [money is buys you less there]) – there would be no global financial system, it’s not so far to fall for there to be no national one either.

    • I guess I hadn’t thought about the community aspect.

      It is my understanding that the Dunbar number, that is the number of people you can know and have relationships with, is about 150. Above this, we are talking about nearby strangers vs distant strangers. So to the extent that there is a small community that a person can interact with, that would be best. This is what I refer to as friends and family.

      I live in a suburb of Atlanta. My husband and two sons both have jobs within walking distance of the house. But I am not certain what group I would define as my larger community, other than my relatives, neighbors that I am friends with, and other friends I have.

      The Atlanta community is too large to be very meaningful. It also has relatively little means of food production.

      I do agree that the financial situation is “iffy”. If the bank doesn’t honor your deposit, it isn’t much good. I expect people will run up tabs in “dollars” or whatever, regardless of the physical availability of dollars. They will need to make good on their promises in services or goods they have produced.

      • Ross says:

        Thanks for your reply.

        Your comment about community where you live is remarkably prescient – I live in London, UK and was having the discussion just the other day with some visitors from Seattle, WA that the majority of Americans (those who live in suburbs of towns or cities), generally, no longer feel like they have a ‘community’ or realise as much when presented with one existing elsewhere. They observed that here we have everything within walking distance (as well as much further away) so the immediacy of those facilities creates an automatic community – e.g. many people go to the local pub in the evening, thus becoming friendly with each other. Most know the nearest shopkeeper, others the lifeguard at the pool or the waiter at the restaurant. You may not know your neighbours that well but there is an obvious community around you that persists. This was in central London, I can assure you it is even more pronounced in rural villages (where I grew up) through the extra incentive of necessity (there isn’t anywhere else to go).

        The American mass migration to the suburbs has left people without local life or facilities – everyone drives into town to get a coffee, to eat out, to do anything. You may know 2 or 3 other families nearby through your children or via work but when and where does anyone ever come together as a group? Possibly the 4th of July, if you’re lucky to be somewhere where something is put on. Maybe that’s why it’s such a special holiday? Note this is a generality, an observation, not a rule. Obviously, you can find community in your tower block in Brooklyn, or you church in Georgia, or across farms in Idaho, my point is that you struggle to find it elsewhere.

        I’m not sure this is a crisis of individualism, rather a result of the distinct American push for ‘Big’. I believe in individualism, in responsibility, provision and exception, but no one stands truly on their own – all individuals must also be part of something bigger. America has forgotten the importance of community because it was blinded by the attraction of a bigger home in the suburbs and a bigger car to drive them wherever they needed to go, both of which preclude the creation of bonds with people, businesses and facilities by proximity. The American dream is not to have 150 friends, it is to have a mansion up-state, where you probably don’t know if you have neighbours, let alone meet them regularly.

        Contrast this adult lifestyle with your child’s: children attend a local school, people are there simply because they live nearby. For years everything the child does, everyone they know is within those 4 walls (roughly). The sense of school community is immense – sports, cliques, classes, forms. Dunbar’s number or not, friendships are formed for life and rivalries with other schools last forever. Yet, almost instantly, when they graduate and leave or head to college it disappears.That level of community will never be replaced if all those children grow up adults in a detached house, on a detached estate, driving to and from a detached office or facilities elsewhere.

        Where I have hope is that we know, in an instant, this can all change – communities appear as soon as something brings everyone together. 4th of July apart, the NY blackout of 2003, sporting victories, cultural celebrations, a natural disaster, other reasons big and small – individuals respond as a community. We all know what to do deep down, we just choose to or have been guided into living in a different way for now. Have hope – Atlanta will come together, when they need to.

        • Ross,

          I think that to a significant extent, people in the US find their work to be their community. This is a problem if a person gets laid off.

          Another source of friends in many cities are “subdivisions”. Subdivisions are groups of houses that are typically built by the same builder at the same time. They usually look similar; are priced more or less the same; may have their own swimming pool, playground, and tennis courts, and have sets of rules on all kinds of things–you can’t hang your wash out to dry, what color you can paint your house, what kind of fence you can have, etc. There are sometimes groups of women that go out to lunch together, and swimming teams for kids. (I at one time lived in such a subdivision, but don’t any more.) My children would tell me that the social structure at school was stratified somewhat along the same lines–“Ha, Ha, I live in ‘Upscale Subdivision’, but you only live in ‘Slightly Less Upscale Subdivision'”. Schools in the US are made super-big, to save on administration costs, so children have to try to find a selection of friends out of the whole very large group.

          There are obviously other places people make friends. The Internet seems to be a popular site, especially to try to meet someone of the opposite sex, now. There are various types of clubs a person can join. Many people make friends at a church. All of these tend to be at quite a distance from where a person lives, though.

          So finding proper community is a problem in many parts of the US. I think churches often come closest as a solution, but distance is a problem with them as well.

    • Marvin Schroeder says:

      Cash that you have in a banks or investment firms are only virtual assets, digits on your computer screen. In our fractional banking system, roughly 90% of those digits exist as debt which needs the economy to continue to grow to be available for you to use in the future. A key component of continued economic growth is continued energy growth. As world energy declines world economic growth will slow and then decline. Debts will be defaulted and the digits on your computer screen will disappear. Banks in Spain and Greece are afraid of a run on the bank where the “actual” cash will quickly disappear. Personally, I am moving as much of my virtual assets to physical assets which would maintain value in a period of declining world economic growth. I would welcome some financial advice. I am intelligent and responsible enough to make my own decisions and live with the consequences. My question is which is more secure in a period of declining world economic growth and defaults on debt payments — cash in 401K accounts or social security payments?

      • Cash in 401K accounts depends on the financial system, as it is in years ahead. If you have invested it in stocks and bonds, it will do as well (or badly) as those investments. If the pixels go away, you will have a problem.

        Social security is basically a pay-as-you go system, with today’s young people paying for today’s old people. Since 2010, the US Social Security system has been paying out more than it is taking in. You hear all kinds of things about it being funded to year XXXX. This statement is as good as the US’ ability to make good on those bonds (which are not publicly traded).

        There are a bunch of articles in the press about the current shortfall in Social Security funding. For example How big is Social Security’s funding shortfall? An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitutions says:

        Since 2010, Social Security has been paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes, adding to the urgency for Congress to address the program’s long-term finances.

        “To me, urgent doesn’t begin to describe it,” said Chuck Blahous, one of the public trustees who oversee Social Security. “I would say we’re somewhere between critical and too late to deal with it.”

        I’m not quite sure the situation is that bad. When legislators were looking around for ways to prop up the US overall budget, they decided to temporarily reduce the portion of Social Security contributions from employers, which is a major reason for the shortfall. I understand that this temporary reduction is to “go away” as of January 1, 2013, but it will add to the fiscal cliff we are facing at that time.

        I expect that Social Security benefits (and Medicare benefits) will have to be cut sometime in the future. Exactly how it takes place, I am not sure about. Every country in the world with a similar system is going to face a similar issue–If the size of the economic pie is getting smaller, how much should be given to seniors?

        So I am not sure either is exactly secure. In some ways, “pay as you go” is more secure, because it is a simple transfer from the young to the old.

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  24. Shunyata says:

    Dear Gail:

    I am pleased to see this post. You cannot emphasize enough that we CANNOT spend our time fretting and we CANNOT simply hoard resources to maintain the current way of living. The only rational choice is to recognize that the current way cannot last forever, to anticipate that the transition will be bumpy, and to begin living differently now.

    Living differently now means rediscovering “community” and “family”, increasing food and shelter self-reliance, and relearning the difference between consumption and construction. The steps you have laid out are pointers in this direction.

    The difficulty is that our society literally progams us to participate in the status quo. To live differently, you have to at least become aware of your programming. To this end I urge your readers unplug all electronic communication devices for 30 days, except for purely maintaining work functions. The silence will be unbearable at first, but then you will start hearing again – and be surprised at what you hear.

    • Glad you liked the post. Some people get upset that I don’t point a path to saving the world with some new form of energy, or something similar.

      I do look at the Internet quite a bit, but I listen to pretty close to zero devices that use sound. I keep headphones at home to listen to an occasional video a reader points out, but I don’t have television, or radio, or music on when I work. In fact, we don’t own a television. Some people have commented at how quiet our house is. I find it hard to think when I have a lot of distractions.

  25. phil harris says:

    Thanks again for the discussion.
    Mitigation will depend very much on where and who you are in the world.
    The ‘hot spots’ are not nice, and will get nastier.
    Even within the USA (only 14% of income spent on food) those on food stamps are still at risk from ‘price-spikes’ or from funding withdrawal.
    Dimitry Orlov just now has a good take on food security across the world (in China 40% of income goes on food; in other places much more)
    Just a suggestion: perhaps we could reduce risk for ourselves and family by cultivating a cuisine and a taste for our food by consuming more of primary agricultural production. Grains and beans make the staple food (calories and protein) for most of the world. Supplemented with high value nutrition from the vegetable and fruit gardens, we can have a tasty and healthy fall-back. A cheap big bag of oats and ditto beans goes a long way. Such modest diets reduce cost to a family wherever you are, and are relatively good for you, lowering risk of chronic diseases in later life that are otherwise so characteristic of our ‘western’ dietary pattern. Unfortunately the epidemic of western dietary pattern is still spreading to the newly urban populations round the globe, and affluent places like Qatar are now riddled with Type2 diabetes. For the less affluent, food security even on modest diets is horribly affected by the trend in meat eating by the more affluent. Meat and biofuels production still increasingly ‘eat’ into the primary resources of land, water and fertilizer, squeezing the vast urban poor.
    PS I was not aware until recently just how heterogenous India is. I quote from a recent correspondent on TOD (“wiseindian”) where Fertility Rate in some states is now below the replacement rate of “2.0”. (China has been below the replacement rate for some time).
    Then there is the huge development gap between northern and southern states, some states such as Uttar Pradesh have a TFR of 3.5 and a literacy rate of 70% while some states like Tamil Nadu have a TFR of 1.8 and a literacy rate of 80%.


    • Ross says:

      2 really good points:

      We should now, but especially in a ‘survival’ situation (define that as you wish), remodel ours and our family’s diets to a more ‘sustainable’ (define that how you want as well) level. Eat less, eat local, eat healthy – there is a lot of synergy in these statements, but everyone should see the obvious that if you don’t buy the expensive, processed ready-meals (for example) from a hyper-mart 30 miles away you would worry a lot less about how much they cost.

      As I see it, whether population/ birth rates are a problem depends on how you draw the question, or, more specifically, the geographic boundary you apply and the dimension you’re measuring impact on. Birth rates are below replacement level in many Asian countries (, many in Africa are rocketing but both are normally painted as too populous by Americans (the 3rd most populous country in the world), or worse ‘irresponsible’ for having ‘too many’ children. When we say there are too many people on Earth, we mean too many to continue with our current lifestyles (i.e. unsustainable resource consumption) – there could be 20 billion if we all lived power-less lives in the middle of nowhere. In India, or any country, what can we tell from just a birth rate figure? Maybe more children or people die in Uttar Pradesh that warrants this rate? Maybe there is more land or food there that can sustain a growing population? Maybe the population was very ‘low’ (vs. what the area could sustain) already? Maybe there is a large emigartion rate? etc. etc.

      • Everything I can see says that we are “way over” sustainable population. I don’t think there is an issue with too few children, even where population is below replacement levels now. This holds regardless of standard of living.

    • Phil,

      I agree that mitigation will very much depend on where you are in the world. This is one reason I didn’t say more about specific actions.

      Diet is important in staying healthy. I eat a very low meat diet (with some fish), and I think it has been helpful in keeping heart disease and Type 2 diabetes away. We eat a lot of beans and lentils, and quite a few nuts.

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  27. Leo Smith says:

    11/. learn how to shoot without a conscience.

    Or find a better strategy to deal with a world that is about 10 times more populated than its current ability to feed itself, at any given location.

    • I am afraid I am not up to “shoot without a conscience.’

      My guess is that if population decreases, communicable diseases will play a big role. This was James Kunstler’s view in “World Made by Hand”.

      • Andrew of the Bay Area says:

        Gail, are you really not familiar with it or are you just being the seemingly nice and decent person you are (no sarcasm intended there…honestly)?

        I am fairly certain he is referring to reverting to the social situation we had all over the world before the advent of technology that tracks down everyone for everything period. Basically a kill or be killed world that is very insecure. While I am not a violent person and don’t necessarily advocate violence, I also disagree with the concept that violence doesn’t solve anything. It actually does when arguments aren’t solving things quite simply: the other party is killed and so their opinion doesn’t matter anymore. Quite Machiavellian or Real Politik, I admit, but the history of the world was basically this until modern times where now we just have little proxy wars where people in third world resource rich countries suffer for the naive “peace loving” American way of life. Yes, I am imply that we are all hypocrites. Much like the Romans, we love how peaceful our society is internally…but it is only peaceful because we fight the monsters outside and inside of our borders aggressively to make it so (increasingly less inside, in my personal opinion).

        My prediction is that in 100 years from now (when we will all be dead), if PO has taken us along the route that seems most likely, this country and much of this world will be ruled by a collection of regional warlords in fiefdoms. Power vacuums are going to create a ripe environment for the ruthless and ambitious. Look at where Mexico has been going for a clue. Much of the world will likely end up like Somalia until we get some conquer of “decency” (the cynic in me doubts that any leader actually ever cares about anything but their own power, so I’d call it a ploy, but a good one if it increases people’s quality if life and freedoms) to restore some moral and ethical truths. If one studies history, it almost appears as if these are cycles that humanity puts itself through to remember how good they can have it if they don’t let it all go to waste with petty and unrealistic political and economic goals.

        This all brings to mind a quote from Game of Thrones, one of my favorites at revealing the darkness of human bad behavior, “Life is not a song, sweetling.Someday you may learn that, to your sorrow.” ““There are no heroes…in life, the monsters win.” So many that people see as heroes today I see as monsters. Perspectives and circumstances will likely forever keep the human race divided.

        • Unfortunately, I have dug up more than I really would like to know about the issue. It is not a very pleasant topic. You may have read my post Human Population Overshoot – What Went Wrong? I think there are a couple of major issues:

          1. Mammals in general are k-selected species. That means that they hold population down through territoriality–the way male cats and dogs mark out a territory and defend it. Humans seem to have gotten around this by a variety of methods including language that allows us to understand others; trade among groups that makes working together better than fighting; and “liberal” religions that encourage “loving one another”, forgiving others, and “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Overcoming a lot of territoriality is a big reason world population has been able to explode.

          2. Humans are too smart for our own good. The natural order is built on “survival of the fittest”, but we have figured out ways around this, from our earliest days, so that more of our offspring can survive. Medicine is an obvious current example. But there are a lot of earlier examples. Even as hunter-gatherers, we learned to kill off major predators and to burn down trees that were not where we wanted them. The changes we have made have allowed more human offspring to survive, overcoming natural “survival of the fittest”. This is a big reason that population has grown since the very earliest days, long before fossil fuels were an issue.

          Part of the reason that “kill or be killed” has become less of an issue is because fossil fuels allowed the world to provide food and shelter for a growing number of people. Once this is turned around, and resources become less available, it is almost inevitable that there will be fighting about what resources are available.

          We will have to see how this works out in practice. I am sure that there are some (especially younger men) who will want to make certain that they are part of the “survivor group”. But there will be others who will say, “If it is this bad, I really don’t care if I am part of the survivor group.”

          I am not convinced that there is anything that we can do to prevent this situation from occurring. (I don’t think modern “renewables” are going to make more than the tiniest difference for society as a whole, for example, although individual families may be better able to do something such as pump water for the time being.) I am also not convinced that reduced fossil fuels will be easy to handle, even if a person is determined to be a survivor. A person will run out of ammunition sometime, no matter how much he/she stockpiles. A person cannot stand guard over his garden night and day. People who are out to kill a person or steal from a person won’t announce their intent–if the resources get short enough, it could be former friends who are the problem.

          So I have not suggested that people attempt to do anything about the issue. If they are aware of the issue, and somehow think that they can solve the problem by stockpiling large amounts of ammunition and bullets, I am sure that they will do so.

          • Andrew of the Bay Area says:

            The best thing about you and why I continue to read this column is that you are a realist. Someone who relies on real facts and figures, knows enough about history, human nature and economics to truly understand reality. Sure, we all wish this was Unicorn fantasy land world where everything is “fair” but that is not and has never been reality. We just pretend a lot in this culture and lie to ourselves. I appreciate that you don’t feel the need to always focus on the negative and are able to see the bright spots as well. That’s more noble than I am, sadly. I guess I am a pessimistic optimistic in that I expect hell and am pleasantly surprised if I just get Detroit (sorry Detroit people).

            I agree with what you have written. My plan is fairly simple: right now I work at an investment firm in the Bay Area and am relatively well paid. I bought some land in far Northern California where no one goes unless they have a reason to (and the locals protect themselves but are fairly suspicious of outsiders). It’s got great mountain run off water that the State can’t steal and send to Southern California if they wanted too. My personal moral code, influenced by Catholicism but also just a general sense that their ARE moral truths in the Universe and codes of decency and honor, prevent me from being one of those would-be warlords. It doesn’t prevent me from doing everything in my power to stop them from dominating my future rural corner of the world and/or allowing them to abuse my family, neighbors and friends. I guess I am one of the believers in fighting “evil” of man head on and that peace is won through wars. I don’t like any of it, but I see it coming and I think some of us have to be ready to fight for some good and freedom to remain in the world.

            You are dead on (pun not intended, but kept regardless) about running out of bullets. That’s just Plan A. Plan B, C, and D will be bows (which I am learning how to build), swords and all the more sustainable weapons of the past. Then there’s that little matter of making sure the the “Defender” of the community does not instead become the monster, which often times has happened, sadly, throughout history. I think you stay humble, appear poor even if you aren’t exactly, and avoid conflict but don’t run from it either. Hell, the good thing about being killed is that either 1) if you lived a decent life and weren’t a monster, I doubt any higher power is going to send you the hell or the equivalent and 2) if there is nothing…I won’t know I am dead…and the world will be some other poor fools problem!

          • Leo Smith says:

            “By George, I think she’s got it!”
            Top marks for skating around the thin ice where rational reflection on probability is confused with advocacy.

            I too think that irrespective of anything that a lot of people are going to die fairly soon.

            I don’t advocate it tho 🙁

  28. robertheinlein says:

    Overall a good post with lots of good ideas. My enduring complaint about this blog’s concentration on oil is that there is a lot more renewable energy available out there than just oil. We soon be able to harness heat via thermoelectric generators right out of thin air (think of John Galt’s motor if you will—it’s not that exactly, but it’s close and we have a patent on the process) to create electricity and from that, almost anything else we want: clean water via desalination, or motive power via electric cars and trucks, etc.

    This is not to say we will have clear sailing, however. We have a minerals shortage that is even more of a showstopper than almost anything else, but even that can be allieviated by mining the oceans for minerals. Once we get rid of the population problem (however that happens and history tells us wars are generally the solution the human race has turned to in order to reduce population), we can live sustainably on this planet. In other words, we can wait for the asteroid that’s going to destroy us eventually because we never moved out of the cradle.

    Alternatively, we may have already pushed the Earth past the limit on its ability to reign in heating. With temperatures in the Arctic zooming up several times faster than the rest of the planet, even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases right now, the amount of carbon dioxide and methane already in the atmosphere may be enough to tip us into runaway warming. If that is the case, living underground may be the only real solution to survival.

    • Leo Smith says:

      “We soon be able to harness heat via thermoelectric generators right out of thin air (think of John Galt’s motor if you will—it’s not that exactly, but it’s close and we have a patent on the process)”

      And where is the heat going to come from? And if you have such, why on earth would you announce it here?

      Looking for funding and investors are we?

      ….My other name is Dogbert..

      • robertheinlein says:

        Development is proceding, albeit very much slower, without outside investors. It would certainly be faster with investment money, but those routes are closed off for whatever reason. Investors want the device to be completed before they are willing to invest. Once the device is complete, no investment money is needed (the device will sell itself). Hence, no outside investment in new devices is possible in today’s financial environment. I submitted several ARRA funding requests to the DOE for related technology. The most that came out of the effort was that one of the DOE reviewers from the University of Pennsylvania stole that idea and got the grant instead. As far as where the heat is going to come from, that’s easy almost anywhere on Earth. Right now, we have excess heat almost everywhere. The generator is able to extract heat via an open thermodynamic cycle from the environment into a TEG even if no differential temperature is present. The result is that some of that heat is converted into electricity. The patent number is 7,816,601 if you want the technical details.

    • My view is that renewables (and, in fact, electricity substitutes in general) are not going to make a meaningful difference to our liquid fuels problem. We have too many cars, trucks, airplanes, and equipment of all kinds (like construction equipment) that is built to use fossil fuels. There is no way we can make a quick change, because of the cost involved, even if we could figure out the details.

      I agree with you too that minerals are a huge problem as well, and this adds another level of problems in trying to make a quick change to electric substitutes for today’s vehicles.

      • robertheinlein says:

        I have been told by persons far more mechanically inclined than I am that conversion of autos to use electric motors is actually not hard. And, judging by a few stories I have read about local residents doing their own conversion to batteries and electric motors, it seems that it may not be the major obstacle. Conversion may not be an ideal way to accomplish it from a theoretical perspective, but it may be practical for many people. I recall that when oil prices hit their highs, several people were featured in news stories where they removed their gasoline engines and replaced them with batteries and electric motors. I think the major auto companies would prefer you bought their electric models instead, but for someone who’s already good at mechanical work, it may not be challenging to do the conversion.

        Even for those who are forced to pay someone to do the conversion, that would be a source of jobs to keep the economy growing during the transition period.

        The real problem I see is that the price of oil is acting as a governor on the economy. When it reaches well above 100, the economy dips back into a recessionary condition. Then, when oil drops to 80 or below, growth starts picking back up. So, it’s a real catch-22: we need oil prices to remain high to encourage alternatives, but high prices dampen growth and investment into those alternatives. As much as I favor libertarianism, I’m afraid the government may need to force the conversion to electric motive power because the free market just isn’t getting the job done. And, the market probably will never be able to accomplish such long range goals because it concentrates on maximizing short term returns and letting the long term implications kill the system.

        • I agree on the oil price acting as a governor on the economy.

          The issue with electric vehicles is not the engines; it is the batteries that go with those engines. There are a lot of “issues” with them–short lived, expensive, require inputs from distant lands, polluting, heavy, time necessary for recharging, drain on grid when recharging occurs, etc. Even if you get the car converted to electricity, and one set of batteries, you are still not done with the process, since you will need replacement batteries in a few years.

          • robertheinlein says:

            Actually, there’s a neat solution to the battery problem.

            Capacitors have advantages and disadvantages compared to conventional batteries. Capacitors can be recharged much faster because batteries have to be chemically recharged while capacitors simply take a charge on their plates directly. The disadvantage is that, in general, capacitors cannot store as much electrical power as equivalent-sized batteries. One of the other advantages of capacitors is that they can undergo literally millions of charge-recharge cycles whereas chemical batteries are limit to a few thousand cycles.

            New developements are very promising on both fronts:

            1. New batteries will soon hit the market which will have far more storage than existing technologies. DOE says that they will be able to store electricity for less than $100 per kwh. But, then, DOE is a beehive of crooks who cannot be believed without independent confirmation.

            2. But, the more exciting possibilities revolve around supercapacitors which can store similar amounts of power for about $50 per kwh. And, the technology that gets us to this level is very immature at the present time, which means the possibility is that, over time, we can push it even further in terms of storage. Moreover, the technology doesn’t depend upon any exotic materials at all and the materials it depends upon are available domestically in huge supply! This is technology which should hit the market in about one year, so it’s moving along quite nicely now. Even with no help from the snakes at DOE.

  29. reverseengineerre says:

    Learn to identify Wild Edible Plants, learn to Fish and Hunt using Bow & Arrow or Atlatl, move to the lowest Population Zone you can with the most natural resources and form a Community with others of similar mindset and skills. Train the Biggest Dogs you can for defense and hunting. Have the right clothing for your climate and good Guns and plenty of Ammo for defensive purposes.

    The only other reasonable Option is the Sail Paradigm. That’s the one Dmitri Orlov is following. Live aboard a Blue Water capable sailing vessel and know places you can go very far out when TSHTF. Like Tristan da Cunha, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas far out. Have good fishing gear aboard, water desalinator and again, Guns and Ammo.


    • Ikonoclast says:

      Bad choice. Tristan Da Cunha is a volcanic island. Next time it erupts it could be like Mt St Helens or the movie Dante’s Peak but on an island! Nowhere to run and you can’t outsail a pyroclastic flow racing across the sea surface at several hundred mph.

      And has Dmitri Orlov watched Waterworld once too often?

      If you need hunting gear, survival gear and an arsenal of guns to survive then you better be younger than Bear Grylls and have equal or greater skills. Or guess what? You won’t survive!

      Bottom line, by the time things get the tough, 99% of us will already be dead.

      • reverseengineerre says:

        Never know where a volcanomightbloworan earthquake might hit.I’m only talking about avoiding best you can the economic dislocations. I live in on of the most volcanicallly and geotectonically active places on the Planet,but it is STILL a better bet than the Lower 48.

        Also while it would be nice if I was as fast as I was 20 years ago and as strong, you do learn a lot the older you get. Its not a lot different than when I was a small boy facing down bullies bigger than me. I could not fight them on my OWN, I had to enlist the aid of some BIG BOYS by making friends, doing their Homework for them, whatever.Never got beat on ONCE. Making FRIENDS is IMPORTANT.

        Now I have a different job, teaching youger stronger guys what I know. The KNOWLEDGE has value. I won’t last that long, but that is not important really. I just hope to stay alive long enough to see it all come crashing down, and pass on some of what I know before I walk into the Great Beyond. After that, its up to the next bunch to make a go of it in the Better Tomorrow. I’ll pass on what I know, and then I go in PEACE to the Great Beyond when the time comes.


    • You may very well be right. Unfortunately, the number of people the world can support with this model is pretty small. Your ammunition will run out pretty quickly, so in the long run, it is your dogs and your “hunting/gathering skills” that will matter. But “hunting/gathering skills” can’t be too good, or you will wipe out your food supply. You also need to learn how to make clothing pretty quickly, since your clothes will wear out in not too many years.

      Unfortunately, your model is not something easily explained to the uninitiated. If people dig deeply enough into the issues, they will run across this model themselves.

      • reverseengineerre says:

        The fact the paradigm supports fewer people than Industrial Agriculture is the reason you live in the lowest population zones possible. Siberia, Nunavut, Alaska, Lousiana Bayou, Amazonia are among the better choices. The Guns and Ammo are only for defense for a short time from other groups of Homo Sapiens similarly equipped for a couple of seasons. Most of them won’t be around that long. You definitely try to avoid contact with other groups as much as possible for a few years.

        Far as hunting out the game, that never happenned in any of these locations, and the fish also never were fished out. Not enough people lived in these environments to consume the other wildlife faster than it reproduced.

        As far as digging deep for all the information, it’s not that hard to find. You can start from and work your way out on the Links from there. Primitive Living and Rewilding are among the most popular and well researched topics covered on the Diner.


        • Thanks!

          Any more news on your theory about heat coming from the center of the earth, rather than atmospheric warming?

          • reverseengineerre says:

            The Good Newz would be that it appears we reached Peak Quakes in terms of frequency between 2004-2007 maxing out at a little over 30,000 Quakes/year of any magnitude globally. The Bad Newz would be that the largest magnitude quakes greater than Mag 5 are still showing significant and steady increase, with concomitant high energy releases far greater than thousands of Hiroshima Bombs dropped each year. These along with numerous 7+ quakes releasing energies which dwarf the Tsar Bomba, the largest thermonuclear device ever detonated.

            You can do the calculations yourself Gail, you’re an Actuary. The increased Energy Release coming from the Earth over the last 20 years dwarfs the Heat Content of all the Oil and Coal burned since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution by several Orders of Magnitude. No contest between Mother Earth and Homo Sapiens as to who can ramp up Energy Release more. Its like the Dallas Cowbows taking on the Pop Warner Fotball Team from Timbuktu. If you know any Physics at all, you know by Conservation of Energy it has to go somewhere. What is the Biggest Heat Sink on the surface of Planet Earth Gail?

            You want to check this for yourself, go visit Dlindquist’s website and the USGS Earthquake stats.



            • I think I mentioned earlier that when I went to an actuarial meeting last year, one of the topics being discussed was the rise in large magnitude earthquakes, and the fact that it was of concern to insurers. So I wasn’t surprised at what you were showing.

              My physics is pretty limited. I’m afraid I don’t know how to compare earth movement to other types of energy. (I do know the energy has to go somewhere.)

          • reverseengineerre says:

            The Law of Conservation of Energy states, “Energy is neither Created nor Destroyed, only transformed from one form to another.”

            In the case of Fossil Fuels, the potential energy stored as chemical energy in the Bonds between the Carbon atoms. When burned with Oxygen, said energy is released as Heat. In the case of Nuclear Energy, the stored energy is inside the Nucleus and is far greater, and when Fission or Fusion occur, again you get energy released as Heat, along with High Energy radiation in the form of Gamma Rays and X-rays. In Earthquakes, you have the potential energy stored mechanically, and the movement of large masses in the end is transformed into vibrations which transform to Heat.

            ALL of them are measured in the same units, Joules,Calories, BTUs whatever. There is no fundamental difference between them all. In any event, when a Quake goes off, unlike a Nuclear reaction it cannot change any of its mechanical energy into high energy radiation, it all has to go out as Heat.On the surface of the Earth, all this Heat really has one mainHeat Sink, and that is the Ocean which constitutes about 75%of the surface material, and Water has the second highest Heat Capacity of any known compound, the only greater one is Ammonia which does not exist in anywhere near the quantity water does on Earth.

            The only place for the Energy released by Quakes is into the World Oceans, and from there it gets radiated out into the Atmosphere in a variety of ways. Many by increased Evaporationof the Water, driving more of it up into the atmosphere. Thus you get the kind of extreme rainfall situation you see now in the Manila and in Shanghai, where apparently if you BELIEVE Chinese Stats they relocated 1.5 MILLION People.

            There are other synergistic effects to consider from the changing gas mix in the atmosphere, but overall albedo effects tend to offset greenhouse effects so overall atmospheric temperature is not rising that rapidly.The primary source of the increased energy input here though? Not the Sun, not the burned Fossil fuels either. Its coming from deep down inside the Core of the Earth. for whatever the reason, the Earth is dissipating at least one order of magnitude if not 2 greater energy now than 20 years ago. That is LOT of energy to transform to Heat.


            • Thanks!

              It had never occurred to me that the energy of the greater number / strength of earthquakes would be stored in the earth’s ocean as heat, or that the magnitude of the stored heat would be as high as you say. (Of course, my physics background is mostly what I have “picked up” here and there.)

              I remember that you posted a graph of the higher ocean temperature. Also a description of where you were able to calculate this from.

              You have also shown links to the rise in earthquakes, which seems to have tailed off a bit recently. Have you done an actual calculation of the amount of energy that would be stored from the increase in earthquakes to connect the two?

              Is this all in one post, or multiple places? I am not as good using your search engine as you are, and I sometimes forget what I have read where.

          • reverseengineerre says:

            The original article I wrote is actually a compilation of stuff I wrote together with a Geology buff named Stormbringer who I met on the Peak Oil message board. Together we ran one of the longest running threads on the board which went hundreds of pages deep during the Yellowstone Quake Swarm. I put it together in an article on the Diner


            In terms of total energy, the increase in Heat Content of the Oceans is greater than the summation of all the energies of the Quakes alone. However, quakes are not the only method by which the Earth dissipates Heat, Vulcanism on the sea floor is extensive around the subduction zones and there is direct thermal radiation through the crust as well below the sea bed where it is the thinnest. Sort of like a pot of water on a Hot Plate.

            The best way to see the correlation between the two is to overlay the graphs of the Quakes with the graph of the increasing Heat Content of the Oceans over the 20 year time span, they match in lock step.

            The most frightening correlation is one I came upon later, which is the rapidly decreasing pH or acidification that is resulting from this. It probably comes from two places, increasing Sulfur emissions from subsea volcanoes and melting Clathrates releasing gobs of CO2 from the ocean floor and bubbling it straight up through the water. This produces Sulfuric, Sulfurous and Carbonic Acid. At current rates of acidification, it probably takes no more than 30-50 years before the Ocean is too acidic to support any shell based sea life like Coral Reefs. How long the phytoplankton can last is a more difficult question, because they probably can adapt to higher acidity to an extent. If the phytoplankton collapse, we are of course all dead, Oxygen percentage in the atmosphere will drop rapidly after that and all higher animal life will go to the Great Beyond in short order.

            One can take a certain amount of HOPE looking at the now decreasing frequency of quakes that this will level off before it collapses the phytoplankton. However, the energy dissipation is still quite large because the most powerful quakes are still on the increase. Only Time will tell on that one..


            • Thanks! I see that the ocean heat content graph is actually one from a NOAA web site you link to. No one can complain that you misinterpreted NOAA data.

              My chemistry background is only a little better than my physics background. I was presuming that the ocean acidification problems were coming only because of too much CO2 in the atmosphere. If the exposure is really form the bottom as well, this would increase the speed of acidification.

              If there is a different avenue of ocean/climate disturbance that is taking place, it seems like it would be worthwhile for someone with suitable background to write an article for an academic journal on the issue. Or perhaps post some comments on a blog that discusses more climate issues, where other climate modelers “hang out”.

          • reverseengineerre says:

            That would be me except I have the same opinion of Academic Journals I do for MSM outlets like Bizness Insider and Financial Sense. In terms of discussing this on one of the Climate websites, that would be a bit like a Marxist arguing for Communism on Zero Hedge. The Anthropogenic Group Think would swamp you in no time. Discussing it with Guy McPherson for instance is like talking to a brick wall.


            • It seems like there is this issue with anything controversial that a person tries to write about. There are so many entrenched authors with a point of view that they are “wedded to” that it is hard to get anyone to listen. Researchers live in silos, so the idea that another field might have something to add to the discussion never crosses their mind.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “form a Community with others of similar mindset and skills.”

      NO! There are too many struggling “forming” communities out there already!

      Instead find and join a community with others of similar mindset and skills!

      BTW: We could use some help!

      • reverseengineerre says:

        Joining an already established Community is probably the better way to go in most cases, I agree with that. However,finding the “right”one which fits your own Philosophy and which seems to be on the right track is pretty tough. I have had chats with many folks who have visited Transition Towns for instance who came back with the impression they were very unrealistic in how they were preparing for the collapse. On the Commune level,many are organized around specific Religious beliefs, and if you do no hold those beliefs or are willing to take them on,you don’t fit in and itprobably does not work for you. Besides that, there is always a Hierarchy in such Communes, and the later you Join up, the lower down you usually are.

        Anyhow, the Diner is kind of a Hub for anyone interested or already involved in such Planning, so you should drop in and tell us about your Community and how you folks are prepping up. There are quite a few Diners currently seeking good Alternatives for when TSHTF.


    • reverseengineerre says:

      **Note: I reposted an Excerpt of this discussion on the Diner Blog under the Title “Geotectonic Ocean Heat Transfer Theory Revisited”


  30. simondooley says:

    Reblogged this on simondooley.

  31. 10. if It’s possible try to leave the big cities.(?)

    • Maybe so. But I didn’t want to scare people too badly, and I am not sure that people moving into a culture that they are not familiar with (and with no friends) will do that well. Most people don’t have money to buy land, and jobs aren’t generally available in small towns. There are plusses and minuses everywhere.

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