Age of Limits Conference – May 23-27, 2013

I want to mention a conference that I will be speaking at over Memorial Day weekend near Artemas, Pennsylvania, called the Age of Limits Conference.  The conference is one of the few that deals directly with the issues we are facing today–the very real possibility of reaching Limits to Growth in a finite world, and how individuals respond to this issue.

This is an unusual conference–most of the talks are in a large tent. Some of the discussions are in a pavilion that is covered but open to the outdoors. Dress is very casual. Many attendees bring tents and camp on site. There are also hotels not too far away where one can stay. Registration fees are very reasonable. An old-fashioned barn dance is planned one evening. Registration is available at this link.

Figure 1. Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today's graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in "Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil"

Figure 1. Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today’s graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in “Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil”

The speakers this year, besides myself, are John Michael Greer, Dmitry Orlov,  Carolyn Baker, Albert Bates, Guy McPherson, and the organizer, Orren Whiddon.  This is a link to a draft schedule. The topics of my talks are “Collapse 101” and “Energy, Debt, and Financial Collapse.”Other talks will be on a variety of subjects, many more related to mitigation and dealing with emotions than numbers-type subjects. For example, one of Dmitry Orlov’s talks is called “Fostering Multigenerational Community.” One evening session is called, “Speaking the Words, Confronting Collapse, a discussion in the Round.”

Preceding the Age of Limits Conference, on May 17-May 22, there will be a Sustainable Life Skills Permaculture session taught by Patricia Allison at the same location. A person can register for both sessions, if desired.

The reason I am somewhat knowledgeable about the Age of Limits conference is that I spoke at a smaller version of the conference last year. The speakers last year included several of the same ones speaking this time–John Michael Greer, Dmitry Orlov, Carolyn Baker and myself. About 185 attended last year. I understand the setup has been changed to permit more to attend this year.

The group sponsoring this conference is the Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary. Church members provide a lot of volunteer labor, helping to keep costs down.

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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44 Responses to Age of Limits Conference – May 23-27, 2013

  1. xabier says:

    John Christian

    Thanks for all that information about Norway: the Scandinavian countries are just not reported on that much in MSM, however hard one looks, and the language barrier is insuperable.

    Giant agribusiness wants to destroy smaller farms everywhere, and yet it is obvious that livestock and cereal farms at that level must be maintained, if a society wishes to remain resilient at some level. It’s a kind of diversification that should not be under-valued. Better to spend public money on that, than on holding an Olympics!

    The older pre-oil technologies were simply so much more robust: the main working parts of a water or windmill could last 500 years; a well-bound book can be functional after 1,000 years with only basic care; and as has recently been found in England, hundreds of houses thought to date from the 17th century are in fact survivors of the 12th, in their basic structures! Moreover, you could find a local man to do the work in most places.

    All that has been thrown away, mostly since WW2. Just one part from China that can’t be found can spoil a whole system, as you say.

  2. La Curée says:

    Infiltrating Permaculture Scotland, having just moved to Aberdeen here for good doomer reasons.
    Hope to wake a few people up from their children’s gardens concerns, expect they will lap it up ;¬)

  3. xabier says:

    I think Gail’s emphasis on infrastructure vulnerability, and its high-energy consumption, and hence very high cost to maintain, is very pertinent. So many people don’t even consider it – roads are just there, the backdrop.

    Compare us to Rome: when the engineers to design and keep up the great buildings and viaducts disappeared, many lasted for a long time even when new structures could not be built anymore. If they collapsed, the stones and tiles could be re-used in more primitive structures. Eventually, they were just torn down to e-use the quarried stones. The repair of roads needed more basic skills, just lots of human labour, and they lasted well and long.

    But our infrastructure is very advanced delicate in comparison, and has to keep functioning as a whole at a very high minimum level of performance in order to function at all. Nor can any of it readily be recycled to a lower level like the old stone, and bronze civilization. It can’t be maintained by labour gangs, but only by high energy use, advanced infrastructures and long supply-chains.

    It’s great now to switch from a car to a bicycle and ‘go Green’, and make one’s own ‘transition’, but if a financial crisis wipes out the highways department, the super-smooth tarmac will decay beyond repair and viability in the space of a few winters, and the bike will be going nowhere – it simply can’t cope with sub-optimal surfaces. Not like the old mule trains, which the Romans had before their collapse, and their successors had after: tracks and roads are all the same to a mule.

    • That is a good description of our problem. It is hard for people to realize how much energy is embedded in keeping our roads working, and in providing clean water to our homes, maintaining our sewer systems, and keeping the oil and gas pipelines operating.

      Also, even if “only a little” of something is needed, we still need the factory to make the small amount, and the trained workers.

      Trying to scale back and have the whole system stay together is really difficult.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “even if “only a little” of something is needed, we still need the factory to make the small amount, and the trained workers.”

        This is huge!

        So many things have such a “long tail” these days. The technophiles tend to take modern electronics for granted, but putting just one chip in a product requires a billion-dollar semiconductor wafer fabrication facility, with 400 highly-skilled college-educated professionals… 400 suburban houses… 400 SUVs… 400 big-screen TVs…

        Everything is so deeply interconnected. A simple liquid crystal display requires rare earths and other materials that come from perhaps a dozen different countries, scattered around the globe.

        And as Gail is fond of pointing out, all these manufacturers are not only deeply tied to modern transportation, mining, and education systems, they are absolutely dependent on our modern financial system. Talk about a house of cards! Which system will fail first?

        We need all of these systems operating in order for the technophiles to realize their dream of a civilization based on renewable energy. What chance do you think there is of that happening?

      • “Trying to scale back and have the whole system stay together is really difficult”-Gail

        More like impossible than difficult. It can’t be done in the absence of some magical form of cheap energy coming down the pipe, which is nowhere in sight.

        So just forget it, leave it behind and plan for a low per capita energy future. No Carz, No Internet, No Laptos, no Wii to entertain the kiddies.

        The toys may last a bit longer here in the FSoA than in Greece or Cyprus, so enjoy them while you can but they are all going the way of the dinosaur.

        So too will we if we can’t make a transition to low per capita energy consumption. A few will IMHO. If you can make it through the Winter in an Igloo in Alaska, you stand a decent chance of survival. Not everybody needs a Heated McMansion to survive you know.

        The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth.


        • I am a bit curious about a couple of things. For example here in Norway we have massive amounts of hydro power. I know the machines and stuff will age and needs service, but I don’t think it requires that much input compared to what you get out of a typical hydro plant. Surely there will be supply issues, but planned well I guess its possible to stock up on the important parts or make the industry required to maintain the hydro plant closer to “base” and limit its fossil fuel requirement. I sort of think of this as bootstrapping – you use the power from the hydro to maintain it. Actually here in Norway much of the metal industry would be impossible without it since its so cheap and they can place the industry close to these hydro plants.

          I cant help but feel that, although yes we need to scale down consumption considerably, it doesnt mean the end of electricity and all things electrical. Quite the opposite, I feel that we will rely way more on renewable electricity for power instead of fossil fuel. Making sure that we can maintain the industry that keeps these generators of power running. Clearly some older technologies that rely on fossil fuel for extraction of rare earth metals will get a major hit as the electricity might not give enough power to the location where we extract these minerals. And ofc there is the depletion of these minerals as well, although some strides are made at reducing the need for these like newer wind power not needing some of the previously vital rare earth metals.

          I am not so pessimistic, although I am sure there will be a major case of “disappointment” among the BAU people – learning to live with what we got instead of relying on endless growth. We simply have to learn to be better stewards of the planets resources.

          Again, as Gail points to frequently, none of this is sustainable anyway with continued population growth. I guess we need to figure ways of limiting the number of consumers along with the idea of limiting consumption itself. So far it seems though that the population decrease will likely come from major poverty and hunger incidents as food becomes harder to get due to droughts and other effects of global warming (which I doubt we will be able to do anything with considering the political agenda for most of the world). Or it will come as a major worldwide conflict – again followed closely with the problems of hygiene and diseases that normally spring up when people are flocked too closely together without the necessary infrastructure to keep germs at bay (even just clean water to wash your hands).

          No doubt we will see some major incidents that will shake our way of living – hopefully they will get us on track for sorely needed changes instead of igniting havoc.

          • xabier says:

            Interesting points. I think that maybe a small, well-educated, technologically advanced country like Norway might be better placed to make sensible strategic decisions than somewhere like, for instance, Britain, where everything seems to be run on the ‘just-in-time’ system of sourcing power supplies, spare parts, raw materials, even food: it’s all based on the assumption that the complex supply-chains won’t and can’t break down. (Earlier British governments knew that they could do so, and so built a huge navy to protect supply routes for food and timber, etc, but that’s all long gone now.) If I were circling places on the world map which might do better than most, Norway is one of them!
            What is the food security side of things like in Norway, could you be self-sufficient, perhaps in association with Sweden and Denmark?

          • xabier says:


            The supply chains are simply enormous, for even the most basic things let alone laptops and everything that glows and beeps.

            Contrast this to the pre-coal/oil era: I was interested to read that when a big country house was built in England before shipping things inland became easier, (terrible roads, slow, only carts available) the brick makers would actually travel to the site, find a field nearby that was suitable, dig a hole and make the bricks on site. It just wasn’t viable to have a factory trying to serve a larger area.

            In fact, all the skilled workers and even the labourers would travel to the site and live there until done: now, even the smallest house under construction or repair has a fleet of cars and vans parked outside belonging to the builders, who may come from all over.

            In every way, supply-chains have been over-extended with no thought to sustainability.

          • Modern hydroelectric was enabled by coal production in the late 1800s, since this allowed the making of today’s concrete, plus metals in quantity.

            I know a lot of US cities got their first electric power from hydroelectric, and worldwide, quite a few places got a base level of power from hydro-electric.

            Perhaps hydroelectric can be kept going longer than other types of electricity. It depends on what the limiting factor is. Is it the need for spare parts? Or is it inability to pay workers because the banks are closed? Or is the problem war with a neighboring country over what limited resources are available? Or lack of food, because imported food is not available, and Norway cannot grow enough on its own? Even if one problem is solved, not all problems are solved.

          • Yes, my thought was that way before we had electricity at all we used hydro power for milling grains. The construction of a dam and a spinning wheel isn’t particularly difficult even with crude tools. But the amount of gadgetry into modern electricity generation from dams surely raises the bar on infrastructure to exist for even that to be maintained. This is why I always preach “keep it simple and stupid” in all kinds of systems, its easier to maintain and needs less infrastructure. Higher efficiency often means more complexity, which again means more can go wrong in the supply lines for servicing the technology. I doubt Norway is wise in this matter and probably relies too much on something vital being replaceable by some part only manufactured in some factory in China.

            I believe that many things in society needs a consequence analysis – as its clear that we do not understand the intricate reliance we place on current infrastructure for a lot of things to exist. Much like the worst doomer predictions say that in a big energy crisis even your local super market might just have food for 3 days. Similarly here in Norway when that lunatic went on a shooting spree killing all those kids recently, the communication to the police forces were surely inadequate to handle it fast enough (as well as the boat they wanted to use broke down, and no police helicopter available – one working helicopter would probably have saved many many lives). It’s clearly impossible to plan for any kind of disaster (especially when you are as naive as Norwegians), but I think quite a lot of our most vital functions need this seriously now in order to cope with the idea that energy or food might not be so abundantly available. Unfortunately this need for “security” seems so far only to have put money into surveillance and reducing privacy – or in the extreme case insane funding for military operations in the US forces.

            Norway, although abundant in energy and fishing resources, we do not have enough crops to feed our people and rely on imports for a large part of it. Farming is heavily subsidised simply because we need to keep some agriculture working here in times of crisis (or at least I hope that is partially the reason, although many of our right wing parties claim its only a “romantic” farming subsidy that should be removed). But the demands on income in that sector has been major, so every year we have these salary negotiations to raise their income/subsidy. I agree that we need to make sure that we don’t loose our capability to create our own food, although I feel more that the average Norwegians salary should go down and not continue up all the time. We are pricing ourselves out of the market. Atm any worker is probably some 2x-3x more expensive than the average in Europe. Its clearly the oil that is keeping Norway floating in the midst of economic crisis in the rest of Europe – something that can be seen by the big number of working immigrants here these past years (most of them from Poland and after that Sweden). But as our oil extraction is declining year by year you can clearly understand the motivation for drilling in the Barents sea, the “Keystone XXL pipeline” equivalent in Norway when it comes to the climate discussion (although we miss a strong figure like James Hansen here).

      • xabier says:


        I realized this when I watched the main tarmac road in our village decay after just one very harsh winter: it took ages to repair the pot holes (no budget, I imagine) and it got quite difficult on a bicycle. The next winter was very bad, too, with all the old filled holes opening up again, and new ones appearing. It would probably only take about two missed years of repairs for it to be more or less unviable on a motorbike or bicycle….. or a trip with lots of stops and starts and swerves! I hadn’t really considered any of this before – infrastructure is just there, isn’t it?!

        We have a system so advanced that runs or it doesn’t, it simply can’t take very much degradation and is far less robust than the older stone-timber-sweat-of-the-brow civilizations, which is what we had until the 19th century.

        And yet all the politicians promise today – pushed by the construction lobby and financiers – is yet more infrastructure (built with borrowed money) to ‘build the future’, and above all create short-term employment fixes. Not a thought as to how it can all be maintained in even the medium term.

        It’s not so much the situation which makes one pessimistic, but the responses: one almost knows that the choices made will be unfortunate and short-sighted.

        • Yes, I think the roads are likely to be a limiting factor–perhaps one of the major ones. When I visited the area outside Mumbai, India last year, cars seemed to swerve back and forth across the road to find the most intact portion of the pavement. Even on major roads in Mumbai, cars didn’t pay much attention to lane markers. I suppose in the early period of road deterioration, this is sort of a solution. It is the kind of a problem most people never think about, they are so convinced that electric cars will solve all our problems.

      • xabier says:


        Scale-back in the technological sense may be a bit like scale-back in politics: an empire that contracts (like that of the British) soon becomes just the core home territory plus a few distant possessions, hard to defend and communicate with (like the Falklands) and ultimately lacking in credibility and viability.

        It can only function at a certain scale and interrelated: pull the fly apart, and you have a pile of all the pieces, but no fly……

        But it may be even worse in the technological sphere, as so many countries have few core industries to fall back on, they’ve been out-sourced long ago with the move to services, and the affordable raw materials on which they were based exhausted.

        Perhaps we can say the same for our advanced economies as for empire: nearly everyone in the society has to be consuming on credit (hence the crazy extension of credit pre-2008, and which is returning) : scale-back beyond a certain point, and it simply can’t be sustained, leading to a rolling tide of personal and business defaults and, eventually, bank collapse.

        I think this is what we are seeing now in Europe and Britain.

      • Our factory system is just not equipped to make a little of anything
        I think that also includes our babymaking system

    • Bicycle Dave says:

      …the super-smooth tarmac will decay beyond repair and viability in the space of a few winters, and the bike will be going nowhere – it simply can’t cope with sub-optimal surfaces

      Admittedly, bicycles perform best on good roads. But, a road suitable for bikes is relatively cheap to build and maintain if kept free of motor vehicles. But, the bicycle is an extraordinary machine that should not be discounted. The Viet Cong demonstrated the utility of bicycles on the Ho Chi Minh Trail:

      Western nations used bicycles in war:

      And, for the young and strong – Mountain Biking at Ho Chi Minh Trail Memorial Park Houston

      Although I’m not suggesting humanity will suddenly embrace rationality, a rational transportation system that used NEVs and HPVs for most local transport could be viable for centuries if combined with numerous other rational human behaviors dealing with population growth and consumption patterns. I’m not waiting for this to happen – just defending bicycles.

      • xabier says:

        Bicyle Dave.

        All good points. I studied at a University town in England which is meant to be a ‘bike capital’ (now that’s a joke, although the bike thieves have a great time, so much choice…..). I’ve hauled all kinds of goods back to my village on a bike, like Gail’s pictures of over-loaded Indians! The bicycle is one of the finest of human inventions.

        But I’m thinking more about smooth daily use of bikes, and bike trailers, rather than the heroic efforts of guerillas. The heroic effort can achieve a lot: my great-grandfather spent much of 1914-18 up to his knees in freezing trench water, he did it, but as the conditions to be endured for a whole lifetime it would suck! Heroism gets a bit wearing. It’s not for daily life.

        I think we can very well envisage extreme cut-backs in road expenditure in the near future. And here the local highways people don’t seem competent to make bike paths that last for more than a few years without huge – and dangerous – fissures opening up. Big enough to take your wheel and thr0w you off, if you don’t pay careful attention. We assume too much about infrastructure in general: it’s just so expensive and fragile.

        • I guess we need bikes with huge offroad wheels like these Hanebrink hybrids then. 🙂

          Its very common here in Norway at least that those who do use their bike as their main transport to work often ride in the middle of the road with the cars because the quality of the pavement is hardly kept in the same state as the roads for cars. Although admittedly there are more and more dedicated bicycle roads being laid here now.

        • Bicycle Dave says:


          I agree that those bike images were pretty extreme and we really should be talking about much better road surfaces for normal biking. But, it’s interesting that parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail are now paved and promoted for touring!

          And here the local highways people don’t seem competent to make bike paths that last for more than a few years without huge – and dangerous – fissures opening up

          We do have somewhat the same problem – although ours don’t seem quite as bad. About 10 years ago, we built a 30 mile paved trail (bike-pedestrian-ski) that traverses our county. County government is very conservative and wouldn’t contribute any funds for something as “recreational” as this trail. We raised the money with donations, grants and whatever. Needless to say the budget was pretty tight and the trail was built to adequate (but minimal) standards. Parts of the trail are now nearly 10 years old and deep frost, hot-dry summers, heavy rains at times, etc have taken a toll and we’ve had some cracks that border on dangerous.

          The good news is that the county has seen the benefits in terms of recreational, utility and tourism usage. Repairs are being made with higher quality standards and the trail has a good chance of being viable for a long time. This has been my hope for some time – promote bike use any way we can, and hope it encourages more people to support this mode of transportation, whether for recreation or utility. So far, so good. I don’t harbor any illusions about a grand conversion away from motor vehicles – but, I enjoy all things related to bicycles and maybe I can encourage a few people to bike more and motor less.

      • Lacy Dromos says:

        Please….”rationality” is merely your elitist “progressive” POV. Your lack of nuance and clinging to cultural myths and obsessions is absolutely absurd.

        You preach outright hatred to the religious every chance you get on this blog and elsewhere on the net…yet you follow your own version of myths and lies complete with its own hypocritical and hopelessly ideological POVs (that you call “fasts”).

        You are a part of the problem, not the solution.

        • Lacy Dromos says:

          Correction: “facts”.

          I am sure you will harp on that typo as indicative of my intelligence as small minded, cultist folks like you tend to do. Sad, you are. Very sad.

  4. xabier says:

    In essence, however hopeful and constructive we wish to be, we have two main problems to face:

    1/ Governments and banks, mainstream political parties – the most powerful dominating forces in our societies, which are not going to go away anytime soon – are always committed to extremely short-term views and measures, and indeed to the status quo which has got us here: the short-term seems to define their maximum capacity.

    We simply cannot expect wise, imaginative, long-term, measures to originate with them – there is no historical example of this kind of action being taken by such complex, and ever more clearly corrupt, Establishments. Above all, they will seek – for electoral and financial reasons – to keep the masses in established forms of employment, to avert social turmoil, and to maintain established industries, rather than take bold steps and experiment.

    In this sort of scenario, things will simply go on until they break.

    2/ The predicament we face is something which the mass of people probably cannot be brought to understand or accept. Even when one’s eyes have been opened, and assuming the mental capacity deal with all the implications and the will to change, everyone of us has still to earn a living and maintain a viable life within the current structures, and in the context of economic catastrophe.

    This is gravely limiting. Most probably the next few years will be so bad economically and financially, that most of us will be preoccupied with survival (all indicators suggest this): paying our debts, meeting tax demands, keeping our families fed and healthy. One doesn’t look to save the world while enduring such stress, however attractive the idea.

    This is all quite apart from the reality of denial mechanisms: people when faced with bad news simply refuse to deal with it. I was discussing these issues, in a light way, not pessimistic, with an old College friend recently over lunch, and he – a very wealthy financier and a distinguished maths graduate – astonished me by getting red in the face, very flustered, and saying that it was all just too awful and he couldn’t deal with it, let’s forget it all, have another drink. This is someone who is usually very calm and collected, very rational (apart from, of course, the money-mania ), and dispassionately interested in ideas. It touched too raw a nerve! I suspect this is a not uncommon reaction: and maybe those with most to lose in terms of authority and wealth will be most inclined to bury the issue……

    Still, Life always surprises one – only a fool predicts with certainty. But I think Gail is spot on in emphasizing the financial implications of all of this, running ahead of any affordable oil collapse scenario, – what we face is very daunting indeed. in the very short-term.

    • You see some of the basic issues very clearly. People need to keep their jobs to live in the current situation, and governments can’t change the situation too much.

      The issue that makes this situation so difficult is that it is a financial collapse. It basically means that fewer and fewer people will have jobs, and those who do will pay increasing amounts of taxes. It will be harder to find affordable land to buy. Thus, a lot of the solutions people have in mind (fancy green approaches that are expensive, and substitute electricity for oil, or use a little less oil) are really not all that helpful. Growing your own blueberries, and freezing them in your home freezer, is not likely to be a very helpful solution, although I did run into someone in a would-be intentional community (that never got off the ground) that was planning such a solution.

      • xabier says:


        I expect nothing from Government except higher taxes and incompetence. I’ll just have to dig my garden myself. It’s not a solution, by any means, but it’s purposeful!

        • Timothy says:

          That is exactly what needs to happen. People who have the property need to start preparing to survive without grocery stores and electricity. I spend every week day and weekend preparing my place for the coming decline. Whenever I am not at my ‘real’ job.

          It is hard work that never ends, but it is rewarding and eases the frustration and hopelessness of our situation. In time, as my fruit trees mature, I will be taking root cuttings to create root stocks and grafting cuttings onto them. I do not have enough room for more fruit trees, but the idea is to have them to give to others, to encourage them to put them in their yards, or to plant them randomly (in secret) along the river or wherever else possible.

          I am saddened to see my neighbors who either plant nothing but grass, or elaborate gardens of only aesthetic value. Such a waste of energy.

          • The questions is if your neighbours will be raiding your garden and fruit trees once the real problems set in. The fact that not everyone is preparing is a dilemma for those of us who would want to see an effort into resilience in the community. It means that the majority of people (those who do not acknowledge limits to growth) will most likely turn to petty theft in order to stay alive. Although I am sure governments will at least try to create some sort of food programme in the time of real crisis – so these views are perhaps exaggerated.

            In Norway we are embracing ourselves for the annual immigration of the Romani people, and as you know very few of these embrace the social system. Along with it comes the typical effects of people living in powerty, theft, soiling of public space, etc. Its a heated discussion here in Norway naturally. One natural problem is ofc that every square meter of land is owned by someone so there really is no room for nomadic people to roam about. Imagine a large convoy of Romani taking camp up in the middle of New York, that isnt far from what we experience in Oslo – although they are trying to find spaces for them outside the city. Some occupy unused buildings, and the police recently had a major eviction of them from a place. And the season is hardly even started. Along this the right wing want to pass down a bill that makes begging illegal. You can clearly see the crashes between classic western society and the ones who choose to live outside it. In a collapse scenario I can see the amount of people being like the Romani people explode to proportions that will lead to a lot of conflict.

            So I am not so sure it helps much besides perhaps learning new crafts and being more comfortable with less. I still think the most important thing we do is to inform the public about the inevitable coming change if we do not reform everything and how we manage the planets resources. Climate change will come on top of this ofc – making any transition harder. Still we do have a plum tree – and those trees can give incredible amounts of fruit. 🙂

            • I expect that not only will our neighbors be raiding our gardens, but it will be increasingly difficult to keep out insect and animal “pests”. The net result is that we personally will not get very much of what we plant.

              For most of humans’ history, humans have been hunter-gatherers. In such a society, nothing is owned by anyone. Maybe that is the direction we are headed back to. From what I have read, the use of agriculture and nomadic existence sort of overlapped. A nomadic group might plant some seeds, and then come back later when they had had a chance to grow and ripen. Dmitry Orlov talks about Russian farmers supplementing their crops (which were often poor) with hunting, fishing, and trapping, and gathering wild berries.

              We in the Global North have expectations about how life should be. As you get into poorer countries, the expectations seem to be different. When I visited India, there were any number of people sleeping on the street or sidewalk–some just taking a nap during the day. The dividing line between homeless and not was very slight. In cold climates, it is not possible to live this way, but in warm climates it is. I am wondering if lack of fossil fuels will hit cold climates much harder than warm climates for this reasons. Even in Norway, the Romani come in summer, not winter.

  5. At least one of the Diners is going. I’m still toying with going myself but it’s a long way from the Last Great Frontier, and I hate Flying and the TSA.


    • Flying into Baltimore is a hassle. If you fly into Baltimore, the only way to get to Artemis, Pennsylvania is with a rent a car, and rental cars are in an offsite location that takes a while to get to. So a person is stuck with an extra stop, both coming and going. If I remember correctly, last year they suggested bringing the rental car back two hours before flight time.

      It is also possible to get to Artemis by flying into Pittsburg (I believe, check for certain). But that requires quite a bit of driving too.

  6. Ikonoclast says:

    The bottom line is “What can we do?”

    What can we do individually and collectively about this coming disaster? All credible modelling suggests a peak followed by a dieback of some considerable size. It is quite feasible that the dieback of humans, say over the rest of this century, could mean anything from 1/10th to 9/10ths of the peak population dieing off.

    What can we do?

    We can pray (if religious).
    We can give up (bow to the inevitable).
    We can seek individual and family survival (survivalism).
    We can seek national survival (where we are feasibly placed to do so).

    For Western developed nations with large tracts of land (Australia, Canada, USA), I think national survival is feasible without excessive dieoff. Of course, there will be a great reduction in living standards. Personal automobiles will be a thing of the past. We will use walking, cycling, buses, trains and (existent) subways. Power use and food intakes will decline significantly.

    However, the blind assumption that renewables are unfeasible will have to be ditched. We will have to attempt the transition to reneweables. If this fails then we die quicker which might be no bad thing. If it succeeds, then we do have some kind of continuing national life. Think of attempting renewables as like so-called “heroic measures” in medicine. “In medicine, heroic treatment or course of therapy is one which possesses a high risk of causing further damage to a patient’s health, but is undertaken as a last resort with the understanding that any lesser treatment will surely result in failure.” – Wikipedia.

    Without renewables we are doomed for certain. Attempting the renewables trasition may send us into decline faster or it may just save us. Logically, the renewables transition must be embraced as an heroic measure. The last attempt to save a modicum of reasonably advanced civilization.

    • Bicycle Dave says:

      Hi Ikonoclast,

      I always appreciate your comments even if our ilk is branded by some here as being hopelessly “naive in the extreme”. My belief is that humans do have the inherent capacity to deal with our predicament. Any species that can put a robot on Mars can certainly understand the idea of “Limits to Growth”. Cicero said

      The wise are instructed by reason; ordinary minds by experience; the stupid, by necessity; and brutes by instinct.

      So, the question is: why isn’t reason leading us wisely? We’re not all stupid brutes.

      “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

      And, so does Richard Dawkins.

      I like your “heroic measures” analogy because it brings to mind a tenet of science that states “extraordinary claims would require extraordinary evidence in their favor before they could be accepted as having validity.

      I agree that “heroic” or extraordinary measures are needed to avoid some pretty nasty consequences of our current behavior. But, when you say:

      We will have to attempt the transition to renewables.

      I’ll suggest that we won’t do anything of the kind (at least in a useful time frame) unless a critical mass of people on the planet actually understand the depth of the problem and the most likely consequences. If that were to happen, we could actually have a meaningful debate about potential solutions. However, an extraordinary assertion like yours requires extraordinary evidence that we have a problem requiring heroic measures. As much as I like your suggestions, it seems to me that they will fall on deaf ears. Although I confess to being less optimistic than you, I still try to identify and support movements (organizations, politicians, petitions, etc) that focus on the nature and scope of our planet’s problems. Gail does her part with the analysis of FF depletion and its impacts. Hopefully, others will take it to the next step.

      Prayer, giving up, and survivalism just don’t appeal to me: I don’t believe in a supernatural realm, I have grandchildren to consider, and I’m too old to join a commune.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “The last attempt to save a modicum of reasonably advanced civilization.”

      At least two of the speakers at this conference see “advanced civilization” as the problem, not worth saving, and even worth working against.

      I find it rather egotistical to assume that our “advanced civilization” is somehow “better” than other civilizations that have come and gone. One may point to longevity as a indicator of better life, but that often comes at a cost of 10-20 years of poor quality of life, in pain or requiring constant professional care.

      As H.L. Mencken noted, what is more important than the length of your life is its depth and breadth. The ability to shop at Mall*Wart and select from 500 channels of TV doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth or breadth to it.

      Let’s stop trying to save this “advanced civilization” and instead work on the low-energy one to come.

      • xabier says:

        Quite right.

        But if you come from a life of grinding labour in squalid, dirt-poor village in Asia, with pigs and chickens as your room-mates, or a miserable post-Communist environment in Eastern Europe, then this corrupt consumer civilization and all the geegaws that it offers does seem very, very attractive indeed!

        This consumer civilization has the full backing of all the governmental and financial forces currently in power (‘Left’ or ‘Right’, it doesn’t matter), it’s in full flow, and superficially it’s most comfortable and attractive: it seems just great to the mass of people.

        • But surely it should be possible to conceive a society that is way more efficient – using technology for tedious and hard work, while keeping consumption to a more sustainable level. But it naturally relies on no population growth which is the main reason for the exponential rate of consumption the planet has endured these past 100 years.

          Its odd that the only alternative seems to be total collapse and everyone becomes farmers again, while I believe there should be some way to use renewable with some support of fossil fuels (but 1000 times less than now), if people are convinced that we either control consumption or we go over a cliff. Faced with the option of the cliff, I think people can adapt very quickly to the idea of less stuff around if it helps your kids and yourself to even survive. Many countries go through this now even in EU, figuring out ways to live with less. Many realise that the car wasnt necessary after all, that older used stuff can work much longer than intended. Along with this an idea comes creeping that you no longer can identify yourself with what you own, but how efficient you can lead your lifestyle with what you got.

          Its a scenario everyone on this planet will face very quickly if governments are not persuaded to regulate consumption and say bye bye to the old market economy and globalism. If people learn to live with 1/10 of the energy they use today, the route is very short to building good renewable solutions.

          The biggest problem we face is simply the incredible amount of people that needs food, and the numbers keep rising, so no matter what we do we cannot handle an immense and growing population. When there are many hungry people around, conflicts arise and this will always threaten any transition going on. Which is why we also have to go away from the idea of wealth through birthright and strive to make peoples lives more equal in that you have equal rights to the lands resources no matter what your surname happened to be when you popped into this world. Ideas like these are very hard to swallow for many people as we are sort of taught that its a rat-race from the day you are born, grab the most you can, be somebody, build your future, promote your ego, etc, etc. We are in this sense no different than the big gorilla thumping his breast claiming rights to all the women in the flock. Lets hope humans have evolved beyond this chest-thumping trait from our ancestors – atm it doesnt seem like that.

          • The “less consumption” piece does not do very much, especially when paired with growing world population. If somehow someone manages to use less, someone else will use more, because of the higher population. The idea that efficiency (in oil and energy consumption) will save us is an illusion. It is inefficiency that keeps usage down, because it keeps costs high. Another point is that keeping the whole system going (maintaining roads, transmission lines, auto repair, Internet, etc) is very expensive in terms of energy use. Even if there are cutbacks elsewhere, entropy guarantees that we will continue to need to use a lot of energy of specific types.

          • xabier says:

            John Christian

            We can imagine better and more rational futures, I’m sure people have done that for thousands of years.

            I think it’s a bit like us wishing that Man were not the animal that in fact he is……….

            We are trapped in the consequences of history, by the mistakes made by our predecessors (and the unintended consequences of their best ideals) and imprisoned in our biological nature – a clever, malicious, short-termist, art and weapon-making uber-monkey (with some good points like the love of beauty, self-sacrifice, compassion, etc!)

            I was struck by something I read about the French Revolution the other day, written by an eye-witness: ‘never before had so many benevolent ideas for the future of Man been discussed by so many cultivated, sincere people, in an atmosphere of excitement and hope, informed by philosophy and science.’ These were the intellectual elite of France trying to put things right, to change everything. And look what followed: slaughter, dictatorship and war in all of Europe. And one need not mention how the Communist dream was perverted.

            Maybe to be born European is to be born a cynic? But one musn’t give up!

            • That is a good quote about the French Revolution. We are faced with an unprecedented problem–trying to invent a whole new system that will work with much less energy. A lot of well-meaning people believe that one or another solution will work, but there is certainly no guarantee of this.

          • In the “Death of the Liberal Class” I believe Chris Hedges mentions Rebellion as being a better path to positive change – not Revolution. Enough people in a movement can affect policymakers and the general idea of change through non-violence and agreement about what the problems are. I guess the French revolution shows that its possible to mess up change completely through bloodshed. Any change will however always have its fair share of violence and broken ideals – the question is what kind of ideas are brought into a new government. Hopefully one based on real sustainability and not just another constellation of powermongers. You could say that the European socialist “experiment” at least brought a lot of new ideas on the table – but many of these were not really based on the idea of limits to growth and a finite world. That is why I say we need a new “-ism” – like “sustainbilityism”, something that has in its laws and politics securely rooted the fundament of sustainable ideals. It might be that it cannot coexist with many of our classical views of self-realisation, but I guess if taught the right way through real information and transparency in governments, the trust that the life we have in this constellation is a good one.

            The film “Obey” based on Chris Hedges “Death of the Liberal Class” is on youtube:

  7. Have no possibility of joining myself, but I hope someone will record the talks and upload it on Youtube.

    • I know that Four Quarters has recording equipment. They used it last year, but I didn’t see the talks uploaded anywhere. I will ask about it this year.

      • Timothy says:

        Yes, please do Gail. As I recently moved out west from the east coast, I will not be able to attend but would love to watch it online. Thanks!

  8. Scott says:

    Good luck at the conference, glad you are spreading the news.

    I saw this article there at the website and I think it follows our views.

    • Whipple’s view is sort of in the right direction, but misses some of the oil connections with debt. There are a lot more connections of oil to the great recession than he talks about.

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