Reaching Limits in a Finite World

We don’t usually think about it, but we live in a finite world. In other words, in theory we can count precisely how many atoms make up the earth. We can also theoretically count how many humans live on earth and how many of any other species live on earth at a particular point in time.

At some point, in a finite world, we start reaching limits. There are now about seven billion people in the world. We could probably add some more, but how many? What is it that limits our ability to add more people to the world we live in today?

Too Much Population “Morphs” to an Energy and Financial Limit

One obvious guess as to what might limit world population is the amount of fresh water that is available. If we don’t have enough fresh water available, we can’t continue to expand population.

The amount of fresh water that is available can be changed, though, by adding desalination plants. There are many other ways of getting fresh water. To give an extreme example, the amount of fresh water available could be increased by melting ice in Antarctica and importing it by ship. Either of these solutions would require energy in an appropriate form—either to run the desalination plant, or to melt the ice and transport it by ship. Thus the fresh water shortage, at least for the foreseeable future, can be worked around if there is sufficient energy available of the right type.

The other not-so-minor detail is that the cost of desalination or of importing melted ice from Antarctica needs to be inexpensive enough that users of fresh water can afford it. In order for this to be the case, the cost of the appropriate type of energy must be extremely inexpensive.

We can think of other kinds of limits to population growth as well. For example, carbon dioxide limits. In theory, there are ways around carbon dioxide limits. For example, assuming current research projects are successful, we can build carbon capture and storage facilities and change our electricity generating plants so that the carbon dioxide that is emitted can be captured and stored underground.

Here, too, there are energy limits and cost limits. Carbon has a molecular weight of 12, while carbon dioxide has a molecular weight of 44. Because of this, if we create carbon dioxide from coal, the carbon dioxide we produce is much heavier and bulkier than the coal that we burned to make the electricity. It will take a lot of energy to store this gas underground in a suitable place. Thus, we have another problem that can be handled, if there is enough cheap energy of the right type available.

Almost any kind of obstacle to increased human population that we can think of has an energy-based work-around. Will people be so crowded that disease transmission will be a problem?  There are workarounds: better water treatment plants and sewer treatment plants, especially in the poorer parts of the world; more immunizations; more and better hospitals; antibiotics for all those who need them. These solutions also require energy, as well as other inputs (which indirectly require energy as well). The difficulty is making them affordable for the people who need them.

If the problem is not enough food, perhaps because of degraded soil, there are energy-based workarounds as well. Food can be imported from a distance. More fertilizers and soil amendments (either made using fossil fuels, or transported using fossil fuels) may be used. Irrigation, which uses either diesel fuel or electricity to pump water may be used to pump water to too dry areas, to increase food production per acre. In some cases, artificial soil can be created, and plants grown in a green house—again requiring much energy.  The issue again gets to be whether consumers can afford the food produced using this more energy-intensive procedure.

The Problem With Degraded Resource Supplies

Degraded resource supplies occasionally run out—for example, an aquifer may run dry. A more common situation, though, is that resources become progressively more expensive to extract as we approach limits. We tend to extract the easiest to extract (and thus cheapest-to extract) resources first. These resources are the highest quality ones, in the easiest to access locations. We then move on to more expensive to extract resources. A similar pattern applies to many types of resources, including ore used in making metals, oil, gas, coal, and uranium.

When we analyze resources of a given type, say uranium, we find that there are always more resources available. The problem is that they are increasingly expensive to extract because the ore is of lower concentration, or is located in a harder to reach area, or there is some other problem involved.

We have illustrated this situation in Figure 1, as a triangle with a dotted line at the bottom, because of the uncertain cut-off regarding how much is available. The cut-off is really a price cut-off. At some point, the resource becomes too expensive for customers to afford products made with it.

FIGURE 1 – Triangle of Available Resources

Resource triangle, with dotted line indicating uncertain financial cut-off.

Figure 1. Triangle of available resources, with dotted line indicating uncertain financial cut-off.

A company starts from the top of this triangle, extracting whatever resource is involved. A company can “see” a little way ahead, as it looks down toward the bottom of the triangle. The company will report reserves which are continually increasing because the width of the triangle keeps getting wider, even though these reserves are of lower quality and can only be extracted in a more energy-intensive way. The question then becomes whether customers can really afford products made with these expensive-to-extract resources.

The Broader Energy Picture

Energy is pretty amazing. Energy is what allows work of any kind to be done, from making a clay pot by hand, to baking a cake, to creating a carbon capture and storage facility. Humans by themselves are able to produce some energy, because of the food we eat. But we are also able to leverage the energy that our own bodies produce with energy from other sources, such as from burning biomass. We learned to burn biomass a very long time ago, over 1,000,000 year ago.

If humans were like other large primates, there would be only 100,000 or 200,000 of us, rather than 7 billion of us. We would live in an area to which we are biologically adapted, most likely a very warm part of Africa. Humans’ population is much higher, because once we learned to control fire, we were able to settle areas of the world that would otherwise be too cold or dry to live in, and we were able to increase population densities through energy-related techniques we developed.

One thing we learned to do was cook part of our food supply. This had many advantages. Unlike apes, we no longer needed to spend literally half of our day chewing. This freed up time for other activities, like tool-making, hunting, and clothing making. It also allowed the human body to evolve in a way that allowed a bigger brain and smaller digestive organs. Gradually we used our improved brain to develop other techniques such as making heat-tempered stone tools, which were sharper than other stone tools, and teaching dogs to help us with hunting for food. All of these approaches to using external energy allowed humans to leverage our own puny energy supply from food with energy supply from other sources and gain an advantage over other animals.

Human prosperity was able to increase and population was able to grow as we learned to use increasing amounts of energy from outside sources. Energy sources we gained control over included domesticated plants and animals, facilitating agriculture. World population by the year 1 C. E. reached 200 million, or over 1,000 times the population level before the leveraging impact of external energy supplies began enabling greater human world population.

Fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) use became common after about 1800 C. E., and population grew very quickly. In fact, when population is graphed, it looks like it went straight up starting when fossil fuels were added.

FIGURE 2 – World Population

World population based on data from "Atlas of World History," McEvedy and Jones, Penguin Reference Books, 1978  and Wikipedia-World Population.

Figure 2. World population based on data from “Atlas of World History,” McEvedy and Jones, Penguin Reference Books, 1978 and Wikipedia-World Population.

Use of fossil fuels did not grow by themselves. Their use was facilitated by the development of improved technology, which provided the vehicle for their use. Increased debt also facilitated fossil fuel use, because it allowed potential buyers to afford the new products being developed, and provided companies doing energy extraction funds for their work.

Our ability to do physical work using human labor is quite limited. For example, if we want to dig a well for water, the depth that humans can dig without the assistance of a machine intended for this purpose is only about 20 feet. With mechanical drilling equipment, typically powered by oil, we can quickly and cheaply dig a well many hundreds of feet deep.

As another example, if we want to transport goods a long distance without external energy,  we can only push a cart at the speed at which we can walk. Oil or another other modern fuel allows inexpensive long-distance transport of goods.

Adding energy use changes costs. There is a two-way tug on costs:

1. Costs are typically reduced when fossil fuel energy or electricity from any source can be substituted for human energy. This allows greater leverage of the energy of the remaining humans doing the “work”.

2. Costs tend to increase, as the cost of the energy source in (1) increases. Such an increase in costs occurs as we approach limits of a finite world, partly because extraction is from more depleted resources (farther down in the resource triangle shown in Figure 1), and partly because we reach increased problems with pollution, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon well blowout in 2010. The cost of mitigating pollution problems also adds to energy costs.

Up until about the year 2000, this tug of war had a favorable outcome. An increased amount of fossil fuel energy was substituted for human energy, leading to lower costs. As mentioned previously, improved technology and additional debt enabling this substitution played a role as well.

In recent years, the tug of war has started to go the other direction. The cost, particularly for oil energy, has tended to rise far more rapidly than costs in general (Figure 3). This has produced many dislocations within the economy, making countries that use a lot of oil less competitive in the world marketplace and reducing economic growth rates, especially among  countries no longer able to complete. The higher cost of oil products reduces disposable income of citizen, leading to recession and to deficit spending by governments.

FIGURE 3 – World Oil Price in Current $

Figure 3. Brent-equivalent oil price in current $, based on data from BP 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 3. Brent-equivalent oil price in current $, based on data from BP 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

In future years, we can expect that two way tug on costs will increasingly be lead to higher costs, because of greater impact of limits of a finite world. This will tend to send economies increasingly into recession.

Our financial system has been built assuming that economic growth will continue indefinitely. There is significant risk that the recessionary influences of high oil costs will bring down the current economy. We know from a recent analysis by Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov (Secular Cycles, Princeton University Press, 2009) that historically, when civilizations collapsed, they did so for financial reasons, as the cost of government became too great for citizens to fund with tax revenue. There would seem to be a significant risk that today’s economy will reach the same end.

Why didn’t others recognize this issue?

Reaching limits of a finite world is a subject that does not easily fit into any one subject area, so the subject tends to be missed by researchers concentrating on one field of study.

The closest fit came in the analysis The Limits to Growth (Donella Meadows et al, Universe books, 1972).  This analysis came very close, but did not quite hit the nail on the head because it missed the connection of debt to limits to growth. (The model was of course not expected to be complete.) More recent analyses along this line to miss the debt connection as well, pushing the likely date of collapse forward.

There is much confusion about the question of what limits, such as oil limits, mean. Many people believe that rising oil reserves (which are a given when the problem is ever-more expensive to extract oil, as illustrated in Figure 1) mean that our oil problems are solved. Our problem is not a lack of oil reserves; our problem is that the selling price needs to keep rising, to cover the rising costs of extraction and to cover government dependence on tax revenues. This increase in selling price makes oil ever less affordable, which is our real problem.

Even when oil price drops, this is not necessarily a good sign. It may mean that some oil extraction companies will no longer be able to afford to add new wells, because production will not be sufficiently profitable at the new lower price. It may also mean that some oil exporting nations will

not be able to get enough tax revenue from oil operations to fund programs (food subsidies, for example) that prevent revolt.

Reaching limits in a finite world is a scary issue. The book Limits to Growth was not well received when it was published. Governments have tried their best to avoid the issue. No president or prime minister wants to announce, “We have a problem that we have no way to solve.”

Why might I be able to shed light on the real impact of finite world limits?

My background is as a casualty actuary, doing financial forecasting for insurance companies. Thus, I started with somewhat of a financial background, but did not have the usual “brainwashing” that comes when a person has studied the economy from the perspective of today’s economists. My background gave me a great deal of experience hunting for  publicly available databases, making graphs, doing analyses, and explaining the results to lay audience.

I got interested in the issue of oil limits and what impact they might have when read the book, The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Coming Global Financial Catastrophe (Jeremy Leggett,  Random House, 2005). His view comes from the “peak oil” view, which is close to my view, but not quite the same.

When I read Leggett’s book, it hit a responsive chord because I had had first hand experience with the impact that high oil prices had on insurance companies in the 1973-1974 period. In 1973, I was the actuary for a small insurance company that ultimately went bankrupt, at least partly because of the indirect impact of higher oil prices. Reporting to the president of the company, I got to see up close what kind of havoc high oil prices could cause in the financial world.

After I read Leggett’s book, I started researching the issue on my own. I wrote an article for insurance executives in early 2006 and an article for actuaries in early 2007. In March 2007, I decided to take early retirement, and work on the issue full time.

I set up my blog site, in March 2007. I soon was asked to help with the website, where I wrote under the name, “Gail the Actuary,” and made many contacts with others interested in the issue of limited oil supply.

To make a long story short, over the past several years, I have made many contacts with researchers who have discovered at least part of the story of oil limits and energy limits. Through my blog posts, I also received much valuable input, including suggestions from readers regarding academic books that might be helpful.

My work is now being published in the academic world as well. I wrote a paper, “Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis,” published in the journal Energy in January 2012. It has so far been cited by 10. I was also a co-author of “An analysis of China’s coal supply and its impact on China’s future economic growth” (Energy Policy, June 2013). My most recent publication is an article called, “Financial Issues Affecting Energy Security” in the soon-to-be published book, Energy Security and Development–The Changing Global Context, (B. S. Reddy and S. Ulgiati Eds., Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013).

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.
This entry was posted in Book draft, Financial Implications, Introductory Post and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

263 Responses to Reaching Limits in a Finite World

  1. Pingback: Arriver aux limites d’un monde fini

  2. Yes, Don, I agree. In fact, the only thing about GDP that interested me in that study was the slight dip at the beginning of the computational experiment. What is important, though, is the exponential growth in the energy budget required by a society with a constant energy per capita (corrected for conservation). Now, how do we get standard of living to stay constant? We are at liberty to set it constant in the computation. In real life, it would not remain so.

    I’ll admit that the program is hard to follow unless you are willing to press every button I ask you to in the detailed instructions for each experiment. I coded Newton’s method in MS Excel by compiling the partial derivatives incrementally. Thus, quite a bit of analytical ingenuity is wasted if no one can follow it. At the time I was working on it, I was so immersed in it that every control key was second nature. When I look at it now, I wonder how I wrote it. Nonetheless, the conclusions are valid; and, if the choices for ERoEI of fossil fuel and renewables are something like the reality, we can expect enough energy in a planned economy but not in a market economy. This is not a popular conclusion here in the USA where establishment powers have manufactured consent to a monstrous system. Indeed, the most compelling argument against markets is a moral argument; but, for Machiavellian minds, the energy argument might be best.

  3. You answered my question just like Charlie Hall did. Is it possible – even likely – that you are more influenced by him than you are by me? (ha, ha) Nevertheless, the vagueness of your answer should offend your actuarial instincts. If you compute ERoEI like Charlie does, you will be compelled to hope for “quite a high” ERoEI to support the whole system. By the whole system, you mean business, finance, marketing, etc. replete with deals. You mean people buying things cheap and selling them dear. This means everything for the rich and nothing for the poor in a finite world. Regardless, of how high the ERoEI gets when its computed with the most important energy expenses omitted, it will never be high enough to achieve sustainability in a world where intelligent people who do not wish to be poor produce nothing we actually need to live and, instead, perpetrate so much wickedness that they begin to confuse it with virtue.

    Indeed, space solar is about twenty years away and it always will be. (I was introduced to space solar by Criswell himself.) In the meantime, people who have the resources to reasonably hope to escape to outer space will continue to be part of the problem.

    I appreciate the courage displayed by approval of my comment. Now, can you think through the thought experiment in and give me your understanding of it?

    • I am personally not as convinced of the importance/ usefulness of any form of EROI analysis. Timing of investment is very important. EROI loses this variable. Price is also–it is related to the right conversion factors among different types of energy. Also, the calculation of EROI tends to be very Western-centric. I don’t think it represents world values.

      • I don’t think you know what it is that I am talking about. This is not about capital investments in the usual sense. That’s why we dropped the term “EROI” in favor of “ERoEI”. For example, the talk by the young man who works at the U. of Texas that we both attended during the last lunch period of the ASPO conference was completely irrelevant. You need to read more about ERoEI at because ERoEI is not just important and useful – it is the only measure of sustainability there is. If you don’t believe in that, you are wasting your time. I think you are still very much in the world of money and finance.

        • Scott says:

          Double Whammy-Yes, it is true the deeper we go, the more takes out of each barrel to get it up to surface. More resources, like steel expended also takes a bite out of each barrel, so our barrels get lesser in volume and smaller size too and if you account for the investment needed to get each barrel extracted they are slowly getting more expensive… So we are getting less and it takes more to get it at the same time, a double whammy!

        • Yes I agree with the fact that ERoEI is the most important aspect for our energy future, but I guess Gail is more focused on the imminent and very likely collapse in the world economy due to that fact that our system is arranged in such a way that most of the oil left in the ground requires a high oil price in order for anyone to bother. Ofc this directly translates to the actual energy cost involved in getting and processing the oil that is left (with e.g. tar sands being really the bottom of the energy-chain).

          This is partially why I wonder if some countries have a possibility to create a more sustainable cycle of energy generation. I mentioned this in a previous comment with an example being Norway which gets 99% of its electricity from hydro electric. Naturally this is because Norway has both the topology for easy damming and gets its fair share of rain due to its location. So I like to play with the idea that the hydro electric dam has enough energy during its “lifetime” (as in before it needs service) to create enough energy for making the parts that goes into its maintenance. If the energy needed to maintain it is less than what it generates you theoretically have an infinite source of energy. Ofc, nothing is really infinite as the creation of the dam and parts that generate electricity also requires all sorts of raw materials that needs to be mined and processed. And one could argue that the whole chain of factories that is needed to even handle electricity in any form is so long that the dam alone will never be able to power the operation for all of these. This is essentially where we need to do serious analysis as any prospect of a sustainable future with any form of “advanced technology” in it hinges on this problem.

          But again nothing is really possible with a growing population, as we would just experience what any bacteria population in a petri dish does. So for any sustainable future to work, we cant really solve this by technology alone, but it needs serious thought into the social issues and how we as human beings relate ourselves to the natural world as being a part of it and not above it. I believe this is close to impossible, as you can see people even with enough food on their platters today riot and put fires to cars because of “lost dreams” and other kind of non-survivable issues in life. Human beings is just a very complex organism to “teach appropriate behaviour”, and it would seem the only way to really get some stability is by serious regulation and policing of people for them to act within certain boundaries. The free market economy and globalism doesn’t have any room for such ideas as it often implies socialism and constraint in behaviour and consumption. There is a reason why we all aren’t flocking to monasteries to become monks – as the way we would have to live in order to have any sustainability might look a lot like a munks life but not necessary with the belief of a god – unless you regard our earth and its nature as your god – which is really what more people need to believe in and should “pray” for. The “finite earth god” if you like.

          Unfortunately its easier for people to believe there is something better “on the other side” which sort of removes our responsibility to act with any decency about how we treat the real physical world we all live in.

          • Bravo, John Christian, very well said.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Thomas
              I was having a hard time following all of your arguments. I did find the graph which shows GDP increasing as energy productivity declines to be intriguing.

              It seems to me that GDP and ‘deflated’ GDP don’t mean much of anything in the real world. GDP measures the cost of running our economy the way we choose to run it. As the cost goes up, GDP increases. Which is how economists come up with the absurd notion that Super Storm Sandy was a very good thing. Back when one member of a marriage could work and support a family, the GDP per capita was lower. Now that we think that both members have to work and hire child care, the GDP per capita is much higher. But is it really better…or is it worse?

              But GDP has assumed the status of something Moses brought down from the mountain inscribed in stone. What I see around me is that people are working harder and getting less for their labor. GDP just obscures things.

              Don Stewart

          • Yes Don, very good example about the income and child care. Humans have just made their life more complex in the way that we buy a slot for our kids in society and not really make room for them in our lives through our own time. Naturally this again has created an insane energy cost in both running the places that take care of our kids, but also the transport involved which happens every work day. Fortunately for many, the kindergardens and schools are within walking distance, and I have always felt that this is what most people need to think carefully about when they choose a place to live at. But its a sign of our odd relation to the energy-glut that we eat a lot of food with fat and sugars and then drive to a gym to work out trying desperately to get the fat off our bodies. In reality a lot of people should just leave their cars at home and walk, run or bicycle wherever they need to go – and the whole exercise and trying to get fat of their bodies is solved through daily activities. Urban hunting for food. 🙂

            Another part of this energy black hole is the fact that we have made education an artificial system to keep people “away from work” or at least doing anything meaningful in society until they are 25-30 years of age. Of course our world is rather complex, which means we generally need more information and knowledge to function in it, but the school system has grown into an absurdity in the amount of energy needed to sustain such a big part of the population for so long. I feel specialisations should be introduced way earlier, perhaps even a whole field of work that deals with sustainability, teaching kids to take more care of the planet and learn how to enjoy nature. At the moment we seems to be more and more distanced from it as we are taught about economy and consuming – educated that we need well paid work in order for us to consume like the others in society. When the high education jobs go away in an economic crisis like in e.g. Greece and Spain you end up with a lot of disillusioned youths with no practical skills whatsoever besides being able to consume. I do believe society should really start educational programs for these that learn them to find a better way of sustaining themselves and forming a future less dependent on the old paradigm. But as long as governments are still in denial about the predicament of our energy future, they will still “hope” it can be fixed by economical means (as in, we just need more oil or some other miracle energy source we can put a straw into).

            • John, I can’t help wondering if you were named for Johann Christian Bach. (Obviously you were named *after* him.) I think we should thank Gail for providing such a vigorous forum for so many converging ideas. By way of agreement with your remarks on education, I take the opportunity to place before you my recent addition to Dematerialism and Energy, a website that satisfies me without having nearly as much impact as Gail has had in her brief time in the Peak Oil (finite world) community. I suppose I could change the name of to Dematerialism, Energy, and Education; but, it all redounds to the very great evils inherent in Capitalism or any materialistic system based upon one of the seven deadly sins (greed) and a basic human weakness (fear). Years ago, I imagined that I had discovered the one and only feature of human society that had to be changed to achieve “universal sustainable happiness”, which term had a technical meaning. My imagination failed me only with respect to the part about the world flocking to my banner.

            • Those are good points you made about the education and child care systems. My brother’s wife is home-schooling their children, and the system is much more sane and seems to have a better outcome. I am not sure the kids are learning too much very practical though.

  4. Hello Gail,

    We met in Austin at the recent ASPO-USA conference there. To get rapidly to the point, I wish to demonstrate numerically that market economies are inconsistent with sustainable economic life in a finite world; however, a planned economy can be devised that will sustain civilized society on Earth long enough to improve renewable energy technologies enough to achieve a sustainability that will last until astronomical events intervene. And, that’s as good as it can get. Although I have done the work to construct such a proof, it would be nice to pull it altogether in a single document for print publication. For the present purpose, a brief outline of the steps in the argument and, for each step, a hyperlink to a file where the step is carried out (proved) will have to suffice.

    Present-day market economies must be regulated to eliminate the four major reasons for the necessity of growth.

    Materialism, which is basically any deviation from equal sharing of the community’s sustainable dividend, causes excessive procreation.

    In a non-growing market economy, those adept at the money game will eventually have almost all of the money leaving nearly everyone with almost nothing. Anyone who doubts the existence of such adepts needs to explain the existence of billionaires. (This argument needs to appear in many more places in my own writing and elsewhere.)

    Market economies are (thermodynamically) inefficient.

    Currently, a renewable energy technology that is truly sustainable according to (and does not require a fossil fuel subsidy) cannot be found because of the inefficiency of markets; whereas, in an efficient and un-corruptible planned economy, one or two renewable energy technologies with ERoEI*s over 1.0 might be found.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      I am afraid that at this point, it is a little bit late to be looking for a sustainable renewable technology that does not require a fossil fuel subsidy. We really need one with quite a high EROEI, to support the whole system. In particular, it is necessary that such a technology produce enough energy (using few enough resources) that it can sustain governments and other necessary parts of the economy. Space solar would like to be able to fill this niche, but it is 20+ years away.

  5. xabier says:

    We’re doing the young a great disservice to the young if we don’t inform them as to the likely new reality: scarcity of jobs, ever-rising cost of basic living, maybe food shortages, probably not much of a Welfare State: but then again, I find that people can’t take in the whole picture very easily, or shut their minds to it (it is after all dispiriting!)

    It’s going to be a shock for them: the short working day/ long holidays (thinking of Europe here!) apartment/car/foreign holidays/consumerist paradigm just doesn’t have much life left in it now, but that is what society is educating them to expect for themselves.

    It’s made even more difficult due to the fact that no-one can say quite how things will work out: the Near-Term-Extinction people have talked themselves into certainty, but I think one has to keep a much more open mind about all the issues.

    Our flick-of-a switch society hides the energy foundations of our society from people: everyone in the advanced economies has grown up with the expectation of power abundance, with no personal effort. Warning of changes sounds as loony as saying that the sun might not come up tomorrow!

    • Michael Lloyd says:

      For me, the most difficult question to answer is the likely rate of change. If it is rapid enough, then it will be possible to determine ‘when’ things change (yes, I know change is happening all the time).

      Hence, I agree that Gail is correct to emphasise financial collapse or probably a series of step changes down. I would say that we have already had one recent financial step change down and more to come.

      Other step changes looming are the exportable oil supply, the fracking bubble and the long lead times and costs for replacement energy supply and infrastructure.

      Personally, we want to pass on as much as we can to our family whilst we still can.

      • on the point of imminent ‘change’, which would appear to be obvious, many people I try to talk to about it, ranging from 20s to 60s, give a shrug of the shoulders, say they never watch the news or read a newspaper (and I know that to be literally true) and change the subject. To quote verbatim: If I don’t hear about it, then as far as I’m concerned it isn’t happening, nothing I can do anyway even if it is.
        I’m starting to feel like a sunday morning doorstepping evangelist.

  6. Don Stewart says:

    My copy of Permaculture Activist arrived today and has several tidbits which will be relative to some of our recent discussions:
    (1) Eustace Conway isn’t the only one to anger the government. Peter Bane and Keith Johnson have created a paradise on a derelict suburban lot and are being punished for it.

    (2) I mentioned Albert Bates’ appearance in Oslo to talk about carbon farming. Albert has an article which talks in detail about his personal forest designed to offset his carbon footprint. I get easily confused by the numbers, so discretion is advised. Albert’s conclusion is that carbon farming in the narrow sense is two orders of magnitude less effective than planting forests.

    ‘We, the humans, might be able, under optimal conditions, to sequester as much as 1 gigaton of carbon (a billion metric tonnes or a quadrillion grams, designated as petagram C or PgC) annually by switching our agriculture to ‘carbon farming’, that is, using holistic management, applying compost teas, and implementing keyline water management, aquaculture, and organic no-till practices. Forests, under an all-out program of reforestation and afforestation, have a potential yield of 80 PgC/yr, two orders of magnitude more.

    …We have to go negative for at least the next 40 years. Organic gardening and soil remineralization, as Vandana Shiva, Alan Yeomans, and others are so enthusiastic for, will not get us there, although it is a good start and an important wedge…Biochar, whose potential is estimated at 4 to 10 PgC/yr, could get us there, but the industry is immature, poorly understood by environmentalists, and dependent on a change in agricultural practices by hundreds of millions of farmers. Tree planting is our best bet….’

    (3) Regarding Albert’s own personal forest which will erase his carbon footprint over its lifetime:
    ‘If you appreciate the effort it takes for a single individual to become carbon-neutral, you can appreciate what it might take to balance the carbon footprint of a modern city of tens of millions of individuals. Reports that city dwellers are more ecological than their country cousins often overlook this kind of calculus. Cities may plant and care for trees, but climate abatement will require action on very large and mostly rural areas. And that work is physical and unavoidably requires human labor and caretaking….Planting trees helps. More forests are better. That just may not be enough.’

    (4) I find a report from Cuba to be relevant to the implications of Gail’s view of financial collapse as opposed to ‘running out of oil’.
    ‘Currently about 50 percent of the Cuban food supply is grown locally. That is down from 80 percent at the peak during the Special Period. Subsidized oil from Venezuela has made a difference in the structure of the economy, allowing the government to buy more imported food.’

    There are also some statistics about the aging of the farm population, the high salaries being paid to try to lure young people into farming, and the plain fact that most young people have no interest in farming regardless of the earnings. The conclusion I draw is that fossil fuels enable people to behave in ways that are ultimately destructive but are attractive in the short term. Someone else who had visited Cuba told me that the young people are about like American teenagers in 1970: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that human nature is an unfinished, or flawed, product.

    Don Stewart

    • xabier says:


      The Cuban information is fascinating. Interesting that it should be such a decadent society no different to the ‘capitalist’ West wallowing in consumerism.

      It makes me think of Spain: a young man would rather be a bar-tender, paying through the nose for an over-priced apartment and a car bought on credit, than get his hands dirty on the land. Nice to go to a family place in the country for a barbecue at weekends, but that’s the limit of their interest. (I’m thinking of cousins of mine here.)

      Now, I can fully understand that with young people who have seen the hard work of a small farm and actually decided to go for a much easier life (and in the old days, farmers in their 40’s were seen as ancient and relegated to easier tasks while their sons and daughters took over the main work); but the kids who want to bum around town have never tried that work, nor have they seen their parents do it.

      And when that bar job folds, they expect free housing and hand-outs ‘to preserve their dignity.’

      I’m not sure that we are flawed as much as the oil-based globalised system gives our biologically pre-determined tendency to get as much as we can for as little work as possible free rein. This applies to bankers and bar-tenders equally: knowing people at the top and the bottom of society, I’ve never observed much difference in their mental attitudes.

      After all, doesn’t the Bible call the necessity of labour one of the greatest evils of life? In the 20th century, hundreds of millions have been lulled into thinking that they have escaped that iron law……

      • Yes xabier, you perfectly describe what “200 fossil fuel slaves” does to your behaviour. Our western way of living has lulled us into relying on these to be around at all times. As we have no connection to the real physical and natural world any more – we don’t see the amount of energy that goes into a sandwich packed in plastic in the local 7-eleven. While we have been eventually good at writing what calories and stuff goes into the product, we still don’t write how much energy goes into getting that particular product on that particular shelf for you to purchase. This delusion is really what is breaking us today and will continue to do.

        Same with the service and repairs, its almost non-existent today – its even hard to find a store that fixes shoes as we are used to buying new ones when the cheap “made in China” crap goes up in the seams because they saved on thread and glue costs. So we use massive amount of energy into making a system that is inherently flawed in that it constantly needs to be replaced.

        In Norway we have a saying: “Nød lærer naken kvinne å spinne.” – translated its like this “In distress the naked woman learns how to make whool thread” (cant recall the English word for this). I guess for a lot of young people they really should consider learning a craft that only needs their hands and some simple tools again. No doubt it will be needed as service and repairs again become the way we maintain our things.

        • xabier says:

          John Christian

          I couldn’t agree more with you: the disconnect is huge, and yet it’s grown up only since WW2 for most people. Great proverb!

          I work with my hands in an old craft, unfortunately (come the crash) it’s very much at the luxury end of things with no value in a very basic economy, but I’m looking at branching out if and when. At the moment though, making more basic craft goods wouldn’t be viable for me, with the low demand and the high cost of living here. Not until that rubbish from China stops arriving……..

          Regarding repairs, so many things now are made either to be thrown away, or are simply too expensive or even impossible to repair. My half-gypsy cousins in Spain used to make a living wandering about and repairing tin goods, none of them does that now.

          It’s worth noting that in Argentina after their devaluation crisis, people who could repair everyday things did well, or at least managed to get by. Office workers sank into beggary if unlucky: a crashed economy can only find work for just so many taxi drivers……..

          • Scott says:

            Yes, it grew up like a mushroom and caused massive changes in the night and yes the oil and gas is like having 20 or more slaves each. It accelerated everything from mining to fishing exponentially. It has provided us with invisible horses under our hoods and unseen slaves harvesting our foods and making things for us.

            I worked for a brief time as a young man in a factory and it was not fun and many doing this and go home feeling sick from the fumes in the factories in places like Asia.

            In history I had read about Europe, they already had some crowding problems a hundred or more years ago and when many all came west to America they found a wide open land – but they destroyed the Indian and their land in the name of progress. Manifest Destiny – they said. The Indians were able to live here for many thousands of years with out harming the planet and I wish they had left them alone here.

            So, I guess it will end as it began and we will again be like the Indians, if we survive. Than means fire wood to heat your water and cook and warm your homes, hand carried water or a pump if you are lucky.

            I had a friend that passed away few years ago, but his family owned large orchards of Almonds and they had a mechanized harvesting system where they had machines to shake the trees harvest all the nuts with little human involvement.

            He had told me that a group of Chinese Farmer Businessmen came to to his Dad’s farm to look at the modern operation and after they saw the mechanized operation they left and all they said was “What are our people going to do?”

            So truly energy, oil and gas has given us a short breather from the plow. Things were hard before going back into the 1870’s or so as I have read in many books of the old days of the Frontier Towns.

            It looks like we are going to be revisiting those times again, I am just not sure on the timeline whether in our generation or the next. That is the question. But surely the changes seem to be looming out there.


            • Indeed. I recently posted a reply on an article about how young people have become lazy here, written by a the leader of the (left)-center youth party here in Norway. The article is good in that many youths today live with disappointment because they have set their goals of success too high. But like many others it fails to address the fact that current civilisation is based upon lots of cheap fossil fuel and the reason why we have problems are because its getting hard to get. You cant talk to youths about lowering their goals without pointing to evidence that there is no other way. I posted a link to Rune Likvern’s forecast at oildrum about Norwegian oil along with an explanation that we can no longer assume civilization can have any growth based on old fossil fuel paradigms. My reply only got one reply: “Oil hasn’t been harder to get” – completely missing all the stuff I wrote about ERoEI. It seems most people still havent connected the dots with regards to the energy you have to put in in order to get energy out – they think its all about what it costs on dollars (or NOK). Clearly the public need to be better educated in how we got to this point in civilisation.

              Norway is clearly in a dilemma as the government clearly see that our oil adventure is fading as we are producing half the oil we did 10 years ago. So there is a lot of discussion back and forth whether to allow drilling in the Barents sea. Naturally the environmental movement is opposing this, but the media seems confused at the reason, making a lot of emphasis on environmental damage through pollution – and not really connecting it to the point that we need to leave the oil and gas in the ground for us to get any control over the CO2 emissions. I guess the media does that as the truth about global warming haven’t really sunk in, but a oiled and greasy bird on the shores is something everyone has seen and can imagine. Although both are important, the bird doesn’t stand a chance with huge climate change if the planet warms up +6C at the end of the century. We need to address this issue at the root.

              Furthermore the news could report that “Arktisk Råd” which was initially created for advising about environmental issues in the Arctic – now has a lot of members trying to figure out how we can harvest the new resources and sea routes that open up when the ice melts. Its such a complete disconnect from the problems at hand that I am just shaking my head here for the human race. Clearly someone needs to shake these people out of their economic growth delirium which leads the discussion. I wonder if could apply for a membership at “Arktisk Råd” as well, as I think its important that they have a clear presence in areas of huge climate significance.

            • witsendnj says:

              Unfortunately 350, and all the major environmental/climate groups (also known as GangGreen) aren’t any more willing to address the problem of growth than the corporatocracy who, after all, fund them via their “charitable” foundations so perhaps there should be no surprise in that. 350 et al concentrate on blaming the elites in business, media and government and steer away from any hint that ordinary people in developed countries need to be prepared to drastically reduce their consumption and population to sustainable levels. They pander to the notion that so-called clean, renewable (which isn’t really, but that’s another story) will substitute for dirty energy and the party can rock on indefinitely. Anything more draconian and they fear they will scare of their donors and supporters, so they are playing the game as much as Exxon but give the impression they are doing something to save us from climate chaos, when what they propose is wholly inadequate. Does anyone notice the irony that they are called 350 and we just hit 400 with no signs of a global slowdown in emissions?

            • Scott says:

              It would be nice if we could leave the oil alone in the ground but I do not see anything stopping it. Companies have become almost like growing entities that use more do more and grow ever larger. So only by force will it change.

              In the USA we do have groups of people that believe in sustainable life styles but the vast majority does not even believe there is a problem. Most probably have not seen that CO2 Chart that is going straight up and hitting 400. That chart is very telling, each a step up on the ladder. So undoubtedly the Earth will get warmer.

              More CO2 in the air means more forest fires too which will even make things worse. The Western United states sure has seen more fires in recent years.

              Before I retired and moved to the mountains of Oregon we used to live by the ocean and we lived near this beach for almost 20 years. When we first lived there the beach was wide and after almost 20 years the beach had become narrow and steep. Rising ocean levels perhaps along with changing ocean currents probably due to warming eroded the sand away and now the water is almost up to the parking area, not much beach left.

              Wow, According to the EPA, the Earth projected to get 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the year 2100 that is going to be a massive change in a very short time. It is also hard to believe that we really almost killed the oceans by now and by then it will really change things. The Hurricanes will be reaching farther and farther north in the Norther Hemisphere and the cyclones in Southern Hemisphere creep farther south. I can only imagine the scary weather then, monster hurricanes etc.

              To a point farmers can relocate crops as they already are now, like wine grape vineyards moving farther and farther north in the western US. People in some areas will have to move to higher ground, it does not look like there is anything stopping this Freight Train that is rolling, so the best we can do is try to adapt. I do not think the factories in world will listen to us and shut down and if they do people will not have things they need or think they need that they have become accustomed to expect. Children are raised taught to be consumers and pretty much expect things to remain the same.

              Most people out there that I talk to do not think there is an energy problem coming but, many do notice the weather and perhaps may believe in global warming. So it seems few believe in peak oil but many acknowledge global warming and the prevailing attitude is that not much can be done about it.

              From the EPA:


              ” Key Global Projections

              Average global temperatures are expected to increase by 2°F to 11.5°F by 2100, depending on the level of future greenhouse gas emissions, and the outcomes from various climate models. [3]
              By 2100, global average temperature is expected to warm at least twice as much as it has during the last 100 years. [2]
              Ground-level air temperatures are expected to continue to warm more rapidly over land than oceans. [2]
              Some parts of the world are projected to see larger temperature increases than the global average.”

  7. Pingback: Reaching Limits in a Finite World | evolveSUSTAIN

  8. Pingback: Reaching Limits in a Finite World | evolveSUSTAIN

  9. Pingback: Reaching Limits in a Finite World | Doomstead Diner

  10. Don Stewart says:

    A little more stuff for John Christian


    Some visitors from Scotland write about their visit to a Permaculture farm in southern Norway. Note the mix of perennials and annuals. The pastures and animals and fruit trees are perennials and probably occupy the steeper slopes. The annuals are probably on relatively flat land, or land which has been terraformed to control erosion. Anytime you are selling produce off a farm, you are losing nutrients. They are close to the ocean, so may be mulching with seaweed to replace losses.

    Slides from a Permaculture Design Course in Norway. Note especially the student projects. They take a piece of land like yours and plan out how they are going to develop it.

    Also, I see that Albert Bates will be at:
    Oslo Norway, Carbon Farming Course, July 5-6

    You might be very interested in hearing what Albert has to say about one of your favorite topics. The last time I heard him talk about this, carbon farming is an important wedge, but can’t solve the climate problem all alone.

    One final note. If the land you are looking at is on a south slope, it will have quite a favorable microclimate compared to what is around it. It will not only get more solar energy, it will also shed frost down to the lowlands. So it will have a warmer, longer growing season. Regarding the changes in the Arctic circulation, the last I heard is that Springs are likely to become cooler and wetter and more erratic (not good for early fruit trees), but falls are likely to be long and balmy. In a far northern country like Norway, a warm fall may not mean very much in terms of agricultural productivity, because there just isn’t a lot of sunlight. But a south facing slope will harvest all of what there is.

    Don Stewart

    • xabier says:


      Coping with changing weather patterns and more extreme weather is going to be the challenge, even in temperate zones.

      The trend in Britain is towards harsher winters, more snow, more floods, and a much colder wetter spring and summer, interspersed with some blistering hot episodes (the Spaniard in me likes that!) Last year gave me a splendid crop of apples in my south-facing plot, but friends who have established vegetable gardens had a lot of trouble -too much rain, not enough sun. They are people who really know what they are doing, and it was a real struggle for them.

      The lack of sun and low temperatures was a real problem for us: I try to eat every meal outside from April, and only managed it a few times last year. This is dispiriting in itself! The year before was worse: I saw whole fields of cereals left to rot due to the rain – a tragic sight. In Spain the weather this winter and spring have been devastating: with some crops, 50% have been destroyed by floods. This accelerates the trend of people leaving the land for a city life…..

      I’m taking all these problems into consideration when planning what to try to grow myself. More rain at the wrong times seems to be a constant, and lack of ripening sun.

      • Yes rain is what my wife usually comments is the problem here. So if anything we would have to plant in raised containers with clear plastic roofs to reduce the amount of water. We have been snooping around a bit but I guess the best is to build it yourself with some clear plastic and some wooden frames. Still, more water is better than none. Areas that are subject to drought will no doubt have a bigger food production impact than rise in precipitation (although serious floods are ofc devastating to agriculture many parts of the world).

        Norway on average as a whole has seen a 20% increase in total precipitation over the past 100 years, and climate scientists predict even more. No doubt there has been a substantial rise lately, and places like the western Norway were I live has had some periods of serious increase (and we had a lot of rainy days already as it was due to our high mountains and facing the Atlantic). If there is a trend in longer winters as well due to wobbly Arctic weather from a weakened jetstream I guess it will be a smaller window for growing as well. This winter was very special, some places that normally grow food here had to delay their planting by a full month as the ground was still frozen solid well into April, and that is a major change. Its also interesting to see what happens with the Gulf stream if more water shoots into the Arctic instead of the classic “conveyor belt” in ocean streams we have been fortunate to have in present times. The climate “dice is loaded” as James Hansen say.

        • xabier says:

          John Christian

          I’m thinking of temporary roofs to protect plants from very heavy and persistent rain, and diverting that water into butts for storage. This is for the ‘summer’ months when it never stops………

          I do think the growing window is narrowing considerably here in the north of Europe. But more rain is a problem I’d rather have than drought.

          At least the Vikings could go plundering when crops failed! (With family from the north of England, I definitely am of Viking descent, as well as the Saxon pirates, so that’s a friendly observation.)

          With food growing presenting so many little problems, there’s no time to think about Collapse…..

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Xabier and John Christian
            Out of curiosity, I have tried to see how Martin Crawford’s two acres of perennial food forest have done these last two years. He is in southwest England. I haven’t found anything, but maybe I am just not looking intelligently.

            Here is the best way I have found to construct a plastic tunnel very cheaply. Buy some 2 foot long pieces of rebar, some 10 foot lengths of plastic electrical conduit, and some 6 mil plastic. Drive the rebar in the ground so that about 6 inches is above the surface. Drive another rebar about 4 feet distant from the first. Bend the conduit between the two pieces of rebar and you will make an arch (make sure that your rebar fits snugly inside the conduit). The plastic will then stretch nicely across the arch. String arches together the length of your bed or containers. Use electrical tape to tie a straight piece of conduit to the apex of the arches for sturdiness.

            There are all sorts of variations on this theme. Instead of plastic, you can use row cover material to keep out insects or shade cloth to prevent excessive heat (which doesn’t sound like your problem). You can extend the fabric to the ground or you can just cover the top. Get some clamps to let you attach the fabric to the arches. If the fabric extends to the ground, just put some rocks or bricks on the edges.

            What you have is a primitive greenhouse. If you have a sunny day, it will get hot inside. So this works best for people who have a way to monitor the temperature inside the greenhouse and take corrective action. Such as broken down retired people like me. There are fancy greenhouses with automatic ventilation, but they are a lot more expensive. With those, the trick is to use all the vertical space so that you are getting maximum solar harvest to help offset the initial cost.

            You can also use the arch scheme on a hard surface. Get some lumber and drill holes near the ends. Insert the conduit to make an arch. You will have to put something really heavy on the wood to keep the whole thing from blowing over. Concrete blocks work well. If you put this on a wooden deck, the cold air will come up through the planks and the benefits won’t be as great. But it works really well on a patio.

            From Maine down to North Carolina, these plastic greenhouses will keep hardy leafy greens ready to harvest from mid-November to mid-February. But nothing will actually grow very much during that period. So you have to essentially plan to have a crop by mid-November which you will harvest during the winter. Eliot Coleman of Maine, in The Winter Harvest Handbook, found that he could get a microclimate in his unheated plastic greenhouses of Zone 8, roughly a thousand miles farther south. Maine is not noted for winter sun.

            At least some parts of England have always had a reputation in the US as God’s Favorite Gardening Plot. It all sounded so easy to us. It seemed like there was rain and sun and good soil and wise people. Maybe that is changed for the worse.

            Don Stewart

  11. xabier says:


    The Pakistan news is very interesting. In Spain now, heavy air-conditioner usage already causes power cuts due to excessive summer demand. So something will have to be done to limit usage.

    However, modern concrete and glass buildings, many with sealed windows, are often unusable in high temperatures, unlike the old construction in stone with thick walls and small windows, and shaded balconies to catch the breeze. In an old Spanish or Italian house, I’ve never suffered from the heat, and even here in England – through a careful use of blinds and doors, and small vents, – I can keep one main room as a cool room even on the hottest days.

    I once visited a friend in London who had a super-luxury apartment in a converted office block by the river (should have been lots of cooling breezes there!) but with sealed windows and a broken air-conditioning system, even being there for a short time was very uncomfortable. He had to check out and stay in a hotel until the block system was fixed. In a way, illustrates Gail’s point about the whole system being fragile.

    • Scott says:

      Yes, you are right it sounds very fragile, I had not thought about skyscrapers and how they are like giant greenhouses with their sealed windows that do not open. In warm southern climates these buildings would be uninhabitable without power to cool them.

      It seems they had it right in the old days with the old stone buildings like you described.

      In the American West they used to build the old Adobe Clay buildings that also stay very cool I have stayed in one and they are very good keep both warm and cool.

      • xabier says:


        After an hour in that sealed building with a failed cooling system I could only think of getting out: so a million dollar apartment becomes a tomb if a part fails and cannot be supplied, or the power goes out. I’d rather have the adobe hut!

        Think what could become of most our cities with intermittent power and breaks in the supply chain.

        And that’s what Gail is pointing out with her theory of financial collapse.

        • Scott says:


          That is interesting what you said about the High Rise Buildings and even most larger apartment complexes and government housing projects. Without power, water and sewer even for a day or two the people would be in the streets and if the stores empty out fast in a few days, most would destitute within a week. Most of them, they have not prepared nothing and do not even have a five gallon bucket.

          This kind of reminds me of the Carnival Cruise ship incident recently, look how fast things went down hill. Once toilets stop flushing, and Aircon and power is out those places are a real hell. Maybe if they can get water in these skyscrapers they can become food growing greenhouses in all window offices! Not likely though.

          Once food starts running out they will be destitute very fast and I recognized this years ago and made my decision to leave the larger city where I lived.

          I do get Gail’s Message about how fragile things are and I cannot think of much else to do but have some preparations and systems in place to grow food like we have been talking about.

          It surely will also be good to have things that are trade-able, desired canned goods, coffee, tobacco, liquor, and dried goods and household items. I like to buy things that keep well in cans or 5 gallon buckets with oxygen removers.

          Not to be a doomsayer but —I do not think we can stop this “train” that is coming… but we can prepare a bit and also work on solutions and ideas, but as an individual with limited means each of us have only a limited abilities to carry out these grand ideas like the Thorium Reactors and Hydrogen Highways, so it may not happen, more likely it go the way of Gail’s predictions.

          Looks like money spent during the last 40 years could have otherwise been better spent and invested such projects, but now it is late and the money is spent.

          • Don Stewart says:

            I guess I just don’t have much imagination. I was thinking about storing stuff like food and water. It makes a lot more sense to have a stash of booze and cigarettes. I figure the illegal drugs would probably just mark you as someone who offers a good target for robbery or worse Maybe booze and cigarettes make you someone to negotiate with.

            Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Food and water are surely on the top of the list, the other stuff is to barter for things you may have run out of needing to trade.

              Without our monthly or weekly trip to a store. Although I think In a situation like that I would most likely hold on to the booze and may even smoke up the tobacco too.

              I am a wine drinker and I would like to have my own winery but may have to trade something for some bottles from a local guy that makes wine.

              I did leave out something important in my last post in regards to making trades. I am also a believer in silver and gold coins (and even Ammo and guns) to trade in addition to food and needed household items as I am not a big believer in our current paper currency systems.

              Just think practically what would people need, it depends on where you live.

          • xabier says:


            Well, governments have screwed up in a big way, so it’s down to us. Maybe the problems coming will be too big, – environment + economy + social disorder and crazy politics – but it seems to me to be better to do something for oneself rather than give up, even just out of self-respect.

            If it comes to a shortage of money, experience in the recent Balkan wars, and other disturbed regions, shows that these things trade very well: cigarettes and cigars; alcohol (smaller bottles for bartering purposes); medicines and medical supplies; batteries. Much more useful on a day to day basis than gold and silver.

            • Scott says:

              Hello Xabier,

              I agree that governments and all of us have made a mess of things and the years ahead will surely be tougher than the years behind us already. There is far to much secrecy in our world governments and there are things out there not yet disclosed to the general public that are going on, I am not going to give examples but many know a bit about them.

              On your view of Gold and Silver I disagree. It is the oldest currency known to man and has been for many thousands of years. If the Euro or Dollar other currencies collapse it has been shown time and time again from Zimbabwe to Argentina the metals will trade for goods and food, But gold and silver prices have been manipulated in price by governments in recent years in hopes to keep the paper currencies stronger. If a fair market prevailed the price would most likely be much higher, much like fuel and food in some countries that are controlled in prices, price controls by governments.

              I do agree if things get to a worse stage which is what I think you were describing then it will be food to mouth and goods like food and small bottles of liquor etc will be sought after more. I do believe it will help one acquire things needed in the early stages, and will be the only money left standing after all else falls. If gold and silver are no longer trade able for goods then we are surely at deaths door.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Fragile? What’s fragile? We did just great in the last few hurricanes. Then a little snowstorm or two shut down a quarter of the (US) economy. Let’s see, how many votes do we give to FEMA for being such skillful planners and executers?
            Hmmm, where do you keep your booze stashed?

            • Scott says:

              Hi Chris, Yes, even if you do not believe in peak oil and the financial problems looming, just the weather changes are enough to rock our world.

              Whether it is shortages of oil and gas, earthquake, storms etc. – it is good to be prepared to deal with these things as they seem to be here to stay.

              Not to sound paranoid but have been reading much on FEMA, Yes – I too am worried about FEMA and their Covert activities, they are acting as if they are expecting some kind of trouble or are planning some kind of take over against us. There is not a lot of honesty these days about the intentions of these many Federal Agencies.

          • xabier says:


            I think the FEMA preparations which worry so many people have a lot to do with empire-building by ‘security’ providers: like the spooks, and the arms industry in general, it’s good business to stoke fears and get hold of public money. Great for suppliers of body bags too – I wish I were in that business, as well as baton rounds, body armour and razor-wire!

            I also suspect that the authorities in the States realize that there is a very good chance of some really destructive weather events/disruption in food supplies, leading to temporary civil breakdown, riots and looting, and mass gang violence, so in many ways it’s just good sense to prepare for that. The increase in extreme weather events is acknowledged by everyone.

            High secrecy certainly doesn’t build the trust of citizens, but governments don’t want to learn that lesson. It takes me months to get even a small piece of information about street lighting from my local county government…..

            On gold and silver: in Argentina, people did get by trading in gold for cash at little dealers disguised as candy and newspaper shops, (as it was illegal). Like the thieves who did the same, they traded junk jewellery, not coins, for enough cash to get through the week. Bars and coins are a little more problematic, due to their high value, but as a long-term store of wealth there seems to be much to be said for them. In the Balkans, when the economy really broke down, food, medicines and liquor were the real currencies. On the subject of gold, I always think of those buried treasure hoards from the past which get dug up all over old Europe – the owners never came back to claim them! But I agree, it’s wise to cover all options……… severe economic disruption is, as Gail says, very likely indeed: even if it lasts only for a short time like Weimar Germany in the 1920’s, before a new currency is introduced, it’s good to be prepared for it.

            And in the meantime, let’s get planting and enjoying the good things if we are lucky enough to have them!

          • having studied the calorific values on the back of foods, the most concentrated and longest lasting would seem to be peanut butter

            • Scott says:

              I want to talk about the “Crisis Window” on this short post.

              Yes – Peanut butter is a good food, too bad it does not keep for more than a few years. In Oregon, we have a lot of Filbert (Hazel Nut) Orchards which are good eating. But they only keep for a year or two even if you freeze them. Jarred peanut butter maybe a few years, but it is good stuff. That is why I plan to deploy some silver/gold (which do store well) to trade for goods like these at first sign of collapse to acquire large stocks of such things. Buying too early will not be good, the stuff just goes bad. If you are planning to stock up now, the freeze dried is your best bet as the cans have 25-30 year shelf life. Timing seems to be everything here.

              I know it looks like the crisis will hit any day but… Looking at the crisis window that is opening, we do not know the time frame. I bought many cans and freeze dried foods in 2007 and the freeze dried is still okay but the cans, they have to be eaten by now, I keep some of the canned fish in the fridge, which helps store things like tuna longer. Soldiers have told me that the cans can be eaten even after 20 years in some cases.

              One thing that has amazed me is how long things that are in disrepair (economies etc) can go on and even when it seems that collapse is imminent things can continue for a long time.

            • Why the state of disrepair can go on for so long? One word that springs to mind is “stimulus package”.

              Although this video (below) didnt make the link between energy and the economy, its clear that what keeps things chugging along for a bit longer now is the debt based stimulus mega bubble. Its like the financial markets are holding their breath for something fantastic to come along to save the market with new growth – while the energy piece of the puzzle is still unsolved.

            • Scott says:

              Yes, Our Crisis Window is open:

              It is interesting to see how long they can keep the smoke and mirrors game going on, I just wish we had a more sound financial and energy system etc. And, that we all did not have to face these unhappy realities.

              If we had enough oil and gas coming on line and no financial emergency – then this could go on for several more generations. Although, I do not think Gail would not agree with me the longer time line, I do think we could have some time before this really hits.

              Let us hope so for our kids sake. I think many of us on this thread see something sooner than than later.

              The storm could still be a bit far looming that is generations away most believe today-but and that seems to be the problem of ignorance.

              My son’s wife is going to have a child and I worry that this child will not see the same world as we did.

              At some point it will break, kind of like the aging timing belt in my old Honda Civic that could go a long ways further or just up the block. That is the crisis window we are in.

            • Scott says:

              Did anyone notice that Gail has been quiet lately? She must be working on a new article?

            • I am trying to work on a new article. Also have four talks in four weeks, and a lot of traveling, which cuts in my time for comments.

            • Scott says:

              Thanks Gail,

              Sounds like you have a busy month ahead, best wishes on your talks and hopefully all of us have “stirred up” some ideas that may come up.

              You have a growing concerned following group and I am sure there will be many new pieces of information from your upcoming talks.

              The charts in the links we shared today on carbon dioxide readings are of much concern, that graph is straight up, if it were a stock it would be one to own.

              We will talk to you when you get back!


          • it’s as well to look on food stores like any other insurance policy
            you take out house and car insurance every year, chances are you never use it, then it’s gone. Same with food reserves, you may have to throw out some food after a few years, but then you take out a ‘new insurance’ of a fresh supply. A waste I agree, but so is any other insurance premium, but you wouldn’t be without it

            • Scott says:

              Agreed Xabier,

              Most of that food out there in my storage room, I hope I do not need to eat as I prefer fresh healthier foods than you will find in cans etc.

              I keep replacing it and sometimes donate some too before it goes bad and buy new. It is expensive, but a worthwhile thing to do.

        • Much talk on here about using gold to acquire ‘stuff” as if gold itself has a value.
          it doesn’t, the only reason gold is used as the ultimate means of exchange is that
          1. It is scarce and represents a lot of energy to get hold of it
          2. However long you keep it, bury it, or whatever, it is still exactly the same when you dig it up, it is the only mineral we can get hold of that does not deteriorate over time.
          But it is still only a medium of exchange as a token of work done, paper money started out as an iou for gold and to a lesser extent silver, we should not run away with the idea that gold has value per se.
          When the fan really starts whirling nasties around the room, only food and the means of producing food will have any tangible value. You can’t eat gold

          • Scott says:

            Yes, I understand you cannot eat gold and silver, but I do believe there will be a period of time following a financial emergency where it will be useful to acquire goods during a time when paper money is no longer of value or no longer in favor.

            That is kind of phase one of the crisis, during phase one barter will also be in use and gold and silver will be traded. I think as things get worse then phase two will ensue that would be when only needed things and food would and like you said food production. During these final phases food water will be king and also medicines, perhaps ammo for hunting and self protection will also be desired.

            I do store some freeze dried food in the #10 cans mostly dried meats because I can grow most anything else, I have been enlarging our garden plots and establishing ways to preserve and dry the harvest.

            Like someone said earlier, we feel like we need to do something and it may not save us – but it feels better to do something about it as an individual to perhaps help us make it through it if that is even possible I do not know. It makes me feel better to do something on a personal level.

            James Howard Kunstler does believe the crisis will hit us on the head fast when it does happen. And the other think he says it that most will not see it coming and we will be just be hit by it fast.
            That could be true, but so far what we are seeing is kind of a slow grind, a slow squeeze where things get slowly harder. A financial crisis can develop almost over night and a sudden sell off in the Bond Markets, or runs on banks could be the catalyst to launch crisis of peak oil as it would shut exploration as it takes money and credit which we briefly saw happen in 2008. That would be phase one.

            It is during those times when I would pull out a few silver coins etc and start trading them for more supplies as it is hard to keep a lot of food on hand that does not spoil. So I would not wait until total collapse and phase two in order to barter with silver etc. There will be a time when it may help me acquire goods so I am going to also keep a little silver and gold as part of my plan to try to try get through this. But yes as the crisis progresses food and needed things like water and medicines will be #1.

  12. Don Stewart says:

    For a discussion of Peak Consumption from a slightly different angle than Gail, see:

    This is a discussion between Charles Hugh Smith and Gordon T. Long. You will find a lot of familiar topics.

    Don Stewart

  13. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail

    This will be a little essay on the necessity for being practical. I will first use plants as an example, since they are everyone’s poster child for sustainability. A plant uses a sizable fraction of its photosynthetic energy to make root exudates which attract microbes to the root zone. The microbes perform a number of functions that the plant cannot perform for itself–both in life and in death. Plants have a screen called a plasmalemma which controls the substances which can get into and out of the plants cells. The exudates must pass through the plasmalemma to get out into the soil.

    There are two broad methods for getting the exudates through the plasmalemma. Carbohydrates and amino acids require transport proteins which use energy. Lipids (fats) will pass easily through the plasmalemma if they are small and do not require external energy. But some lipids are too large to pass without energy, and must be pumped.

    Plants choose the most efficient method for getting the job done. If the job can be done using physical phenomena such as diffusion, then the plant uses diffusion. But if the nature of the job requires pumping, then the plant diverts energy to pumps.

    Sometimes, on this blog, the plants would be criticized for using energy to get the job done. And someone would be sure to point out the ‘lack of self-sufficiency’ implied by that dependence on microbes. But the physical facts require the use of energy if the plant is going to exist in a competitive world, and so far evolution has favored symbiotic relationships rather than rugged individualism..

    When we look at humans who are trying to survive in the competitive world of 2013, we find that some of them have figured out how to use the equivalent of diffusion, but some things still require external energy. Most people in the US just turn first to external energy because that is the simplest, most unthinking, thing to do, and would see using something like diffusion as beneath them or primitive. A wise person will examine the alternatives and select a mix of methods which makes the most efficient use of energy–just like the plants do. Some people will make wise choices, some will make disastrous choices. Some will be lucky, others unlucky. In a world (such as plants live in) where energy is not unlimited, there is no alternative to a world of choices and consequences and luck or the lack thereof.

    A logger may combine chain saws and horses. Eustace Conway may combine living without electricity and having more horses than anyone really needs. Eustace may make the sacrifices he made to get his watershed, while people in London may put all their investments into the City. What is required of us is some humility as we admit that we are not walking in the other person’s footsteps, that they probably have some good ideas as well as some bad ones, and then we try to see if there is something we can learn from them. What I think the young Eustace teaches us is that one can accumulate some physical assets if one cuts ones cost of living to the bone and has some small cash income. And still make enough money for adventures. I think Eustace also teaches us about the advantages of having a ‘less industrial’ solution to our problems. Anyone who knows how to make a compost toilet with a five gallon bucket is better prepared for the future than someone who is clueless–regardless of whether the knowledgable person REGULARLY uses a compost toilet.

    What Eustace’s problems with the County teach us is that governments detest the idea of simple living. Simple living doesn’t generate GDP or tax revenue. Governments mostly don’t care a fig about the welfare of their citizens, and use ‘freedom’ as a meaningless slogan. Governments would rather have destitute people living in subsidized housing and getting food stamps than living simple, self-reliant lives.

    Don Stewart

    • xabier says:


      Well said! It’s notable that all initiatives to turn suburbs and waste plots in cities into productive gardens for food (and pleasure) come not from governments, but from private individuals, despite the obvious problems we face.

      In the same way, the British government is trying its best to shoe-horn unsuspecting schmucks into shoddy new-build properties with gardens the size of postage stamps (but all of course ‘eco-friendly and sustainable according to the regs. ) that take you a working life to pay off. That’s what the banks want, so that’s what government throws its weight behind.

      It’s worse even than the 1930’s and 40’s, when they did at least build workers’ houses with big gardens to grow food. Still, if we blame governments, we should also blame the fools who buy the human battery farms, and who believe themselves to be above manual work by virtue of their education or vanity.

      This all underlines why there will be no wise and considered transition to a different and more resilient society. And that people won’t have the space to do so even if they see the need…..

    • In today’s society, I expect those expecting to live simply will still be forced to pay real estate taxes. If governments are short of money, these may well rise. This is one area where the idea of living simply may run into an obstacle.

      • xabier says:


        Yes, I can foresee that: the danger point will be when real estate taxes are levied regardless of income (as today exemptions are made for those with low incomes.)

        As the majority of people today, and even more in the near future, neither have savings nor property, it will be easy for governments to seize deposits and tax property without electoral consequences. This is how the middle class have been destroyed in Argentina.

        • xabier says:

          As an example of the dumb things desperate governments can do: in Italy a substantial property tax was introduced to help balance the budget, as people are so good at hiding other forms of wealth.

          This has as a side-effect ruined the real estate market and pushed property values right down in most areas (and there was never a property bubble in Italy, unlike Spain , the UK, the USA.), and of course, leading to the government getting less tax on the sale of property. They are now having to withdraw the property tax, after causing a lot of damage.

          That excessive taxation can devalue the asset being taxed is something governments seem to have trouble grasping.

          • Michael Lloyd says:

            The purpose of taxation is to raise money for the exchequer. Of course, politics requires that any tax is sold to the electorate in many different ways but always remember the bottom line.

          • xabier says:


            I agree: you can get anything past the electorate under the ‘it’s only fair’ plea, or references to spurious economic theories if the electoate think they are intelligent, but a government machine will try to keep itself going even when it just drives the citizens into the ground, or wrecks a whole society which it is meant to safeguard.

  14. BC says:

    Speaking of limits in a finite world:

    Global food production per capita has peaked (not coincidentally with crude oil extraction per capita), and growth of consumption against supplies could result in acute shortage conditions in the marginal areas as soon as this year or next, with China and parts of SE Asia experiencing intractable shortages as soon as ’15-’18. The risk of “permanent drought and famine” in parts of Africa is very real.

    The situation is being reported by the UN and World Bank, but the implications are potentially so dire for a majority of the planet’s population, and the capacity of the developed world does not exist to relieve the worst of the conditions for the hardest hit areas, that officials most informed about the situation are effectively powerless, muzzled by political and business leaders, and thus reluctant, or unable, to make more urgent public appeals or focus increasing attention on the issue.

    Lester Brown describes the situation as a “genuine tipping point” for food security for a majority of the planet’s population.

    Add another primary limiting factor to the list that ensures that global real GDP per capita growth is done.

    Farmland Bank Credit Bubble

    No bubble can occur without banks participating and exacerbating conditions until it all blows up.

    But this bubble is a function of the greatest bubble in world history: human population.

    • Scott says:

      This was written in one of the links you sent, interesting, what fast rate of land loss of land in China and I am sure elsewhere too.

      “According to a report by the Vancouver Sun, every year China loses about a million hectares of agricultural land to urbanisation – the country’s emerging cities have eaten away about nine million hectares of land between 1996 and 2006.

      Coupled with this, marginal land that can be used for farming is being threatened by pollution from China’s booming industrial sector, although China is not very open on this matter. The results of soil contamination tests conducted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources in 2010 remain undisclosed.”

      Well, even if the there is a solution out there held in secret, I am not sure it would stop this land eating machine that seems to exist on every continent.

      Now, I wonder if a new fuel source could even speed this process up which would present many challenges as time goes on as we reach limits.

      • xabier says:


        A lot of good land near me is being taken out of farming by the landowner, the University, to build apartments for over 4,000 students – it’s going to have an ‘urban vibe’, so no gardens or tree planting, and they will mostly be occupied by ‘international’ students (who pay huge fees) which means these days ……..Chinese! So, China is swallowing up land everywhere! It’s going to be hard watching the diggers cut up that land.

    • Scott says:

      Yes BC,

      I also three new bubbles forming,


      Bonds (Bond market is a huge one)

      Student Loans (Also huge about a Trillion)

      Farm land values (Although it is a good investment – I would rather be in this one of the four)

      Not sure about housing it has recovered a bit, but people need to live somewhere. I will get hit too likely (again).

      These bubbles collapsing are deflationary events which bring upon us a monetary response from central bankers which is inflationary. The two forces at work.

      I do not expect much of the student loan debt may ever get repaid. But the Bond market is the big one to watch, the US and many countries have very large debts to refinance and if rates rise the bonds will collapse, that is the problem now rates can never rise again or we will be done.
      So expect to see the Federal Reserve keep playing games to keep rates near zero, they have no choice now as they cannot afford to pay the debts at market rates. Watch the Bond Market and if those rates rise suddenly, then I am looking for trouble soon and perhaps dollar collapse or new currency that will be expensive and not purchase as much as the old one.

      The Trillions cannot be rolled over in the USA and serviced with minimum payments at much higher rates. So they are trapped, they cannot let rates rise or game over.

      The USA is not alone on this problem, Japan, UK, Euro Zone are in the same boat.

    • Christopher Johnson says:

      BC, that’s quite a comprehensive list of authoritative articles, essays and papers. I have seen similar lists and read portions of the copious writings about the coming (rapidly arriving??) regional and global water shortages that will certainly impact food production limits. It appears that the links of oil, food and water to financial activity are also under-appreciated, both in the individual and the group sense.

    • Thanks! I hadn’t read recent information about farm loans and value of farm land. It sounds like an expiring tax credit at the end of the year plus ultra low interest rates is pushing up the value of machinery purchased, and QE is pushing up farmland prices.

    • xabier says:


      I suspect one of the Four Horsemen, or maybe the whole team, will be correcting these issues quite soon………

  15. Don Stewart says:

    You have recently become interested in the issue of water pipes freezing in cold climates. There are two frameworks for dealing with the issue. The first is the Industrial Model where somebody invents something which ‘fixes’ the problem. As we know, most ‘fixes’ end up requiring more energy and a more complex society. The other model is to go back to basics and decide whether water pipes in a house in a cold climate are really a good idea and what the other alternatives might be.

    The second model doesn’t require that all 7 billion people be smart enough to figure out an alternative–it just requires that a few people be inventive and willing to try out their ideas. The rest will copy successful innovation.

    For an example of the sort of person who is willing to go back to basics and innovate, see the first video of Eustace Conway speaking at a TED talk in Asheville. (Please note, very early in the talk, how at the age of 3 Eustace learned to roll heavy objects. Dmitry Orlov learned a very similar lesson in terms of rolling heavy, square bottomed boats, as his current post makes clear. Are we smarter to build giant machines to move pine logs and boats, or would we be better advised to learn how to roll them?)

    Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book about Eustace, The Last American Man. To Elizabeth, Eustace embodies some of the best traditional virtues of American Manhood, and many of the not so admirable–at least to modern eyes. For example, his relationship to women. But there is no question that Eustace would survive long after most of us had lain down to die.

    Eustace sees his calling as teaching young boys to be real men. The things he learned early in life roaming around the swampy land and teaching his dog to find turtles. Self-sufficient, inventive, working toward goals, etc. If you want to see how that adventure ended, see the second video.

    The State simply cannot tolerate people like Eustace who have a self-sufficiency which makes the State largely irrelevant. Elizabeth Gilbert relates the story of how Eustace deliberately bought land so that he controlled his watershed–ridgeline to ridgeline. You will see that thinking reflected also in Geoff Lawton’s advice on water. The control of his watershed makes him quite independent if he so chooses.

    But to the issue of indoor plumbing. Eustace has built a lot of very sturdy buildings which don’t have flush toilets. The State looked the other way for years, but then decided to ‘throw the book’ at him. They would charge him with failure to plumb a dog house, for example. Of course, that charge wouldn’t stand up in court, but they could create a financial burden for him that he could not bear. Eustace, foreshadowing the concern on your blog about freezing water pipes, reasons that using a 5 gallon bucket as a compost toilet is a well-proven technology and boys ought to learn how to do that. Besides avoiding the issues with bursting water pipes, it is also the ecological thing to do.

    The State seems unable to tolerate people like Eustace.

    Don Stewart

    • witsendnj says:

      Ha, I just watched this video about him (never having heard of him before)

      and not to denigrate him at all, I admire his efforts but if you just count the number of objects in his lifestyle that are dependent and derive from industrial civilization – from his clothing to the plow to the gun to the chainsaw – he simply is not living “sustainably”.

      How we love to deceive ourselves!

      • Don Stewart says:

        You are deceiving yourself, in my opinion. First, there is no reason to live without simple products that you can afford. And you probably won’t be able to do so in the modern economy. For example, one really can’t participate at all in the modern economy without a vehicle or dependence on someone else’s vehicle. Your comments remind me of the people who throw stones at Thoreau because he walked into town to have dinner with friends. Thoreau didn’t set out to be a hermit, and neither did Eustace.

        Eustace was once asked whether, if a helicopter dropped him into the wilderness, he could survive. He thought for a minute and responded ‘I could survive…but it would be a lot easier if I had my knife with me’. Eustace from childhood developed what we now call ‘primitive skills’. He taught them to Native Americans who had forgotten them. Read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book for details. Elizabeth, by the way, met Eustace and his brother in a bar in Brooklyn.

        Take a 5 gallon bucket compost toilet. Of course the 5 gallon bucket is a product of industrial civilization. Adding some sawdust probably represents a trip to a sawmill to get some waste. But if the collapse that Gail anticipates happens, those who know how to do it are going to be infinitely better off than those who don’t.

        People who set up straw men and then knock them over haven’t thought about the issues very clearly.

        Don Stewart

        • witsendnj says:

          “People who set up straw men and then knock them over haven’t thought about the issues very clearly.”

          You haven’t read my comment very clearly. I was simply observing the irony in the fact that, as you say, “one really can’t participate at all in the modern economy without a vehicle or dependence on someone else’s vehicle”. And talk about straw men, I never said or implied “there is no reason to live without simple products that you can afford.”

          My understanding is that we are locked into and totally dependent upon the conveniences of modern life which relies upon cheap energy, and that is impossible to escape, try as one might to survive independently – and this is largely because as Gail points out, debt, and also, the environment is so degraded by exploitation and pollution that it cannot possibly provide sustenance to humans, certainly not 7 billion of us. So you can “prep” all you want but ultimately it will avail only the smallest advantage because the ecosystem – clean water with fish swimming it it, clean air with birds flying through it, and living forests with healthy trees providing habitat, lumber, fruit and nuts – is disappearing fast and there’s no halting the 6th mass extinction which is well underway.

          This terrible truth is what drove the Unabomber mad.

          • Don Stewart says:

            I don’t think Eustace is trying to save 330 million people. He’s not a dear friend of mine, so what I say is only my opinion. I think he wants to set an example of what is possible and teach some children what he knows how to do. I believe he is realistic enough to know that 99 percent are going to reject his advice. I think he also believes that whatever remnant of humanity survives is likely to have absorbed some of his advice.

            ‘Saving 330 million’ is another straw man that is always set up and knocked over. I can’t do that. Eustace can’t do that. Maybe you can? Can Ben Bernanke do that?

            As for the ecological crisis. There are scientists who volunteer for duty at the South Pole because they think that humanity is on a one way trip due to heavy metals. Others will come up with Zombie scenarios, or global warming, or (insert your favorite doomsday scenario). But, at the end of the day, it all comes down to what you, yourself and a few people around you can actually do. One can, in my opinion, do a lot worse than study primitive skills. If Elizabeth Gilbert were giving Eustace advice, she would probably advise him to work on his interpersonal skills. Those are going to be critical also.

            The point of my post is that, at least in the US, the government’s attitude is that ‘you have to get approval to do anything differently’. I doubt that survival is possible unless either the government just collapses and can’t enforce its idiotic regulations, or else the government suddenly has a Zen moment and achieves enlightenment. ‘The rats will continue to run in the wheels…or else’.

            Don Stewart

      • My guess is that Eustace Conway uses more energy than the majority of humans on earth. When I compare to what I saw people in India had, what he has is much better. A fence is an extravagance in much of the world. Horses take a lot of area to grow their feed. Not many people in the world can have a horse. The plow is also an expensive fossil fuel-made object.

        Look at an animal living in the wild, and you will see exactly what is sustainable. If we could live on raw food that we gathered with our hands, without clothing, and without homes, we could live sustainably.

        People in India harvesting rice.

        • xabier says:


          You make the good point that ‘sustainability’ is a nonsensical concept, above all the Green version of electric cars and solar panels with a bit of recycling added in (oh, and holidaying on an Asian beach resort made from ‘sustainable’ materials.) It’s all delusion.

          Any human civilization has to be unsustainable by definition, but ideally as one civilization goes down, others would remain untouched, and others arise. Over-population and advanced technology has made one global unsustainable civilization, which will lead to global, not localized collapse.

          Eustace really only stands for a kind of self-reliance which only a hundred years ago was second-nature to most rural people in the West, and which welfarism, mass production, and hyper-organized states have deprived them of. Even urban people did so much more for themselves within living memory: families making their own clothes (particularly females), keeping rabbits and hens for food, and so on. My own mother was dressed entirely in pretty clothes made by an aunt who was talented at that sort of thing. My grandfather knew how to repair shoes (something I intend to learn myself!) So much lost in so short a space of time.

          • Any human civilization has to be unsustainable by definition,

            I hadn’t quite thought about it that way, but you are right.

            The point about smaller civilizations going down before, as soil was degraded and population limits reached, has been talked about many. Putting nearly everyone into the same globalized pot makes for a huge potential disaster.

          • don’t forget the DIY dentistry and kitchen table surgery and dirt floor childbirth—they were the most exciting parts of frontier life. No wonder everybody wants to return to such happy times

            • Scott says:

              I have been reading books of Zane Gray and Louis L Amour about the old frontier days, it is amazing the changes that have happened in just a couple hundred years. Those were tough and dangerous times then and life was a challenge. Most men did not even see 40 or so.

              On the subject of change, I found this website that has some graphs on CO2 etc, in case you have not seen this yet. I know someone post chart like these before, but here it is all one place.


            • And here you can follow it weekly as well and see we had a day of above 400 ppm already:


              Other than that I feel NASA’s summary page is always good to look at:


              What’s missing in these summary pages is some other graphs of importance:

              – SO2 levels (China has been doubling their coal burning these past 10 years – this actually cools the planet and can explain the last 10 years flatliner)
              – AO (Arctic Oscillation tell us a lot about La Niña and El Niño which cools and warms)
              – Sea acidification levels (the rate of change is worse than past extinction events)
              – Sea temperatures (the majority of heat is absorbed by the heat, there is too much focus on surface temperatures IMO)
              – World Population (the most important factor for the health and stability of the planet)

              Perhaps I should set up such a page? Hmm… I guess it would be a rather depressing page though. 🙂

        • xabier says:


          Looking at those Indian villagers, it reminds me of the Spanish saying that all such people had were; ‘Day and Night, the Sun and Moon.’ ‘People of Nothing’ was the dismissive phrase of Spanish aristocrats: it was literally true. In our region, some peasants lived in caves until the 1960’s – actually, better than a hovel!

          • We drove past and briefly stopped in one Indian village where each home seemed to consist of a single room, without kitchen or any other type of specialization. The huts were very simply built. We were told that these were people who had previously been hunter-gatherers, but had been forced to settle in homes. Now they make a living by gathering sticks to sell as firewood, or by making bricks of clay and letting them dry in the sun, or by working as day laborers in farmers fields. Cooking seemed to be done outside, on the sticks they had gathered.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Gail
          This little clip from the news back in 2007 has some interview and historical footage of Eustace. He walked into the woods with what he could carry, and built what he has.

          He made money by teaching primitive skills. Since he was buying practically nothing, he was able to save everything he made from students. And with that money he was able to buy his watershed (with the tribulations outlined in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book). And also go off on his adventures (floating the Mississippi in a hand made canoe, crossing the US on a horse, hiking the Appalachian trail from Maine to Georgia (starting in the winter) and living off the land (and gradually starving in the winter woods until he got to Pennsylvania, as Elizabeth points out).

          Here is Eustace teaching students how to make fire:

          If you watch the three episodes, you will note a careful attention to the efficient use of energy and an excellent understanding of the chemistry and physics involved. Also note that he suggests the sharing of fire–since it is so energy intensive to get it started.

          The horses fulfill three purposes, I suspect. First, Eustace simply likes horses. Second, he logs with horses (there are now a half dozen good horse loggers around Asheville–all of them booked up.) Third, the horses pull the buggy that he uses to ferry tourists around and make money. They are a cash crop.

          One can always throw stones and ask why there are chain saws around. He lived for a dozen years in a teepee built without a chainsaw. I believe his barn was built without a chainsaw. But if you are going to run a school and charge students, you have to condense time and a chainsaw certainly does that. He is not an ideologue about the ‘primitive’. For example, in the fire episodes he mentions credit cards as something that can level the base on which he is working.

          So why would someone use a chainsaw and a horse to log? And part of the answer is that a horse logger is trying to make a living in the modern world. They are not museum pieces. A chainsaw is an efficient way to cut down a tree. So why not get a multi-ton vehicle in to drag the tree, or just build a road to where the tree is with a bulldozer. And now you get to the ecological devastation wrought by such mechanized practices. A landowner who is in it for the long term will want to do as little ecological damange as possible–and that means horses. So it’s practical–not ideological.

          Don Stewart

          • witsendnj says:

            At this point of denuded forests, logging by any means is just another foot in the grave for humanity. The entire Eastern seaboard was clear cut without mechanized equipment powered by fossil fuels, and the mideast was turned from a dense cedar forest that the sun never penetrated into a desert because of logging. I don’t begrudge Eustace his horses or his trees or his watershed or his chainsaw. But I can’t think of his lifestyle as any more sustainable or superior than the billions who live in cities, because given the depauparate ecosystem, it isn’t.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Forests and grasslands are healthier when human intervene intelligently (as measured by biological activity). A grassland is designed to flourish when it is grazed by big herbivores which are preyed upon by carnivores. A grassland left with no herbivores, or lots of herbivores but no carnivores, will degrade. We can approximate naturally productive systems with human managed intensive grazing.

              Similarly a juvenile forest is more productive than an old growth forest. Harvesting selected logs with horses can improve the productivity of the forest.

              Clearing a forest to plow the hillsides is suicidal–which is what mostly happened in the East.

              Don Stewart

            • Clearing the forests on the hillside even happened in the Old Testament. When the Israelites found the promised land, the valleys were already inhabited. Joshua 17:17-18 says:

              Then Joshua said to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the descendants of Joseph, “Since you are so large and strong, you will be given more than one portion. The forests of the hill country will be yours as well. Clear as much of the land as you wish and live there. And I am sure you can drive out the Canaanites from the valleys, too, even though they are strong and have iron chariots.”

            • Scott says:

              Not a good summer to visit Pakistan. It just seems like it is going to be a hot summer everywhere even here in the the Pacific Northwest. I hope we do not have another drought because food prices are already very high especially corn feed and that raises beef and chicken prices.
              This news is from Pakistan. Signs of shortages already surfacing in areas that are financially stressed first—–
              “ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister has decided to ban the use of air conditioners by government offices to help cope with the country’s pervasive energy shortages.

              A statement issued Wednesday from Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso’s office says the ban will go into effect on May 15 and will continue until the energy situation improves.

              Pakistan faces serious shortages of electricity and natural gas.

              The ban could make for a very uncomfortable summer since temperatures in Pakistan often reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

              The prime minister also issued a summer dress code recommending light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to help combat the heat.

              The Associated Press”

          • xabier says:


            Thanks, a fascinating man. And yet he is just what nearly everyone out of town was until just yesterday. Our societies have undergone a terrible and tragic change.

            Logging with horses still goes on in some places in the Basque mountains, where the mechanical things can’t get through and the gradient is too steep. The old woodsmen up in my grandmother’s smuggling village on the frontier with France were hard, fine men but well-mannered like all country people: just the sight of them in the old photos does one good.

            I think in Romania (or Bulgaria) horses and carts were recently banned from roads, which led in part to the influx of horse meat into food supplies……….

            As for building regulations, here in England a house built according to all the latest regulations is just flimsy rubbish, not destined to last for long. But all those lazy little inspectors from the local authority live very nicely off them.

            Please keep supplying stimulating stuff.

          • xabier says:


            I don’t really think Don is saying that Eustace is superior or his life a model for the teeming billions of which you and I are part. We are probably nearly all going down in the not too distant future, and we are trapped in the machine.

            But he’s made a life.

            One finds very few men of his calibre in cities, in my experience. I don’t think you’d see Eustace rioting at a store on sale day, or even if the heavens fell in. It’s good to see a real man – and if you see how good he was teaching a little girl to ride on one of the films, he can be gentle.

            When people ask how did anything rise up out of the Dark Ages in Europe – well, it’s because the ‘primitive’ rural people were of the calibre of this man.

          • Eustace makes money—
            but money is just a token of someone else’s energy use, and that energy use is certain to be derived from the consumption of fossil fuels…i imagine people drive to where he is, to sample what he does, then drive home again.
            So Eustace is living a fantasy world, supported by everybody else.
            And when he falls ill, if possible he will drag himself to the nearest hospital unless he keels over with something immediately terminal (granted he would probably prefer that)
            These ‘new frontiersmen’ simply cant be held up as an example to the rest of us, unless they are doing something that the rest of us can do—which we plainly can not.

          • Thanks!

    • we should all buy our own watershed–ridgeline to ridgeline, I like his ‘frontier’ thinking
      Am just trying to work out how 330 million people can do exactly the same thing.
      No doubt Eustace has an answer to that

      • Don Stewart says:

        In my opinion, we should all do what we can do. As exemplified by this:

        Eustace is trying to do what he can do–but the Government won’t let him.

        Don Stewart

        • xabier says:


          In our student hostel was a medical student from the Highlands of Scotland. His father was I think an oil man, not educated beyond school. Now, his son was an excellent student, having turned to study after joining the Army at 18, and his father was very proud of him, but he always used to say: ‘Tell me what you can do, son?’

          Now, if we ask ourselves that question, what answers can we give? It’s a good test of where we are. It seems to me that trying to expand our competencies, above all in practical ways, is a fine human endeavour, and that is what Eustace embodies in one important direction.

          ‘So, what can you do without an oil-slave?’

          • Growing up with punk in the 70s I live to the mantra of DIY. Ultimately knowledge is power and that practical application of knowledge may just be the new currency in the post peak world.

      • I have a similar question with 7 billion people.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear End of More
        Eustace has to make money for, among other things, paying his taxes. He amply demonstrated his ability to live off the land on the winter hike from Maine to Georgia. He and his companion were losing weight until they got to Pennsylvania. The tops of mountains where the Appalachian Trail sits are not friendly places in the winter. If they had been willing to go down to the valleys, they could have found food easily. But they were young men on a mission, covering 20 or 30 miles a day. So they just starved until the weather warmed up a bit and spring growth began on the mountain tops.

        Again, you come back to saving everyone. Perhaps that is just not possible–the same way having all the fish eggs grow to be adult fish is not possible. This is a competitive world heavily reliant on the luck of the draw. You don’t have to like that situation to recognize it. The question is, What Are You Going To Do About It?

        Don Stewart

      • xabier says:

        End of More

        Of course, hardly anyone can live like Eustace. We have few options if any. We are all probably going to have very much harder lives, quite soon, and then die nastily, and that is what we have to face. And all to the sound of government propaganda and lies.

        But it’s worth while to be reminded what a Man is like. He’s not in a fantasy world: I’m sure he knows very well, like all people who know nature, that one day an illness or accident will overwhelm him like any other animal. Total solutions with a happy ending are a delusion.

        We tend to live with the fantasy that drugs will cure all, while often they poison us, and usually bankrupt us. And to hope for a long self-indulgent retirement living from the labour of others, from which we will pray, we will beg, to be released if it lasts long enough.

        His fate will be our fate, all ends in the grave: but perhaps the bit between birth and death will have been less of a mockery of life for Eustace than our own?

        In the end, its’s surely a matter of taste and inclination what one makes of this way of living.

        • Scott says:

          Well, we chose to move to a remote part of Oregon in a small town, It seems the best we can do is little things that help us like I will try to grow the veggies that are the same as ones I buy and pay a high price for.

          I have put a lot of work into our gardens this year, now you got me thinking I need a barn!
          I could raise chickens and store grains for their food grown from my corn. I am slowly working to put these systems in place, but I only have an acre, but I can do a lot with that. I do know that I will not be able to raise enough food on this property alone, unless I had some super duper system. But a good portion of the property is a forest which not useable unless I cut down trees which I am not in a hurry to do.

          I have a plan to pump water from my little well if needed. Even our small city water has gotten expensive to the well is a real asset. I can only supplement with my gardens but do have lots of food store mostly freeze dried which I hope I do not have to eat.

          If things really get tough and the the gas gets shut off —
          On a winter day I am going to miss those hot showers. But instead have plans to heat water on my little wood stove.

          Firewood is going to be tough to cut by hand and hunting will almost impossible as we will be looted if go away. So, storing some food will be wise I believe along with growing your own food if you have a spot to do so.

          In the larger cities these activities will become impossible with no running water and sewer systems overflowing.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Scott
            Passed along without comment from me. Caveat Emptor, I suppose.


            Don Stewart

          • Don Stewart says:

            Sorry, picture won’t copy. The words:
            Show me a ¼-acre backyard, and I’ll show you a ton of vegetables. Literally.

            As in 2,000 pounds!

            And that’s just the beginning! It has never been so EASY to get the most from your garden.

            Add a few chickens to that same ¼ acre, and in one year you’ll have 1,400 eggs. A couple of beehives? 100 pounds of honey!

            And I’m still just getting started!

            With THE BACKYARD HOMESTEAD at your side, you can unlock the potential of your little corner of the world — with bounty you simply never imagined could be possible.

            • Scott says:

              Thanks Don,

              Yes we can do a lot with just a small piece of ground and it is good that I am home and have the time because that is what is needed to tend to this. Important to compost and have good dirt!

            • Scott says:

              I did a bit of gardening when I was younger, but then got busy working in the city, now retired I am starting over. Have been seriously doing it for about 6 years now and learning more each year. This year my Peach Trees have the fungus and I will have to buy some copper spray but that is not until next fall. So many things to learn when you do this it does take time and year by year we do a bit of a better job. Sometimes bugs eat all of your new seedlings.

              The last couple of days I spent some money and much time and effort to make deer covers for my raised planter beds after the deer came through and ate most of my seedlings. The covers are for things that the deer and bears eat like strawberries and greens. Building simple things like frames covered carefully with chicken wire take time and money and also buying stuff to care for a sick tree can cost money and research time.

              I have four pets and love our animals, but have not done chickens yet for meat, but am thinking about it. I buy them any way – and, I think I will have to deal with butchering them too eventually or maybe just pay one of those mobile butchers that will come by and “do it”.

              I continue to expand my garden and experiment what I can grow here and seems to change each year with the weather. I was surprised to see the peach fungus here on such a dry spring, but I guess the tree caught it over the winter. Many unexpected things will come up in my tiny farm.

              The harvest is therefore unpredictable so when the big harvest comes in the fall, we do dry some of the garden, corn, squash and peppers etc or anything you want in our food dehydrator. This dried food can be stored in jars after being dried, preferably with Oxygen removers in the jars will keep it much longer, you can buy the Oxygen removers online, (they are the tiny envelopes you drop in the jars and then seal them airtight they suck out all the air). I also have parts and plans to build a solar dryer if needed but the electric dryer is best as it runs all night and all day and no mold. Nothing like dependable power… But the solar dryer I plan to build can be deployed in the hot fall and will work but may not be as consistent for sure.

              So I see a problem and have been busy working for about 7 years now to make our way during these times ahead. We still buy lots of stuff at the stores — but trying to learn to grow food etc.

            • Scott says:

              A local news story on weather here….More evidence of an unusually warm spring, looks like another drought year in the USA unless things change fast.

              “Unusually warm weather combined with a far below average winter snowfall means one of the expected impacts of federal sequestration will not slow the opening of roads and facilities at Crater Lake National Park.

              Park officials had planned to allow portions of Rim Drive and North Entrance Road to melt with only limited snowplowing to save on cost of fueling the bulldozers and rotary snowplows. This will help offset the loss of $264,000 from federal sequestration.

              The much lower than usual snowfall and weeks of warmer than usual weather have sped the melting process. As of Wednesday morning, the park had received 347 inches of snow since Oct. 1, 2012, well below the 524 inches received in an average season that will end May 31. Wednesday, the park had 36 inches of snow, only about a third of the 92 inches that is normal for this time of year. No snow and relatively mild temperatures are predicted the next several days, too.

              “The low snow year helps, but we also didn’t get any late spring storms,” said Vicki Snitzler, the park’s interim superintendent.

              “This couldn’t have happened at a better year for me,” said Ray Moore, Crater Lake’s facilities manager/chief of maintenance, who oversees the road department. “The biggest part of our budget is snow removal and the spring opening.”

              Moore said it costs $35 to $40 an hour in fuel to operate each snowplowing rig _ two bulldozers and a rotary snowplow _ or about $100 to $125 an hour for all three. “Fuel is one of the last things I have left to reduce my costs.”

              Moore and Snitzler said they had considered allowing the north entrance to melt out with only minimal plowing. The impact of delaying opening the north entrance would have hugely affected sales at Park Service outlets and for the park’s concessionaire, Xanterra, which operates Crater Lake Lodge, the Rim Village Cafeteria and lake tour boat operations.

              Based on historic averages, park visitation more than doubles when the north entrance is open because travelers can enter the park through the south entrance near Fort Klamath and proceed along Rim Drive and out the north entrance while continuing on to the Rogue Valley or north along Highway 97. Snitzler and Moore said they expect the north entrance will open late next week, much earlier than usual.

              Under tentative plans, plowing will continue on Rim Drive past the North Entrance and Cleetwood Cove, where a trail leads to the lake, and Skell Head, which Snitzler described as a good turnaround point for Crater Lake Trolley tours.

              “We’ll take stock on fuel and equipment,” Snitzler said of plans to open the road beyond Skell Head and along East Rim Drive.

              “We’ve been able to go on a clip we haven’t seen for a long time,” Moore said, noting the usual distance a snow clearing team can clear in a day is two-tenths of a mile. Crews have been routinely opening a half-mile a day this spring.

              “For a year that could have been problematic, Mother Nature has been very helpful,” he said.

              Along with clearing roads of snow, road crews also spend considerable time removing rock fall, installing signs and repairing damaged road surfaces.

              “We want the road to be safe and well-maintained,” Moore said.”


              Information from: Herald and News,

            • Don, I see you have a lot of experience with “backyard gardening”. Unfortunately I live in a terraced house, and our garden is hardly big enough to do much. But looking around the area (I dont want to move the kids too far away from friends and school) I saw a place – and like all here they just have a very big lawn instead of growing anything. Here is a picture of the place. I believe this should be 1/4 acre (1000 square meters for us in metric land) :


              Anything else I should be looking for in the hunt for a place that could support food growing as well? Any way of measuring the soil quality? I have no experience whatsoever in this but my wife has grown up in eastern Europe and their dacha where they grow all kinds of food (which we get to enjoy parts of every summer).

            • Don Stewart says:

              It’s always true that the first thing to worry about is water. After that, the path gets multi-branched real fast.

              It looks like this has a pretty steep slope. So you need to spend some time during pretty heavy rains just observing how the water crosses the land. Your goal is to slow the water down so it doesn’t erode your soil and so that it sinks into the soil which waters not only your plants but also the soil food web. Just from looking at the picture, I would say you are going to need to move some soil into things like swales and perhaps a small dam or two.

              I wouldn’t recommend just starting out by plowing or rototilling everything because you could very easily wind up with all your soil at the bottom of the hill.

              Once you have the pattern of water flow firmly in your mind, but before you do any work, you need to decide whether you want to do mostly annual crops or mostly perennial crops. The arguments for annuals is that they are real productive real quickly. Annuals are really domesticated weeds, and weeds thrive on disturbed space and produce a lot before the perennials get a foothold and outcompete them. The annual tillage ritual is about setting back the perennials–as well as trying to get ahead of the weeds. Because they are so productive, annuals also require a lot of fertilizer. One reason for skepticism on claims about how much you can produce on a quarter acre is that such numbers usually include unlimited fertilizer bought at the garden center. If one of your reasons for gardening is that you suspect collapses of various kinds, being utterly dependent on the industrial system for delivering fertilizer may not sound too good to you.

              The argument for perennials is multi-faceted. Take the weather, for example, Several people in the US have commented on this blog that they are experiencing hot, dry weather (the fires already in California, etc.). The Southeastern US has had a very cold and wet spring. It is so wet here it has delayed planting and we had a late frost that killed a lot of peach blossoms for the second year in a row. Annuals require just the right amount of heat and water at just the right time–they are opportunists. Perennials, once established, are much less affected by the vagaries of the weather. Perennials tend to respond to climate, not weather. Perennials don’t require nearly as much fertilizer as annuals. With a little skill and by recycling everything that comes off the land back onto the land, you basically never have to buy fertilizer (after perhaps some initial amendments to correct poor soil). But you will have to plant some nitrogen fixer plants as part of your suite. The treatment of nitrogen and phosphorus are quite different between annuals and perennials. Perennials prefer nitrogen in the form of ammonium, which is what a nitrogen fixing microbe makes. Ammonium is pretty stable in the soil due to chemical attractions to clay and humus. Phosphorus is tightly bound to the soil. But certain fungi can break the bond. These same fungi form a symbiotic partnership with your plants. The plants make sugars which they trade to the fungi for the phosphorus. In a typical commercial farm, of course, both Nitrogen and Phosphorus are dumped on by the ton, it leaches out quickly, and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico and causes dead zones. Soil tillage, of course, destroys the myceleum (the long strands the fungi send out looking for nutrients). An annually tilled bed simply cannot develop a healthy network of symbiotic feeding. So you can see that ‘organic’ or ‘restoration’ or ‘permaculture’ gardening or farming with perennials is quite a different game than conventional gardening or agriculture.

              Since you don’t own this property (at least not yet), you also have to consider whether you are willing to invest any money in capital improvements, or wait a few years for the perennials to get really productive. If you go to the expense of contouring the land, and are able to grow bountiful crops with good water management, the owners may simply take it back and do it themselves or decide that they are going to up your rent.

              Once you have a pretty good idea what you want to do, the real work starts. You have to map the area and describe pretty carefully what mix of perennials and annuals you want, what needs to be done first, how you are going to keep the costs down (propagating some of your own plants?), or whether you just want to hire a professional to come in and give you pretty much a turn-key job.

              I went through all the initial steps for my very small home garden several years ago. I knew pretty much what I wanted and had the water system thought through. I was getting lost in the plant manuals trying to sort through what I should plant. I turned to a small company called Bountiful Backyards who had been successful in a number of small garden situations and who impressed me as really bright people who knew a lot more than I ever would about plants. They did the work and gave me a huge boost that it would have taken me several years to achieve. Meanwhile, I was working part time on a farm, which gave me a glimpse into the farmer’s view–which is a lot different than the gardener’s view. I learn best by tinkering with a pre-existing system–as opposed to building from scratch. Now that I have been observing how my garden functions for several years, I am increasingly under the delusion that I am somehow in control of all this and understand it.

              When I started, the soil was just dead stuff the builder’s bulldozer left. Now I can take a bulb-planter sized sample and find a dozen earthworms. I speak knowingly about sheet mulching, because I have seen it work wonders. I even begin to tell myself (and, unfortunately probably, other people) that I understand the connections in the soil food web. Cardboard, used in the sheet mulch, is mostly carbon. Carbon is the energy molecule that almost all living things need. So when cardboard comes in contact with the soil, it not only stops weed growth, it also feeds the microbes and other members of the soil food web. The soil food web makes topsoil out of builders detritus. So I finally talked my daughter into using some cardboard on a bad patch in her yard. Her complaint was that the chickens reduced it to shreds. I said ‘what is the problem with that’, reasoning that the chickens are after it because of the carbon and are turning it into rich chicken manure which is speeding up the whole soil food web process. (See how dangerous a little learning, combined with overweening arrogance, can be?)

              In short, I suggest you think about the issues I have outlined. If you decide to proceed, think about whether it is ‘do it all yourself’ or ‘professional help’. Then get started. You will never reach the end of the journey.

              Don Stewart

            • Thank you Don for the lengthy and detailed reply! I can see your heart is into it. 🙂
              I do not own this piece of land and neither can I rent it – it was really just to hear if the size of that area would be enough to do some good home grown crops. I know very little about what plants to grow and all, but I know this year we will experiment with some soil filled bags and see if we can get that working. Last year we created a smaller box for strawberries and herbs just for fun and although the strawberries werent exactly a success the herbs were nice. 🙂 – I guess starting small is good now and see if we get “the bug” and need to move to a place with more room for growing.

              As for water, I live on the west coast of Norway, which it generally pours down a lot – so the main concern here is really to figure ways to avoid drowning the plants. Those (hemp?) bags were said to be good as they drain the water out naturally. At least I have read many growing potatoes in these.

              But climate is changing, these past 3 winters has been unusually cold due to the malformed jetstream – so that really would ruin any sustainable living in this part of Norway unless we have access to some energy. Not so sure that the energy crisis will hit us here in the near future, as we basically have an abundance of it compared to our small 5 million population. For what I know our government might figure ways to stretch that out. Norway has generally been socialistic country and no doubt changes in energy and resource availability will push us further towards more socialism. It might be that my interest in growing for myself will not be very fruitful or meaningful within my lifetime – although it would have been good to pass on some knowledge to my kids besides hacking on computers which I do for a living. 🙂

            • Don Stewart says:

              Here is another thought for you. Have you tried container gardening? Containers aren’t ‘real’ gardening in much the same sense that annual agriculture isn’t real. Neither is sustainable over the long term. But it might be appropriate for you in the near term.

              The Earth Box people revolutionized container gardening in the US a few years ago. They designed a plastic box which provides water and air to the plant roots, while a strip of fertilizer works its way down from the top. The box is covered with plastic, into which you cut some holes and insert transplants. So the only water loss is from transpiration through the leaves. You add water through a tube which goes to the bottom of the box.

              If you don’t know very much, I would suggest buying a couple and trying them out. You won’t learn anything useful about water management on a large scale or about nourishing the soil food web in order to nourish your plants. But you will get first hand experience with a lot of other issues such as effective use of microclimates (perhaps that spot that gets afternoon shade is perfect for leafy greens?), growing plants right up against the house under the eave (no rainfall on the leaves to foster disease, good use of otherwise dead space, lots of radiated heat and light off the house), and you will have the pleasure of harvesting something and bringing it inside and eating it. In the next month, not the next few years.

              Other people have copied the Earth Box idea. Look for a water basin in the bottom, with a plastic barrier above the water (with holes drilled in it) which holds the planting medium up out of the water, a tube which extends from the top of the box down to the water basin, and a plastic cover into which you can cut holes to insert plants. Also lots of accessories such as wheels, trellises, etc. The planting medium must be capable of wicking water up from the basin at the bottom to roots–likely a lot of peat moss or coir.

              Don Stewart

            • Ah yes Dan, you posted two replies! 🙂 Indeed its the Earth Box thing I was thinking of. Some bags to grow crops in. I think I will get a couple of those this year and try it out.

              Sorry Gail for turning this into a home growing chit-chat thread. 🙂 – I hope its related though, I believe Don and many others here sit on experiences which can at least give us some false confidence that living with less and being able to sustain yourself at some levels is possible. After all thats where we came from. I guess I am mostly concerned about figuring out ways that doesnt need a big fossil fuel input like fertilizers from the shop and all that. I guess I could get some bags of cow manure from some of the local farms (although they are still a few kilometers away). I am quite sure my neighbours would be happy. 🙂

      • xabier says:

        End of More

        Perhaps solutions for the 330 million are just a – literally – dead end?

        It’s not an important objective.

        We have to salvage if we can, something worthwhile, not crowd the lifeboat.

        And no, I don’t regard my own life as particularly worth saving, though I’ll do as much as I can, as to do otherwise would be apathetic!

    • I live between my holding off the grid and the town and yet the luxuries are similar- I now have a internet connection in the wild [not broad band but good enough] but the cost difference is huge. In the first instance local rates on the house and none on the holding. But you draw a good point- When oil was $30 b we could take expensive options.

      I use an earth loo on the holding and I can vouch that humans produce a little under 100 litres of solid waste a year- and lots of wee. Wee is great, it is sterile, makes for great plant food or compost digester- the solid stuff can be buried, I bury it near trees rather than food areas and am looking at batching for gas although it will take years to collect enough. In an energy rich world this resource is flushed away with 1000s of litres of drinking water. 1000s of litres of water [ average is up to 100 litres a day for toilet in US] to deal with 100 litres of solids and a lot of sterile pee.

      Given the energy cost of that clean water and its better use elsewhere and then add the sewer costs and processing it seems entirely mad to approach sanitation in such an energy intensive way. There are other in built problems with our current system- in floods it is flushed into the street or the rivers or oceans. It also allows for the mixing of chemical waste such as road spills, oil, fats, industrial chemical etc.

      it needs a redesign but people are conservative. and you could focus on any aspect of our lives and see room for improvement.

      • Scott says:

        Yes, the problem is the pollution is terrible in places like the so called “Third World Countries” such as South East Asia areas where toilets will have pipes that barely make it out of the house sewage runs in ditches everywhere. I have seen it on my trips. Also rivers full of trash and plastic bags and bridges you would not want to cross because of the stench. I saw this kind of problem wide spread and mostly in larger cities but also smaller ones.

        There were some nice areas with decent looking beaches, but you had to drive an hour or two to get out of town.

        I do value my sewer system in our little town and the clean water that we have here, because it is not everyone has that anymore.

        • i agree with you
          Most people won’t accept the amount of energy needed to create and run a sewage system. Pipes need heat to manufacture, that comes from hydrocarbons, and you can’t have a large scale sewage output ie–getting rid of it, without a large scale water input.In the 19th c London’s sewage system needed 315 million bricks, all fired by heat from coal. Without that scale of energy input excrement just sits there, whether from animals or humans
          It will eventually be disposed of naturally of course, but that takes time, but again we come back to overpopulation, there’s just too many of us producing too much, and urban societies simply get overwhelmed. It i

          it is perhaps an irony of our time, that just as our cities were getting overwhelmed with horse excrement at the end of the 19th century we invented the motor car and got rid of the horses, now the car has polluted our cities all over again

          • Don Stewart says:

            A few of the testimonials for Gene Logsdon’s book Holy Shit:

            Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook: This could very well be one of the most important books ever written.

            Joel Salatin, farmer: Gene Logsdon, in his naughty and inimical style, has captured the essence of soil building, pathogen control, food ecology, and farm economics. What a great addition to the eco-food and farming movement. Read and heed.

            David Orr, Oberlin College: No one knows more about the backside of agriculture than Gene Logsdon, truly one of the shrewdest practioners and wisest observers of farming and agriculture. This is Logsdon at his best; Holy Shit is a national treasure.

            Wes Jackson, the Land Institute: Gene Logsdon is one of only three people I know who are able to make a living exclusively out of writing what should be common sense. Here he has done it again.

            Woody Tasch, Slow Money: In the revolution Gene Logsdon envisions, we need pitchforks, but not to mount the barricades. And what a joyful, reverent, irreverent, hard-working, down-to-earth, realistic, Whitmanesque, animal loving, microbe-nurturing, compost-making, farmer-sensical, manure-pitching revolution it is!

            Are all these guy crazy? Is Logsdon crazy? Was our second president, John Adams, crazy when he walked the streets in London and inspected the horse manure piles awaiting transport to the countryside and found them inferior to the horse manure on his farm in Massachusetts? Why do we keep claiming that horse manure was a deadly toxin in New York City which was rescued by the automobile? The problem is that urine and manure need to be rapidly returned to the soil from whence they came–otherwise nutrients deplete. We must have a closed system. (That’s the common sense that Wes Jackson is referring to.) Of course leaving manure on the streets of New York is not a solution to any problem we humans have. It needed to be moved out to the farms. But New Yorkers were unwilling to pay the price to do that.

            Does this mean that cities of 30 million people are inherently unsustainable? My guess is that the answer to that is ‘Yes’. Should we wring our hands over it and pretend that ‘some solution must be found’. I think that we have to begin with realism and ‘the law of return’–what is taken from the soil must be returned to the soil. Anything else is going to be destructive. Don’t try to shore up destructive behavior.

            Don Stewart

          • It is perhaps an irony of our time, that just as our cities were getting overwhelmed with horse excrement at the end of the 19th century we invented the motor car and got rid of the horses, now the car has polluted our cities all over again.

            Good observation!

    • Don,

      There are no doubt ways around the indoor plumbing problem. Quite a bit of the world today does not have indoor plumbing, in any reasonable sense.

      I think a bigger issue is what happens to fresh water supply. In the winter, homes may need to drain their pipes, and get their water somewhere else. Where? How? There are at least a couple of other things that can go wrong–(1) treatment plants no longer may be able to handle purifying it, or (2) pumping plants may no longer have the electricity they need to pump it where it is needed–for example, in high-rises in buildings. (Some places, gravity fed systems from great heights may fix this problem). So somehow, people will need to obtain water, apart from the central source we have depended on, and will need to be able to boil it or purify it using alcohol.

      • Don Stewart says:

        At least here in non-Arctic regions, it is relatively easy to put in pumps which don’t freeze. You see them in places like state and national parks. Which requires people to go out and get their water and bring it back home. Which is what happens in a lot of the third world now.

        I know a college teacher who lived for several years in a converted animal shed which had no inside water. He lived in the mountains and went out in sub-zero weather to get water for breakfast. He and his wife built a house by hand with proper insulation. He said the thing he enjoyed most about the house was not having to fetch water on frosty mornings.

        My point relative to Eustace Conway is that if someone knows HOW to do it, then the prospect of the collapse of the municipal water system may not be quite so life threatening. But people who don’t have a clue are likely to be overwhelmed and succumb.

        In North Carolina, at the farm I work at, we can keep water in shallow pipes from freezing just by covering the hole in the ground where the spigot is with a piece of plywood and some other junk (always plentiful at a farm).

        Don Stewart

        • xabier says:


          All agriculture used to be about shit and sweat, (if you were lucky enough to be a landowner, the sweat of others of course) quite right.

          ‘Shoring up destructive patterns of behaviour’ is exactly the point we are at.

          It’s curious that the IMF sponsored approach to the challenges of today seems to be more mega-cities. It’s all crazy and bewildering.

        • Each of these solutions works as long as it does–until some part of the pump breaks that can’t be fixed, or until the water level drops enough that the pump doesn’t work any more, or until calcium in the water clogs up something so it won’t work.

          If our concern is for our own lives, or the lives of our children, these pumps may in fact be reasonable solutions (especially if we can continue to live in the areas where these pumps are). In terms of hundreds of years, we will need a different work-around, though.

          • Don Stewart says:

            I will sound like a broken record. Pay attention to water. Geoff Lawton says it, Toby Hemenway says it, Eustace Conway sacrificed to get it. What you want is gravity feed. If you have a roof, and are in a rainy climate, and are frugal with water, and have or can make a storage vessel, you should be OK. Getting infinite amounts of water through pipes from somewhere else, with all the water chlorinated, and all the water from the house going into a ‘treatment plant’ is not a reliable plan.

            For example, I was walking through a new subdivision here the other day. At the bottom of a ravine I see a chain link fence with electric lines coming into it, some big metal cabinets, and the words ‘pumping station’ with the name of the subdivision. What they are doing, I am almost certain, is pumping sewage uphill with electricity. The sewage gathers in this low spot by gravity, then is pumped. I used to live in a town in New Jersey that was located in a low swamp surrounded by hills. They had to pump their sewage out. In the hurricane of 2011, they were without power for a week. So no one could use their toilet because they couldn’t pump the sewage. I hope some of them had paid attention to the 5 gallon bucket composting toilet solution.

            Probably make separate provision for drinking water and gray water. Eat lots of leafy greens to avoid sickness.

            Don Stewart

      • Don Stewart says:

        For those in single family houses or small apartment complexes in the East, roof catchment is the answer. So far as I know, there is no answer for Phoenix.

        If indoor water survives, then the separation of gray water and drinking water becomes essential. Almost all cities legislate against such separation.
        Don Stewart

        • There is a big energy cost of switching from current roofing materials to metal or tile, needed for rainwater catchment for drinking. We also need to install cisterns. If one has enough money/energy, it is a solution, until some other part of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum is reached.

    • Eustace Conway Blog-a-thon

      After reading Don’s post I read up more on Eustace Conway and what is going on with Turtle Island.

      I started a Blog-a-thon on the Diner this week to raise awareness and get the 25,000 Signatures on the Petition. You can find the Petition at

      Get the word out in any way you can.


  16. Ikonoclast says:

    This rain-days map of Australia tells the story. Go to it and scroll down to see the legend. Only areas with 80 rain days per annum or more can usually support people and agricultural or pastoralism in any significant way. And some of those areas have other problems which make them unviable, from excessive seasonality of rain or excessive heat to inappropriate geography and soil types.

  17. Ikonoclast says:

    I live in Queensland in Australia. Queensland incoporates both tropical and sub-tropical zones. Queensland at 1,723,936 sq km, with an additional 6712 sq km in island area is much bigger than Texas at 696,241 sq km. However, Qld’s population is 4.56 million and Texas’s population is 26.1 million which incidently is greater than Australia’s total population of 23 million. Australia’s total land area is a little smaller than the USA’s lower 48 states contiguous area.

    There is a great difference in our continents though. The USA lower 48 area has a rich hinterland all the way from the east coast to the west coast. You have some significant arid zones mainly in the south-west in Arizona, New Mexico and perhaps Colorado. Australia on the other hand has the so-called “dead heart” and very huge arid zones around that. As a rule of thumb you could say the area of Australia with useful and reasonably reliable water supplies for urban areas and agriculture is about the size of France 674,843 sq km or Texas 696,241 sq km.

    So Australia’s great size is somewhat illusory in this context. It’s better to think of us a France or Texas sized country getting towards 25 million people but that also happens to have a large arid mineral province beyond the most habitable coastal areas. Those deposits are good but widely scattered. One thing we are poor in is oil reserves. Our biggest field (tiny by world standards) is in Bass Straight. Australia is already past domestic peak oil production. However, our natural gas reserves are large, as are coal reserves, iron ore, non-ferrous metals and uranium. That gives a quick picture of Australia and how it is placed.

    Thus, even for Australia, the wisest thing we could do would be to cap our population at 30 million. 25 million would be even better but we already almost guaranteed to overshoot that. So any illusions that even Australia is under-populated should be dismissed at once. I am not saying that anyone who visits this blog has those illusions but you might be interested by the this thumbnail sketch of Australia with regard to limits to growth.

    • Stopping the growth is a real issue. Part of the growth of most countries that have jobs comes from immigration. Trying to stop both births (over 2 per family) and immigration is tricky.

      • xabier says:


        Big business wants immigrants for cheap and willing labour. Politicians want them for votes and to maintain welfare systems by their labour. The welfare systems let them have large families, with no financial downside for so doing – so the high birthrate in the lower classes of society is a common phenomenon in Britain, Europe and the US, driving a population growth which otherwise wouldn’t exist.

        • I think there are policies but an agenda! There is no agenda in the UK for immigration- in post war Britain we needed extra workers- in the 80 to 90s we were short of medical staff so we imported them [all had been trained at their own government expense- in the 00s we needed dentists, fruit pickers and builders and Eastern Europeans filled that role.

          As for big families- well rich people can have more kids than average too [I know- my sister is one], the fear now is Muslims- it is telling the idiot ‘lord’ Monckton cites the UK will be half Muslim in 20/30/40 years [completely false- do the math currently 1.5 million in the UK of 70 million] [many of the myths seem to stem from a right wing youtube movie – ]. Back in the 1970s it was Irish families who were feared.

          The press now focus on young unemployed single mums on welfare with 3-4 or more children from different dads- I don’t having lots of kids on welfare is a good thing but the problem is education and relative poverty and not the biggest drain on tax- old people in the UK take most of the welfare budget.

          The only agenda is with corrupt business who pay below legal wages and have little worker welfare standards and the ultra religious.

          There is enough problems coming our way without scape goating minorities as right thinking politics try to do.

          • xabier says:


            I’m certainly not scapegoating anyone – but the mechanics of immigration (like globalism, no bad thing in itself) are very clear, and the consequences for population growth.

            The very rich having large families is of no importance.

            Ultimately, big business just wants cheap labour, easy to manipulate, and doesn’t care where they originate, at home or abroad, it’s just that immigration delivers that in an ideal fashion.

            The dilution of national cohesion based on race and culture is also part of an agenda, in Europe and Britain certainly (with benign intentions, but misguided.)

            All these factors make a sane population policy of the kind suggested by Gail and others impossible.

        • Of course, the minor detail is that most of us in America have grandparents or great grandparents who came here for a better life. They, too, had big families, leading to the big population growth in the past.

          People do what they are used to from the past. And the small children that might not have survived in the “old country,” now survive to adulthood.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        I believe Australia could stop growth at 25 million to 30 million people. All it would take is a cut in our immigration policy and birth rate such that immigration + births = emigration + deaths. This is axiomatically true of course but the question is how to do it?

        Australia’s population grew by 1.7% during the year ended 30 September 2012.
        Natural increase and net overseas migration contributed 40% and 60% respectively to total population growth for the year ended 30 September 2012. Thus we need a cut in immigration such that immigration = emigration. We also need a relatively modest cut in birth rates to the replacement rate of about 2.1 births per woman. Of course, no individual woman can have exactly the replacement rate of births. 😉

        The policies needed are a committment to a population ceiling, a reduction in voluntary immigration by restrictions, no reduction needed in taking bona fide refugees, even better health, eduation, employment and welfare rights for women and a phasing out of some absurd middle-class welfare policies we have like baby bonuses.

        Politically, the greatest obstacle is the nationalistic and vainglorious belief that a bigger population will make us bigger and more powerful on the world stage. Australia suffers from little brother syndrome compared to the UK and USA. Along with that is a belief our economy will benefit from economies of scale and a larger domestic market. In a world far from limits these latter beliefs might be reasonable. In a world and country close to real limits these beliefs are incorrect and indeed counter-productive.

        There is also significant political pressure from immigrant ethnic groups who want more people, especially but not only relatives, from their old country to be allowed permanent residence in Australia.

        • xabier says:


          A perfect example in Australia of where the issues are crystal clear, a reasonable population policy could be constructed, and yet progress looks to be impossible.

    • Scott says:

      Interesting to hear about your country Australia. From what I have seen and read, It is a wide country and one of the driest for the most part. I think it is a good place to ride this out compared to other populated parts of the world also a beautiful place.

      So I imagine water is hard to come by to irrigate crops etc. in many areas, so they will remain unchanged with out water to come in and bring development. So many lands will stays as is. I used to live in California and many of the valley farming communities there are pumping out the deep water wells so fast and levels are dropping. So much land could go out of production if those wells go dry and they are fighting about Desalination projects now. A desal project almost needs its own power plant.

      So many places in the world like the cities of Tibet in the shadow of the melting glaciers or countries pumping from depleting deep underground aquifers will face severe shortages of water. Gail wrote about this and water shortages may show its face right along with peak oil.

      There Australia, there must be some of the last vast unexplored areas there for resources.

      • xabier says:


        In the south of Spain they’ve really been abusing the water supply, taking too much from the aquifers for an extremely intensive system of agriculture that historically never existed there.

        In the past, these places were poor, for a good reason – modern technology has given us the power to abuse what resources they did have.

        Unemployment there is already up to 60% for the young, when the agriculture starts to go, no prizes for guessing what will happen.

        • Scott says:

          Besides the dying Honey Bees, Water is going to be more and more of a problem for farming and clean drinking water.

          In Spain it sounds like they are pumping out the ancient water aquifers, once that is gone those farms will dry up too. They are over pumping the worlds aquifers and many areas these may take perhaps a thousand years to replenish these aquifers in dry areas. But at least water wells do recharge from the rains – unlike oil and gas wells.

          In the a California City where I used to live, they had drilled wells for city water that were 3000 feet deep and the water was sometimes hot coming out of the cold water tap because of the deep pumping and all the energy it takes to pull it up from that far down. The over pumping on the coastal areas also is causing seawater intrusion and I have seen them offer Desalination as the only option to stop the over pumping.

          So now we have unsustainable farming too in many areas.

          • xabier says:


            Regarding the dying bees: only 2 observed so far this Spring!

            And that’s in a garden with a lot of attractions for them. Not so long ago, it was humming with bees and clouds of butterflies, too.

        • I think the craziest aspect of Iberian farming, is exporting crops to the rest of Europe. If I buy Spanish tomatoes or whatever, I’m buying 98% Spanish water, trucked in over 1500 miles.

            • Globalization seems to encourage a race to the bottom. Our standards for living conditions and salaries don’t mean much in a world market.

            • witsendnj says:

              I feel pretty stupid not to have understood that globalization meant outsourcing pollution and exploiting slaves. When it was happening I wasn’t really paying attention to why people were protesting. Of course, it’s all coming home to roost, because international corporations are more and more blatantly giving the same treatment to the US – look at fracking, MTR, and our abandoned manufacturing centers. And the pollution floats right across the Pacific from Asia, raising ozone levels globally and adding to epidemics of cancer, heart disease, asthma etc. We all breathe the same air, eventually.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        Out Great Artesian Basin is much depleted and much water from it is now brackish from excess salt. Australia’s rivers, while often long are usually narrow and shallow with very slow flow rates and low volumes. The exception is when we have cyclone, storms and floods.

        A famous old Australian verse goes;

        “I love a sunburnt country,
        A land of sweeping plains,
        Of ragged mountain ranges,
        Of droughts and flooding rains.”

        The words “droughts and flooding rains really sums us up. We can have droughts that last for many years in regions and then have a huge wet season and very large floods that spread out far over our “sweeping plains”. This kind of rainfall pattern is not nearly as useful and amenable as more regular annual rains.

        Statistics of our average annual rainfall in various regions don’t nearly tell the full story. In the early 1800s in South Australia, graziers spread out into bountiful seeming grazing lands far north of Adelaide. The real fact was that climate there ran on about 20 year cycles and they were seeing the last years of the 20 good years. What followed was about 20 to 30 bad years, mostly drought years yeart after year and all the cattle stations failed. Americans would call “cattle stations”, ranches. (Not sure if you are used to our lingo.)

        • xabier says:


          You are very right in what you say about fracking in the US (and now in Britain) -the companies are showing that will do right on home ground what they’ve always done abroad among the poor and defenceless: take the resources, make a quick killing, and to hell with you if you are worried about the loss of good land and the pollution of water aquifers.

          Maybe this will wake people up? But the truth is being drowned out with the propaganda about ‘energy independence.’ And the workers, often driven there out of desperation as their home cities crumble, receive great pay cheques while it all lasts.

          I know what you mean about feeling stupid, but there’s no point in beating oneself up over it: our whole public culture, all the MSM, is one lie.

          • witsendnj says:

            Anecdotally, I’ve been involved in some activism around MTR and fracking and Tar Sands, and especially with the first 2, but to some extent the 3rd, I have found to a troubling degree that even among those who are aroused and educated (still the minority – most, as you say, are looking for a pay check however short-lived) really don’t get the big picture. They are concerned about local impacts on health – via polluted soil, water and air, and ruined terrain – but very few connect it to any larger geo-political or ecological issue. If they could make the drillers or miners go to the next state, they wouldn’t mind it if the coal plants continue burning coal, because they can’t directly see it impacting their lives.


  18. Keep up the good work Gail- and I agree with the other posters who appreciate the importance of the negative message. Personally, I care- I have a child and have friends of all ages which requires a positive outlook.

    picking up on the historical narrative mentioned at the top: I don’t think any society has chosen to down size but plenty of civilisations have had to modify behaviour. I think after a few economic shocks in the coming decade [few months!?!] decline will be long and slow.

    We do have the advantage of a technical and knowledge base compared to previous civilisations: in the developing world basic sanitation is poorly understood although having run festivals I can vouch for educated people to be able to ignore those basics too!

    Roman decline has a resonance in that the farms were big estates with slave power rather than oil but the same could happen in that farmers with 1000s of acres will not be able to manage them allowing them to be squatted or sold off in to small units.

    I feel the adjustment is happening now- already fuel use is reduced- not using the car is an option as is home delivery. We have been rich enough to waste energy and having just seen this winters household fuel bill the solar option is no longer an option. When meat becomes too expensive we will eat less or substitute it with horse or rat!

    the market works to a degree but I fear the political backlash and scapegoating rather than the truth.

  19. Stu Kautsch says:

    Yes, you’re right about the Club of Rome not making the connection with debt, and this may be the biggest omission I’ve seen pointed out. The last time I read it (maybe 5 or 6 years ago) I was also struck at how little they treated the “Law of Natural Resource Extraction” (as Heinberg calls it): “We take the best stuff first, and the easy stuff first.”, which you always include in these types of analysis. About all they had to say about this in the original report was that geometric growth in slag and other detritus from mining operations would lead to insurmountable environmental problems and vastly increased energy usage. I agree with you that the original report, at least, was probably too conservative due to both of these points.

  20. “As another example, if we want to transport goods a long distance without external energy, we can only push a cart at the speed at which we can walk. Oil or another other modern fuel allows inexpensive long-distance transport of goods.”

    Well Gail, I don’t think this is a very good example. First, where did the energy come from to build the cart ? How many times have bloggers said ” but solar panels can supply energy” and you say “there will be no means in the future to produce the solar panels with oil”. But this is not my main problem with this statement.

    If I’m going to get a cart to move my freight. Then why couldn’t I get a bike to tow the cart with ? Bikes can multiply human efficiency by a factor of 5 without oil. I can walk for 2 hours and cover 6 miles, but I can ride my bike for 2 hours and cover 30 miles. All without fossil fuels, but I do need a paved road and so does your cart.

    My main point in this is that technology without oil can improve humans lives. As for me, I’m looking forward to the day when oil companies stop selling guns for killing, I mean oil for cooking the earth and ourselves.

    Life will be better with a lot less oil. It will be the future. Drive 55 today.

    • its QWERTY time on my forehead again!!!!!!
      this is a difficult truth to get across
      fossil fuel provided the means by which 7 billion people are alive on the planet right now—discounting a few aboriginal tribes– and fossil fuel is the only life support we have, not riding bikes or pulling carts,—exactly where are you going to pull your ”freight” to? The flat bottomed barges being toted down the river?—and what’s going to tote them back upriver again—the same method being used when toting barges and lifting bales was done by more ‘traditional’ means?
      It makes me want to volunteer to be one of the six billion disposables

      • Oil is no different than drugs. Use a little for recreation and you will be fine. Use more and more of it everyday only to become sick and die. Humans are addicted to oil and currently on a 7 billion person “high” killing the earth. It’s all about how we get clean or die.

        Which brings me to another topic. The only human organization that can fix this addiction is Government for the people (not for profit) with education, trust, regulation and will of the people. Of course when was the last time a group of addicts trusted a doctor to get them clean. And Gail wonders why I think she leans right. Of course you can pray to God, but history shows for the last 200 years, that’s how we got into this mess.

        Start today by driving 55, it’s the first step to getting clean. Oil is too important of a finite resource to be burned for personal transportation.

        • nope—in 1776 Watt got the working function of the steam engine right, since then we have burned more fuel to get more fuel to get more fuel….and more people, the fact that the American nation was conceived in the same year is interesting to say the least.
          That’s what happened 200 years ago, praying had nothing to do with it—quite the opposite, it was the age of enlightenment.
          now that fuel is running out, we seem to be reverting to the age of darkness—praying to refill the oilwells
          This blog doesn’t lean left or right, it leans towards inevitability
          hoping that governments can suddenly reverse the entire process that has sustained governments since they were conceived is taking optimism beyond any point of credibility

        • Start today by walking or riding a bicycle. Driving 55 doesn’t do enough.

          • Walking or riding a bike is great if you only have a few miles to travel. 55 is only the beginning of how to get to a non oil based transportation system. Most likely to eliminate oil from transportation speeds will still go a lot lower, but your going to have to train the public.

            Gail, your always looking for a silver bullet and because you can’t find it, you see failure. It’s going to take hundreds of different solutions(bullets), time and life style changes. The sooner humans transfer to a non oil based transportation system the less painful it will be. Life will go on, you’re so negative. An enforced 55 could save this country a million barrels of oil a day. That’s a great start.



            Do the Math

            • I see very basic problems–(1) a financial system that depends on growth, or it will collapse (2) a depleting resource base that is ever more expensive to extract, because we take out the least expensive to extract first, and (3) human population that like the populations of all other species, will grow as long as resources are available. The whole system is by definition unsustainable. What you are talking about is small bandaids that may slightly fix one part of the problem, but tend to make other parts of the problem worse. Transferring to a non-oil based transportation system means that we use up coal and natural gas more quickly (since we don’t have “renewables” without fossil fuels). Considerable energy (and $$) are needed up front to make the transition, taking resources away from other uses. If governments participate, this makes their financial situations worse. In the end, it is not very clear that anyone is better off. It may very well make collapse happen more quickly.

        • xabier says:

          Chief Engineer

          It’s a nice dream, but since the people had the opportunity, they’ve voted with their feet for cars, international vacations, wide-screen TV’s and consumerism. We can’t blame TPTB for that.

      • xabier says:

        End of More

        The best one can say for bikes – and that’s all I use for local journeys – is that 1/ It keeps you fit, and 2/ It’s cheaper than a car and requires no finance.

        My bike costs at most £50.00 per year to maintain, total replacement is still an insignificant sum, and in the context of rapidly rising basic living costs which have to be met, and declining income, it’s useful to be able to excise the whole car thing from one’s budget.

        But you are correct, it only works in the context of the whole oil-driven economy – how was the bike made, using what energy, where was the factory , how do I get the spare parts? how is the cycle path constructed and maintained, and so on. None of it coming even from Europe, let alone Britain or my local town.

        Given the economic context, it is surprising to see how low the take-up of cycling still is -but then again, it’s very dangerous in a car-based city, and country roads are even worse!

    • You are right. It takes energy to make the cart and even more importantly to create and maintain a road.

      I would say that a bicycle takes a whole lot more energy, than even the cart and road. I am doubtful that you can make and maintain any of these systems without oil. Maybe less oil, but I am not sure we are being given the option of “less oil”.

      • as I keeping banging on—as oil gets scarcer, fighting over whats left will proportionally increase—it has to
        Yet people keep imagining ‘less oil’ as a gentle downward slope giving us decades to adjust to it not being there

        • “fighting over whats left will proportionally increase”

          Just another reason to stop using oil for personal transportation. It’s much gentler to go willingly down the slope than being forced. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

      • There will be “less oil”, but there just will not be enough for todays kind of personal transportation which consumes about 75% plus of todays oil use. Humans have to change and the sooner the better.

        • yes—but you make the point about ‘having to change’ as if there will be some stupendous collective and universal decision to ‘change’.
          man has been inclined towards collective homicide since we came down out of the trees, even more so since we start acquiring ‘assets’ that could be of use to someone else.
          it is this fallacy that after millions of years of a certain evolved line of behaviour, sometime in the next 50 years we are going to change our ways. No one willingly gives up his living standards–to do that you have to look at you r wife and kids and say–sorry, we’re screwed, get used to going hungry. .If personal transportation stops, our functioning economy stops. It’s that brutal I’m afraid.
          we are not going to do that., and no government decree will make it so, no matter how dictatorial.
          to paraphrase Dylan Thomas: we will not go gentle into that good night, we will fight fight against the dying of the light.

          • I’m not sure if I read you right but I don’t think just because people don’t accept change they won’t change. When fuel doubles in price and wages are stagnant you have few choices- but if you want to go to work or go shopping you either do it less, or cycle or walk, or shop locally or get deliveries- the other choice is you vote for change.

            The popular vote can work several ways- we collectively could demand imperial expansion and steal the oil and continue a war economy [unfortunately it works for a short time in recessions] or demand cheap fuel now [like the Iranians] or demand a green transport system/economy.

            Humans do adapt- it is just whether we do with the least casualties to ourselves or the planet. [planet in this context is our one in the near geological future!]

            • I think our image of the change is wrong. It is not that the price of oil goes up much–it is that more people are unemployed, and it is that government benefits for seniors and those on welfare go down.

              If we still have a job, we are torn between taking care of our relatives without income and being able to afford oil. They will likely want to move in with people with income, to keep their living expenses down.

        • Personal transportation does not consume 75% of oil use. My estimate in the US is 44%. (This is based on comparing gasoline consumption (excluding ethanol) to total liquid fuel use ex biofuels). My 44% percent is probably high, because there are a lot of sales people and delivery vans that use gasoline, even though they are commercial vehicles.

          Relative to the world, the US percentage of 44% is very high. Other countries would be lower, because fewer people have cars, and they tend to drive less.

          • Gail I am curious to know why you feel pessimistic about US economy and adaptation- I see a country with huge potential [at least a decade or 2 of abundance]- a skill base and huge room for reducing consumption through conservation measures. Fuel is stupidly cheap whether for cars or the home so there seems zero incentive to energy efficient homes- and my trip to Texas was almost always air conditioned to the point I had to wear jumpers in August. No one needs a 2 ton semi to pick up the shopping or for that matter to take a few construction tools to work [as a UK builder most of the crews I work with use public transport in cities or small saloon cars].

            In the UK home electricity is 20 cents Kwh [13p] plus service charge- UK average home heating/energy = $2000 [£1400] a year. of which £70 at most is paying green subsidies- so even without solar subsidies for home pv a £5000 4 kw system will pay for itself in 20 years and with subsidies you make money after 10 years.

            Britain’s manufacturing is surprisingly successful, despite myths we make twice as much [in value] as we did 20-30 years ago so paying twice for power as much drives efficiency.

            BTW I do take onboard your point [fact] that Euro fuel duty is a tax so it gets fed back into the system- but electricity/gas is only 5% tax.

            • The problem is that the economy has no “reverse” switch. Our current economy is fueled by debt. Without the government’s attempt to keep employment up through deficit spending and QE, everything would fall apart. Many more would be unemployed. There is a significant chance that international trade will be severely disrupted. The issue then would be a lack of jobs, and quite possibly oil prices that are too low to encourage extraction. Interest rates would likely be way up, discouraging investment in new drilling or new investment in natural gas for automobiles. If there is a problem with international trade, it is likely that we would find ourselves without replacement parts for essential things, perhaps parts needed by US workers drilling for oil, for example. New computers may not be available. Even if our bank accounts look OK, we may find that there is not much to buy with the money (except lots of unoccupied houses, because so many are out of work, and cannot afford their own home).

              The government, in its grab to get funding, is likely to raise taxes on oil and gas companies, further discouraging extraction.

              All of the oil and gas that looks like it is there, will be found to be much less accessible than most people thought.

            • Thank you- put like that I can appreciate your concern. If there is no reverse will taking the foot off the accelerator bring about a more ordered slow down?

            • No, taking the foot off the accelerator doesn’t bring a more ordered slow down. Think of our economy as a stack of children’s blocks, built into a tall tower. You can pull out a block from the bottom slowly or quickly, but the effect is pretty much the same. The tower falls over.

              Our economy is built in a way that it needs growth. You can paper over the problem for a while (with ultra low interest rates and QE), but at some point the smoke and mirrors are not enough to cover up the problem, and the whole tower falls over.

        • jules
          all those ‘demands’ constitute a single demand: that we go on using energy as before—somehow.
          the concept of ‘voting’ in this context means voting for the politician who promises the change the laws of physics. (I recall Bachmann got a big following because she promised to reduce gas to $2!)
          You cannot ‘vote’ for change because politicians are as helpless as the rest of us to change events, they just get carried along on the tide and hope at best to stay in office or at worst to at least dodge the assassins bullet
          Yes we will change, but I maintain that wont happen until it is forced upon us, and not in any political sense, but through unavoidable circumstance,

  21. Scott says:

    Hello Don,

    Yes, I brought that up a while back and had posted this link to James Howard Kunstler where he talks to the guy building them.

    Interesting story. I had commented that they are great, but I did not think we could feed all folks in New York with them. But they could help.

    Seems to me they would work better in world less populated, if many of us were gone and a group of survivors had to start over, kind of like in the story of Kunstler, “A World Made by Hand”.
    Here is the link to that interview again if anyone is interested.

  22. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    In one of your previous posts, the issue of the sailing barge shuttling food from Lake Champlain down to New York City came up. A number of people didn’t thin much of it. For a good explanation of why a flat bottomed sailing barge is a good idea, see Dmitry Orlov’s post today:

    I covered in the previous post the fact that water transport of staple foods is the cheapest method to move them. Dmitry explains why a square bottomed boat is well adapted to moving freight on most any navigable waterway. A square bottom is adapted to rising sea levels and poor channel maintenance and unreliable channel markers.

    I observe that the kind of world he is describing is labor intensive. You beach the boat or barge on a sandy beach and then you load it or unload it by hand. (Think of Harry Belafonte working on the banana boat ‘all night long’.) The kind of degraded infrastructure Dmitry is describing is inconsistent with big fixed cranes effortlessly lifting pallets from the holds of gigantic container ships. But it may well be the kind of world you expect.

    Sailing barges may be the triumph of resilience and adaptiveness over highly designed efficiency.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks for the link. Regular barges are of course rectangular. With rectangular solid pieces of wood, they are obviously easier and cheaper to make.

  23. xabier says:

    The best thing about this site is that it does provoke thought, unlike others which seem only to be preaching to those who have converted to some preferred ‘solution’. I even saw a comment on one; ‘Those like us who know the truth.’ All a bit too cult-like for me. Please keep going Gail!

    • Although Gail covers Energy and Economy with great vigour – I wish I had seen more connection toward the last E – the Environment. Its clear that on top of the energy and economy challenges we face, the effect of climate change is about to escalate. So its more of a “double whammy” in my eyes. The interesting thing is that the earlier the economy fails, the earlier CO2 emissions might go down as well. But knowing that the planet still has billions of people that needs food and heating – we most likely will burn anything in sight to survive. Considering how quickly the forests in USA disappeared pre-oil , any cut back on oil availability might force a lot of people to look for trees again.

      The speed at which the Arctic is melting is rather drastic compared to what even the IPCC had in their 4th assessment, and could mean that some systems are moving much faster than any climate model is able to predict. It almost looks like some tipping points have been passed a long time ago.

      I also find it hard to ignore research on ocean acidification that have statements like this: “The current acidification is on a path to reach levels higher than any seen in the last 65 million years, and the rate of increase is about ten times the rate that preceded the Paleocene–Eocene mass extinction.” (snippet from wikipedia).

      The CO2 level in the atmosphere is about to pass 400 ppm which the earth haven’t had for 4 million years according to proxy measurements of CO2 levels in the past. How we can still ignore these things is really beyond me. Its almost like some giant experiment noone really signed up for – but that we are just hoping for the best outcome (too much wishful thinking isnt good for us).

      I sort of thing NASA’s own pages really sums up the condition of the planet in one page here:

      No planet = No economy 🙂

      • xabier says:

        John Christian

        Very true: the Crisis in Greece has already led to people desperately cutting down trees to burn – I’ve seen this in some news reports,and friends there have confirmed it.

        This was made worse by the government adding tax payments to peoples’ fuel bills, threatening to cut them off if they didn’t pay it all.

        Economic collapse and environmental destruction linked very clearly!

      • yt75 says:

        Great summary page indeed, thanks for the link.
        And let’s not forget that the “solutions” to adress both current dependency on fossile hydrocarbons to “run” the economy and climate aspects are exactly the same.
        And to me first and foremost that would be a serious rebalance in taxing fossile fuels and work (while maintaining a good level of redistribution and common infrastructure/services).
        And I think this is valid at a country level (or countries group) in a “selfish” sense even without going into “saving the world” aspects.
        But it is very late …

        • And again its the problem of getting a majority of people to accept more regulations in consumption, energy and pollution. Clearly when you look at how the wealth is distributed in a country like USA, its very odd that one shouldn’t be able to amass enough people to force through a change in the way the country is run with respect to these things. I guess the main reason is the enormous anti-climate-science campaigning funded by the Koch brothers and the like. I have noticed on comments in any climate science article or video that there is a tendency to link climate science with communism and left extremism. This attitude is actively marketed by those who oppose any change in our relation to fossil fuels – hence they look at AGW as being some nutty hoax. I have been trying to take part of a few discussions here and there but its just impossible to penetrate all the nonsense they come up with in defence. Considering that science also have trouble convincing people about the creation of life – I can certainly understand the big scepticism towards AGW. So in that sense I think we wont be able to solve this in time really – and will just have to learn to adapt – much like we will have to learn to improvise when economies fail due to lack of cheap fossil fuel energy. It doesnt mean I have given up trying to convince people of the seriousness of climate change – but it means I cannot conjure up a solid solution as it would just mean too many changes in the way everyone behaves – or accepting some massive powerful totalitarian regime (e.g. look at how fast China is trying to solve their energy problems, and hopefully some pollution issues as well).

          I often say that the world needs a “good dictator”. 🙂

          • xabier says:

            I looked up the reference to Tikopia Island given above. The inhabitants managed to preserve a precarious but sustainable life – although environmental changes almost destroyed them at one point – due to: 1/ Everyone on the island appreciated the situation and its dangers fully; 2/ The tribal chiefs had total authority to impose solutions; 3/ There were no pre-conceived limits to possible solutions – i.e. birth control, infanticide, limited ‘wars’ to reduce population, voluntary suicide by the young. And, 4/ No group in the society could fudge the real situation with propaganda or wishful-thinking (i.e. ‘No way we’ll starve, genetically-modified palm tress are just around the corner, and they’ll grow fish too!) 5/ They were not in the grip of a financial and taxation system which could crush them if they attempted to deviate from its needs, as opposed to those of the community.

            This freedom to find solutions applies to no large-scale society that I can think of today, for cultural and ideological reasons. This freedom from propaganda does not exist anywhere, although the access to real information does vary considerably. And we know the bankers own us, and if not us, they own our rulers.

            And we have the MSM to drench public opinion in propaganda and disinformation as to reality.

            A dictator in an advanced society is likely only to play out their warped fantasies and psyche (Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Franco) rather than to be acting in the interests of the good of the whole, like the Tikopia elders. And the democratic leaders, as we know, are wholly concerned with winning the next election for their party, when they are not actually in the pockets of vested interests.

          • Well yes, our experience with past dictators haven’t been a good one as you say – that’s why I said a “good dictator” if there is any such thing. Only possible if everyone is clear and convinced that we have a real problem – at the moment we are clearly failing to get that message across.

            Faced with the possibility of a near term extinction, I think extreme measures are needed anyway – It’s rather hard to discuss our classic views of freedom then. Either everyone plays along or its game over. 🙂

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            To John Christian:

            Whether this group of readers agrees with Gail or you or me or anyone else who posts here is largely irrelevant until you and I and the rest of us plotters can draft a ‘communications strategy’ to spread this good news. Should we start a lottery to choose who will be the first politician to break the news to the nation? How about getting the issue onto a national platform? State platform? Which party should the benevolent dictator come from?

          • To Christopher Johnson,

            Hehe, well a buddy and I frequently discuss utopia and generally come to the conclusion that there is just too many people on the planet to have any single coherent goal of anything. We are basically just more advanced apes in my eyes. And like any other species we really are just trying to get through life in one piece, and if time permits have some kids. There is just too many different cultures and religions, each with their history and pride. Telling that “the old ways” have to go and we need to think in a completely new way is just impossible in the face of everyday conflicts today. Its very simple to see that even though the majority of people agree that less pollution is good, we still allow to sacrifice ecology for efficiency and welfare. And most poor people that is simply looking to find food to survive certainly do not view the planets health as anything of importance. So I am afraid it only becomes an utopian dream that we could motivate people around the world to understand that if we keep up this rat-race its really game over for the human experience. But mother nature (who generally obeys physical laws no matter what god you believe in) tend to remind us now and then how small and puny we really are on the planet. A ragnarok will in that sense just be a self fulfilling prophecy and I am sure that when the grim reaper knocks we will find some excuse to “why is it happening to me?”.

            No doubt, even if the planet should endure +10-15 C temperatures over average, I am sure a handful of people will find a way to survive even under those conditions – and no doubt, given enough time (100000+ years) the planet will stabilise again. So perhaps its really just our fossil fuel glut reset button and that the surviving people will come out at the other end a bit wiser (although that generation might not have had anything to do with the cause of the disaster). Time will tell.

      • While “No planet” = “No economy”, I think this is a mis-directed fear. The limits we are hitting with respect to financial collapse we are hitting so soon and hard that they vastly overshadow the environmental issues. If humans are already nearly all dead from collapse, they can’t go on doing the environmental damage that is so much a concern. We will quickly discover that “Virtually No Humans” + “Inability to use fossil fuel” = “Stop to environmental degradation”.

        In fact, overshoot and collapse, and a shift in climates and predominant species is the way a finite world works. One species predominates, and then another. The world is resilient. What we consider pollution is precisely the right characteristics for some other species (Plants, most likely) to live in.

        Our concern about the world is ecosystems is really a concern about the future of human existence. At best, a remnant will make it through the current energy/financial bottleneck. The world ecosystems are quite capable of mending themselves, especially when they have gotten rid of humans’ interference.

        • witsendnj says:

          This actually seems cornucopian to me because I believe it underestimates the degree of pollution (as did the original and followup Limits to Growth models.). You mentioned mercury earlier, that is but one toxin. The oceans for instance are not going to recover from the acidification in a timescale that will mean anything to human survivors.

          The forests are likewise dying from tropospheric ozone. Most people just don’t see it, their perspective of what constitutes a healthy coral reef or a healthy tree is utterly degraded already.

          Something will undoubtedly replace world ecosystems but it won’t be anything like the bountiful, richly diverse paradise we evolved in.

          • We certainly do have a lot of ecosystem problems, and it really would be nice if we could change them. But I don’t really see any solution. The amount people pollute basically depends on their incomes–the more money they have to spend, they more they pollute and degrade ecosystems. Adding more children makes it worse.

            If we cut back manufacturing in this country, the jobs go elsewhere, and the pollution goes there (but in a world system, it still migrates around). US citizens pollute less, but the world pollutes more–at least based on past history. I don’t know of any solution other than the solution nature imposes, which is financial collapse, and that solution seems to be coming pretty quickly.

          • witsendnj says:

            Gail, I agree with you – I wasn’t suggesting there is a solution. It’s in our DNA to go into overshoot. It’s just a question of which of the converging catastrophes makes it to the finish line first. I tend to think the environmental disasters are far more urgent and imminent than acknowledged but I could be wrong, maybe economic chaos will lead to existential chaos first. It’s all part of the same thing, and either way, we have ringside seats, haven’t we?

        • Gail, that could certainly be true if a total and back to medieval kind of collapse is just around the corner within the next 10 years – but I highly doubt that. There is still lots of natural gas, coal and oil sands that can be mined and burned in any economic constellation but stretched out a bit if the good old “growth rocket” isn’t working anymore. It doesn’t really matter then as throwing all that CO2 in the atmosphere will wreck the planet in ways we cannot imagine. But you are right that without abundant cheap oil the extraction machines (even for coal) will not be able to operate so fast as before so emissions will be more gradual than traditionally. And reduced ability to purchase goods will also reduce emissions.

          Of course if the economic collapse also results in mass famine, diseases and a major reduction of people then the planet might get a “breather”. I guess that’s why Guy McPherson say that only a complete economic collapse can stop runaway global warming. I am not a black and white person so I guess we will get a bit of both. Even if all CO2 emissions stopped today, we would still get 0.6 C more warming on top of what we got now. We also have no idea how the effect of missing ice on the Arctic will have on how temperature rise will escalate – and neither at what quantities methane will be released in the coming years after that. It sounds to me as being too big a risk to take on a gamble that its not so serious. Considering that even IPCC 4th assessment talked about the summer ice being almost gone in 2080 – we can safely say the models are greatly under-estimating the effect of current warming. To me that just spells that its way more urgent than we thought.

          • Btw for those who want to follow this years summer melt of the Arctic here is a good page with all the information you need:


            So far there is less ice than last year although 2011 was even worse than 2012 at this time of year but recovered some making 2012 the smallest minimum ever recorded (I am sure all know that by now). No doubt weather patterns will affect it greatly so for what we know this year might not be as bad.

            Also there is hourly CO2 readings from Mauna Loa available now here:


            Its grazing that 400 ppm line and this month will be the max although I think it will average just under 400 this year for the peak month. Its still 40% higher than pre industrial concentrations. That a lot of deniers still go around saying that the CO2 component is so small that is has no effect is ignorance at its worst. Any geologist would tell you how important the carbon cycle is for life even to exist on the planet so messing with this and rising it by 40% surely has a great effect (in addition to the acidification of the oceans for the CO2 absorbed there).

          • I expect the collapse will result in a major reduction in people – Just what Guy is hoping for. Timing is tricky, but it could be very soon, with the start date varying by country. It might be that Asia and Africa can hold out for a few more years before collapse.

  24. Pingback: Vi närmar oss tillväxtens gränser- tecken finns, menar Gail Tverberg « ASPO Sverige

  25. Michael Lloyd says:

    Mark Lynas’s book, the God Species is worth a look if only for the description of the nine planetary boundaries:

    The Biodiversity boundary;
    The Climate Change boundary;
    The Nitrogen boundary;
    The Land Use boundary;
    The Freshwater boundary;
    The Toxics boundary;
    The Aerosols boundary;
    The Ocean Acidification boundary;
    The Ozone Layer boundary.

    It is also worth re-posting the link to Tom Murphy’s article on energy limits:

    which states clearly that energy growth cannot proceed indefinitely and that anyone who thinks that we can solve our problems with ever increasing amounts of energy is clearly mistaken.

    • That is a good point that Tom Murphy makes. It is not possible to grow our energy use indefinitely, or our energy use will exceed the amount emitted by the sun.

      The boundaries that the God Species lists are boundaries that humans overstep as we use an increasing share of the world’s resources.

      None of this is sustainable. I guess I am looking at the near-term financial issues with it, but there are definitely other issues as well.

  26. I don’t know if you are read Jeremy Grantham recent quarterly newsletter, but it’s pretty interesting. He envisions a scenario where we willingfully reduce the population to 4 billions within 2200, as more and more countries find themself below the population replacement rate, just because people want less children than before. Painful population adjustements may not happen after all, if we have that much time to work around the issues.

    • I wish we had time enough (and energy enough) to make such a slow transition as Jeremy Grantham envisions. Educating women, providing the infrastructure so that women can have small businesses of their own, together with providing the energy for women to run their own businesses, will require more energy than I expect we will be able extract.

  27. yt75 says:

    Another great summary, thanks !
    About the relationship between energy (hydrocarbons in particular) debt and growth, also below Olivier Rech diagrams which show that for several importing countries, cumulated growth, cumulated debt, and cumulated “imported hydrocarbons bill” have broadly the same value starting 1994 :
    (post which is also using some of your graphs)

    Otherwise although of course I agree that debt is a very serious syndrome of the current situation, and that it might trigger some collapsing events, I wouldn’t say that the fact that “limits to growth” didn’t include it, or financial aspects in general, was/is a “defect”.
    Money can also be seen as part of the “information or signaling layer” of the system, but not fundamentally changing what the system can do, and the current level of debt can be seen as the reflection of past decades “desire for growth”, when the “growth possibility” was already constrained by the ressource aspects.

    I guess you already read it, but I find Hubbert description in below page of the two systems (material/energy and money) quite to the point :
    Otherwise also got the clear peak oil message in 2005 (through JM Jancovici and Alain Grandjean book “le plein s’il vous plait” “a full tank please”)

    • Thanks for the link to your post. It is very good. I will keep the relationship you show between cumulative economic growth, cumulative debt, and cumulative hydrocarbon bills in mind.

      Thanks for reminding me of what Hubbert said, linking growth in the monetary system with growth in the energy system. You are right-I had seen that before.

      I perhaps didn’t express what aspect “Limits to Growth” left out quite correctly. Once there is a slow-down in growth, then it becomes much harder to repay the debt with interest. Governments in particular get squeezed, because they collect taxes from workers, and pay out benefits to people who are left unemployed. A slow-down in debt growth reduces demand for products, putting more pressure on the system. The system starts getting feedbacks that are not really in the model, I don’t think.

      • yt75 says:

        I also agree with you, but for me somehow it does not contradict that the “limits to growth” model stands by itself without the money system.
        It is a bit like the Hubbert curve or model, for modeling oil production : basically just by using this model you state that oil will be extracted as fast as possible(to some degree), and this suppose the whole industrial and money system allowing this to happen (oil doesn’t come out of the ground by itself).
        In the case of “limits to growth” modeling, I see it also as taking as a given that growth will be maximized (didn’t go through it in full details, there are also things such as the more service and products per capita, the less children per woman I think), and for this to happen you need the money system on top of it, but having taken “growth maximizing as an hypothesis”, you more or less include its consequences without having to put it in the model.

        And then at the “breakage point”, something needs to give, so that saying the money system breaks due to ressource shortages or the breaking of the money system breaks the ressource extraction process is a bit “moot”.
        On the other hand there can also be pure financial bubbles for sure (like the tulip onions in Holland in XVIIth century.

        So yes it is more complicated and for sure some economic analysis also makes sense, and maybe a model clearly reflecting the two can be done.
        But it seems to me that in the end the “pure materialistic oriented(in the sense natural ressources and human society)” limits to growth model also “works” on its own.

        • yt75 says:

          Note : “you more or less include its consequences without having to put it in the model.” to be replaced by “you more or less include it being there without having to put it in the model.”

      • xabier says:


        Governments are being squeezed as you say: hence all the hints in Europe of new property taxes; raising sales taxes (a new one proposed in the US I see for online transactions) and extending them even in hugely suffering economies such as Spain; plans to seize bank deposits both above and below guaranteed amounts; and suggestions of vaguely defined ‘wealth’ taxes.

        There is also clear evidence of an ongoing collapse of discretionary spending among the mass of people, and the paying down of debts acquired thoughtlessly during the easy credit ‘boom’, while they struggle to afford ever-increasing fuel and food costs with the poorest having to choose between eating well and keeping warm, usually doing neither.

        While many people are waiting for The Crisis, it is in fact here.

      • Jeff Berner says:

        One option that governments have to postpone facing the debt crisis is to print more money or debase the currency. I remember having seen silver Roman coins that were increasingly reduced in the quantity of silver as Rome declined. (Of course the gold that the very wealthy used as currency never was devalued.)

        • Scott says:

          Yes, they used to clip little pieces of gold or silver from the coins, that was near the end of the Roman Empire I had read.

          I guess, we should watch out for our dollars to have little pieces cut out from around the edges. Just kidding! But who would care it is only paper, not silver or gold.

          But (the World Central Banks) they have a new way of doing that to us using the printing press.

          Paper money has put a lot of power in a few hands. The Central bankers do not have to dig and scratch the Earth for gold no longer, just order paper and Ink. I worry about paper assets and also my government pension which could be considered a paper asset too. If you get a pension check watch out they may start cutting little pieces of the edges too.

          These types of actions represent a desperate move which kind of does not get the attention of the people too much, I am sure the Romans talked of the coins have having chunks cut out and probably drank and joked about it as the Romans fell into their twilight years.

          But these actions like we have been seeing lately by the our own central bankers buying up trillions of debt is a sure sign of desperation and a sign that the system is near collapse.

          It has happened before, financial systems collapse, buildings still stand and people still live, but we may face a monetary system. I have written this before but I believe we will have to hand in our money for something worth less, perhaps a 50 for a 20 equivalent that would help them cut the debt in more than half. Stock markets look great today but no sure about tomorrow.

          Many of us including us Americans have almost got used to the QE programs and they talk about it as if it is there to help and most think nothing of it. But we really have been in Emergency mode since the collapse of 2008.

          We have a situation developing where money could again become tight and with inflation looming and perhaps even a new currency swap that desperate governments may use to confiscate wealth.

          When and If this comes to pass, it will not be hardly a good environment to explore for new oil and gas.

          • In the UK ‘coppers’ 1p & 2p coins were non ferrous alloys right up till the 92 they are now mainly steel. for a time old 2p were worth more in scrape than face value

            • Scott says:

              Here in mid year 1982, the US Penney became clad. So I do save the older ones, some of the 1981’s are copper from the first half of the year. All 1981 and prior US Pennies are mostly Copper so I just think they may be worth something someday and I save them in a five gallon bucket.

              You can actually drop a penny on a hard surface and pick the copper ones by sound, they have a ringing sound.

              Looks like your coins contained metals like copper for some years later than the USA.

          • People who are very poor don’t buy new cars or homes. In fact they likely don’t buy much at all, so many more people get laid off from work, and things go downhill much further. At a lower price, all of the shale oil drilling stops.

            • Scott says:


              Do you think this totally deflationary event or inflationary or perhaps both in different things?

            • I think we are going to lose things to purchase that are of real value, like food and water. There will be lots of things available that are of limited value–unwanted homes, schools, factories, etc. Governments may decide to appropriate things that they find to be of value, like farmland.

              I really don’t know what governments will do in terms of money supply–offer a new kind of currency, not let you get to the money in your bank account, or what. The inflation/deflation argument seems to assume not too great a change from the status quo. If somehow the money in pension plans is still there, it will not buy much of the things we need. That would be inflation. If bonds and stocks are allowed to drop to zero value (or very close), then the issue is the value people thought was there, is not really there, so cannot be exchanged for goods and services.

              Or perhaps I should be thinking in terms of convertibility of the dollar to other currencies. It is not clear that purchases of goods from other countries will continue as before, though–they may be greatly cut back as countries trust each other less, and are more at war with each other. So maybe the issue isn’t inflation/deflation.

        • Printing money is exactly what several of the major countries of the world are doing right now. The countries cannot afford to pay what “normal” interest rates would be on the debt, and they don’t think businesses would borrow and potential homeowners would buy without artificially low interest rate. This (among other things) steals money from pension funds and retirees, and it builds new bubbles (stock market price, investments in homes by corporations). It can only fall apart/blow up, and when it does, the result will be very bad, I am afraid.

          • xabier says:


            I think all objective observers agree with you about the financial storm to come: but step into MSM World, and the propaganda regarding ‘recovery’ is overwhelming!

            I see one good aspect for those wishing to prepare against harder times, in that many hard-pressed retail companies are holding almost perpetual sales, and when they really need to shift inventory the prices can be very low indeed, even for high quality goods. While money is still of value, now is the time to acquire wisely.

            It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good………

  28. “If the problem is not enough food, perhaps because of degraded soil, there are energy-based workarounds as well. Food can be imported from a distance. More fertilizers and soil amendments (either made using fossil fuels, or transported using fossil fuels) may be used.”-Gail

    You forgot Hydroponics, which requires no soil, far less water and far less fertilizer since it works as a closed system and there is no runoff. My fellow Admin on the Diner Peter grows 80% of his food inside his house hydroponically. Because of his location he uses Diode Lighting powered by a nearby Hydro Plant, but in most neighborhoods you could grow in Greenhouses with very low energy input to run your pumps. You actually could do it with a human powered bicycle pumping system.

    Similarly Aquaponics and Worm farms as well as insect cultivation can provide plenty of Animal Protein. You don’t necessarily have to eat the worms yourself, you can use them to feed chickens, and bugs can be used to feed bullfrogs, which we all know “tastes like chicken”. LOL. Peter doesn’t need to do that because he lives on top of the greatest natural fisherie in the world, where the rest of his food comes from. However, he could if he lived elsewhere.

    The food problem is more a methodology & distribution problem than production problem at the moment. With the right systems in place, you can produce plenty of food with very low energy input, and what you get from the Sun and Wind is enough if harvested correctly. Our resident Engineer on the Diner Roamer has done the energy calculation on this, and it comes up net positive.

    On other topics, we just published the April 2013 issue of the Diner Webzine, now available for download in PDF format from Scribd.

    This issue focuses on Monetary Issues with numerous articles on Money.


    • sponia says:

      It’s been my experience that the real difficulty is not just in producing food, but in preserving, storing, and transporting it. These are all also energy requirements for keeping people fed and alive, but they don’t seem to attract the attention of planners and engineers the way food production does. If people won’t or can’t move to where crops and livestock can find the resources they need, then the resources, crops, and livestock must be moved to the people instead. This can (often does) use up more energy than growing the plants or raising the animals in the first place.

      The produce of farming is constructed from the basic substances of life, after all – carbon, nitrogen, water – and these have to come from somewhere in order to be incorporated into the food. The system of industrial farming we currently rely on was created and is managed mostly by people who do not recognize limits of any kind, or at any scale. Instead they mostly posses a singular determination to be ‘free’ of all such constraints. Pointing out physical restrictions to this type is a direct challenge to their beliefs and world view. (We shall overcome – political injustice maybe. Not the laws of the natural world, though.)

      It’s the main reason why we have so many who think they are rugged individualistic personalities, when actually they are just unable to distinguish reactionary politics from true spirituality.

      The crisis we are facing has many facets, indeed, but it is rooted in the hubris of our current ideologies. It’s never easy to admit you’re wrong. It’s even more difficult to recognize that your father, and grandfather, and their ancestors started off down exactly the wrong path all those many years ago. We are mostly taught reverence for the past. It makes it singularly difficult to realize where it went disastrously wrong and destroyed the future.

      • Food storage and transportation are problematic with the current distribution of population, but not entirely insoluble either.

        Another of the Diners is a Fermentation Wizard, and fermented foods store well and are easily transportable. Cheese is one example, BOOZE is another. Beer as anyone with a Pot Bellie knows is a fabulous source of calories and lasts basically forever bottled properly. Meat can be Sun Dried and Stripped or Powdered, and keeps for months this way, long enough to be transported even by Wagon Train. Here where I live on the Last Great Frontier, building an Ice House which will last through the summer is not difficult to do.

        Generally speaking though, the new paradigm should be for VERY local production of most food, which Hydroponically you can do yourself in quite a small space. The next step outward is local Permaculture, Hugulkultur et al, then worm and insect farming. This sort of restructuring of food production and distribution could be done inside a generation easy, really I think it could be done inside a Decade if the will and the knowledge was passed out how to do it.

        Food is not really the main problem, it is soluble. The bigger problem is decommissioning the existing Nukes and getting rid of the spent fuel poisoning the environment. This is difficult and energy intensive, and too many people still support Nukes as a means to maintain our energy dependent lifestyle. This is utterly and completely the WRONG direction to go.



        • I wonder about all of the mercury in the environment. Isn’t this a problem for eating locally grown fish, most places?

        • Mercury poisoning hasn’t affected the fisherie in the fjords of British Columbia or SE Alaska, that’s where most of the Halibut and King Crab are fished up. There is however danger that continued poisoning from Fukushima will mess with this fisherie.

          Far as aquaculture goes, there you are working Fresh water Tilapia and Catfish mostly. You definitely want a clean water source, but if your neighborhood gets sufficient rainfall you could do rain catchement. I of course would not recommend using groundwater anywhere near where Fracking is being done. Along with the Nukes, this positively needs to STOP immediately.


      • If we were still hunter-gatherers, preserving, storing and transporting food would not be an issue. We would simply go to where the food is.

        The whole idea of farming, especially in the colder areas of the world, adds a whole series of new dimensions to what must be done. For example, there is a need to build up year-to-year surpluses, in case weather is bad in the future, for example.

        Once we took on farming, we added a whole new set of tasks. Once it became larger scale and internationally traded, it added even more tasks. A person might ask, “What scale of farming/agriculture is sustainable?” It may be mostly tending some perennial plants, if they can provide a steady enough supply of food.

      • xabier says:


        I agree with vey much of what you say. But I don’t feel excessive reverence for the past is the main problem really: in fact, in Spain for instance much of the old wisdom, about how to farm, how to deal with the climate, etc, has been thrown overboard all too eagerly in the space of a few decades.

        The real problem is, perhaps, MSM which is now largely just a propaganda conduit for vested interests. Just go from sites and blogs where reality is being discussed, like this one, to MSM, and pass from sanity to comparative madness……. It’s a massive mechanism for distorting perceptions of reality, and perverting judgement.

    • I thought about hydroponics. I am afraid I am not up to date on aquaponics and worm farms.

      • All I can recommend here is getting up to speed on the alternatives before joining with Guy McPherson in the Uber-Doomer Camp.

        Near Term Extinction IS a possibility, but it is NOT written in Stone. There IS still some HOPIUM left here. Promoting the BEST solutions available is what we must do. Using KNOWLEDGE to develop a Low Energy Footprint society for Homo Sapiens is the BEST means for continuing the great experiment in Human Sentience. Nukes and continued extreme Energy Dependence will only lead to the outcome of the Dinosaurs. This POISON must be REPUDIATED and banished to HELL for the sake of Humanity and all our children.


        • xabier says:


          The problem with Guy McPherson and his associates is that they do treat what is after all only a hypothesis (a plausible one) about Near-Term Extinction, as being written in stone – there’s a whiff of death and depression about his site which is, in the end, just not helpful. He strikes me as a man who has backed himself into a corner.

          Still, we shall see: his latest prediction is for a sudden peak in temperatures this or next year which will almost totally destroy grain production in the US and elsewhere one presumes. And total extinction of mankind before 2030.

          • Agreed, Guy has backed himself into a corner. Such a rapid Extinction is highly unlikely, though you could have a massive population knockdown in this timespan. I also think there are underlying assumptions made in the AGW model that are wrong, which I have detailed in the Geotectonic Heat Transfer theory arguments on the Diner.


          • jphsd says:

            Guy, though, does have a point when he talks about all the overcrowded fuel rod cooling ponds that, when the lights go out, will be a major threat to our existence. Fukushima isn’t being handled well in the best of times. It’ll only be worse once our infrastructure gives up the ghost.

          • Humans have lived with changing climate for as long as humans have been around. The thing that has changed now is that we have an expectation that somehow climate will stay the same–that the farms we have invested in will be profitable, for example. Even in the ice ages, quite a few people survived–they just migrated to where it was warmers. I have a hard time seeing that climate change will wipe out everyone.

          • Complete Wipeout of Homo Sapiens is really tough. Try playing the Plague Game on Android at anything above the basic level. You can hit 99% if you practice the extermination, but 100% is REALLY hard to get to. 99% Knockdown of 7B Homo Sapiens would STILL leave 70M ambulatory sentient beef walking the surface of the Earth.

            The only model I see as realistic on the Climate Level for NTE is phytoplankton collapse, and none of the models definitively show that as inevitable.

            Basically, Guy is real unhappy with the choices being made here, but in no way is his case proven that there is an NTE in the offing.


            • You are probably right. I couldn’t see any obvious way everyone would be wiped out. Humans have proved awfully resilient in the past.

            • Scott says:

              Well, lets give it a go and try to be one of the last group left standing.

            • witsendnj says:

              I’m all for that. But in the interest of accuracy, there are a couple of things to consider besides how resilient humans have been. One is, that as a species, we have only been on earth a very short time as compared to other species, and on the time we’ve been here so far, we’ve managed to really muck things up like no other, and continue to do so at an exponentially increasing rate – whether you measure habitat destruction, pollution, our population, the changing climate, or any other metric. The other is that, although we have crashed civilizations and empires before, this is the first time we are crashing a global civilization where there is no refuge left to emigrate to that isn’t already overcrowded, squalid, and plundered.

              Somebody mentioned that if the phytoplankton population crashed that would be a bad sign. Does everyone know that there has been at LEAST a 40% decline in the last 50 years? A 90% decline in large ocean fish?

            • Scott says:

              Yes, those are profound changes, declines of 90% fish and plankton and I have yet to see a Honey Bee this spring, only yellow jackets and Wasp with all my flowers out in my yard. It takes two or three weeks now to catch the same amount of fish as during the times of our grandparents.

            • I would agree with you on humans really mucking things up, since we have been on earth. And we started mucking things up, when there were only a few of us.

              What is happening now is that we are reaching limits in many different ways. And, as you say, it is the whole world this time.

          • Well, as Reverse Engineer say here, if there is a major collapse in phytoplankton then all land dwelling organisms will get into trouble as they provide earth with 50% of the oxygen we breathe. No doubt a +10C or more warmer world will have major consequences on the food chain – possibly in a way that would reduce oxygen as well. I think Guy sort of brushes off the +5C that IPCC talks about and seriously think that once a few tipping points are crossed (like massive methane emissions) – the path to 10C+ is a short one – and no doubt will be more than enough to categorize it as a near term extinction event.

            We should take note that previous extinction events often resulted in a massive dieoff of land dwelling animals. But if oxygen levels remain the same, I am quite sure some human beings will survive even with this massive change to the biosphere.

            The irony lies in that its the richest people who can afford to survive it also – probably a majority of them are in denial of the problem at all (as acknowledging it means saying no to more wealth from fossil fuel driven industry).

        • witsendnj says:

          Humans have always lived with a changing climate but there are two, at least, staggeringly enormous differences in our current situation. One is, the speed with which the climate is changing which is, if you look up the science, utterly unprecedented in the entire history of earth, never mind human civilization. Two is, that in the past as in the last ice age, there was only a fraction of the human population and so there were other places to go to without triggering global thermonuclear war from enormous waves of climate refugees.

          It’s like my ex-husband, who is a rather distinguished scientist (but in a different field) said, well, sea levels have been higher in the past. Sure they have, but there weren’t 100’s of millions of people living along the coastlines and growing their food there!

          As far as NTE, if we survive the grid going down and economic collapse and ecological (ie dead oceans and forests) and nuclear meltdowns and possibly wars, climate change will finish off most life on earth because of the non-linear, rapidly and exponentially accelerating amplifying feedbacks that will simply make temperatures intolerable for humans to survive, never mind survive without air conditioning. Plants won’t be able to grow in the kind of heat we will get and the fish will have been long dead. What will people eat – each other?

          • I would expect in a really rapid downspin that Cannibalism would be quite common. However, after half the people eat the other half, then that half eats the next remaining half, eventually you do work down to a low enough number that people do not have to eat each other, but can eat worms, bugs and fish instead. It is a biomass issue overall.

            How LOW do you GO here? I got no idea really, but I DO know based on Genetic Evidence that in the aftermath of the Toba Supervolcanic eruption 75,000 years ago, approximately 10,000 Human Souls or 1000 Breeding Pairs made it through that Zero Point. Said remaining Homo Sapiens ALSO managed to overpopulate the Earth to the tune of 7B people in just 75K years! So counting us out as extinction material at this point is quite a big stretch. Homo Sapiens is quite tough and adaptable over all.

            As I like to put it on the Diner, “When the Going Gets TOUGH, the DINERS get GOING.”

            Overall, I cannot stand the negativity that the problems are insoluble, they are not.


            • witsendnj says:

              That’s assuming any worms, bugs and fish remain. As far as I can tell, Earth is now one huge Easter Island. If you study cannibalism without sentimentality you will find that it has been practiced throughout human history even in times of very small population. It has to do with what resources are available, not the absolute number of people. Indeed, the Diners will get Going, they always have!

          • You may be right about the role of climate change now. We have so many other things going on, that climate change may in fact finish us off.

            Humans in some sense are like a cancer on the earth–we keep growing, and soaking up resources needed by others. If this set of limits is just a moderate bottleneck, then humans with our intelligence (or in some ways, lack thereof) will come back quickly, and overshoot again. Logic says that at some point, the earth will need to start another “experiment” with another dominant species, besides humans. In order for that to happen, it would seem like the slate would need to be wiped clean of humans.

            Maybe it is fortunate that we really don’t know about these things.

        • Homo sapiens is done for. I would say that the people that can live as you describe are a different sort of human…

          Also, I’d concentrate more on plants in the ground and less on plants in solution. Deep ecology is far more powerful and regenerative.

          Aquaponics works but the systems are extremely fragile and prone to collapse if not tweaked exactly right.

  29. Scott says:

    Yes another frank message which we all need to hear.

    I guess that was Gail’s most optimistic post so far.

    In this message it looks like Gail gave us all a bit of breathing room, in perhaps hope for another generation or two (I am reading between the lines).

    I do think we have a little bit more time but those of us that are young now may see this crisis in their lifetime. Perhaps even us older folks too in our 50’s may live to see the shortage and financial collapse which really happened in 2008 but has been masked since then.

    Trouble looms, but let us hope for a few more good years.

  30. RobM says:

    Thanks for telling us a little about your background. You are doing excellent work. Your tone of voice is perfect for the challenging message and you do not shy away from the tough issues like population. Thank you.

  31. Greg Chadwick says:

    It seems that Figure 2 tells the story. Even if the world’s governments conceded there was a problem and agreed to work collaboratively on solutions; which is extremely unlikely, what viable options are available at this late juncture?

    Even if there are a few options, we face the daunting challenge that on this finite planet there is one thing that is infinite, the human capacity for being delusional.

    • Population is definitely the number (1), (2) and (3) issue. It would be relatively easy to have a sustainable economy without fossil fuels, if there weren’t so many of us. The fact that we need food and energy for basic needs (cooking food, pumping water and treating it, sewage treatment, heating homes enough so pipes don’t freeze, creating roads, minimal transportation) makes it hard to get around our need for fossil fuels.

    • xabier says:


      The greatest pain is perhaps not to share in the delusions of the mass, and to be unable to change a thing. Like the old saying: ‘You complain about the fog, but if it lifted you’d see the tiger that’s after you!’ Better to be happy in ignorance as my granny used to say, don’t disturb people with the truth.’

  32. Can you think of any historical examples where a relative complex society approached limits to growth and voluntarily tried to reduce consumption and change its relationship with the natural world so that it could, in some new kind of balance, survive and not collapse? I can’t think of any, and I don’t expect any of the 21st century complex societies, including the US, to be able to voluntarily reduce consumption on a national scale in order to survive (or at least try to). Seems like the US and many, maybe all, modern complex societies will only respond to limits to growth when they smack us in the face and we cannot afford the energy or resources, and are forced to retrench. Maybe the best we can hope for is a partial, not totally chaotic, collapse, one that gives us some time to rebuild a new and more sustainable place in the natural world…. Or maybe we’ll do just what Michael Klare suggests: Race for everything that’s left, fight with other countries, and still end up facing a major collapse and large scale population reduction (wars, famine, pandemics, civil violence). Where’s my time machine? I want to hop to the middle of the 22nd century and see what happened 😉

    • Angel says:

      According to Jared Diamond (Collapse) shoguns of Japan in the 17th century managed very well their growingly scarce resources by auto-imposing very strict regulations and limitations on use of wood, farming, construction, etc. And even today Japan is one of the most populated countries with little deforestation.

      • Richard Steinberger says:

        The shoguns were well respected and they had the power and authority to impose strict regulations. In the US today, there is an extremely vocal anti-regulatory population, very effective politically. Outside that quite conservative, rather anti-government ideology, most US citizens seem to embrace, at least in theory, “small government, light regulation, laissez faire” economics/politics. The FDR era of government at least trying to help most of the citizens is long gone… though I hope it comes back.

        It would seem that the US government would only end up with the authority, power and significant population support if it were undeniable that the nation faced an immediate crisis so severe that only concerted, strategic government action/regulation/rationing was the only possibility of response that could to some extent allow the population to survive… OTOH, the wealthiest and most powerful interests could, in effect, seize even more government power and insist that well protected “survival zones” be created and the rest of the country would be forced into what Chris Hedges refers to as “National sacrifice zones.” Either we manage to pull together and salvage what we can, help as many as we can, and develop a new culture and relationship with nature, or we fragment into widespread chaos and civil disorder.

        • xabier says:

          I believe there’s evidence from Old Europe of some absolute rulers attempting to reverse environmental degradation, when it became very obvious, in the pre-industrial era: the Grand Dukes of Tuscany for instance. Medieval societies were very protective of woodlands in particular, as being a prime resource for building materials, tools, firewood and charcoal, etc, and place to feed livestock such as pigs as well as hunt. ( However, when the great land-owners became detached from the land and their tenants in the 18th century, became more urban, consumerist and heavily indebted to money-lenders, they happily had all their old forests cut down to raise cash and settle debts, and build the equivalent of Mc Mansions today.)

          The key word in all the above is pre-industrial, and the fact that if you didn’t do what the Prince wanted, he cut your head off!

          Quite apart from the construction and destruction (sorry,’development’) lobby, and their grip on governments through promises of delivering growth and employment, (as well as simply through bribes,) it is hard to envisage any scaling back that wouldn’t crash our economies. This is the trap. Since the creation of our coal, and now oil-based, economies, welfare states and very heavy state and individual indebtedness, growth is the only viable economic option if the sky isn’t to fall in.

          The only scaling back possible for most ordinary people is to fall into indigence, with a bare minimum of personal consumption, which is not quite what one would like to aim for! This is what is now clearly taking place in the US and much of Europe (but welfare systems are limiting the worst public manifestations of the process).

          When Rome collapsed and the towns faded away, life rebalanced on the rural economy which had always been there – not a state-planned scaling back in any sense, the complex structures just couldn’t function any more.

          Modern urban populations, if welfare starts to fall apart, may well rebalance on the basis of a shanty-town life, as in much of Asia and Latin America. There is the phenomenon of the officially-sanctioned ‘illegal’ shanty-town in Latin America…… a more likely future than a state – planned step-down to a lower consumption eco-friendly economy!

          And as Gail rightly points out, time and time again, the pressing needs generated by such huge population over-shoot, is the really big issue, however much people shut their eyes to the it.

          It’s good to read Gail’s posts, when everywhere else the MSM, and even private blogs,are distorted by political agendas and propaganda.

          • Richard Steinberger says:

            Many of the citizens of a collapsing Roman Empire had the option, or really, no other choice, of moving to rural environments and engaging in farming and related activities. Rural environments were available… But in the US and many other industrial nations, there is no simple approach, with or without government coordination, to help urban and suburban dwellers relocate to “the country”. Almost all the arable land has already been claimed, much of it in the hands of large corporations and large land-owning farmers.

            To have some chance of survival, agribusiness has to be broken up or made/allowed to fail economically. This may be, in fact, what happens as industrial agriculture becomes no longer sustainable (expensive fuels, pesticides, fertilizer, large mechanical equipment, long distance transport, big refrigeration trucks and rail cars). But just because agribusiness may collapse doesn’t mean that a) land will become available cheaply or freely to people who would starve without it, or b) that the “new homesteaders” could quickly learn to farm using organic methods… So there are still a lot of potential problems with a “re-ruralization”, but in the end, this is probably the only viable approach for urbanized societies on the verge of at least partial collapse. Let’s hope we get an FDR-like government that might at least take the side of the “ordinary people”.

            • The difficulty in getting rural land back to the people is one of the big problems I see. Another is getting an appropriate body of knowledge to the new “farmers,” as well as the tools they need. (Shovels, fences, and other basic amenities are put together using fossil fuels.) Then someone has to deal with all of the issues of preserving and storing food from one season to the next.

          • Even in scaling back, it is easy to see weak spots. One is disease transmission through water pollution, raw sewage, and close human contact. I wonder how the shanty-towns of South America handle this–perhaps they offer clean water, public rest rooms, and antibiotics. Otherwise, the death rate skyrockets.

            In the Global North, we also have the issue of needing heat in winter. Shanty towns “work” in warm areas. I am not aware of them working on any scale in cold parts of the world. Perhaps this is part of the reason population tends to be lower in colder areas.

          • Judy says:

            Gail I liked your post, it was very well written and clear.

            Xabier, you mentioned that ‘…if you didn’t do what the Prince wanted, he cut your head off!’. Well our Prince Charles in the UK is standing up to protect forests ( and verbally bashing the politicians for not taking action against climate change. ( I hope he locks the climate skeptics in the Tower of London!

            But if the politicians become defunct, I guess we still have someone to look to for leadership maybe….

      • that’s the problem—”imposing strict regulations”
        when you’ve imposed those regulations, you find the that the imposers live rather better than those imposed upon. That in turn creates resentmemt, which festers in any community until it explodes.
        that can be inward, or outward
        In the case of Japan, their expanding population eventually had to explode into Asia, because they were running out of resources, they continued to expand, but found they needed more and more resources. The USA refused to sell them vital materials, oil and steel, and told them to stop making war. That resulted in Pearl Harbour and a final throw of the dice that ended the Japanese empire.
        If you strip most wars down to their fundamental causes they are about expropriating the natural resources of other tribes and nations, We have now reached the stage where the world is starting to fight with itself over resources. There are no new major lands to fill up and exploit so that we can use their energy to ‘grow’.
        This is our Limit to growth, but we will not accept that. We believe that by grabbing oil and other stuff there is no limit to growth. There need be no strict regulations on what we do, because freedom is our fundamental right.—and we will fight to the death to prove it!!
        And that would appear to be the solution to our problem, fighting over what’s left to prove that we have a right to it. Right now, the middle east is exploding because excess populations are trying to support themselves on over exploited land, but a third of the world’s oil sits in the middle of this vortex of conflict. So the US stations a fleet in Bahrain ready to ‘fight to the death’ to stop the Saudi oilfield falling into that hands of fanatics who would turn off the oil spigots,just to watch western industry and infrastructure collapse. Saudi cannot hold off these external forces forever, and as they weaken, conflict will result; then the US will involve itself, and once fighting starts, oil production will stop.
        We will not reach limits in any conventional sense, our limits will be determined by fighting over what’s left.

        • xabier says:

          End of More

          Look at how well-intentioned (one assumes) EU environmental taxes and regulation can make large companies and vested interests still richer, while ordinary people are crushed by the increasing cost of fuel, water, etc: even when you economize, the bills just go up and up………

        • Christopher Johnson says:

          To End of More. Re Japan, a number of peculiar social motivations affected the Japanese view of themselves vs their neighbors and led to their unique form of ‘national socialism’. One important aspect of the syndrome is a ‘national renaissance’ attitude that includes a sense of grievance for past injustices and ample doses of exceptionalism and superiority (cultural or racial). Add soy sauce and stir to produce a regional conquistador.

          What’s kind of frightening right now is that China is beginning to manifest some of those ‘national renaissance’ attitudes. It’s one thing for that to occur in an increasingly prosperous world; it’s something else again during the outset of a global collapse.

          • oh I was fully aware of the japanese view of themselves, the ‘island’ mentality allowed that feeling that everyone outside Japan was a barbarian. they still worship at shrines dedicated to war criminals, and their history education leaves a lot to be desired
            We Brits had–or maybe still have the same outlook, Richard II: This blessed plot this realm, this England, made by nature for herself alone against infection and the hand of war etc etc——which is still guaranteed to stir the blood, (while the barbarians wait at Calais—but there are other ways of putting that, unsuitable for this blog)
            I dont think it’s possible to change the collective emotional/mental outlook of a people over the short term, a few centuries maybe.
            Right now the USA is convinced of its exceptionalism, the national genius and military might. We Brits suffered from that delusion too, but it was just the geological accident of sitting on the coal equivalent of Saudi oil, masses of iron and an equable climate. (Like the USA) If Japan had had all three of those benefits instead of just one, the dominant world language would now be Japanese

          • xabier says:


            China is a classic case of the ‘revisionist’ or ‘discontented’ state, which I vaguely recall from history studies – newly rich and growing, believing itself to be worthy of greater respect and power than hitherto enjoyed,and with specific territorial grievances, intent on establishing a sphere of influence, if not a formal empire. It just shows that Mankind will never grow up, despite the horrors of WW1 and 2.

          • That is an interesting point.

          • Scott says:

            Yes Chris,

            It looks to me that Japan has gotten itself into a lot of trouble with its money printing and its aging population. You know I am in my early 50’s but when I was a kid and teenager the moist sought after products were from Japan.

            I managed a Radio Shack Store in the Early 1980’s and most of our stuff was from Japan then, not China. Back in those days Japan was a hungry machine for resources and had a long arm to reach out into the world for resources, fish etc. But now China has even a bigger reach. And during those years until now watching all of those jobs disappear from the USA and become low paying service jobs or if you can get one.

            When I was a teen and younger my dad could support a family of 4 with two cars and a home and everything needed on only one average but good job. Now that would take more than two, but two can do it if they have great jobs.

        • We will not reach limits in any conventional sense, our limits will be determined by fighting over what’s left.

          I think you may have hit the nail on the head. You read my post not too long ago, How Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse.

    • Joseph Tainter in his talks gives an example of one civilization (I forget which one–I think it was European) that purposely disbanded its arm and sent the soldiers back to the fields to reduce complexity. This put off collapse for a while.

      I think we are so dependent on debt, and so far into overshoot, that it is really going to be hard to do very much prevention. If the decline is slow enough, maybe we can have a chance to do some rebuilding, or some groups can continue apart from the collapse.

      • Diamond’s successes in “Collapse” are the New Gunea highlands (sustainable agriculture and counterintuitive vertical ditching of hillside fields), Tikopia (highly managed agriculture including taboos preventing overexploitation, and active reproductive control including infanticide, and “virtual suicide”), and Japan (extensive management to preserve forests).

        Though a fictional account, Aldus Huxley’s “Island” strikes me as a story of sustainable abundance with a tragic end.

        • It seems like some tiny island economies were able to continue, in large part because they found a way to keep population under control. The methods they used were generally not ones people today would approve of, however. I am not sure if soil degradation would provide another limit. That might come much later, if they were careful to return all waste products to the soil, and tried to prevent erosion.

      • xabier says:


        You are very right -anyone looking clearly at the issues can see it (but few dare speak it as you do)!

        Overwhelming debt, over-population, resource-depletion, and an oil-based infrastructure built up mostly since WW2 which is now crumbling and will prove impossible to maintain as a whole: meanwhile, the whole of Asia is trying to buy into this model!

        I suppose it might be interesting to model the effects of a global pandemic which wiped out 30 – 50% of the human population in a brief space of time – beneficial or not? A complicating factor would be whether it hit mostly those in their prime, (like the 1919 influenza) or the young and the elderly.

        • I know Jim Kunstler in World Made by Hand provides a scenario in which a large share of American population has died off from an epidemic of some sort. When a population is weakened, it is easier for this kind of thing to happen.

          I’ll keep your idea in mind.

    • Schuyler Hupp says:

      Not me, When I get my time machine working, I’m going back to third quarter of the twentieth century. I might also make a few brief jaunts into the far future to see if any of the earth’s inhabitants have developed a greater or lesser degree of rationality, and into the very far future to see what environmental conditions and life forms exist after humans have either evolved or faded from the scene.

Comments are closed.