Energy limits: Is there anything we can do?

The energy limit we are running into is a cost limit. I would argue that neither the Republican or Democrat approach to solving the problem will really work.

The Republicans favor “Drill Baby Drill”. If the issue is that the price of oil extraction is too high, additional drilling doesn’t really fix the problem. At best, it gives us a little more expensive oil to add to the world’s supply. The Wall Street research firm Sanford Bernstein recently estimated that the non-Opec marginal cost of production rose to $104.50 a barrel in 2012, up more than 13 per cent from $92.30 a barrel in 2011.

US consumers still cannot afford to buy high-priced oil, even if we extract the oil ourselves. The countries that see rising oil consumption tend to be ones that can leverage its use better with cheaper fuels, particularly coal (Figure 1). See Why coal consumption keeps rising; what economists missed. The recent reduction in US oil usage is more related to young people not being able to afford to drive than it is to improved automobile efficiency. See my post, Why is gasoline mileage lower? Better gasoline mileage?

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

The Democrats favor subsidizing high-priced energy approaches that wouldn’t be competitive without such subsidies. Government debt is at 103% of GDP. It is hard to see that the government can afford such subsidies. Also, it is doubtful that the supposed carbon-saving benefit is really there, when all of the follow-on effects are included. Buying wind turbine parts, solar panels, and goods that use rare earth minerals (used in many high-tech goods, including electric cars and  wind turbines) helps to stimulate the Chinese economy, adding to their coal use. Furthermore, the higher taxes needed to pay for these subsidies reduces the spendable income of the common worker, pushing the country in the direction of recession.

So what do we do as an alternative, if neither the Republican or Democrat approach works? I would argue that we are dealing with a situation that is essentially unfixable. It can be expected to morph into a financial crash, for reasons I explained in How Resource Limits Lead to Financial Collapse. Thus, the issue we will need to mitigate will be debt defaults, loss of jobs, and possibly major changes to governments. If we are dealing with a financial crash, oil prices may in fact be lower, but people will still be unable to afford the oil because of other issues, such as lack of jobs or lack of access to money in their bank accounts.

Because neither political party can fix our problem, I expect that most of our responses will necessarily be individual, personal responses. These are a few ideas:

1. Get out of debt situations, if it is easy to do. There are a lot of people who own stocks on margin, or who own an expensive house with a big mortgage on it. Now, with prices of stocks and homes both higher, would be a good time to get out of both types of debt. Sell the stock or buy a less expensive house, without the mortgage.

Equities and home prices both seem to be inflated now, indirectly because of Quantitative Easing. Some recent analysis suggests that real (that is, inflation adjusted) interest rates are rising partly because inflation is falling.  The reason that inflation is falling is because oil prices are lower (Figure 2). Comparing the first four months of 2013 with the first four months of 2012, oil prices are about $9 per barrel lower. Oil prices are lower because of reduced demand due to economic contraction, especially in Europe.

Figure 2. Spot oil prices and actual refiners acquisition costs, based on EIA data.

Figure 2. Spot oil prices and actual refiners acquisition costs, based on EIA data. Refiners acquisition costs are what refiners actually pay for oil.

In the past month, there has also been an uptick in interest rates (even apart from the declining inflation component). According to the Wall Street Journal, “Yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note now stand above 2.1%—still low by historic standards, but nearly half a percentage point higher than at the start of May.” Mortgage rates are also reported to be half a percentage point higher than they were six months ago.

There are a number of risks with rising real interest rates and falling inflation. One is that the higher interest rates will trigger lower stock prices and lower house prices. Another is that deflation will continue, making debt payback more difficult. If this happens, it is something that the Fed can’t handle with its monetary easing policy. Interest rates can go to zero, but not below. A third issue, especially if interest rates rise further, is the adverse impact on the US government financial situation.

2. Reduce your expectations about what investments can do for you. Dmitry Orlov, who has had experience with the collapse of the Former Soviet Union, made the remark, “There are two kinds of investments: those that lose all their value at once, and those that lose value slowly.” Paper investments are a particular problem, because they can decline in value very quickly if conditions change. Even real estate can be a problem, though, because governments can take away what you thought you owned, or raise taxes to a level that you cannot afford. If you buy something and have to move, but cannot take the object with you, you will likely lose the value you invested. The only things that are really yours to keep (at least until your declining years) are skills that you learn.

3. Take up a hobby that will provide food for your family (planting a few fruit or nut trees, adding a garden, raising a few chickens, or learning to hunt/fish). Taking up hobbies such as these provide several functions: They provide a diversion away from the problems of the day, and let you feel like you are doing something helpful. They may actually provide a cushioning effect, if there is a sharp downturn. Taking up such hobbies can provide a useful skill for the future. In some cases, it may make sense to purchase land for purposes such as these. If considering doing this, a person should take note of items (1) and (2) above. It takes quite a long time to get started, and you can’t take the improved land with you, if you have to leave.

4. Learn to appreciate nature, family, and simple joys that can’t easily be taken away. It is possible to be happy, regardless of circumstances. We can find many good things in every day. Obsessing over the future is not really helpful. Don’t tie your happiness to having more “stuff”; you are likely to be disappointed. Learn to sing happy songs, or how to play a musical instrument. Or memorize uplifting poetry or religious writings.

5. Build a network of friends. If things go downhill, we can’t expect to use a gun to ward off intruders, night and day. If nothing else, we will run out of ammunition. Over the long term, the approach that is likely to be successful is working together with other community members toward a common goal.

6. Learn new skills, if you are concerned about job loss. Try to think of what will be needed in a lower-energy world. People will always need dentists and midwives, regardless of how poor they are. Buggy whip manufacturers went out of business long ago. Maybe we will need them back!

7. If you want to develop larger-scale plans (such as for cities or regions), keep them cheap and easy to implement. Governments are already running short of funds to implement plans. Look for approaches that are inexpensive to put in place, such as car-sharing plans. Alternatives that worked years ago, such as boats and canals, might be considered as well.

8. Aim for a flexible approach to problems. We don’t know things will turn out. Water may be in very short supply in one part of the country. Or job opportunities may open up in a place far from home. Even more than in the past, we are likely to need to be able to change our plans on short notice.

About Gail Tverberg

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

  1. Pingback: A long thread on Our Finite World leading nowhere | eroeistar

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Mel, I enjoyed that article, sure sounds like it is tough and takes bravery and skill to run a team of horses on a plow like that. Dangerous work. I just read a book called “Valley of Wild Horses” by Zane Gray. In the 1800’s there were millions of wild horses in North America. In the story the cowboys tied ropes on some of the wild horses legs to keep them under control when they were on the trail to move the horses from this valley to another place. When I was a kid our neighbors had horses and I would ride, I have been kicked and thrown off of them too and scared to death when a pony I was riding bare back decided to run as fast as he could and would not stop, that was the time I was thrown off as I could not hold on to the hair on the mane.

      I had no idea there are an estimated 400,000 farms in N. America that use the animals in some way. It takes skill to train and work with the animals in this and you have to get to know them.

  2. Proof! What proof?

  3. Christopher Johnson says:

    To correct an error: I mis-quoted Lord Acton, who actually said “…absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Not that it actually does so all the time. I think a good read through history will uncover an extraordinarily small number of people who were not corrupted by power, so the point is almost moot. Note that this includes the most saintly and otherwise humble as well as the most blatantly egotistical. Humans are easily corrupted regardless of the organizational structure; some just make things worse, and communism proved to be among the worst ever.

    • “The real problem with communism …” I can’t find the rest of that passage. Could you send it to ?

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “communism proved to be among the worst ever.”

      A common error with commie-bashers is they conflate a government system (totalitarianism) with an economic system (communism).

      There is no reason the two must go together, and there are lots of examples of totalitarian capitalist systems that have failed spectacularly.

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Dear Jan,
        I really have no desire, at least at this moment, to explore the moral or other considerations regarding political and social structures. I’ve said what I said because I believe it, and I agree wholeheartedly with your point that plenty of political, economic and social structures failed regardless of the particular flavor of their ruling ‘ism.’
        Maybe we can pick this up again later. Regardless, I still recommend to any and all that a slow walk through Arnold Toybee’s ‘A Study of History’ is well worth the effort.
        Cordially, Chris

        • Scott says:

          Hello Chris, you know, I am really at the point where I see too many road blocks set up by bad governments around the world. We seem to have the solutions for many of the problems presented on this site, but there is not the political will – or honesty.

          So, therefore it is not going to get done, until a crisis but then it will be tried and too hard to do perhaps. And, you know we have been discussing the financial aspects, it seems during the good times people buy sail boats and cabins and fix up their homes – but when a financial crisis comes like we saw in 2008, or worse next time they not built the systems needed. Kind of reminds me of the “Roaring Twenties” just before the great depression.

          In summary, the governments of the world do not seem to have the political will to steer people in the direction of truth and honesty, but instead have taken the path of least resistance. I guess this energy party will continue. Kind of like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as has been said on this site.

          I think we have a bit of time still before crisis, as long as nuclear war does not break out. I hope we can muddle along for a long time here.

          We will surely have a harder time with things, year after year – as we are now though. So I guess the best we can hope for is that things just get a little harder year by year.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Scott, I thank you for your sincerity and depth of thought. I am not prepared, however, to pick up the phone and begin explaining what’s going on and what we should be doing about it. Nor has Gail asked me to, and if she did I probably wouldn’t.

            In case you didn’t notice, some 110 million people voted in the US elections last November. I’d bet somewhat fewer than 500 have ever read Gail Tverberg’s blog or similar blogs that discuss the coming (already arrived?) collapse and the potential reversion to 1850 lifestyles (or worse).

            Gail and her counterparts are to be commended for shining lights on interesting problems that may be well beyond the capabilities of anyone you or I know to even comprehend in their totality, much less take any remedial action. One thing about politicians that you want to keep foremost, is that they avoid getting involved in matters like this that cannot be readily resolved. If nothing else, they want to avoid looking like a fool or anything less than the great leader they know they are and that all their supporters believe them to be. In other words, they really don’t want to hear from us.

            There was a lovely comedy movie produced in the 60’s called ‘The Mouse That Roared.’ I think shooting arrows in an assault on the government to get their attention would have about the same impact. When the government decides to participate, they will let us know.

            • Scott says:

              Thank you Chris. People are now kind of afraid to speak as we are being monitored by who knows who. But that is okay maybe they will learn something from our group. Our group has presented answers to problems that threaten our so called way of life, but of our so called way of life has threatened us anyway.

              I have spoken of things that some may be afraid to speak of but I will take my chances in order to get the word out. I love my country and I hope we can get back to our basic beliefs which are worked better for us in the older days.

              Looks like our daughter has decided to leave San Francisco and join us here to help us in our venture here and I think she made the right decision.

              Judge it for yourself but it reminds me of and old song…. Here is an old song that I am going to post in that has a message.

              Somethin’s at the edge of your mind You don’t know what it is Somethin’ you were hopin’ to find Your not sure what it is
              Then you hear the music And it all comes crystal clear The music does the talkin’ Says the things you want to hear
              I’m young, I’m wild And I’m free I got the magic power Of the music in me
              I’m young, I’m wild And I’m free I got the magic power Of the music in me
              She climbs into bed, she pulls the covers overhead And she turns her little radio on She’s has a rotten day so she hopes The D J’s gonna play her favorite song
              It makes her feel much better Brings her closer to her dreams A little magic power Makes it better that it seems
              She’s young now, she’s wild now She wants to be free She gets the magic power Of the music for me
              She’s young now, she’s wild now She wants to be free She gets the magic power Of the music for me
              [ From: ] If you’re thinkin’ it over But you just can’t sort it out Do you want someone to tell you What they think it’s all about?
              Are you the one and only who’s sad and lonely You’re reachin’ for the top Well the music keeps you goin’ And it’s never gonna stop
              It’s never gonna stop It’s never gonna, never gonna Never gonna, never gonna Never gonna stop
              The world is full of compromise The infinite red tape But the music’s got the magic It’s your one chance for escape
              So turn me on, turn me up It’s your turn to dream A little magic power Makes it better than it seems
              I’m young now, I’m wild now I want to be free I got the magic power Of the music in me
              I’m young now, I’m wild And I’m free I got the magic power Of the music, I got the music in me
              I got the power, I got the magic She’s got the power, she’s got the magic She’s got the power, she’s got the magic She’s got the power, she’s got the magic

  4. Scott says:

    Dr. Wayburn, I read this section tonight. And it made sense to me, you wrote this a long time ago long before many thought of such things. I guess the part I am looking for to understand your new findings, have you a device or anything like that yet to generate power?

  5. Scott says:

    Thank you Dan, good to see you posting, I hope you will write again. We all have to remind ourselves no matter how smart we are that we are all humans, that is unless you are an alien.

  6. I am not sure anyone will see my comment about (i) solving problem of pop. and econ. growth, (ii) my calculation regarding and transcending Apollo Alliance program at, and (iii) my analysis of the idea of furloughing those who serve the market or otherwise produce nothing useful at – due to the peculiar place that WordPress placed it. I am not sure about all the email addresses and accounts with passwords either. For that matter, I’m not sure what my name is.

    • Scott says:

      Dear Doctor Wayburn, I have bookmarked your site and plan to study it. I understand that you see something that you believe in. I think most of us we do not see and frankly it is still beyond me as you have some complex computations. But as I said, I am lacking in extended education although I worked as a Management Analyst for many years.

      It would help if you would not condescend, but instead try to explain your theories and the math, I and most of us, will never understand those complex formulas you have put together unless you explain them to us. I know there is at least one other scientist on this site and I wonder if any one understands those mathematical formulas.

      Your attacks should be directed at our corrupt government as you did say something very there about that which I liked. I think Gail is doing a wonderful job and cares about this message and has gotten a following, I want to understand your work, but need your help as most of us do. Remember we are just simple mortals.

      You have to realize that most humans think everything is cool. And, I have been spending a lot of time writing about how few people there are that even see a resource problem and the those of us that do we are the great minority.

      Perhaps – only 5 in a hundred or less believe that we are facing any resource problems down the road in our lifetime.

      Recently, I have been starting to feel more and more we have the solutions, but our governments are standing in the way and forcing this collapse upon us almost by design.

      I hope you keep writing and try to explain things perhaps in a simpler way we can grasp or, perhaps other scientist reading your materials can help explain to us what you see.

      I have seen your extensive website and have just begun to dig in, so cannot we be kind and helpful to each other as we are all trying to get grasps on this problem. I plan to spend some more time tonight looking at your site. If Gail cannot make sense of it – I do not stand a chance.

      I think most of us are looking for practical every day solutions that the average high school drop out could help with and help to institute a plan of action.

      If you look at the world as a whole few have the degrees and knowledge beyond simple means in many parts of the world. So we have to consider that as well.

      In summary, can you cordially simplify your message to the group?

      • Sorry about sending a reply to you that should have been directed at someone else. You don’t sound like someone who wants to hang me from the nearest hanging tree and I appreciate it. I hope you realize that some people are predisposed to hate me. I’d like to give them a few things worth hating.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Dr. Wayburn, I plan to continue to study your work. I think most of us here want to understand you and others. It looks like even though, we have found many answers, the governments and the political systems are not in place to allow us to do anything. Road blocks in government standing in our way are everywhere.

          It will likely take a crisis before they listen to many of these new ideas, sadly. Until then, I plan to keep looking at your work and that of others, not that I will matter – as have little power to change this big system we are locked into. But if we see something – that will help, we will surely be talking about it and if enough people get a hold of an idea it may get done. I was asking you last night if you have built any prototypes for a machine that can generate power with zero input?

          I think even if you presented such a machine to a company like Exxon, they would not want to see it or talk to you until they really have the crisis we speak of. Or they would buy it from you and shelve the idea for later, when they have sold all their oil.

          What I am getting mostly – is we have a long laundry list of things that we know how to do, things that can be done and they all cost money which is hard to come by. If money was directed properly by governments and corporations away from war and world control, we may have a chance to build these projects?

  7. In earlier posts, I showed that sufficient material exists in tailing dumps to cover suitable roofs and parking lots in the US with PV. Using our Institute’s performance models, I estimated the power production of this resource. Using PassivHaus performance standards, I estimated the power consumption of US housing, once converted to PassivHaus standard.
    What follows is an analysis of one way to convert the US completely to a combination of PV/wind/Hydro/GeoThermal. The performance numbers shown for power resources come from our proprietary performance models, and are realistic. The demand numbers shown, are sourced from USDOE, USEIA, PassivHaus Institute, Bullit Foundation, Wikipedia, and others. They are realistic.
    This analysis is limited to provision of the requisite power, using off the shelf technologies, and to mitigation of demand, using off the shelf technologies. It does not consider costs, although our performance models, give us those figures, because that added complexity obscures the data.
    Regarding costs, and credit, and purchasing power, I recommend you visit Bill Mitchell’s blog, where you will find that no sovereign fiat currency issuer is revenue constrained, and most certainly the US is not. I agree that the franking privilege can be misused, take no position as to the merit of this proposal over another, and remind one and all that what follows, is for the purpose of establishing the feasibility of conversion, from an energy viewpoint.
    What follows, contains the following assumptions:
    1. All US housing is converted to PassivHaus Standard.
    2. All lighting nationwide is converted to LED
    3. All cooking is electric & refrigeration/aircon is of the holdover plate type, operating during the day.
    4. All computer systems and electronics are converted to super energy efficient ones.
    5. Each dwelling has one EV, which is used only on weekends for shopping/recreation trips, for a max of 100 miles, or one recharge
    6. All commuting is via walking/bicycling to the nearest public transport stop, thence by public transport to destination.
    7. All public transport is electric.
    8. All rail transport is electric.
    9. 95% of all freight movements are by rail
    10. The full GeoThermal potential of the US is realized
    11. The full Hydro potential of the US is realized, including conversion of existing dams to produce
    ____ electricity.
    12. The Grid is improved to the point power can be wheeled nationwide
    13. Each dwelling has 16 hours storage capacity
    14. All PV is grid connected.
    15. All suitable commercial roof space is occupied with PV
    16. Each dwelling has a solar hot water heating system
    17. Commercial energy efficiency is improved to half that of the Bullit Building in Seattle.
    18. Industrial energy consumption is halved via energy efficiency improvements.
    Power demand per dwelling (US)_______________4,636 kwh / yr
    Power demand all US housing____________________23 kwh/m2-yr
    Number of US houses___________________125,000,000
    Average US house size________________________ 200 m2
    Total US housing power demand_____________ 633,000 Gwh/yr
    Modeled PV capacity / dwelling___________________ 6 kwe/dwelling
    Total Dwelling PV supply_________________ 1,226,400 Gwh/yr
    Household EV power consumption_________________22 kwh/week-house
    Total EV power consumption________________ 142,000 Gwh/yr
    Surplus Dwelling Power Production__________ 462,000 Gwh/yr
    Number of US Commercial Buildings________ 4,500,000
    Bullit Center Demand X 2 (BCDx2)________ __ 350,000 BTU/m2-yr
    US Commercial BCDx2 Demand____________ 613,000 Gwh/yr
    US Commercial rooftop PV supply___________2,000,000 Gwh/yr
    US Commercial Energy Surplus_____________ 1,387,000 Gwh/yr
    US Rooftop PV Energy Surplus______________ 1,850,000 Gwh/yr
    US Rail Power Demand______________________182,000 Gwh/yr
    US Industrial Power Demand X 0.5___________ 3,517,000 Gwh/yr
    US power demand net after Rail & Industrial____1,850.000 Gwh/yr
    US Hydro energy production_________________ 282,000 Gwh/yr
    US GeoThermal potential production__________ 441,000 Gwh/yr
    US demand net after Hydro & GeoThermal____ 1,126,000 Gwh/yr
    Utility Scale US wind Potential_____________________14 Twe
    Utility Scale US wind Capacity Required____________0.41 Twe
    Utility Scale US wind Energy Required________ 1,126,000 Gwh/yr
    Number of 5 Mwe wind turbines Required_________ 83,000

    From the above, we can see that a combination of energy efficiency in dwellings, commercial, and industrial use, and maximization of rail transport, provides a solution.
    This solution requires installation of PV on all suitable roofs nation wide giving
    2 Twe of PV capacity, supplemented by 100 Gwe of Hydro, 100 Gwe of GeoThermal, and 413 Gwe of wind.
    This is not the only possible combination which provides a solution, but it is feasible, maximizing distributed production & consumption of power, eliminating transmission and conversion losses of ~ 15%.


    • Tom Wayburn says:


      Even without the computation of ERoEI*, one can be fairly certain that distributed PV on rooftops is a winner – provided only that the purveyors and installers and other ancillary stakeholders do not extract inordinate profits from or try to live an exorbitant life style at the expense of the technology. It would be best if the expertise were distributed among the consumers so that they could deal with the manufacturer and avoid every sort of salesman or promoter. For example, you wouldn’t buy a solar collector from a guy with a fancy title wearing a suit and holding a microphone, would you? 🙂

    • Christopher Johnson says:

      To Indy:

      A few months ago I flew to Dayton to spend a week with daughter and her children while her husband was away attending training. The woods and farms in southern Ohio have been converted over the last decades to low density sprawling suburb / exurb regions that resemble Southern California or Houston, but with more trees. Every house includes a quarter to half acre of park land. The result is transportation energy waste of the worst order. Each worker drives at least 20 miles per day commuting to work. C’est la vie for low density communities.
      Proclaiming that henceforth all residents are forbidden to drive except on Saturday or Sunday only, and for a total of X miles, will not only not solve any problem, it will create far worse ones. Such as the total collapse of economic activity. Or perhaps we can set up trains, buses and van commuter transport systems that link a myriad origins with a myriad destinations and can meet the schedules of all participants. That’s a little more complex than running some calculations about passengers per rail mile, and the reality such analyses provide would inevitably add significant cost to your ‘streamlined’ energy plan. Three times as costly? Five times? Twenty? Who knows until the studies are done.
      Cheers, CWJ

      • Scott says:

        Hello Chris, We have been talking about Japan and Japan is sure falling fast tonight^n225

      • Scott says:

        Chris that post on the drop in Japan may not have come through here is a paste in.

        NIKKEI 225 (^N225)

        12,598.06 Down 691.26(5.20%) 11:45PM ED

        • But isnt the Nikkei fall just a correction of the over inflated index over the past years? If you check the history of it, it was much lower around November 2012.

          • Scott says:

            Hello, yes John, the Nikkei did run up very fast since the first of this year, so I guess it could be just a normal correction of something that ran up too fast. I am still watching Japan because they have been experimenting with QE for longer than any other central banks. Recently they were talking about cutting it back and we saw the big drop in their stocks. I do not believe it will end well.

        • Christopher Johnson says:

          Thanks, Scott. Here are a couple of Marketwatch combined headlines:
          Nikkei plunges into bear market; China sinks
          Japan index drops more than 6%; China markets also see deep losses
          Japan stocks remain prisoner of the yen
          Commentary: Conservative yen forecasts can’t help Japan shares

          This stuff is pretty complex, some might say confusing. Japan, China and the US are all sort of like soccer players trying to dribble past the opponent and faking one way and another.

          The general consensus is that Japan’s situation is a little better than four months ago but still risky. And that applies to China and the USA as well. Yes, even China is in much worse financial condition than most observers know, or the Chinese government acknowledges. The best informed, however, will admit that China’s 30 provinces can be equated to Europe — as in 30 Greek debts. Xi Jinping’s recent talks with President Obama were masterfully deceptive in portraying China as the up and coming world power. That’s still a big maybe, and Mr. Xi has a boat full of alligators he has to deliver.

          • Scott says:

            Hello Chris, I was looking at Japan’s inflation rates, they are low according to the charts I pulled up. It seems they are printing all this money to fight deflation and it not working.


            I am also a little confused about inflation rates staying so low in light of the money printing. I read somewhere if all this money is printed and it goes into places like banks and treasury bills and it is not getting lent out to the people the money just kind of hides in these bubbles like stocks and treasuries. When banks loan money there is a money multiplier affect. It seems to me that all this out there and will someday enter the system.

            The things Indy wrote about would put our countries back to work again and it is such a good thing, I hope more people read this. If we could focus all of the money and power of our military industrial complex in this direction (instead of war) we could start a “Manhattan Project” to build and convert to these systems. What a wonderful thing it would be to get people working again and having jobs building solar roof top conversions and all of those things that need to be built.
            So if we could focus all of our resources away from war like things and in this direction we may have a chance and there is still time. We could put people back to work.

            But I still say it will not happen until the crisis is visible to the worlds people, which has not yet happened.

      • My dear Chris,
        You bring up a very good point regarding mini-farms. JHK, I’m sure would agree.. . .
        Shit happens, they will be abandoned.. . .
        Because there won’t be fuel for the commute!

        Also, I note that you have a discipline problem. In that you can’t or won’t accept the discipline imposed by insufficient energy to do as you please.

        Like I said, Conversion of all dwellings to PassivHaus, conversion of all commercial buildings to efficiencies half as good as the Bullit building, halving Industrial demand, shifting freight to rail, and commuting on public transport, leaves a future.

        Don’t like that future? Prefer living like the Maori or Thingit of 800 AD?
        With what energy source? What source of building materials?

        I checked out what you and Mike write. It’s crap.. . . Dream stuff.. . . You watch
        too many movies.. . .

        You are not going to be able to go out into the wilderness and build such buildings, the trees aren’t big enough yet, and the diseases brought by global transport are killing most of what is left.

        You have yet to accept a planet with limits, you are still subconciously thinking you can
        escape to a resource rich environment that is unpopulated, by yourselves. Won’t happen.

        I’m always ready to listen to alternatives. Do the math, show the results. Like I did.

        Otherwise, it’s show time!


        • Christopher Johnson says:

          The point I was trying to make is a tad more complex, perhaps because I have great difficult envisioning the transition from current state to various potential successor states, by which I mean ‘social conditions’: population level, economic activity, etc, associated with various levels / stages of collapse

          I can no more ‘see ahead’ what life will be like in southern Ohio than in south Manhattan or south New Zealand. You’re entirely right about the unlikelihood of adapting to a neolithic life style.

          It’s not clear who ‘Mike’ is, or how his and my ideas converge, but he must be a smart fellow! As are you, sir, as you know. I haven’t really seen many movies about such stuff in awhile. However, as Don Stewart urges I try to conceptualize since we are discussing conditions and events for which none of us have clear pictures.

          My primary problem with the academic overview analysis you provided is that it didn’t lay out ranges of possibilities, and I think that’s essential when considering such matters. Like all who read it, I greatly admire your ability to compile the facts and numbers you have presented. But we all possess the right to question their accuracy.

          I would propose that rather than stating that egg consumption will be 15 per person per week, why not say ’10 to 20′ per week. And then later you can get fancier and break it out according to age, etc. Once such exercises begin they rarely end. Just ask the planner in Moscow in 1990…

          And that, of course, is the other big problem: coercion. Yes, you can claim economic reality will drive one set of behaviors or justify a limitation or a rule. To which my response will be ‘let’s review the scenario.’

          If — and it’s a big if — we are rapidly reduced to the ‘survival mode’ such as that Maori photo or worse, then the die-off will be likely be sizeable, and probably bloody. Under that scenario all you energy computations are worth less than the paper they’re written on.

          If, on the other hand, we maintain sufficient economic output to undertake the energy transitions you propose, then your list will have to be seen as an ‘early draft’. You talk about economic reality, which is appropriate, but telling people they’re not allowed to drive their cars except on weekends might cause just a slight uproar. That, too, is a reality that you should face. It’s not a factor of the quantity of PV panels on a roof, but that people live in one place and work in another, which takes transport systems. If in deep collapse, as Athens, then survival mode in the hills succeeds because there’s no transport system needed. But that’s not the same set of conditions, not the same scenario. I’m not watching movies, INDY, just trying to understand.

          Cordially, Chris Johnson

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Christopher Johnson
            Please forgive me for once again referring to Surfaces and Essences by Hofstadter and Sander.

            On page 383: In short, though we may tell ourselves that we are royally pushing analogies around from the heights of our conscious thrones, the truth is otherwise: we are really at the mercy of ouir own seeting myriads of unconscious analogies,…

            Now a short story. I have been trying to solve the water problem at a community garden. It has been an unrewarding experience. Slowly, it has dawned on me that most of the gardeners have never hauled water in their lives. They have no physical memory of what it is like to haul water. Water comes out of a tap, effortlessly. When I describe the physical apparatus which can cause water to flow uphill (the analog of a water tower), they have no memory of ever constructing anything like it. Most of them are trapped in the analogies they can make from the world of ‘industrial water’, and those analogies just won’t work if the industrial water goes away.

            As our society has evolved to where most people make their living moving mice on mousepads, most people have lost the rich vein of experiences of how things work in the physical world. And so they will be hard pressed to come up with useful analogies if anything happens which interrupts the global industrial system.

            I have the treasure trove of early childhood experiences to remember and analogize from due to age and growing up poor. In addition, I have made some deliberate experiments in living without certain conveniences. For example, I have lived in off-grid solar houses with very small batteries and I have lived in cabins that had no power at all. They are not nearly as bad as everyone thinks they will be…is my conclusion.

            I suggested to Xabier that he might like to watch the movie Sansho the Bailiff, a tale of medieval Japan. In that movie, a noble woman, her two children, and a servant are traveling (walking) to the place where her husband has been exiled for political reasons. They cannot find lodging for hire, so the woman sends her children to gather materials for a shelter and she builds the overnight shelter. Kenji Mizoguchi, the director, was meticulous in his depiction of medieval life…so we can assume that a woman of the nobility nevertheless knew something about constructing a shelter from natural materials.

            I believe it is worthwhile to think back to the basics and to get some physical experience of dealing with those basics. Absent actual experience, the quote from Surfaces and Essences would leave one with little optimism about the survival of the clueless.

            Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Hello Don, Yes, I have been reading a lot of books about the old days and old ways. I also bought some books to put in my library about gathering edible plants. I have always liked to build things with my hands and I think those skills will be handy to those that concentrate on learning how to make things on their own. That may be in our future.

              But few are able to do these things and many jobs today are doing a simple task – perhaps one piece of a puzzle of a larger project that they do not even understand the big picture of what they are building. Like for example; soldering a single component into a circuit board on an assembly line. So people may be good at only one little thing and when they are faced with many things they will unable to perform the tasks.

              I have a neighbor up here that put in a hand pump well out there in his yard so his family could always have water in an emergency. So I some people doing some things out there and if you can build with wood or welding and have those abilities you will be farther ahead if things get tough. I think most people in the world live in apartments in cities and they could not install hand pump wells and such things, but building would have panels for hot water and PV.

              I am prepared to cook on my wood stove if needed, we could live like pioneers and I may even like it as long as folks help each other and do not get violent in a crisis. I think we will have problems with people coming out of the cities and causing trouble even here where we live in remote Oregon and that could lead to blood shed. I think the cities could very quickly become dangerous in an energy crisis people trying to get out maybe on foot on the roads walking around all of the cars out of gas! I can just picture the roads full of roving people and cars sitting empty of gas. But will we have that type of crisis or just slowly increasing costs for fuel that may force us onto mopeds etc.?

            • Christopher Johnson says:

              Dear Don Stewart:
              Thank you for your continuing contributions that never fail to enlighten. I have not had the opportunity to read Hofstadter and Sandler, nor dabbled in Oriental movies for the last few decades, but look forward to doing so.
              I believe one of the more difficult problems all of us have is visualizing what the future will look like. There’s a wide range between mild slowdown (continuing mild recession, no growth) and post-apocalyptic. Will we live in Maori houses or Passiv Haus with PV on the roof powering the TV, the toaster-oven and the teapot? Will we need jobs? Have gainful employment that enables us to buy food at the supermarket? the farmer’s market?
              It might be worthwhile for us — from the least of us aged and over the hill to the most highly sapient Phds — to begin sketching out some of the possible scenarios, and then determining what factors would favor one over another. Then some smart, talented artists can put some of those ideas onto a sketch pad, and we might be able to visualize what the options are.
              There was a Will Smith move some years ago about a plague that killed off almost all of humanity. All I recall now are the desolate scenes of NY City…
              Cordially, Chris

      • We discovered years ago that trying to commute by train from the suburbs is a nightmare (no matter what the train schedule) for someone like my husband, who is a college professor and teaches at all hours of the day and night. Every train he rode was a “milk run.”

        • Christopher Johnson says:

          The idea that someone would ‘decree’ who gets to drive when and how far tends to the ‘stalinesque’, who did all things for the good of the people. But even more hairbrained is the notion that public transport systems can be ‘economically’ designed to provide all, or almost all, of the required transport for all the people from their homes to work, etc. Do you remember the pictures of Chinese on their bicycles in the 70s?

  8. The cost of energy is prompting conversion of the US housing stock to PassivHaus standard, thereby reducing household consumption of power for heating/cooling to < 15 kwh/m2-yr, and total energy demand to < 120 kwh/m2-yr. For the US, with 125 million dwellings, averaging 200 m2 in area, conversion to PassivHaus reduces heating/cooling power demand to 373 Twh/yr, and total power demand to < 3,000 Twh/ yr. This is the cape buffalo beneath the carpet.
    Were refrigerators/airconditioners were built with SawaFuji Free-Piston Compressors, double the existing insulation, and with hold over plates so they run during the day, when the sun is shining, much of the need for storage would disappear and consequent demand would be reduced to 1,000Twh/yr. This is the lion beneath the carpet.
    Conversion of all lighting to LED eliminates 80% of power demand for lighting, and conversion of electronics to energy efficient versions, further reduce demand to 590 Twh/yr. This is the cheetah beneath the carpet.
    With rooftop PV supplying 1,800 Twh/yr, conversion to PassivHaus, together with holdover plate aircon/refrigeration, efficient electronics, and LED lighting reducing demand to 580 Twh/yr, rooftop PV could supply US housing with 24/7 supply, net of conversion and storage losses, of 25 kwh/m2-yr, while providing 1,000Twh/yr to commercial users.
    Furthermore, I take issue with the USDOE rooftop survey, because 6 kwe of rooftop PV per house is sufficient to provide 750 Gwe of capacity, in and of itself, generating 1,300 Twh/yr. So meeting the above dwelling power requirements requires only 4 kwe of rooftop PV / dwelling.

    This specifically means, the average household, can meet it's energy needs for heating/aircon, refrigeration, laundry, cooking, lighting, entertainment electronics, and miscellaneous needs such as power for tools, with 4 kwe of rooftop PV, and 16 hours storage onsite.

    Were feed-in tarrifs in place, or net metering in place, onsite storage could be eliminated in favor of central storage, and were array size increased to 6 kwe, 30 sq meters, domestic PV could power housing, the commercial sector, and the light industrial sector, including trams.
    This would leave only the heavy industrial sector, including rail, to be supplied from wind farms, PV farms, hydro schemes, or central power stations.

    I trust the above brings the problem into a manageable perspective.


    • In order to get replacement batteries (and replacement inverters and replacement panels) as well as triple glazed windows for your Passiv Haus, you still need the whole system to be in place–paved roads, delivery trucks, police, fire stations, health care, manufacturing facilities, etc. It is keeping the whole system in place that is so unmanageable. (Even recycling of existing batteries, inverters, and PV panels still leads to a loss, requiring more manufactured input.) Using the huge amount of resources needed for making houses passive and creating the solar panels and inverters, makes us less able to run the system as a whole, because it depletes resources needed for other purposes.

      Nature doesn’t do financing. It works on resources mined/otherwise available in a given year. I suggest reading Tom Murphy’s The energy trap.

  9. I should like to cover the suggestions regarding reversion to simpler times and technologies, ala the Maori Dwelling espoused by Matt:

    It was relatives of the Maori, fellow Polynesians to be exact, who deforested Easter Is,. for the express purpose of creating monuments. So, extolling the Maori, or the Thingit, who live in similar dwellings, disregards the fact that old growth timber of sufficient size no longer exists. It has been cut. Disregards the fact that those societies, used timber for fuel for heating, lighting, and cooking, and there is only sufficient resource worldwide to last a few months,

    There is no doubt that conversion of the ~100,000,000 dwellings in the USA to PassivHaus standard will cost money, perhaps $50,000 each totalling ~5 Trillion$, or about the cost of the GWOT. I submit that the GWOT did nothing to improve the energy security of the US, whereas conversion of the housing stock to PassivHaus would eliminate 40% of current energy consumption – the amount used for heating and cooling and domestic lighting (were LEDs used).

    There is no doubt that conversion of the US transport system to rail/water would cost $2 Trillon, or that this conversion would reduce the 60% of current petroleum consumption devoted to transportation, by 80%, or by 10 MmBbl/day (10 million BOE per day)

    There is no doubt that conversion to PV/Wind/Hydro/Geothermal will require changes
    in the usage of power. I mentioned several changes that are not only possible, but actually provide better service and availability. Direct Reduced Iron, LED lighting, Holdover Plate refrigeration/aircon, more efficient cookers, hanging clothies on lines. Bicycling / walking to work/shopping.
    All these and more will be necessary to cope with what is coming.

    However, adjustment means keeping forests, eliminating pollution of water supplies, and of the atmosphere, while BAU until the crash means no recovery whatever.


    • Scott says:

      We could do it but the money is not there, especially for the so called third world. I think parts of the world can build our way out of this and stay alive. But it is going to further cost the planet.

      Looks like we will use the cheapest way first, the coal which will not help us. But I think we will get a generation or so and then we will pay even if we change, the changing climate is like a huge large rolling ball or ship that is very heavy and moves slowly crushing everything in it’s way and and is not easily turned to a new course. Therefore the forces that have been unleashed will go on for many years.

      • Now, dawn is happening.. . .
        There is a future, but it won’t be as envisioned in the cinema, or follow the plans of the illuminati. It will be messy, and chaotic.

        It need not be that, in the US. However, Obama has expanded upon the Bush policies to entrench existing interests, embrittling the heirarchy. History is replete with examples, none of which are pretty.

        The best opportunity for change is at the local / county level. Here a small group can make a difference, and fortunately, the nature of renewables, is compatible.

        So, here is a list of things to do;
        1. Change local zoning ordinances to permit PV placement on suitable roofs
        2. Change local zoning ordinances to encourage placement of wind turbines in suitable
        3. Change street layouts to ensure lanes for bicycles.
        4. Change zoning ordinances to foster light rail (tram) transport of goods and services.
        5. Change the purchasing habits of cities and counties to require them purchasing renewable power from local suppliers.
        6. Change local building codes to encourage passivhaus design/refurbishment
        7. Change local building codes to encourage composting toilets
        8. Reverse ordinances/covenants which interfere with conversion to renewables, composting toilets, and other innovations which reduce resource footprint.
        9. Create a local building society to fund loans for PassivHaus conversions.
        10. Change zoning to require new construction conform to PassivHaus


        • Scott says:

          Thanks Dr. Oprisko, All that sounds good, but once again I am going back to my theory that these mitigation measures will work in only part of the world and some areas will be successful in perhaps surviving a collapse. For instance, I think city dwellers will have great difficulty with these recyclable toilets. I do think there are many parts of the world that are suitable to survive the difficulties ahead, but New York LA, SF or London etc. are not on the top of my list.

          I really do think we cannot avoid some kind of correction in the world population, first and an events will be in our future that will be difficult in that regard. An uneven collapse ahead.

        • Christopher Johnson says:

          Some of those idea might sound good / okay to others, but I think the US Constitution might feel a bit offended if you are proposing to limit the purchases, uses and lifestyles of US citizens or to otherwise regulate them like cooperative little automatons. Treating the recipients of your plans as people and not algorithms might yield slightly different results, such as about six to eight times the total energy use, and equally high cost differentials. However, I do want to volunteer to be a member of the first commissariat, and will quickly prepare pledges of allegiance, loyalty and security for the people’s government.

          • Dunno, about your comment. Or the others for that matter.

            I specifically, limited my analysis to the energy equation.

            I am conducting an engineering analysis here, Demand = Supply.

            Respondents imply that I propose draconian rules to force this scenario. I don’t.
            I am of the opinion that rooftop PV will be emplaced in a chaotic anarchic fashion, because the US Govt has chosen to entrench itself behind a Police State Apparatus, and rooftop PV falls through the cracks, as long as it is not grid connected, except in about half the states, where net-metering was legislated.

            However, since we seem to have accepted this scenario as possible, there is the matter of how to make it happen.

            It is widely known that the landed cost of a BOE of hydrocarbons in the US is $15/ gal. The price paid at the pump is 1/4 the actual delivered cost. It is difficult for consumers to make informed choices, when the pricing mechanism is thus skewed. So, one way to encourage transition is to price petroleum on a cost inclusive basis.

            It is widely known that coal combustion in the average central power station emits sulfuric acid, mercury, selenium, and other toxics, which have seriously degraded freshwater fisheries continent wide, as well as the health of the populace. Coal mining is likewise subsidized. So, eliminating these subsidies, would also encourage the transition, by leveling the playing field for renewables, and by encouraging conservation measures.

            It is widely known that rail transport is much more fuel efficient than alternatives except water, so unifying the nations rail beds under a federal corporation, perhaps to be called “Federal Railways”, could accomplish several things at once. Unified rail corridors could serve as conduits for the improved grid that is required. Unified rail corridors, could be improved/maintained identically to the road network. That is as a common right-of-way, with usage fees and slots allocated similarly to those for airports, which are public entities by the way.

            A Federal Renewable Energy Bank could provide low cost financing of the necessary construction, via an account for funds at the Comptroller of the Currency’s Electronic Currency Window. A Federal Transport Bank could do the same for transport.
            We have Federal Corporations funding housing now, and they could refuse to write mortgages for housing not up to PassivHaus Standard, while offering low cost financing for conversion to that standard.

            BTW, there is no reason the average homeowner cannot install his own PV array.

            Other measures could be taken to encourage the transition. A monthly public transport pass, initially free, could encourage people to leave their cars parked.

            I leave to the collective imagination other means of encouragement.

            I should like to mention, one very important thing. Gaia doesn’t care about your
            politics, or belief system. Perturb the environment past the threshold, and it changes state, no matter what you think. Gaia simply doesn’t care.


            • Christopher Johnson says:

              Well, it’s difficult for a reader to avoid the inference that he/she will be allowed to drive either on Saturday or Sunday, and that all those other good ideas will be mandatory and enforceable. If that was not your intent, then my criticism is unwarranted.

              The main problem is the automobile. All over the world the first thing a newly enriched buys is an automobile. Even if he really can’t afford it. For reasons known only to the wisest, people might value their automobiles above almost all else, including their spouse and their children. Will this peculiar psychological phenomenon actually crash the human experiment? Could be. You live in New York City, one of the few places on earth where cars ownership is uniquely low and even unnecessary. But that lifestyle cannot be maintained in any other city in America, and very few in the entire world (London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Shaghai, Tokyo.) Building out commuter rail that really works will take decades of devotion that many / most will resist, but it is the essential step to cure the ‘automobile jones.’

              Still, even allowing for that one human weakness, is there any reason to not pursue all those other good ideas? I see none, and some of them could be packaged attractively.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “You live in New York City, one of the few places on earth where cars ownership is uniquely low and even unnecessary. But that lifestyle cannot be maintained in any other city in America, and very few in the entire world…”

              Why the fixation with cities?

              Two hundred years ago, it took fifteen people on the land to support one in a city. Today, a single person on the land supports about 700 in cities. A reversion to the mean is inevitable!

              We’re already seeing this in the “canaries in the coal mine.” Want to see your future? Look at the PIIGS. In Greece, people are moving in droves from the cities to the traditional villages. Oh, I forgot, America has no “traditional villages.” Better start creating them, pronto!

              I drive 20km two or three times a week. I could easily reduce that to one trip, to meet people to drop off food. They could mostly get to the drop point on foot or by bicycle. There is life outside the city — and for many, there may well only be life outside the city.

            • I am a scientist who became a successful systems engineer.
              I am only interested in the numbers.
              I am of the opinion that this webpage is focused on coping with resource scarcity.
              I looked for and found one solution in which existing technologies can provide sufficient energy to run the economy. It is one out of a pantheon of solutions.
              The solution I found has a plausible mix of energy sources.
              The solution I found has a realistic mix of energy consumers across all three parts of the economy, residential, commercial and industrial.
              The solution I found requires energy efficiencies shown to be available in demonstration projects worldwide
              The transport solution I found, is actually working in Russia, China, and France.
              The solution I found does not require mass abandonment of current infrastructure to shift to living in a wilderness cabin, living on a diet of purple potatoes, making stone tools.
              The solution I found has the following assumptions:
              1. All US housing is converted to PassivHaus Standard. (houses have been converted to this standard, worldwide, so the techonologies, and techniques are known, and the required products to convert exist)

              2. All lighting nationwide is converted to LED.(conversion is happening now, the products exist, I bought enough of them to convert Pegasus in toto).

              3. All cooking is electric & refrigeration/aircon is of the holdover plate type, operating during the day. (existing technologies, products currently available)

              4. All computer systems and electronics are converted to super energy efficient ones.(my computer uses 80watts and runs on 12 vdc, it is made from standard parts available today)

              5. Each dwelling has one EV, which is used only on weekends for shopping/recreation trips, for a max of 100 miles, or one recharge(a sop on my part to the Americans, in France they commute on bicycles, or walk)

              6. All commuting is via walking/bicycling to the nearest public transport stop, thence by public transport to destination.(current French practice, ditto for Russia)

              7. All public transport is electric.(current practice in Russia, China, EU,)

              8. All rail transport is electric.(current practice in Russia, China, EU,)

              9. 95% of all freight movements are by rail(achieved by the US in WWII)

              10. The full GeoThermal potential of the US is realized( possible with existing technology and equipment, and ongoing)

              11. The full Hydro potential of the US is realized, including conversion of existing dams to produce electricity. ( Idaho NREL has a database showing the dams)

              12. The Grid is improved to the point power can be wheeled nationwide( possible, and ongoing in China)

              13. Each dwelling has 16 hours storage capacity(curent practice in non-grid renewable systems, such as yachts, I showed sufficient material, Sodium and Sulfur, to do this)

              14. All PV is grid connected. (current practice)

              15. All suitable commercial roof space is occupied with PV(USDOE analyzed the roof space, the numbers are from their analysis)

              16. Each dwelling has a solar hot water heating system(current practice worldwide)

              17. Commercial energy efficiency is improved to half that of the Bullit Building in Seattle. (if they can do it, so can everyone else)

              18. Industrial energy consumption is halved via energy efficiency improvements. (if both the US Govt and Bullit can reduce power consumption by 50-87%, industry can also be more energy efficient.

              You will note that my post considers energy in and energy out. It does not clutter itself with implementation details. It should be obvious that unless sufficient energy is available, implementation is irrelevant.
              My analysis is not focused on cities, as you claim. It is focused on verifying existence of renewable resource sufficient to power the national economy. It analyzes the effect of energy utilization efficiencies.

              My analysis basically says the following:
              1. If all dwellings are brought to PassivHaus standard, and are fitted with ~6kwe of grid connected PV, with onsite 16 hour energy storage 85% efficient, they will have sufficient power for lighting, cooking, heating, electronics, hot water, and miscellaneous(tools), plus enough to charge an EV once / week, plus surplus power they can export to the grid.
              2, If all commercial buildings are brought to half the efficiency of the Bullit Building in Seattle, and are fitted with sufficient PV to cover their roofs, they will have sufficient power for lighting, cooking, heating, equipment, and all other existing activities, plus surplus power they can export to the grid.
              3. Roof top PV on dwellings and commercial buildings can provide sufficient power to the grid to operate the rail sector.
              4. Roof top PV’s power surplus, net of the rail sector, can provide half the industrial sector’s demand.
              5. The balance of industrial demand can be met via a combination of Hydro, GeoThermal, and Wind
              6. The agricultural sector reverts to draft animals, and 100 million acres are required to grow fodder for them(standard US practice 80 years ago)
              7. Rural folk either bicycle, walk, or hitch their draft animals to wagons for trips to town, or the nearest public transport.(standard US practice 80 years ago)

              The above is not a mandate. To imply so, and to accuse me of mandating it, is primafacie evidence of being a shill for the affected vested interests.

              The above is one set of conditions under which sufficient, sustainable, energy flows can be created with the existing resource base, to meet the needs of the economy.
              I am certain that there are others, and look forward to your rigorous, quantitative proposals.


            • Tom Wayburn says:


              I think you already know the answer to this question; but, I don’t hear you talk about a specific program for the necessary political change to take the population growth and economic growth out of the community making the changes you recommend. No amount of conservation or renewable energy is capable of overcoming exponential growth, which the government of every sovereign state in the world is avowedly pursuing. My computations are at although at the time I was writing I envisioned no more drastic conservation measures than, for example, The Apollo Alliance was advocating. Then as now the resistance of the people to change is a barrier to conservation beyond the middle-class standards that are likely to obtain until actual collapse. On the other hand, as long as one is trying to introduce unpopular changes, one might as well retire the market and furlough those who serve it. They will consume much less energy if they are paid not to do their unnecessary work that doesn’t provide a single thing we need to live. I did some quick and dirty analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics tables at

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “The above is one set of conditions under which sufficient, sustainable, energy flows can be created with the existing resource base, to meet the needs of the economy.”

              You avoided my question: why the focus on cities?

              I can appreciate that you are a hard scientist. It is very clear that you are “only interested in numbers.” Perhaps you might study some sociology and history, as well?

              Your proposal has a very heavy “cityist” bias. It appears you have put a great deal of thought into where the extrinsic energy required for modern civilization would come from. But it seems you have put little thought into where our intrinsic energy would come from.

              Do you really have numbers that show that relegating rural people to animal-powered agriculture can feed those in the cities? This looks like a two-class system, whereby the rural people will spend most of their time tending draft animals, while people in cities lead a push-button life. I think you underestimate the effort required, as well as underestimating the amount of embedded energy required to maintain city life.

              When I hear things like, “the full geothermal potential” or “the full hydro potential,” I cringe just a bit. Do we really understand the myriad mutual dependencies well enough to “fully” utilize anything? Human history is littered with the corpses of grand plans to “fully utilize” this or that.

              The Maximum Power Principle (or Point, “MPP”) illustrates the problem of diminishing returns. I hear a lot of people go on and on about “efficiency,” when if you think about it carefully, it is easy to see that, beyond a certain point, efficiency is a net loss. Theoretically, achieving 100% efficiency would require infinite resources! Perhaps this is why nature, in 3.5 billion years, has not done much better than 8% efficiency in storing sunlight as chemical bonds. But we arrogant hairless apes can do better!

              It’s the same about “fully utilizing” this or that, no? The “full utilization” of fossil sunlight now causes the cost to be ten times as much as when we only utilized the easy bits. Won’t it be the same to fully utilize geothermal or hydro?

              And what of the species we will destroy in fully utilizing such sources? The Elwha Dam in Washington was recently destroyed, due to concern over migratory pelagic fish. Would you re-build those dams, and eliminate the salmon?

              You paint an enticing and simple picture. Too simple.

            • Scott says:

              Doctor, that was a very impressive post indeed. Thank you. It looks like there are many things that we can do, but are not doing them. I think the main problem is very few people see the shortage coming and they are very complacent right now. I think if everyone felt the way people that post on this site do, we would be right in the middle of this type of project.

              I certainly would not miss all of those truck on the highways if we went back to rail. I just wonder about the finance end of things and what would Gail say about that. Most people simply do not have the money to put these systems on their homes. We seem to have the way but, perhaps not the financial ability to put PV’s on every home and make those important retrofits you spoke about. Most people cannot even afford the new electric cars.

              It always seems to take a crisis to spur people into action, and we have not had an oil scare since the mid 1970’s and many have even forgotten that. People are going to get their crisis but they will not have prepared and at some point we will try do this but it will be forced on us and will not be undertaken voluntarily. During that brief crisis we had in the 1970’s I saw people start to do things like retrofit there bicycles with small electric motors and batteries. So my point is it will take a crisis to motivate people to act and to this seriously. Once this “Long Emergency” gets underway and becomes visible to all I think then we will see many of the things you said and people will get into action. Will the financial crisis hit first and paralyze us? Maybe. During the 1970’s people were starting to go this direction, but then there was plenty of cheap oil again and it was forgotten.

              Today more people believe in Big Foot or Lock Nest Monsters than they do in resource scarcity. However, I do not think it will be long before the public as whole sees it because it looks like we just peaked a few years ago and and it is all downhill from here on oil production.

      • You don’t have a generation (20 years), much less two of them.. . .
        Your thinking reflects the fact that you ignored much of my earlier posts.. . .
        Atmospheric CO2 levels exceed 400ppm NOW!, They would continue to rise, should we stop all human emmissions instantly, however, your proposal would accelerate the rise.
        Atmospheric modeling predicted much of what we see happening in the environment, but not for 40 or so years. So, the earth is now in runaway mode, and the consequences of this are dire for the survival of homo sapiens as a species.
        There are many other dynamics making things worse, such as use of terminator gene crops, and of atrazine and roundup extensively. Those in the Willamette Valley who transitioned from sod farming to vegetables, tell horror stories of decade long efforts needed to correct infertility and soil poisoning, in order to grow vegetables. This means that much of our ag land will prove unsuitable for growing crops for human food.

        Based on Guy’s analysis, homo sapiens has maybe 20 years before extinction.


        • Scott says:

          Hello Dr. Oprisko, I know the outlook looks bad, and many of our beloved mandkind will likely be lost especially if we have a nuclear war that would change the outcome, but if we “just” have a financial collapse and “subsequent energy shortage” — “because of lack of finance” – to produce and explore, I do view this as likely case that a large group of us will die and hopefully a group of us will survive – depending on their location on the planet.

          I think the so called “third world” will be most at risk, And, there will be areas there people will build their way out perhaps using some of the things we have discussed if they are able or it may be like wild west first.

          The temperature of the planet is surely going to rise, but there can some that know how to survive, once again depending on the location on the Earth.

          So I see an uneven collapse with small islands of some survivors, perhaps instituting some of these technologies we have looked at.

        • Maybe based on Guy’s analysis homo sapiens has maybe 20 years before extinction, but not necessarily on other analyses.

          We definitely have problems, but (fortunately) we don’t know precisely how bad they are. Some places are not as bad as you quote.

    • It is not at all clear that we have the energy needed to make the conversions you suggest. In addition, we would still need to keep the global industrial complex going–something that would be extremely difficult even if we didn’t have to keep the global industrial complex going. This is all sounding more and more ridiculous to me.

    • Although some new research would dispute it I also believe there is some evidence that the Aboriginals also burned down the vegetation in Australia a lot. Humans havent always been very good to nature, even when we were living in caves or in the open. Not so confident that so many billions of people of today will cope very well when we go down that energy slide. The amount of stoves sold in Greece has doubled and people even chopped down trees in parks. If you also look at the history of USA before they discovered coal, there was a lot of forest being chopped down to get access to wood. Quite a few places in USA have names like “XYZ Furnace” while there arent that many trees in sight anymore. Same goes for UK and many places in Europe as well.

      Considering how stupid human beings have been at managing any resource, I think that the moment we get into energy troubles the lungs of the planet will be going the Easter Island way – but this time on a global scale. Just another nail in the coffin for the ecosystem really.

      Other than that I agree with you that PV progress has been great and its very cheap now compared to some years back. It really should be mandatory to have them as standard equipment on your roofs. I have also been a proponent of using energy whenever you have it available. We have this very unnatural 24/7 view of energy access – while we could adapt our lifestyles to more intermittent energy access very easily if people just relax a bit and stop being so caught up in the rat-race all the time.

      • If people want PVs and don’t connect them to the grid or get subsidies to buy them, I have no problem with them. I see connecting them to the grid as a problem, because they will tend to make the grid less stable. I see subsidies to be a problem, because in general, they will be causing poor people to subsidize the rich. If governments do not pass the costs along, and just increase their deficits because of them, the subsidies will help governments fail more quickly.

        I don’t think that PVs will be more than a temporary, partial solution, for many reasons. The batteries to back them up won’t be sustainable, even if the PVs themselves are. Without back-up, it is possible to do some things (pump water is one, also recharge phones as long as their batteries are working and the rest of the system is working) which are useful, but a lot of standard uses (lights, refrigeration) fall by the wayside. Eventually, the devices to which PVs are connected will fail. If a person is forced to move, it is quite likely that it will be difficult to move the PV and devices to a new location.

        • In earlier posts, I mentioned the need for feed-in tariffs or net-metering schemes to keep rooftop PV grid connected.
          I also mentioned that NGK solved the fire and reliability problems they had with Sodium-Sulfur batteries. I also mentioned that nightime demand can be markedly reduced via conversion of aircon/refrigeration to holdover plate systems, and that holdover plate technologies are proven in the marine industry.
          I also mention that the source of materials for the batteries and panels is to be found in current waste streams. Glass is made from silica sand, the batteries are made from Sodium and sulfur, and the panels are made from silicon, The minor components, silver for solder, copper for wiring, are available in sufficent quantities now, and elimination of central power schemes will reduce demand for them.
          Regarding eventual failure, and relocation, those events happen now, and they are the basis of the economy. If things did not require replacement, manufacturing would not exist. If people did not move, periodically, refurbishment of housing would not occur. These features of economies were prevalent during the stone age, otherwise archaeologists would not find middens containing stone fragments, or pottery shards.

          The question not asked, not considered, is how mankind will source the energy required to maintain his tool kit. Were we to consider life as the San or Himba of Namibia(with whom I have first hand experience), we would find they spend considerable time and energy maintaining their tool kit, without which they cannot survive the Namib or Kalahari environment in which they live.

          My analyses show that conversion of all dwellings to PassivHaus standard, which does not require marked changes in external appearance, coupled with 4 kwe of rooftop PV is sufficient to provide housing with it’s power needs, and were this increased to 6 kwe/house + commercial roof PV systems, there would be enough power for housing, commercial, and light industrial needs.

          This will require energy to accomplish, and changes in allocation of resources to do so within the current resource base will be required. For instance, the F-35 project should be scrapped, and new automobile construction halted in favor of passenger rail, and rail expansion.

          But sufficient energy is available for this, and once converted, the EROEI of rooftop PV will be sufficient to maintain this much lower energy intense system, particularly when coupled with wind/geothermal/wave/hydro.


          • Some of your energy optimism has been part of me for a while as well. I know that traditional capitalism the way we have implemented it now will collapse if we follow the current trajectory, and Gail might be right that this will happen sooner or later. I am not so sure that the people in power will try to shift the way we use our energy to the one you describe Oprisko, and certainly not in time to avoid a collapse.

            But its my understanding that the world has pulled through a couple of world wars, the second which really messed up a lot of places and infrastructures. No doubt recovery went rather fast since we had still access to plenty of energy. But even if there were a total collapse of the world economy, I think people and governments would be now forced to think new – much like they did during a world war. People learn that we need to ration food even in times of crisis and certainly listen to good advice about how to collectively solve a problem. No doubt there will be conflicts and a lot of broken dreams – and certainly a lot of people will die before they had intended. But this is also the time when ideas about conservation and efficiency will be the most important, and if there is enough will in the public, we might put in motion the wheels to generate a new world that is somewhat more sustainable – like the one Oprisko describes.

            The question is really about when it will happen? If a collapse is supposed to trigger this change, it better happen soon as the planets ecosystem is really not up to 10 more years of BAU. I share Mel Tisdale’s worries that we are truly running out of time to cut carbon emissions as we are really just seeing the beginning of the consequences of our past 100 years of emissions. As James Hansen say, there is a lag in the system where all that extra heat stored in the oceans now will try to exit into space again. If you look at the amount of heat now gone into the deep oceans, its a considerable amount while so many of the deniers were so focused on the surface temperatures. A good heat pump weather system is all we need to wreck truly havoc, and the CO2 is still there around to do its job as best as it can adding more heat to the oceans so each cycle of “heat ejaculation” will be a historical one even if we cut all emissions today. No doubt a lot of new records. You know Norway wanted to change the wording of their floods now as it had no sense to call things a 50 year flood or 100 year flood now that they came every third year or so. The “weather will get better tomorror” mentality has really tricked us into passivity so I totally agree with Guy McPherson that only complete economical collapse will prevent runaway climate change.

            The scale of climate change is always difficult to predict, and I sense Gail is not quite agreeing with the severeness of it. But I am confident that the proofs will unfold in the next 20 years in ways we have never seen before. Likely its too late to do anything about the 6th extinction event then, although I have no idea at the timescale of changes past these initial “warnings”.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “The batteries to back them up won’t be sustainable, even if the PVs themselves are.”

          If you’re talking high-tech, high-density lithium technology, I agree.

          But a skilled amateur can maintain and even re-manufacture lead-acid cells. Certainly a large village or small town could do so. I think lead-acid electron storage is appropriate technology for a civilization undergoing catabolic collapse.

          If you want to understand what technologies might survive the collapse of fossil sunlight, just look at those that preceded fossil sunlight. Lead-acid cells did, due to their relative simplicity.

          • Indeed. My father worked with car batteries (for boats and forklifts too) and I can still recall the days when I visited his workplace and could see him create a whole lead acid battery from scratch in several steps. Some of the parts were pre-manufactured but it wasn’t exactly high tech. No doubt a lot of nasty fumes and chemicals around but the process seemed exceptionally simple to me and the components involved were few.

            But on the battery side I believe they are making some very good progress on new nano tech stuff that practically acts as a very high density capacitor. That kind of tech will require a stable economy though as the equipment involved seems only possible in a high energy world. If they could make these so they didnt require a lot of maintenance. Other battery technologies on the rise is the LiFePo ones which also have high density and are very safe as well as lasting very long. Not sure though that these technologies are coming fast enough, although electrical cars sure have brought more researchers into battery tech.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Something open to skilled amateurs or small businesses would be a “flow battery,” whereby the electrolyte in a lead-acid battery is completely replaced as a way of “quick charging” the battery. One could vastly increase the range of an electric vehicle by simply having a tank full of pre-charged electrolyte on hand, as well as a way of exchanging it. The devil is in the details! And yet, this could be done without a global supply chain of highly refined rare earths and semiconductors.

          • I think you are right that lead-acid batteries are relatively more sustainable. I know, though, that there is always a loss in recycling, so we will still have to keep making more. The scale of what we will need will be huge compared to what we have today, if we are going to use very many of them for backing up solar PV.

            Lead-acid batteries cannot be used in many circumstances. The new electric cars will take only their particular kind of batteries. The same for the many gadgets we have today. Even keeping all of the types of batteries made today in stock is a challenge. My husband and I recently discovered that it is necessary to order batteries for electronic equipment made a few years ago from Amazon, because such batteries are no longer stocked in stores. I expect we will see more of this problem.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “The new electric cars will take only their particular kind of batteries. The same for the many gadgets we have today.”

              That’s actually more of a physical issue than an electrical one. From cars to the tiniest MP3 player, all the device cares about is that a certain number of volts is there, capable of supplying a certain flow of electrons (amps, or 6e18 electrons per second). Charging is another matter, though, and built-in chargers that assume a particular battery chemistry might cause a problem with a different battery chemistry. That’s why you need your own lead acid battery charger.

              I routinely replace nicad and lithium batteries with lead acid ones. I generally re-work a defunct battery pack to access the proper electrical connection, bring some wires out, optionally run it through a simple voltage regulator, then into a lead-acid battery pack.

              It is true that recycling lead results in some loss, so it isn’t perfectly sustainable, but it is far better than lithium batteries, virtually none of which are currently recycled. (Almost all lead acid batteries are currently recycled, due in part to “core fees” when you buy a new one.)

            • Thanks for pointing this out. Most of us are klutzes and don’t have access to lead acid batteries that we could use to substitute for lithium ones. I expect this approach would work better for stationary uses than where a device needs to fit in a car and provide comparable distance, or inside a camera or phone.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “this approach would work better for stationary uses than where a device needs to fit in a car and provide comparable distance, or inside a camera or phone.”

              Good point. But in the “old days,” there were relatively few battery-powered devices, and we were quite used to plugging in to the wall.

              So I have “semi-cordless” things that plug into an external battery pack that can be hung from your belt or slipped into a pocket.

              I go to the dump and yard sales and pick up 12 volt cordless drills for free. People dump them when the battery goes, because the battery pack is so expensive. I solder wires onto the contacts, then put Anderson PowerPole connectors on them, and can then power them from a variety of 12 volt sources, making them “semi-cordless” drills.

              I’m hoping that an up-and-coming occupation will be the “tinker,” the person in the village who would fix things. Fixing things isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s a good example of a more generalized, useful specialization than today’s extremely specialized jobs.

            • Yes, it would definitely be good to have a “tinker” in every village. If we can’t get cheap replacements for everything from China/India, we will need to do more fixing.

            • Scott says:

              Hello, That sounds good Jan, we will need a little battery power it seems and being able to make a simple battery and retrofit old drills are things that can help. We would really like to put a nice solar system on our home, but on my fixed income not sure I can afford one. But I do plan to do something at least enough to run a few things and a well pump. If you are a person or family living in a rural area doing gardening and things to make your life more self sufficient, a small solar project would be desirable, complete with an inverter system to power up your home in time of need. Sometimes the power goes out for days on end during storms anyway and it would be good to have something aside from a gas generator as we believe that could be a problem during a fuel crisis.

              I did want to say something about putting PV and other solar panels roofs, people may need to redo their roofs first as if you have a roof that is already not good and you put all those panels up there, when it starts leaking or needs replaced all that stuff will have to be removed and reinstalled after a new roof, so many may want to replace their roof at the same time as solar panels are installed just to put that task way in the future, once again cost constraints are a problem, a new roof can cost a bunch. I also like the idea of large solar installations with panels not on roofs, perhaps on poles sitting out in the desert sun powering our grid. Will it be enough? Probably not, but it will help.

  10. The proposal that we all live as the Maori did in 800 AD, ignores a few salient points.
    1. The Maori burned wood for heat, light, and cooking.
    2. There were only a few thousands of Maori at the time.
    3. We don’t have sufficient wood resource to cook with in the USA, or the UK for more than months. Don’t think so, just look at what is happening to the forests around Athens. They are being decimated to provide fuel for the impoverished. As we speak.
    4. There are 100 million dwellings currently in the USA, and all of them can be converted to PassivHaus standard, including with R-15 triple glazed, coated glass in the windows.
    5. The windows can be over covered with polycarbonate storms, just as the hull windows in Pegasus are so over covered.

    It seems to me that the message still isn’t getting through. We can convert to a renewable future, without reverting to the stone age, complete with forests, if we work smarter, not harder. The solution doesn’t lie in a police state, replete with all calls and emails monitored, and kangaroo courts.
    The solution lies before us. It is as follows:
    1. Convert all existing housing to PassivHaus standard.
    2. All new housing should be net energy positive, that is, it produces more than it uses.
    3. All dwellings to have 6 Kwe of PV, LED lights, electric induction cookers. solar water heaters, holdover plate refrigeration/aircon. low energy appliances
    4. 95% of all freight on rail/water
    5. 95% of all commutes on rail
    6. Rail stations no more than 10 miles apart E of Mississippi and 30 miles elsewhere.
    7. Commute to Rail by walking/bicyling/bus/tram
    8. Electric mini-mills to Direct Reduce Iron for steelmaking
    9. Carbon fibre / epoxy transport
    10. All long distance passenger via 300 km/hr conventional rail, not MagLev
    11. 100% of all US electricity from PV/Wind/Geothermal/Hydro
    12. US power consumption cut by 75%.
    13. Most food grown in gardens, mostly vegetarian. We are going to need 100 million acres to feed draft animals.


    • Christopher Johnson says:

      In case you didn’t know it, we’ve enjoyed your contributions, Dr. Oprisko. I’m speaking with no authority to represent any but myself, but I can’t imagine responses that would differ greatly.
      Not BAU is right, but if we and our children are going to get through this Century we’ll have to do a few things that most of us hadn’t thought about before. A few other points:
      1. Not many MSM, or non-readers of this blog / similar blogs are aware that collapse may well be imminent (eg, Arctic CH4, CO2 400 PPM, financial constriction, etcl). Certainly no politician would want to lead a campaign based on such nerdy, geeky schlock that hasn’t been vetted by the party or even the NYT editorial staff. Ahhh, Gail who the anturary?
      2. The current economic hurt provides abundant labor, especially young and energetic who might be ideal for some, if not all of the energy upgrade you mentioned. A WPA project to add insulation to attics and walls, improve windows, and install geothermal heating could puts lots of youngsters to work, and could be mortgaged cheaply. This should be a win-win-win.
      3. You might want to rethink High Speed Rail. It’s great for a few hundred miles but makes much less sense above 500 miles. Improving airport passenger throughput efficiency would help greatly.
      Medium speed – 150-200 MPH is much cheaper to achieve but provides nearly equal results. And Stockton to Bakersfield is absurd.
      4. Getting people to leave their cars at home has to be considered one of the ultimate goals, and not just for the rich world. But what combination of positive and negative incentives can any society proffer that might have some real potential of succeeding? Is the UK program to keep cars out of London working? Well? Any other cities trying it or other solutions?
      Cordially, CWJ

      • I specifically mentioned 300 km/hr == $200 mph. This sort of rail system
        I rode on throughout China. It exists in Asia now. It exists in Europe now.
        No new technologies need be invented. It means 6 hr Chicago-NYC 6 hr Chicago-Miami 6 hr Chicago-Denver overnight Chicago- California / Seattle

        It requires upgrading 55,000 miles of Class 1 rail (mainline) with quadruple tracking and electrification, supported by 60,000 mi of Class 2 rail (electrified double tracked), supported by 120,000 miles of light rail (trams).

        The F-35 project will cost $1.2 Trillion, for that we get the Class1 rail, or convert 20% of our housing. Ditto with many other DOD / DOHS projects.

        I agree that doing the above will put our unemployed to useful work, too.


        • Christopher Johnson says:

          Dr. Oprisko:

          Re GWOT and other idiocies, the F35 could be the biggest disaster in post Cold War defense procurement. But it is more a measure of the MIC’s clout and the iron triangle’s (congress, MIC and DOD) continuing momentum that has been transporting gasoline and just about everything else from Charleston to Kabul at a very reasonable price. Eisenhower was right and still is.

          Ike also knew that the proponents of such things as new airplanes and trains occasionally oversold their goods and ignored or covered up their weaknesses. The Washington Post published this editorial in February 2011 regarding the problems of high speed rail. Please commit it to memory and let’s concentrate on more worthy causes.

          Begin quote:
          Of course, if the Chinese do finish their system, it is likely to require operating subsidies for many years – possibly forever. A recent World Bank report on high-speed rail systems around the world noted that ridership forecasts rarely materialize and warned that “governments contemplating the benefits of a new high-speed railway, whether procured by public or private or combined public-private project structures, should also contemplate the near-certainty of copious and continuing budget support for the debt.”

          That’s certainly what happened in Japan, where only a single bullet-train line, between Japan and Osaka, breaks even; it’s what happened in France, where only the Paris-Lyon line is in the black. Taiwan tried a privately financed system, but it ended up losing so much money that the government had to bail it out in 2009.

          When it comes to high-speed rail, Europe, Japan and Taiwan have two natural advantages over every region of the United States, with the possible exception of the Northeast Corridor – high gas taxes and high population density. If high-speed rail turned into a money pit under relatively favorable circumstances, imagine the subsidies it would require here. Every dollar spent to subsidize high-speed rail is a dollar that cannot be spent modernizing highways, expanding the freight rail system or creating private-sector jobs. The Obama administration insists we dare not lag the rest of the world in high-speed rail. Actually, this is a race everyone loses.
          End quote.

          • Good point. Also, we are moving in the direction of getting poorer and poorer. We need solutions for poor people. Bullet trains are solutions for rich societies.

      • 300 km / hr == 180 mph

        Such trains are the norm in Japan, China, Russia, and the EU.


        • Christopher Johnson says:

          I don’t know much about the European or Russian trains, but do know the Chinese ones are good trains but not necessarily good connections. In Europe France and Germany have some, but their utilization rate depends on many factors that have resulted in ROIs of next Century. Same problem here: should the 300 kph train from NYC to DC stop in Philly? Balmore? Richmond? where else enroute to Atlanta, Jax, Orlando and Miami. Now with those stops you’ve just turned a 6 hour trip into a 10 hour trip. It’s okay. The French have done the equivalent of Stockton to Bakersfield, so why should Jerry Brown follow the younger Hollande? I’d much rather take a 90 minute flight from JFK to O’Hare than what you offered. ‘Mine’s bigger than yours’ works fine for the Chinese Minister of Railways. Ooops, he’s in jail, isn’t he…

          • Scott says:

            Hello Chris, I think we need more old fashioned type trains perhaps more efficient ones not these bullet trains, people have become so impatient. In the future we will be just thankful to see a food train at the station arriving. People’s minds are too far out there, and that is part of not seeing the problem. That is unless they unveil the new hidden source unending power. But in the meantime there have been some very good suggestions put forth on this site for plans and things that could be pursued at least for part of the world, those that have the means.

            • Christopher Johnson says:

              Concur, Scott. The DC-NYC train with two stops uses 2.5 hours. That’s about equal to the air shuttle if you count downtown to downtown. Yes, if you had a dedicated train DC-Grand Central, it could cut the time in half. So what? Otherwise, they really don’t make much sense. Seattle – Portland – San Francisco – Los Angeles – San Diego could work, but very few will use it for a Seattle to San Diego trip that takes 12 hours when you can fly it in three. Or maybe I’m wrong.

            • Scott says:

              Hello, You know Chris I am starting to get a clearer picture of this, bullet trains running is part of the world while others are scavenging for food and firewood anything they can find, the picture in my mind emerging is one of an uneven collapse.

            • This works until someone puts something on the track of the bullet train, or scavenges a piece of the tracks or wiring.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Dr. Oprisko, Here Interesting podcast on global Geo Engineering to mitigate climate change this is interesting.

        • Although good rail based public transit is the way we need to go for instead of personal transport in the form of cars, I still feel society as a whole needs to be restructured in a way that reduces the need for personal transport to an absolute minimum. Its clear that cheap and abundant fossil fuel has tempted people to travel around the world as often as they can, in a quite unusual way. Rather than staying around their homes and making their own community better or indeed their own lives more resilient they prefer to blow off a big part of their budget on travelling to some other country every year. Its clear that as liquid fuels become trickier to get at, a lot of this jet-setting will stop. But I also don’t see why more people can embrace a life of less travelling and rather save up for one “pilgrimage” as a major event in their life (doesn’t have to be religious). A lot of things in life have been so accessible that we have come to take it for granted and never really see the exceptionally high energy and environmental costs of these habits – especially when there are millions (perhaps a billion) of people with them now. Also its generally a trend that people dont value a shorter distance to their work place as high anymore – they will happily endure 1 hour of rush traffic each direction every workday. The whole idea of commuting long distances through personal transit must be one of the least resilient parts of society today. People are not aware of the reduced stress they will have if they just restructure their lives to involve less travelling in general, and neither the enjoyment of travelling when its done on a rare occasion. The same goes about any consumption really. A can of Coke tastes fantastic if you can stay away from one for at least a week, preferably more. But be aware, you might stay away for it so long that you suddenly decide you didn’t like it or didn’t need it in your life anyway. 🙂

    • Scott says:

      Hello Indy, I enjoy your posts, thank you. 100 million acres of draft animals? Yes I think so but, I just keep coming up with the same conclusion this will all work only with a much smaller population. So most of us on this site most likely believe we are facing some kind of terrible collapse that will sadly reduce the population greatly, then I see these things working very well with say 10 percent of today’s populaces.

      • 100 million acres was devoted to raising fodder for draft animals in 1945 in the USA.
        This was just before tractors were delivered in large numbers, and at this time, all traction on farms was animal based.

        It was the release of this acreage to human food production which caused the over production problems of that era.

        So, If you are going back to pre internal combustion/steam engine days, and you are
        thinking of agriculture or transportation by means other than human powered, or under sail, most likely it will be animal driven.


        In your planning, best allow sufficient acreage to feed the critters.


        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Dr. Oprisko
          You have set up a straw man and knocked it down.

          Please see this interview with David Holmgren:

          The first part of the interview is about the work of Sepp Holzer, who practices high in the Austrian Alps. Watch it if you like.

          As for the necessity to devote a lot of land to draft animals, begin at 7:20 in the video and listen carefully to what David says about his visit to Japan and his new understanding of how Masonobu Fukuoka fit into a larger movement. ‘Natural Agriculture’ involves land, plants, and humans, with very little animal involvement. David says it might be called ‘Vegan Agriculture’.

          Some places may need animals, some places clearly don’t, existing fossil fuels can be used to create very long lived capital assets (in the first part). Implying that we must of necessity go back to the 1945 patterns is just wrong. We know a lot more than we did in 1945.

          Don Stewart

        • Scott says:

          Hello Dr. Oprisko, Well I am sure we will have the land – especially if we are unable to farm in the same way, most of this land will be former farm lands I suppose. Lots of land will go out of production very fast without our current means and the sudden collapse will hit. But the good news is this land will become available to raise animals once again the old way. Water may be difficult in some places, but it always has been. I guess the question is – will we have enough cow boys and girls? I guess we will need to relearn much from the past. I kind of like this mix of bringing the past into our future as in seeing trains bringing goods again and the highways quiet with few trucks,if we can pull it off without starving. It appears that a more local and shorter supply line will be in our future, whether we like it or not. That will surely mean fewer choices and harder to find replacement parts, junk yards should do a good business during these times.

          • donsailorman says:

            Rather than putting one fourth of acreage aside to feed horses or oxen, I think it would make much more sense to put land aside for biodiesel or ethanol production for farm machinery.

            • Scott says:

              There is plenty of land to do that to, we will need some solar power some other power source to pump some water. In some places I think folks can get by.

            • Scott says:

              Hello I forgot to say on Ethanol, you know it take more produce than you can get unless perhaps in a tropical rainforest area. The machinery needed is huge to pick up all the materials. I think they are going to go after the coal instead.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “100 million acres was devoted to raising fodder for draft animals in 1945 in the USA. This was just before tractors were delivered in large numbers, and at this time, all traction on farms was animal based.”

          Are you sure of that? It may be a faulty assumption, and you may want to get some data to back up that assertion.

          I grew up with a Farmall H that dated to the 1920s. And International Harvester had gone through models “A” through “G” by that time. I recall learning in high school history that a big advantage the US had was that assembly lines created to produce farm equipment were easily converted to building machines of war.

          Thus it is certainly false that “all traction on farms was animal based” in 1945, although certainly the use of machines in agriculture increased steadily during that period. But if your other calculations are based on that assumption, you may need to re-think things a bit.

  11. Thomas Wayburn is worried.. . .
    Well, It’s about time!

    Now, Thomas, what are you going to do about the issued I raised.. . .
    Other than your crude attempt to discredit the messenger.. . .
    Hmmmm.. . .
    What are you going to do about 400 ppm CO2??? Hmmm????? Shoot the messenger????
    What are you going to do about the methane fountains off the Russian Arctic Coast, which now cover hundreds of sq kilometers?? CH4 is 49 times more effective as a
    green house gas than CO2!!!

    What are you going to do about the pending extinction of all marine shell fish and corals due to acidification???

    What are you going to do about the pending extinction of marine plankton???

    What are you going to do about the near term drop in O2 concentration in the atmosphere, because the purification organisms have been driven into extinction?

    What are you going to do about the imminent extinction of honeybees due to indiscriminant use of pesticides in agriculture, with the concomitant loss of key food crops, which BTW has required manual pollination in China?


    You finally are worried!

    About time!!!


    • Scott says:

      If that list was not long enough, someone posted this on the blog which I picked up on, this is not my but pasted in from another friend on this site.

      Annual decline in oil production
      Increase in bio fuels use
      Fraking production levels
      Increasingly lower quality of fuels extracted
      Increasingly lower quality of other ores and resources
      Differing refinery needs of various crude oil extracts
      EROEI (thermodynamic), limiting feedback loops
      Financially (investment), limiting feedback loops.
      Export Land Model
      Price of Oil per barrel, and willingness or ability to pay
      Devaluation of dollar
      Crude bought in other currencies (including gold)
      Technology benefits, to increase efficiency of processes and use less energy
      Individual personal reduction in energy use
      Shift of energy use from, say, oil to gas or electric for a variety of processes and transportation.
      Population increase
      Energy shift through demographics ( older society )
      The shift from agriculture to manufacturing
      The shift from manufacturing to services
      Population shift from villages to cities
      Climate shift, changing energy use needs
      Immediate culture shifts due to oil scarcity ( Cuba effect )
      Infrastructure degradation and replacement needs
      Value shift of trade, in things that matter, such as oil, food, clothing, rather than flat screen TV’s and cell phones.
      Currency devaluations
      Financial implosion, globally
      World health determinants, ( loss of antibiotic performance, pandemics, fertility)
      National protection and security, and the energy costs of providing this
      And the last fader on the mixing desk ~~~ Black Swan events !
      Gail’s sharp and considered articles, point to the way to how many of these sub routines, are likely functioning, but the sheer number of variables, and the probable resultant ‘final mix’ maker me realise, that it is no wonder that we are all searching for answers in the dark, as to how this is going to pan out?

    • Tom Wayburn says:


      You know damn well that I am worried about you and what you and your institute are doing and not doing. I am not trying to discredit you. I am trying to save you. Years ago, on a very young Yahoo! Peak Oil Forum – perhaps Running on Empty 2 – the possibility was raised that, under the circumstances that obtained at the time, energy and environmental conservation might allow the population to grow to the point that the Die-Off, when it came, would be a much greater catastrophe than otherwise. It’s interesting that you have raised the issue of business as usual because that’s what I have been afraid you are up to. I have suspected for many years that Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute are responsible for greater fossil fuel use rather than less. The question is this: Is it possible for renewable energy technologies to be truly sustainable without a fossil fuel subsidy and without diminishing the stores of non-renewable resources and without additional environmental degradation in a commercial setting embedded in a market economy? Many people on the Peak Oil forums do not believe that there exists a renewable energy technology that is truly sustainable. Why do you? Why not be sure?

      I hear you talk about the merits of solar technology and the demerits of fossil fuel technology, but I don’t hear you speak to population stabilization and shrinkage, to economic de-growth, to political change, etc. I have suggested what you need to do to be sure that solar technology really does produce positive net energy when all of her energy burdens (your word) are counted, including the standards of living of those she supports. Don’t talk about me. Talk about that.

      Also, I would like to know more about your institute and your personal hopes for it. What sort of world do you want? You are not just the messenger, right? What is your role at the institute? The website speaks of much too much for one man to do – perhaps too much for many people to do, How many people are involved? The website itself is vast.

      • I am one of those people who does not think that current renewables are possible outside a fossil fuel system. They are just add-ons, that allow us to get a bit more out; they couldn’t possibly function on their own.

        • I tend to disagree with you on this Gail, basically because a PV panel is really a very simple device on its own – and requires very little maintenance once its created. The problem is ofc what you use the power output from a PV for, but we made electrical motors 100 years ago with very crude tools compared to what we have now. I am sure that the current infrastructure for making PV and associated electrical transport and use is not sustainable and very fragile because it relies too much on fossil fuels – but I still feel that its possible to transition to a simpler set of tools to maintain and produce this kind of technology.

          Another one of these technologies is the concentration of the suns energy into solar cookers or heat towers or pipes where you warm up water or anything else (you can even melt metal/rocks). This is a very useful and rather simple way of concentrating the power from the sun into another usable form. The technology involved in these kind of contraptions will not go away very fast and I am sure that a lot of the things we have learned over these past 100 years of fossil fuel glut will still be usable in another form. But it wont be as abundantly available as before so these will have an essential function into providing the people an essential function that is made much simpler by the remaining technology and energy sources. I never ever believed these to replace our current energy consumption habits.

        • Tom Wayburn says:

          So, we have Gail who believes that renewable energy technology is NOT sustainable and George (Indy) who is quite sure that it is even without further technological breakthroughs. But, neither of you knows for certain because the most respected analysts upon whom the world relies do not carry out their computations sufficiently far to determine sustainability. This is the situation I tried to correct quickly with instant internet publication while avoiding the corporate-controlled, peer-reviewed publishing system employed by academia and government and corporate labs that would have rejected such conclusions as did not favor the corporate agenda. Now, most of us on the Peak Oil discussion forums claim that we are against this agenda, but you don’t embrace my work, which, by the way, can be validated by every reader by his or her own efforts and reasoning abilities – assuming they exist. You can provide your own “peer review”. Why not do the right thing?

          Demand that the concepts inherent in ERoEI* be employed in the analysis of every alternative (renewable) energy technology in the earliest stages of its implementation. If you have the ability and the tools, do the analysis yourself. Otherwise, demand that others do it. Reject incomplete work. It can prevent the economic changes we need and mask such subsidies of renewable energy as probably do arise. If fossil fuel absolutely must be consumed to bootstrap drastically front loaded solar technology, for example, be sure that the deficit will be repaid and never recur. This would truly amount to the use of fossil fuel to end the use of fossil fuel rather than an ongoing subsidy if and only if ERoEI* is greater than 1.0. Begin by reading and after which I don’t care if you assume that the ideas were yours all along.,

          • Tom Wayburn says:

            I might just as well discuss the case of quasi-sustainability (nearly sustainable) here. (I will add this comment to the above comment on the eroei blog.) Temporarily and in case of dire necessity only we may diminish the storehouse of critical materials somewhat and increase the load on the environment slightly to bootstrap renewables to 100% in a world that has already rejected consumption and growth and embraced the changes required to achieve a steady or shrinking population and economy.

          • The minimum ERoEI has to be a whole lot higher than 1.0. I am not sure what the right number is. I suspect it is something close to 9.0; certainly at least 5.0. The calculation leaves out way too much. In particular, it does not properly charge for energy which is generated by front-end inputs (it does not handle timing at all). It does not consider the need to generate a high enough return to support the need for government.

            The idea of moving an economy to lower and lower ERoEI does not work. This is what leads to collapse.

            • Tom Wayburn says:


              Obviously, you have not read the material I have made available. Until you do, it is unfair, misleading, and wrong to make these kinds of comments. All of that is taken care of, even the energy costs of the technology’s share of government. The Principle of Substitution covers many of your objections. Yes, absolutely, sustainability is possible for ERoEI* = 1.0. This is the case of the Autonomous Alternative Energy District supporting itself and exporting nothing. Do you think I would I would make a mistake about this? Of course, I did not cover every detail; but, you can see how to handle anything that comes up by how it has been done in some other category.

            • I told Charlie Hall (in my talk at the Biophysical Economic conference at the University of Vermont this week) that the current average EReEI of society is too low–it is leading to collapse in the near term. If we are to prevent collapse (which I don’t really think is possible), we need to be raising the average ERoEI. The current average ERoEI of society is clearly a lot higher than 1.0, no matter how it is defined.

              I don’t know where you are coming from, but it doesn’t make sense to me. As society becomes more complex (what Tainter talks about) the cost of government becomes greater both absolutely and relative to other costs. This strongly suggests that after a certain point, average ERoEI needs to be increasing to prevent collapse.

            • Charlie doesn’t understand either. It seems that many people have trouble getting their heads around this idea. I think, if you read this very short piece a couple of times, you will get it. I am not that much smarter than the rest of you. Part of the problem is that I put a number of items in the energy-invested term that are not strictly investments. In fact, normally, analysts do not debit the process for inconveniences of time and space, or the necessity to convert some portion of the energy produced to another form with a lower efficiency process. They do not charge the process for environmental degradation or resource depletion.


              Let us suppose that a group of people representing all of the trades and professions wishes to support itself completely by relying on a single alternative, renewable energy technology for all of its energy needs. Let us suppose further that all of the natural resources necessary to do this are available within the Autonomous Alternative Energy District (AAED) [and the repositories of such natural resources can be retained at steady state from the detritus of the AAED including superannuated installations of the technology].

              Nothing is imported from outside the District whereas energy and only energy is exported. If a man needs a car to drive from his home (in the District) to his job (in the District), the car is built, maintained, and fueled in the District. If his wife is sick the doctor in the District will treat her with medicine made in the District from chemicals produced there from raw materials mined there and subsequently recycled agressively. The ERoEI of the new energy technology is the total energy produced, ER, divided by the quantity ER minus the quantity EX, where EX is the energy exported; i. e., EX = ER – EI. If the District is able to export any energy at all the ERoEI ratio exceeds one and the technology is feasible – at least. In the case of a single energy technology, the energy produced by each technology can be assigned a transformity of unity and the value of emergy is quantitatively the same as the Gibbs availability, which, at room temperature, is the Gibbs free energy. I prefer to report emergy values in units of emquads rather than quads, emjoules rather than joules, etc. Thus, the units of transformity are emquads per quad, for example. [snip]

              If this doesn’t make sense to you, think harder. I mean it. This is important. If you don’t understand i t, you don’t understand sustainability. There are a lot of people addressing the multitudes who don’t know what they are talking about. Don’t be one of them. I heard a lot of silly stuff in Austin at the ASPO conference. I couldn’t begin to speak as there is too much they don’y know. The finiteness of the world is just the beginning. You must close the energy balance in terms of consumption as well as production. If the AAED does not export energy, ERoEI* is at most equal to 1.0. If the District needs to import energy to keep going, ERoEI* is less than 1.0. Thus, if all of society is in the collapse phase, it is because the composite ERoEI* for all energy technologies properly matched is less than 1.0.

            • Its possible to make a lot of nice calculations around utopia like distribution of energy and resources, but I do believe Gail is more rooted in our current predicament for the finiteness we encounter in the industrial civilization. That the current set of living arrangements will hit a steep decline curve soon due to our misuse of resources. I also think she is sober in the way that she knows you can’t really turn enough people to believe in this utopia when so many of us cant even embrace simple ideas within socialism and sharing of wealth. I do believe many of us here knows whats wrong with the system and have all kinds of ideas how to improve it – but there is no chance we will be able to implement a fraction of these before a complete and utter collapse. Small pockets within society might find a better lifestyle more in pact with the limits of nature and approach some sort of equilibrium with how much you take out of it and how much you give back.

              From a mathematical point of view there is also the unavoidable concept of entropy which cannot be left out in any processing of resources. Stuff rust and decay, and take a form that is very hard to recycle unless you have a fantastic device that gathers atoms and reassemble them in a clean form. The best engine for recycling today is the organic one with how soil, plants, animals interact with water and air. Any single species impact on his planet has been fine tuned over millions of years shaping synergies where the nature is somewhat self sustainable as long as no single species “take over”. Homo Sapiens (a name we don’t deserve) has basically been raping and pillaging this natural world for resources in a way that is just insanely destructive on a planetary scale. We have also bred our species completely out of proportions so no matter how much you plan to conserve, recycle and aim for renewables – continued breeding will require a substantial number of us to become part of the soil again. No doubt for us to have any chance at all to find some sort of equilibrium with the planet again we need to cut our numbers dramatically. The question is whether we do it willingly or not – realistically I cant see any other option besides the finiteness of the planet forcing the population down. That might start with an oil or energy shock or it might be because of major climate change incidents as the Arctic is thawing and releasing massive amounts of methane and CO2 to the atmosphere.

            • OK you define things differently. The problem still exists in the real world that there are no substances in sufficient quantity that have the qualities that you want. So as a practical matter, it doesn’t work.

            • Aha. What doesn’t work? I, too, suspect that currently there is no sustainable energy technology; however, it is essential to close the energy balance under every imaginable political scenario from a dictatorship to chaos (which is NOT what anarchy is). But, this is not a materials problem. Without getting into the entire debate with Denis Frith, material is conserved and is not subject to a limiting law such as the Second Law (Carnot efficiency is a hard limit) which applies to energy. But, the sun is capable of providing maximum reversible power of more than 2000 terawatts all of which has a technical meaning – but the upshot is the energy is there if it can be harvested. This and recycling should continue to be subjects of research until a technology with ERoEI* > 1 is developed. Of course, all of this depends upon us and other people succeeding to set the earth on the path to a steady state through political change, conservation, attitude change etc.

            • Tom Wayburn says:


              Please do not assume that you know what I am going to say and that, therefore, you don’t have to read it. What I have said is very different from what you seem to expect. You made an unfair criticism of ERoEI* replete with numerous incorrect statements. An ERoEI* = 1 corresponds to the Autonomous Alternative Energy District of supplying all of its own needs and exporting nothing. In my blog at, I indicated how each of your objections can be handled. I didn’t specifically mention that the costs of government appear in the energy-invested term; but, you should realize how that would be done by analogy with the specifics of other details I offered as examples. I thought I answered your objections previously, but I can’t find my answer on your blog. Sorry if this is a repetition.

            • I am sorry but I do not have time to figure out your personal view of how things work, with definitions different from the standard ones. It is difficult enough dealing with standard definitions.

            • Tom Wayburn says:


              You are hopeless. You don’t want to learn anything you don’t already know and most of that is irrelevant or wrong. The rest of you know where to find me.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Tom, if you need to have a superior attitude, at least you can be civil!

              Gail does a lot of good. Calling someone “hopeless” because they are unwilling to cater to your whims is hardly a way to make friends and influence people.

            • Scott says:

              Jan, I think Tom sees something that he is having trouble communicating to the group and perhaps he is frustrated by that. I wish I could understand all the things he has written, I get some of it but much of it hard for most of us to grasp. I noticed we do have several doctors of science writing on the site and I hope they stay with us so I can try to understand their thesis. Sometimes scientist fail to understand the human aspect of things since they are hung up on math and facts. I would like to understand Tom’s ideas and I hope he stays with us but try to post in a way that we can understand as I have very little college.

            • My definition of ERoEI* corrects all the defects of the standard definition which is what the critics of ERoEI usually complain about. But, you already know everything that you need to know. You don’t need no stinking scientific progress. I have been ahead of all you Peak Oil superstars no matter how late you jumped on the bandwagon. They tell me that I am hard to understand. What did you expect? It is always thus with true genius. I am afraid I shall have to give up on Gail Tverberg, the entertainer, who has no business addressing public policy. The rest of you know where to find me.

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              My definition of ERoEI* corrects all the defects of the standard definition which is what the critics of ERoEI usually complain about. But, you already know everything that you need to know. You don’t need no stinking scientific progress. I have been ahead of all you Peak Oil superstars no matter how late you jumped on the bandwagon. They tell me that I am hard to understand. What did you expect? It is always thus with true genius. I am afraid I shall have to give up on Gail Tverberg, the entertainer, who has no business addressing public policy. The rest of you know where to find me.

              Dr Weyburn, assuming your doctorate to be genuine, you obviously have a deeper understanding of your subject than almost all the rest of us who follow this site. Surely you are not above listening to our views and responding politely, are you? While you might be correct in all that you say, in order to make your views translate into policy you have to win public opinion. I think if you count to ten and re-read your latest post, you will see that perhaps you are not going about it in a manner that is likely to succeed any time soon. Not only have you got to achieve public approval, you also have to ensure that that approval is converted into campaign donations, such is the way it is these days, and that calls for even more of a diplomatic approach.

              As things are, and contrary to what you say,I have no idea where to find you and in order to avoid the possibility being subject to a tirade of abuse on a par to that you subjected Gail to in your latest post, I will not be putting any effort into remedying the deficiency. And just for the record, I think we all can see just how much effort Gail puts into running this site and I doubt that I am alone in wanting to express my gratitude and also the wish that she ignores the obvious hurt intended by you.

            • I am good at ignoring offensive comments.

  12. Given the above, it is apparent that it is far more energy efficient to produce power in
    a distributed fashion using PV than it is to extract gas, convert it to electricity at a central power station and distribute the power to customers.
    From my above analyses, it is also apparent that, the gap is so large that PV systems ~3Kwe in size produce unsubsidized power at less cost than central station power, with the cost of distributed power plummeting given minor changes in appliances, due to elimination of inverters and conversion losses.
    Not considered, are the costs to the commons in the form of mercury, sulfur, and other emissions to the atmosphere, and heat rejection and pollutants in the waterways.
    Not considered, are the increased health costs and risks associated with these emissions to the commons.


  13. From: An Empirical Perspective on the Energy Payback Time for Photovoltaic Mocules by Karl E. Knapp and Theresa L. Jester, Solar 2000, Madison, June 2000.

    Making a solar panel involved 2742 processes using 2857 materials in 2000, and fewer now. At the time of their study the norm for mono-crystalline panels were 200 micron thick cells sawn from monocrystalline ingot. Today, proton induced exfoilation produces mono-crystalline cells 20 micron thick, with no sawing, and no kerf loss
    In 2000, Knapp and Jester found 5713 kwh (including both materials and processing), were spent making 1 kwe of solar panel at 13% efficiency. Today, with proton induced exfoilation, auto cooling, and streamlined processing 1764 kwh are required to make 1 kwe of solar panel with 21% efficiency.
    Today’s panel has 62% of the area of one built in 2000 to make the same power, and uses 5% of the silicon required back then. Knapp and Jester found an EROEI for PV panels = 7.6 in 2000, and today PV panels EROEI = 24.6, due to thinner silicon cells, streamlined processing, and less area per Kwe.
    In Life Cycle Energy Cost of Gas Turbine Power, P.J. Meier and G.L. Kulcinski, Madison, WI,2000, the authors calculaated the EROEI of Gas Turbine power, including the cost of extracting and transporting the gas to the plant, constructing the plant, operating same, and decommissioning same. I added the cost of transmission and distribution of the power to their findings. The results are as follows:
    Gas at well head EROEI = 7.8
    Gas at plant EROEI = 4.6
    Net energy of electricity leaving plant EROEI= 1.75
    Net energy delivered to consumer EROEI = 1.18

  14. Scott says:

    Thanks for this hopeful post about solar fuel, can anyone explain this in simple terms? These new thin panels called Wafers can be rolled out and hooked up to on roof tops? Can we get them into mass production like we did with the Comcast cable system with many strong young men in trucks installing the new power systems that we can all rent on your roof put them in everywhere with financing? I hope so.

  15. Combining figures from “Drill Baby Drill” and “Life-Cycle Energy Cost and Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Gas Turbine Power” gives the following:
    Nationwide energy cost of producing gas (at wellhead) 88,400 TJ
    Nationwide energy content of gas at wellhead 690,500 Tj
    Energy cost to deliver gas to power station 50,000 Tj
    EROEI of gas as delivered to power station 4.6
    Energy Cost of Fuel Cycle 136,300 TJ
    EROEI net of Fuel Cycle 1.8
    Energy Cost of plant, (Lifetime) 7,740 Tj
    Net Energy produced by plant 494,600 TJ
    EROEI of power leaving plant 1.75
    Transmission and Conversion Losses 15%
    Net Energy Delivered to Consumers 420,400 TJ
    EROEI of power delivered to Consumer 1.18

  16. John says:

    I’ve heard it takes 3.9 barrels of NGLs to equal 1 barrel of oil; I would be very grateful if someone could calculate how many cubic feet of natural gas it takes to make the 3.9 barrels of NGLs.

    • Scott says:

      Not sure John on that, but they lose a lot of the product if they have to ship it and load it in compressed form on to tanker boats. I think the US is kind of reluctant to ship large amounts of gas outside the country but there are proposed projects, big depots to ship gas overseas still progress and I think some gas will be exported but I do not think it will last.

      China just bought our largest pork farm here in the USA. And, we have the coal trains proposed to ship coal overseas through the North West USA to coastal shipping depots bringing Montana Coal to ships to be loaded and ships for Asia’s energy needs. I am not sure how clean the coal is being shipped from the US, but it must be pretty good if they are going to ship it all the way there.

      Looking at these countries like Saudi that ship so much of their precious oil resources away to far away lands may be a thing of the past.

      Natural and gas liquids would best be used locally or regionally to avoid loosing something like the 25 percent or more in shipping. I think soon countries like Saudi and the US will be not really selling their energy to the world and the same could go for things like rare earth minerals and base minerals. But the supply line will stay intact for longer than we think if the money is there to finance everything.

      In summary, I would like to see a much shorter supply line even if we have to do without some items.

    • It is my understanding that the proportion of natural gas liquids varies a lot with the source of natural gas. Some gas is very “wet” and has more NGLs. Other natural gas is very dry, and has virtually none. Methane is the primary component of dry natural gas. Longer chain molecules make up natural gas liquids.

  17. Mel Tisdale says:

    Would it be possible to set up a series of threads that can run in parallel with the main series of posts for which this site is well known? We could have a whole load of these threads:bee-keeping, animal husbandry, breeds of animals best suited for post collapse, coppicing, solar hot water, well-digging, food storage, electricity generation to name but a few. (We could also have one for personal experiences and conjecture about how the future will pan out for other nations, a topic of interest to many, it seems.) Unless you tick a box saying you would like to be appraised of any new posts on specific topics, you would not receive notice of them.

    Were we to have such a facility, it might be possible for us to open our inboxes and not be faced with a great list of comments, many of which are clearly one half of a private conversation and others which are, one suspects, from comment junkies. Honestly, sometimes I just can’t spare the time to read all of them. The danger is that in so doing I might miss items of real interest, such as the new one between two people with doctorates in chemistry concerning the EROEI for solar panel manufacture. Being out of my depth on such a topic, I hope to learn much from it. I expect others are in the same boat.

    I would suggest signing on to Peak Prosperity’s website where they have such a feature, but it will soon disappear behind a pay-wall. In the meantime, anyone interested in the idea could pay it a visit, assuming it is still free.

    • Scott says:

      Mel I like your comments and respect your work but, I do not like your condescending comments.

      Everyone here has been trying to sort through things and some life experiences written about are not that that private as far as I can see. I guess you can leave the site if you do not believe in us.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        I’ve been impressed with the highly positive level of discourse here. I must admit, there are certain people I just don’t read. That’s easy to do here, unlike most sites, where that would be the majority.

        If you don’t respond to trolls, they go away. Don’t reward undesirable behaviour by calling attention to it.

        • Scott says:

          Hi Jan, thanks I got you, let’s change the subject, what you said the other day worried me about goats and how they can eat the whole garden. I think if folks plan to get one they will need to think about a fence as I just spent a bunch of money putting deer fences over certain garden beds.

          But I was thinking I have been having a hard time just keeping my small property mowed and weeds under control and if I did not have all my gas and electric powered mowers and weed eaters I would surely need a goat. I think they would they would have to be tethered or better yet fenced.

          But Fence is already very expensive so that may be an item to buy now put in your shop to store until you are ready to build that fence and small barn for those farm animals like chickens and goats. We depend on oil and electricity just to keep our yards clean too and just picture house after house with four foot tall grasses growing without our gas to power the mowers even.

          I do not think this is an answer for suburbia though most do not possess enough property to have animals and they depend on farms and outside sources.

      • Mel Tisdale says:

        Looks like I touched a raw nerve, Scott. Perhaps you will take it to heart. All I was trying to do was reduce all our in-boxes to manageable proportions, though yours would be less affected than most, for obvious reasons.

        As for your suggestion that I leave the site, that is a matter for Gail, whose workload was very much at the front of my thinking when I wrote the original comment, and me. It has nothing to do with you.

        Now, if we can both get our toys put back in our prams, perhaps we can discuss the issue sensibly. If we take the series of posts on goat-keeping as an example, surely it would be better for that to have its own permanent thread where those interested in goat-keeping could find all the information and related experiences in one place. That has to be a better situation than having to copy and paste the whole comments sections of all the different posts into Word and then use the search facility to find any reference to goats (in this instance). And as for people such as myself, who will not be keeping a goat anytime soon, all we need to do is not tick the box for updates on the goat-keeping thread and thus reduce in-boxes. If we did the same for all the other specialised areas of interest then that whole series of threads would make a fairly well organised survival manual, and who knows, I might even take a copy One thing it would do is consolidate our in-boxes to items of personal interest. As it is, no doubt there will soon be another post by Gail and all new comments on goat-keeping will slip over to the new thread and add to the difficulty of finding them later.

        Jan, I will not dignify the ‘Troll’ insult with a response.

        • Scott says:

          Hi Mel, I got your point, we do get a lot of mail from this site, but I am retired and have the time to sort through them. Maybe Gail will set up something like a separate blog subject lists for subjects that have grown out these discussions like home gardening and livestock which are popular on the site. Please keep writing and as I said before I like your work and what you have said about nuclear especially Thorium and other subjects.

          I wanted to ask you more about Thorium, if we must use nuclear this does sound better. I do not know much about it and where are we with development stage of actually bringing a plant on-line? I found this article below and it looks like no one has taken on the project to actually build one of these instead of a regular nuclear plant. The article below was interesting it looks like dangerous stuff to me but it seems like we have more if it than the Uranium.

          • Mel Tisdale says:

            Hi Scott, I too am retired, but seem to have more to occupy me than when I was in work.

            As for Thorium, you could start with Kirk Sorensen’s TED talk for a quick overview. If you search on Youtube for “The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor_ Why Didn’t This Happen (and why is now the right time_)” that should fill you in some more (I cannot give a link because the URL is longer than my arm). If you then watch the other videos found by that search, especially the ‘remix’ one and ‘the thorium problem’ one, you’ll probably be more up to speed than I am! One word of caution, Kirk is very enthusiastic; he has to be as he has wagered a lot on thorium reactors becoming mainstream. He might just be on the enthusiastic side of reality a little too far on occasion. (Just a feeling I have, nothing concrete.). You might also enjoy: It is part of a series that should keep you occupied for a considerable period of time (no malicious intent, honest!)

            If you open a temporary email address and lte me know it, I will send you an excellent Word article that appeared on the GizMag website that covers small modular reactors, which is the form that thorium reactors should take, in my view, but I am just a keen amateur.

            As for getting a plant on line, Kirk reckons a couple of years with a Manhattan type project. All we need is to get people to face reality.

            • Scott says:

              Thanks Mel I that is a subject of interest to me and I will take a look that link. You are a good guy. I know what you mean about retirement it was a transition, but I keep busy with things and this old country home and gardens. I was just wondering why they are not yet building these Thorium reactors, we do have more of the resource and seems a bit safer, but still I would prefer to see the Hyper drive than more Thorium nuclear! We could make hydrogen from Thorium perhaps would reverse the problem, but I guess the argument is that we are already past the point of no return and it is too big and too expensive of a project.

              But we have see Manhattan style projects before I just do not see the will out there to do it (yet?)

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              When you have watched the various videos is the time to firm up your position on thorium nuclear reactors. In case you miss it, LFTR reactors run very hot so they can be used directly in desalination instead of generating electricity first and are thus more efficient. Water scarcity is something of growing importance on the world agenda and any way of improving it has to be considered.

              If we don’t have nuclear as a major part of the mix in solving our energy requirements then it will be a victory for the Greens and a defeat for us all.

            • Scott says:

              Hello Mel, Thanks I did look at that video on Thorium and I was very impressed with the science. If we must use nuclear, I do believe this is the best option. The Thorium reactor is not under pressure the way the current uranium ones are and it is kind of like a hot tub that you can almost open the cover and see the glowing blob of hot energy inside and not as dangerous and people can get closer to it without danger, but 800 degrees compared to 400 on uranium. Nickel metal vessels needed to contain the stuff. Please correct if I am wrong on anything but this looks our best option, if we must seek out a new fuel source or face death.

              These small power plants are capable of making hydrogen, fertilizers and liquid fuels from coal

              I also took from the video that there is deep special interest groups keeping these plants from being built even though we have the means.

              China may be secretively doing a master plan to mass produce them as they may be able to control most of the world’s energy if they do so.

              If we do not fall into collapse soon, I think we may see thorium and coal in our future and hopefully Hydrogen from Thorium instead but I think we are going to need coal liquids first.

              I will close with this final statement on my take from all of this, I think that Thorium may enable us to double the population again which worries me about the states of the seas, even if we had clean air and free power our pollution into the seas from overpopulation materials is huge and will continue to degrade the planet, so even if we had free pollution free gas and power we will still have so much pollution from agriculture and humans and all of the garbage we generate. I am not sure if would be enough to allow the fish to recover, we may see some improvements, but it will be an uphill battle for sure.

              Here is the Thorium video link that Mel provided again:


    • I would have to look into whether a series of threads could be used. I suppose it could be done on a different “page”. I have not been trying to make money off my blog, so have not been hiding things behind paywalls (or advertising on the site, or taking contributions).

      • Mel Tisdale says:

        What I was thinking was that if you had separate threads for specifics areas of interest on which that those interested them could exchange thoughts and opinions, you would not have to check them at all. If you had a complaint box which readers could tick if they felt that any particular post was offensive, overtly political etc. etc, which should be sufficient protection.

        That would be a win, win, win situation. You would win from a reduced workload, those with a special interest would win by having a source of information from people they had built up a trust for and we would all win because our in-boxes would be reduced in size, thus leaving time to concentrate on the implications of the core message of any particular post. A fourth win would be that over time the special interest ones would form a very useful body of survival information (a book perhaps?)

        However, it was just a thought.

        • I am not sure I am up to doing anything very fancy. We will see.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Mel and others, My only thought on that is that we may miss some things that are posted unless you look up the subject, I guess we are forced to do more reading than we want to do at least we see it all. It is an idea but I think we would loose track of them more easily on all the menu items. The site could actually get more complex if we had all the subject matter blogs. I think I like it as a group of friends trying to sort things out as it is now, But I would not mind if Gail and everyone wanted to put up a separate blog for some of our favorite subjects like gardening and homesteading etc.

          • Dan Hood says:

            It’s a good idea to have topic sub-sections deemed important, as the comments section is morphing into a monster. I can see a great potential online newspaper though “Our Finite Planet”

            • By the way, I asked tech support if there is a way of managing comments. (I put my answer up in the right-hand corner of the site–don’t know if anyone checks there.)

              They said there isn’t a way to mark comments as read. As a work-around, I was told, “Folks might want to subscribe to comments via RSS and manage them in an RSS reader”

  18. xabier says:

    Interesting comment from the British ‘Guardian’ newspaper on the impending crisis/collapse of Egypt: it states that the real problem is not so much lack of food (although production has been falling) but the enormous population growth and the inability of people to pay for the food that is available. Most of the population depend on government subsidies for all or part of their nutrition, and many of the young are severely malnourished. Illustrates very well many of Gail’s points re. oil and other forms of energy.

  19. A recurring theme in nature and technology is that creation of a waste product tends to create a niche for something which uses that product. For the past century, millions of tons of a particular waste product have been accumulating. It contains no useful energy or rare elements, yet it might become something far more important to the future of man; a cheap and abundant energy-resource.
    A consistent element of technological advancement is the gap between discovery and commercialization. The first oil well in the USA was Drake’s, in 1859, for the purpose of providing kerosene as a substitute for whale oil as an illuminant. Naptha (gasoline) was originally an almost unmarketable byproduct that was used as a cleaning fluid and paint thinner, but no application could use all that was being produced until the carburetor for the internal combustion engine was invented. Today, demand for gasoline is a major driver for oil production.
    Given the delay between invention and widespread commercialization, productive responses to peak oil will come from inventions and resources already known but not yet widely used. Photovoltaics are a case in point.
    Four types of photovoltaic cell are marketed today:
    1. Single-crystal silicon.
    2. Polycrystalline silicon.
    3. Amorphous silicon.
    4. Thin film (silicon, CdTe, and CIGS are most widely used).
    Because silicon is the 2nd most abundant element in Earth’s crust (27.7% by weight). we should be able to make as many silicon PV cells as we choose. Silicon PV production began with circular wafers sawn from single crystals drawn incrementally from a molten bath of silicon. Single crystals create the most efficient cells, but this is a slow and expensive process. Polycrystalline and amorphous silicon films are much cheaper than large single crystals, in both money and energy. Until recently the PV industry was too small to be worth its own supply of silicon, so it utilized surplus from the semiconductor industry. This surplus had a way of disappearing when electronics were hot, squeezing out the PV industry. But this is changing in a very big way, and the consequences have revolutionized the industry.
    This revolution has its origin in mines producing phosphate rock. Phosphates have long been in high demand as fertilizer (phosphorus is an essential element of life) and phosphate rock (fluoroapatite, Ca3(PO4)3CaF2) is today’s major mineral source of phosphorus. Fluoroapatite is dissolved in sulfuric acid (H2SO4) to release phosphoric acid, with gypsum (CaSO4) and hydrogen fluoride (HF) as byproducts. Gypsum is used to make gypsum board, commonly known as “drywall”, leaving the Hydrogen fluoride as a disposal problem. Today, it is combined with silicon dioxide (quartz sand) to make fluorosilicic acid, and then neutralized with sodium hydroxide (lye) to make sodium fluorosilicate, Na2SiF6. This has some minor uses as a source of fluoride for drinking water, but far more is produced than can be used. It’s been piling up for a long time, and a million tons of this stuff (containing about 147,000 tons of silicon) is added to the pile every year.
    During the alt-energy boom which followed the 1970’s US peak in oil production, SRI International created a process in which sodium fluorosilicate is reacted with metallic sodium (Na), producing elemental silicon at < $15/kg in volume),which is easily scaled up to 1000 tons/year. The Sodium Fluoride byproduct, can be used in drinking water fluoridation, as a wood preservative, and in steelmaking. Recent high petrofuel prices have sparked renewed interest in this process. The silicon can be cast directly into round crystals or ribbons. Evergreen Solar's "string ribbon" process produces 100-micron (0.1 mm) thick polycrystalline silicon ribbons directly from a molten silicon bath. Twin Creek's proton splitting process produces 20-micron (0.02)mm thick monocrystalline silicon wafers from round crystals. The new source of PV silicon; semi-toxic fertilizer waste and metallic sodium in, production-ready silicon wafers out.
    Making silicon is one thing. Making enough cheap enough to seriously change our energy situation is another thing entirely. So the important questions are,
    1. How much silicon is really available,
    2. How much (area) of wafers can it make,
    3. How much power (peak) could they produce, and
    4. How much will it all cost?
    How much silicon: The million tons may not all be available. Some of it may be contaminated, or unsuitable for whatever reason. Since SRI claims to have tested this process, let's assume 25% waste giving production of 112,000 metric tons of silicon per year, from current phosphorus production.. The specific gravity of silicon is about 2.8, so this is about 40,000 cubic meters of solid elemental silicon.
    How much area can it make: proton split into wafers 20 𝛍m (10-6 meters) thick, it would make a staggering 5 million acres of wafers. This is enough to cover a square ~90 miles on a side.
    How much peak power could they produce: Current monocrystalline cells are about 21% efficient. At the standard 1000 W/m² irradiance, the 20 billion square meters of panels would support 1.25 Twe of capacity, and would produce ~2,100 Twh /yr, at $0.054/kwh, saving 900 Billion mt of CO2 emissions / yr, if located in Indiana. That's ~88% of US average electric consumption. We could probably add that much power every year, just from the waste produced in Florida from current mining. There are other phosphate mines, and probably a lot of raw material piled up over the years.
    How much will it all cost: SRI claims a cost (after sale of byproducts) of $14-something per kilogram of raw silicon. Let's round up to $15/kg and then multiply by ten to account for the cost of casting into ingots, proton splitting, doping, printing electrodes, laminating onto film and attaching connections (production of 2 million hectares per year will have some serious automation applied to it, so it shouldn't be all that expensive). A square meter of 20-micron cells has only two hundredths (0.02) of a liter of silicon, or 56 grams. Multiply by $150/kg and we get a price of $8.40/m² or about 4 cents per peak watt. The annual cost for all of this (112 million kg/year at $150/kg) would be just $16.8 billion. That's downright cheap; at less than $0.80 per square foot, it would be highly competitive with conventional roofing. The cost of everything else, mounting,wiring, inverters, switchgear will be far greater than the PV itself, or about $1/watt, and the entire 1.25 Twe project will cost $1.3 Trillion, or about the cost of the GWOT since 2001. We might see a situation where non-PV surfaces become the exception. For the rough price of 3 years of the war in Afghanistan $ 1,300 billion, we could generate sufficient power to equal current US consumption.
    Where would we put the panels? USDOE in a recent study estimated sufficient suitable roof space for 900 Gwe of solar panels. If we covered parking lots, we'd likely have enough space for the entire 1.25 Twe.
    Would we be able to absorb that much solar power? Most certainly, and two developments would make it almost trivial: holdover plate refrigeration/air conditioning and a nationwide electrified rail system fed by electric vehicles. Holdover plate refrigeration has been in use in the marine industry for more than 30 years, and is now entering the mainstream, driven by the difference between peak and overnight electric rates. The nationwide electrified, double tracked rail system fed by electric vehicles and bicycles is the current state of the art in France. These developments are a grid manager's wet dream, allowing generation to be averaged over hours instead of seconds. Wind, most prevalent at night, complements daytime PV power, to power both of these trends.
    Twin Creeks Technologies of San Jose next generation PV panel consisting of a 20 micron layer of silicon bonded to a plastic film.. When fabricated at 20 microns, the silicon can bend without cracking, and its characteristics are appropriate for bonding to a flexible plastic film, giving the results shown below:

    Last year the Department of Energy backed a Boston-area company that found a way to cast the wafers at 200 microns.
    Twin Creeks process involves shooting protons, which are essentially hydrogen atoms, into a block of silicon, embedding them to the precise depth desired and then heating the protons so they take up more space, cracking off a layer in a process called “proton-induced exfoliation.”
    Manufacturing a standard cell today requires 6.5 grams of silicon per watt of capacity, worth about 20 cents; the new system will use just 600 milligrams and the silicon will cost ~2 cents per cell. The finished product can be wrapped in plastic instead of being covered with a special grade of low-iron glass on a hard backing further reducing costs.
    The elimination of sawing kerf loss combined with its ability to make thinner wafers of high quality make the above implant-cleave wafering approach technically and economically attractive. For example, while it typically takes 6g of silicon to make 1 watt of solar wafer, including kerf loss, the new implant-cleave process consumes merely 0.3g/W at 20µm. Using $15/kg for the price of silicon, this corresponds to a 95% cost savings in silicon material. The new wafering method reduces the variation in wafer thickness and roughness during the manufacturing process. Not only are the variations much smaller than wafers that have been wire sawed, the implant and cleave physics cause a linear coupling between these variations and the wafer thickness. For example, a 150µm PolyMax as-cleaved wafer will typically have a variation of +/- 2µm and RMS roughness of 0.4µm, but a 20µm PolyMax wafer will show thickness variation of less than +/- 0.2µm and RMS roughness of 0.06µm. This thickness-variation interdependence enables the method to make ultra-thin wafers.
    Implant-cleaved wafers have consistently shown to be of equal or greater mechanical strength than conventionally sawn wafers, even after the saw-mark damage surface removal etch.  Even at lower thicknesses where wire sawn wafers are unavailable for comparison, the ultra-thin wafers exhibit impressive mechanical qualities. In the case of the ultra-thin 20µm thick wafers (called a silicon "foil" due to its high flexibility), the high strength of the wafers can be demonstrated in a custom-designed, two-point bend test where a full wafer is shown to be capable of bending with a radius of curvature as small as 5mm, even before any surface treatment has been added. Building-integrated PV (BIPV) and other applications requiring flexible absorbers can now be of high conversion efficiency.
    In Conclusion:
    The economics and material properties of implant-cleaved wafers are superior to traditional wire-sawn wafers. The cleaved wafers exhibited superior mechanical properties, while using 5% of the material currently required. The implant cleave method, enabling manufacture of 20µm to 150µm thickness wafers, without kerf loss, is a low cost high quality wafering approach with scale-up potential.

    • I specifically brought the above discussion to this forum to bring it to the attention of non-scientists and non-engineers. Both scientists and engineers have been discussing these topics for decades. However, economists and liberally trained professionals, are oblivious to this. The follow on comments, totally ignoring my message, are a case in point.
      The EROEI of various traditional energy sources vs renewables is key to sound decision making, but most seem intent on ignoring this.

      What are you going to do when London, NYC, Baltimore, Kiel, Miami, Jacksonville, Boston, Shanghai, Shenzhen, St. Petersburg, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Cartagena, Rio, and Buenos Aires are flooded within the next several decades? Don’t think so? Consider that Sandy flooded the bottom 3 floors of the Manhattan VA medical center, and today’s high tide was only 2 meters less than Sandy’s storm surge.


      • In my above analysis of the EROEI of PV, I neglected to account for the efficiency gains made since the quoted study was completed in 2000. At the time of the study, mono-crystalline PV efficiencies were ~13%. When I purchased my PV array in 2009, the mfr delivered 15.5% efficient panels. Today mono-crystalline PV panels of 21% are being delivered. In 2000 PV power density was 130 watts / sq meter. Today PV power density is 210 watts/ sq meter. Today’s panel is 60% of the area of one manufactured in 2000, for the same power. Were production carried out similarly, costs would have dropped by 40% for that reason alone. However, as I mentioned, PV shares many similarities with solid state electronics, and major gains in processing efficiencies and process improvements have been made which reduced the processing costs, and materials inputs, of which silicon was the largest single item.
        WRT housing, I recommend that one and all visit the sites covering energy
        positive homes and PassivHaus. Here in NYC we have apt buildings which
        meet PassivHaus standard, and they look like ordinary apt buildings!


  20. To understand the policies that need be changed within the USA, for the nation to convert from fossil fuels to Renewables, it is first necessary to confront it’s myths, as follows:
    a. The natural resource base is, for all practical purposes infinite
    b. The US Federal Government is revenue constrained, and running out of money
    c. The EROEI of renewables is much lower than alternatives.
    d. Renewables are intermittent and unreliable, and there is no way to obviate this
    e. Renewables cost more than fossil fuels

    Myth “a” is a direct consequence of the “release effect” described in “The Eternal Frontier” by Flannery, and came into existence because, to the original few thousand European settlers, the resource base of North America was enormous. Like the Folsom people who decimated the mega-fauna they found within 300 years, the European settlers churned through the resource base of North America, in a similar time frame. Just 80 years ago, US petroleum resources flowed copiously from vertical wells drilled only a few hundred meters deep, at an EROEI of > 100, while today it is necessary to drill thousands of meters down, then to make subsequent multiple horizontal branches additional thousands of meters long, then to fracture the surrounding rock to produce a hundredth as much per well per day as previously at an EROEI of ~2.
    Myth “b” is a hold over from the past, when the US Dollar was backed by Gold/Silver. Nixon ended that in 69, about the time US petroleum production peaked, and the US Dollar represents a claim on the “Full Faith And Credit” of the US. The advent of electronic currency means that it is not even necessary to mint coins or print banknotes, because a few keystrokes at the right computer at the Federal Reserve, will create trillions, from nothing.
    Myth “c” is the direct consequence of comparing apples to oranges. Fossil fuels and the energy conversion systems they drive, are burdened only with the cost of getting petroleum to the surface, while the famous Spanish study, burdened PV with the inputs necessary to construct panels, plus the grid, plus the regulatory burden, not to mention the kitchen sink. The Energy Returned by a PV panel as compared to the energy required to manufacture that panel, is ~55:1, today.
    Myth “d” focuses on conditions in one location, without storage. Given storage, and a network encompassing the entire nation, Renewables provide lower cost power, available on demand.
    Myth “e” came about because as recent as 2 years ago, PV panels cost $3/watt in the US, and $2/watt in China. Today Sun Electronics of Miami sells PV at $0.38 / watt FOB Miami, and PV manufacturers in China sell 20% efficient PV for $0.25/watt by the 40 ft container load.
    In it’s regulatory filing for acquisition of a 50 Mwe solar power plant in New Mexico from Element Power, First Solar revealed that it’s customer, El Paso Electric is paying $0.579/kWh). Which is almost a third of the price that thin-film solar PV project power typically costs, $0.163 / kWh,, and less than half the $0.128 / kWh average price for new coal plants, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

    The exceptional nature of renewable energy

    If solar power prices are now at these levels, why are governments across Europe and in the US apparently thwarting the growth of PV connected to the grid? The answer goes back to the deregulation and privatization strategies taken about a decade ago. At the same time governments were setting up feed-in tariffs and subsidies to renewable energies in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were also implementing a new electricity market paradigm, dismantling the monopolistic state owned companies, un-bundling energy production from grid management and generally privatizing the sector. This created a new market where multiple companies trade electricity in the short (spot market) and long term (futures market), supposedly all in the best interest of consumers, until ENRON participated. Things went well at first, up to the point renewables reached a critical size and simply killed this venerated electricity market. To understand why this happened, one must comprehend the essential concepts of economics regarding renewable energy.
    In recent years the solar market has undergone a transformation imposed by what is usually termed economies of scale. From small factories in Europe and the US, the production of solar PV cells migrated to huge factories in Asia. And with this transformation came the usual cycles in large markets where product differentiation isn’t obvious. By the midst of 2012 some Asian producers were reportedly selling cells about $0.25 /Wp below cost, in a clear supply destruction cycle. This has created a row in The US & Europe, with local producers calling for taxes on Asian products and investors claiming that this is the way for affordable electricity. Even if this supply destruction cycle is indeed the driver of recent price drops, a return to prices of two, or even one year ago, is not to be expected, because the solar market is showing clear similarities with the computer hardware market, with similar breathtaking price declines. In both cases the final product is pure technology, which can only improve with time, like the number of transistors per unit of area. The efficiency of PV technology keeps increasing, and improvements like proton-induced exfoliation and auto-cooling have yet to reach the market. Production is not going back to either the US or Europe, either. If it’s not economical to produce a smartphone or a laptop in either, it will be much less so with a simpler technology like a solar cell. The catalyst for the abrupt collapse of the past several years is termination of subsidies in the US and the EU, with Solyndra as poster child, in a glorious $250 million bankruptcy, but the nature of the business meant consolidation was inevitable.
    Renewable electricity producing technologies like wind, solar, tidal or geothermal dispense with any sort of fuel to produce electricity. A gas or diesel fired power plant has a cost every time it produces power, so the operator is permanently on the market for fuel, managing prices that can be rather volatile. Additionally, there are other costs associated with operation and maintenance of the plant. In contrast, a solar panel, or a windmill just sits there. They too have maintenance costs, but these are much smaller and can be predicted fairly accurately at project start. The result is that generating an extra kWh of electricity from an operating solar panel or wind turbine costs close to zero $0.00 / kWh. This is what in economics is termed the marginal cost (in this case for electricity generation).
    The second important aspect of renewable technologies is that they generate electricity, and once it is injected into the grid that electron is equal to any other. Moreover, if I have a PV system on my roof and the sun is shining, I can be sure that any other neighbor, or any other investor in the region with a PV system will also be generating electricity. In economics, a market where supply agents are unable to differentiate their products from one another are called Perfect Concurrency Markets; cereals agriculture is the classical class room example. This sort of market has a very important characteristic: long term the price matches marginal costs and supply agents struggle to make a profit (this is one of the reasons why there are subsidies to agriculture).
    A perfect concurrency market with a marginal cost of zero is something totally outside standard study and practice in economics. It is the reason why spot electricity prices collapse during sunny summer days or why during autumn storms there can even be negative prices. These are all symptoms of a market whose price will get closer and closer to zero the larger the number of renewable energy systems connected.
    This trend is inevitable in the US where sufficient roof space exists to host 1Twe of PV as shown in the USDOE study by Denholm & Margolis, equally divided between commercial and residential buildings. Total project cost is $835 bilion or $835/kwe producing power with an LEC of $0.033/kwh, with no subsidies whatever(no storage). Adding 24 hours storage raises project cost to $2 trillion or $2346 / kwe, producing power at an LEC of $0.08 / kwh. Costs of emplacing these systems are so low, that their construction is inevitable. Their nature lends itself to consumption of production on-site, unaffected by grid regulations, or pricing. Fully implemented, rooftop PV would provide 40% of current electricity demand, in and of itself, or 1,640 Twh / yr. This is the elephant beneath the carpet.
    The cost of energy is prompting conversion of the US housing stock to PassivHaus standard, thereby reducing household consumption of power by 80%. This is the cape buffalo beneath the carpet.
    Were refrigerators/airconditioners were built with SawaFuji Free-Piston Compressors, double the existing insulation, and with hold over plates so they run during the day, when the sun is shining, much of the need for storage would disappear and consequent demand would be halved. This is the lion beneath the carpet.
    Conversion of all lighting to LED eliminates 80% of power demand for lighting. This is the cheetah beneath the carpet.
    And these paradigms are killing the traditional electricity suppliers with business models dependent upon fossil fuel energies. They simply cannot make it in such a market, that on reflection seems clearly ill conceived. Governments have nothing innate against renewable energies, they are simply trying to protect these important companies, and also the philosophical reverence for the market.
    Particularly in Germany, far from the sunniest or windiest place in Europe, the mismatch between a fully liberalised market and renewable energy growth is creating all sorts of problems. Grid managers are unable or unwilling to upgrade the grid, voltage goes up during sunny days threatening to bring the grid down and even maintenance is an issue. In some lands it is getting so serious that the government, whether Conservative or Liberal, is contemplating the outright nationalisation of the grid.

    Feed-in Tariffs
    Governments should be working towards the complete integration of renewable systems into the grid, not to their exclusion. In the first place they must reckon that only by using schemes like feed-in tariffs can they guarantee the long term permanence of renewable power producers in the grid. With marginal generation costs close to 0 $ / kWh, these systems will never be able to yield proper cash flows in the liberalised electricity market. If the investment in grid connected renewable power technologies is to continue to come from private investors, stable revenues must be guaranteed in the long term. Looking at laws in states like Luxembourg some advantageous changes become obvious: first of all extend the feed-in tariff to the whole lifetime of the technology and then lower their values. Using the example in Spain, with an expected cost of 0.06 €/kWp for industrial systems, the state can set a 0.10 €/kWp tariff for the first ten years and 0.04 €/kWp for the last decade of production, thus also preserving the important role of break-even anticipation that feed-in tariffs perform.
    With proper feed-in tariffs in place governments can then focus on the monolithic base load electricity suppliers; they won’t disappear, but their role will fundamentally change. They must shift their focus from production to storage and load-balancing. Governments can perhaps aid with subsidies on the set up of large and small scale storage infrastructure and most importantly, steer towards the most effective technologies, avoiding pipe dreams like hydrogen.

    • Dr. Oprisko, I, too, am a holder of an earned PhD. Mine is in chemical engineering; so, I am rather well acquainted with energy balances. In addition, I have given some thought to the notion of ERoEI. If you have the time, you might take a quick look at . Now, whereas you have claimed that the ERoEI of renewables is as good as or better than the ERoEI for petroleum, I am not at all convinced that it is even as great as 1.0. I would be delighted if it were, except, to be sustainable, it would have to be computed as I suggested in . I wonder if you would share your own computation of ERoEI for some renewable energy technology – photo-voltaic solar, for example.

      • Scott says:

        Hello Thomas, you know looking at the group of people we have posting comments on this site it is clear we have some of the best minds in the world here as those of us are awake to these issues. I guess the problem is getting our message out to the rest of the world as more people believe in ghosts than peak oil. (although I am deeply believer in ghost too). I have had some experiences in that area too. But today more believe in ghost than peak oil.

        Call me a weirdo if you like, But I have posted my story about a UFO I saw when I was 16 years old and I am now in my early 50’s and my message has been one of hope as I saw new power source propel this craft many hundreds of miles in the frame of a second or two and I believe that there are forces (beings) amongst us that have knowledge that are not being shared with us not just yet and this knowledge could be used right now, perhaps they are planning to share it soon.

        I think most of us agree our government has become very secretive these days, area 51 etc. I still will argue that there is hope and something out there will some reveal itself. The next few years should be very interesting indeed.

      • See my second post:
        In my analysis I do not burden PV with the Grid, I do not burden it with Inverters, I do not burden it with mountings, wiring, switchgear.

        In the analysis of the EROEI of petroleum, it is not burdened with the grid, powerconversion systems, conversion losses, wiring, switchgear, etc:

        From: An Empirical Perspective on the Energy Payback Time for Photovoltaic Mocules by Karl E. Knapp and Theresa L. Jester, Solar 2000, Madison, June 2000, updated to reflect proton-induced exfoilation, inprovements in efficiency, but not including gains from replacing glass with film:
        2000 2013
        Kwh of inputs / Kwe of Pv 5,713 (200micron) 2,917 (20micron)
        Kwh produced -30 yr life 0.5%/yr degradation – White Co, IN 43,453 kwh
        EROEI 7.6 15

        From Drill Baby Drill:
        The net energy (or EROEI) of natural gas has been calculated by Skone et al. at 7.6:l. 118 This includes the energy inputs for drilling, extraction, and transport for all domestic gas production compared to the energy delivered. Shale gas is more energy intensive than conventional gas due to the nature of the hydraulic-fracturing process, which involves handling and disposing of millions of gallons of water, several hundred heavy truck trips per well, very high pressures for fluid injection, and so forth. Thus the EROEI for shale gas will be substantially lower than 7.6:1, perhaps 5:1 or less on average, although there have been no definitive studies. Furthermore, the EROEI of shale gas can be expected to decline over time as evidenced by the EIA estimates of the number of wells required to extract it discussed above.

        Gagnon et al. estimated the EROEI of global oil and gas production at the wellhead at 18:1, (although they did not separate oil from gas)

        There have been no definitive studies on the net energy (EROEI) of tight oil and it is certain to be highly variable depending on the productivity of the play. However it is likely to be lower on average than for conventional oil given the nature of the hydraulic-fracturing process, which involves handling and disposing of millions of gallons of water, several hundred heavy truck trips per well, very high pressures for fluid injection, and so forth.

        Although the mean EROEI of mined bitumen is relatively high at 12.4:1, the bitumen needs to be upgraded somewhere before it can be used, and therefore 5.0:1 is the appropriate metric for the end product. In situ recoverable bitumen, which comprises 80 percent of the resource, starts at a mean EROEI of 5.0:1 and is much lower at 2.9:1 when upgraded.

        Now, if tarsands are economic with an EROEI of 3 at the mine mouth, not including conversion efficiencies of 40% to make electricity, and the energy cost of the central power station, HV Xmission, distribution, line losses, how can anyone question today’s PV returning 15:1 with no transmission losses, conversion losses <5%, even less if 40 VDC is used in the residence, thus no inverter?


        • I just finished your two long posts and I am very impressed; so, I can’t complain about you not reading wherein I explain what I mean by sustainable and what I consider essential components of the ERoEI computation if it is to determine sustainability or even if it is to determine if the technology is a net provider of energy or not. If for each kilowatt-hour delivered to the consumer, the purveyors and others who earn part of their living providing services to the purveyors such as their doctors and lawyers spend only 0.3 kilowatt-hours producing the 1.0 kilowatt-hour but require more than 0.7 kilowatt-hours to support all or the appropriate pro-rata share of their living standards, then that energy technology is a net consumer of energy in that economy. In the case of natural gas for which you computed an ERoEI of 1.18 without considering the lives of the participants and the costs of commerce, I would guess that natural gas is a net consumer. One would like to think that not every energy technology can have an ERoEI* < 1.0 unless the civilization of which it is part has commenced to die off. But, for all we know, that is exactly what is happening. You can imagine my disappointment that ERoEI is NEVER computed according to my suggestions.

          By the way, the 1.25 TWe is a very generous estimate of our solar capacity; but, it is not nearly enough to replace our entire energy budget, which would have to get much larger to support the anticipated waves of new immigrants. Moreover, this is local capacity, which suffers from Myth D, the lack of on-demand availability. Somehow one needs to consider the costs of storage and distribution. Decent battery technology is probably 20 years away – and, as the joke goes about nuclear fusion – always will be. In the case of distribution, even granting a super-conductive grid, the problems are immense. Nevertheless, I am with you. Let's begin to tackle it. If the central government expects to avoid disintegration, it better assign top priority to installing renewable energy technology with as much dedication as it applied to defeating the axis powers during WWII. I mean total commitment with rationing, wage and price controls, etc.

          • It misconstrues my message to imply I believe business as usual (BAU) can
            continue, or should continue. I don’t.
            I know first hand, that domestic power consumption can be cut 80% while still
            providing the services desired.
            I specifically mentioned conversion of the housing stock to PassivHaus standard, and conversion of all lighting to LEDs, and conversion of refrigeration/aircon to holdover plate systems.
            Additionally, all houses should have solar hot water heaters. Germany has developed quite efficient ones suitable for CONUS, and we should adopt them.
            Additionally, all houses should convert to composting toilets, which will unburden waste treatment plants.
            I specifically recommend sizing domestic PV systems at 6Kwe to provide sufficient power for cooking, as well as lighting, refrigeration/aircon, etc.
            I specifically recommend replacing computers with energy efficient ones, my Mini-Itx system for example has 1000 X the power of a DEC-VAX-11-780, fits easily into a ladies shoe box, and uses 80 watts.
            I specifically recommend NaS batteries because the materials are readily avaiable, they are reasonably efficient, and compact. Now that NGK has solved the fire problem, mass production can commence.
            I specifically recommend distributed PV power generation to eliminate distribution losses, and recommend conversion of dwellings to 40 VDC operation to eliminate inverters and their associated costs. For the record, my computer runs on 12 VDC, my lighting ditto, my freezer ditto. I and most boaters have already converted, so now it’s time for housing.
            WRT your comments regarding Lawyers, and accountants as part of the energy mix, It would seem to me that burdening an energy source with those services, is similar to burdening a horse with all the hay he will need for the winter, mounted on his back, while trying to get him to pull a plow in spring.
            It seems to me that it is sufficient to calculate the net energy delivered to the end user, when determining EROEI, and my analysis, which builds upon respected analysis does exactly that.
            What should be disconcerting, is that the net delivered EROEI for Nat Gas is ~1 currently, and the net delivered EROEI for oil is ~2 currently.
            It is this reality which need be brought to the attention of decisionmakers, provided one can get them to think of things other than creating chaos in the oil producing regions of the planet, for short term profit.
            It is this reality which should be driving trade relations between the OECD and the PRC, for the purpose of engaging the latter in the mass production of low cost, efficient PV for mass emplacement, to effect the conversion of US electric power from central hydrocarbon fired generation, to distributed renewable generation.
            BTW the USDOE paper found sufficient space at 20% efficiency for 1.1Twe.
            Their numbers don’t include covering parking lots.


            • Hello Dr. Oprisko,

              You seem to be doing your part to reduce energy consumption per capita, which I agree is necessary if energy is to be harvested in real time or almost real time. I wish to pay particular attention to the following remarks which begin near the end of your reply: My responses are in square brackets.

              GWO: WRT your comments regarding lawyers, and accountants as part of the energy mix, It would seem to me that burdening an energy source with those services, is similar to burdening a horse with all the hay he will need for the winter, mounted on his back, while trying to get him to pull a plow in spring.

              [TLW: Bravo.]

              GWO: It seems to me that it is sufficient to calculate the net energy delivered to the end user, when determining EROEI, and my analysis, which builds upon respected analysis does exactly that. What should be disconcerting, is that the net delivered EROEI for Nat Gas is ~1 currently, and the net delivered EROEI for oil is ~2 currently. It is this reality which need be brought to the attention of decision makers, provided one can get them to think of things other than creating chaos in the oil producing regions of the planet, for short term profit. It is this reality which should be driving trade relations between the OECD and the PRC, for the purpose of engaging the latter in the mass production of low cost, efficient PV for mass emplacement, to effect the conversion of US electric power from central hydrocarbon fired generation, to distributed renewable generation.

              [TLW: I must now invest a little time to try to convince you that it is NOT sufficient to do as “respected” analysts have been doing in the peer-reviewed literature, which, by the way, seems to have gone over to the “dark side” (corporate side). The principal reason not to reject the methodology implicit in my thought experiment regarding the autonomous alternative energy district is apparent in the otherwise laudable article in which ERoEI comes to Forbes on June 5th. We read, “SUNY professor (Charles) Hall estimates that for an industrial society to function and grow [italics mine], EROI should measure at least five to nine”. Now, it is no mean task to estimate an EROI (ERoEI) that does not determine feasibility (sustainability) for ERoEI > 1.0. Why should all that work be wasted with at best a rough guess at how great ERoEI must be to avoid economic shrinkage, which, if you favor shrinkage in over-developed countries, you might refer to as “degrowth”. Undoubtedly, to rescue the initial effort will entail considerable additional effort; but, unless that effort is forthcoming, we will never know if the ERoEI of photovoltaic solar energy technology is enough to support a stable population. (Clearly, NOTHING can support perpetual exponential growth.) Once again, the URL is and the blog begun at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil conference last December in Austin, Texas, where I spent rather a lot of time with Charles trying to get him to see the light is at . I think the problem is that a better methodology permits finer distinctions one of which is likely to reveal the essential unsuitability of market economies, which, after all, the powers-that-be cannot tolerate. By the way, they (the-powers) must be extremely gratified that almost nobody looks at my blog – not even the NSA. 

              GWO: BTW the USDOE paper found sufficient space at 20% efficiency for 1.1 Twe. Their numbers don’t include covering parking lots.

              [TLW: If we have many more covered parking lots, we shall fill them with many more cars. It will take a great deal higher efficiency than 20% to return the energy the car (or cars) under the roof consume. But, I have no doubt that the irony of this is not lost on you. But, you say, we do what we can do. Remember, I am your ally and friend if you wish to replace fossil fuel with heavily front-loaded PV solar, my favorite alternative energy technology. (Where were you when I was debating Dave Kimble as described in “Photovoltaic for Australia:” at ?)

              Finally, I notice that Public Research Institute has performed a number of services for corporate clients. How do you continue to be a non-profit corporation? Why didn’t you tell us that your interest in PV is more than academic? Quite frankly, you have me worried.

            • You need to remember that all of this conversion takes energy and money.

              And it is my understanding that to continue, these systems require our current systems to continue. For example, Passive Hauses don’t work as well, if a window or two breaks, and it is not possible to replace them.

              Roads need to continue to be maintained under any system that continues. And manufacturing capability needs to maintained. These uses of energy do not shrink nearly as much as the systems you mention.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail and George
              Here is what we should be aiming at, instead of Passiv Haus:


              (Gail, sorry for the reference to Nicole’s site. But she sometimes has wonderful photographs).
              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              We are at a watershed. We can turn round and go back with our tail between our legs to the primitive conditions that Don would appear to prefer – as per his link – or we can bite the bullet and go on to a future that employs the technological and scientific knowledge that we have thus far amassed to get us over this watershed and take us onwards and upwards. No guesses as to which I prefer. To consider the alternative as a first choice is an admission of defeat before we have even started. By all means plan for the worst case, but only as a fall-back position, and if we do go down the Don Stewart route, then we must provide better protection for our current state of knowledge than that that was afforded the contents of the Great Library at Alexandria so that that body of knowledge is available for a time when our species is brave enough to make full use of it.

              Perhaps we should let climate change be the vehicle for providing impetus to our scientific future. We as a species have been aware of the danger of excess CO2 in the atmosphere since the mid 1800s. Yet even today, over a century and half later, when we have clear evidence of the planet actually warming and oceans are acidifying while they rise, we have scientists and columnists clearly manipulating the data to show it is a hoax (no coincidence that many of them rely on the fossil fuel industry for funding in one way or another). On top of that we have that clown Monckton doing his one man vaudeville act in the form of a supposedly serious talk on climate change while waving a big white flag when challenged, only to come back spouting the same old same old when he thinks the bogeyman has gone away. It is a mystery to me how it is possible for someone to remain a peer while doing their best to thwart efforts to curb climate change and thus harm their country (Monckton is not the only peer who I would like to see ‘reduced to the ranks’. It is no wonder that the public are confused, especially in America where one of the two main political parties has climate change denial as a rite of passage – amazing.

              If Gail is correct and BAU is not possible, then the danger from climate change recedes, but does not disappear. If we are to take advantage of our scientific abilities, in any field not just atmospheric sciences, then we must not let those who have done so much to influence public opinion, and the resulting political opinion, get away with their actions. All it will take is a major breakthrough in energy storage and the push will be on for more electricity production. If we fail to keep climate change at the front of our thinking that push will likely include a massive increase in coal fired power stations along with a ‘frack baby frack’ philosophy. If that happens, then heaven help us and our children.

              I don’t think scientists and technologists have a choice in this matter. We have to foster respect for the advances we have made. What an abject failure we will be as a species if we just throw it all away and live in the sort of conditions that Don would prefer us to. If we can show that people who have abused their positions to endanger our species should face sanction, preferably involving the loss of freedom, then that should get the public on the side of science and opposed to the miscreants and those behind them. First, is the need to get people aware of the dangers to our current energy supply and the need to act. Gail is doing her best, but is it enough and if not, what more can we do? Ideas, anyone?

            • Don Stewart says:

              My points about the Maori are two:
              1. Aim for protection from the elements rather than micro-control of the environment in a building.
              2. The extended family replaces the welfare state.

              I submit that if humanity in the OECD countries made these two changes, we would solve a lot of problems. Not all of the problems, but a lot of them. Both points are illustrated by the photograph.

              Perhaps a modern analog to the Maori shack is the Roma, or young people building Tiny Houses, or the Cob structures at Albert Bates place. They have the advantage of not requiring mortgages. A Passiv Haus is generally conceded to be more expensive than a conventional house. The cost is driven by the desire for micro-control of the environment.

              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Don, as I stated, I was going by the photo you linked to. I think we can do better for our children and grandchildren and said as much.

              I also took the opportunity to try and get some action against all those ‘nice’ people who, either by design or simply out of ignorance have managed to abuse their position in order to hinder action to curtail climate change. That hindrance has endangered the security and well-being of my son and any children he has already sired (he has been a bit of a lad, which might be heriditary) or children he might sire if he ever settles down, of course.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Hofstadter and Sander say (page 256) that ‘it would seem that the flexibility of our category systems is the key which distinguishes Homo sapiens sapiens from a Yorkshire terrier’ and on page 253) ‘the proliferation of levels of abstraction grants us the freedom to shift viewpoint whenever one of the categories that we are currently focusing on seems to be leading us into a box canyon’.

              I submit that the society at large, and many of the comments on this blog, are focused on abstractions which have led us into a box canyon. Gail admirably shows us the dimensions of the canyon. As she herself says, she is less certain how we back this mule up and get out of the box canyon.

              I pointed out that rather than see Passiv Hous and Obamacare as solutions to our problems, they may well just get us further into the box canyon. Passiv Haus requires us to continue to maintain a global industrial system, and Obamacare requires us to devote a fifth of our GDP to mostly useless medical interventions and the maintenance of an enormous global sickcare system. So…let’s fall back 10 yards and rethink the categories. If we adopt simple shelters (and I gave examples from current practice on the fringes of society) and extended families with a pro-health agenda exemplified by this article today:
              then we have radically changed the nature of the discussion. Gone are the financialization of the economy with ever growing levels of debt and gone is the welfare state with high tax rates and government corruption (as exemplified by the spying scandal and the Executive claiming the privilege of killing people at will).

              One has to make some choices in life and they have consequences. You (I think) vote for using some modified version of the Global Industrial System plus Welfare State to try to finely control the comfort level in houses and insuring expensive medical treatment for people who are sick because they have bad habits. I vote for very simple solutions which eliminate a great deal of the baggage that you would erect trying to achieve your goals.

              There aren’t any guarantees. You might be right. What my experience tells me is that we are in a box canyon and we need, urgently, to get out of it.

              Don Stewart

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Nice posting, Don!

              There seem to be a lot of TINA (There Is No Alternative) people who think that if we just change some policies here, add some new technology there, and spread out the wealth everywhere, Everything Will Be Alright(TM).

              Somehow, I doubt that any of the TINA people have ever grown much — if any — of their own food. I doubt they’ve directly taken a life for their own sustenance. I doubt they’ve ever set a broken bone, or aided in childbirth.

              I submit that in the future, the “survivors” will mostly be people with such skills.

              I’d like to write more, but I have a doe ready for birth that I have to check in on every hour and plants in the greenhouse that are going to bolt if I don’t get them in the ground soon, my fertigation system filter is clogged and needs cleaning, and a bad batch of biodiesel has our market vehicle down — glycerine in the fuel filter. The good news is, no bones to set today… so far… 🙂

              There goes half my daily Internet budget that I put myself on — with few exceptions, if you’re spending more than an hour or two a day on the Internet, you may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

              It’s been said the human brain is shrinking, probably due to excessive specialization and prevalence of extrinsic knowledge. Specialist species tend to not survive extinction events. So go learn something new that will help your survival today — and I don’t mean a new fact within your existing specialty — jump into something you know nothing about! You’re never too old to add neural connections.

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Don, I am a mechanical engineer and as such I obviously have scientific leanings – but would never claim to be a scientist. I am not American and am not affected by such issues as Obamacare. In fact, I really don’t care one way or the other about it, sorry. What exercises my little grey cells is how daft the human species is and how easily manipulated it is by those in power. By ‘in power’ I am almost certainly talking about those shadowy people in the background pulling the strings of those who think that they are in power. When I said that we were at a watershed, I meant it. We really need to take stock of just how badly we have managed our society and learn some vital lessons before we carry on the way we are. I think on that we will be in agreement.

              An example of how the public has been manipultated: 3000 people were murdered on 9/11 and any half-decent investigation shows that four fundamental laws of physics have to be flawed for the official explanation to be valid. Two thousand, or thereabouts, architects (including members and fellows of the American Institute of Architects) and engineers (including civil, electrical and explosives experts) have signed a petition calling for a re-investigation of the WTC attack. A group of pilots, some with airtime on the aircraft involved on that day are also calling for a re-investigation of the events of that day because they, like the architects and engineers just don’t believe the official story. Among their evidence is the fact that either the NTSB have made a mistake in their analysis of the FDR from American 77 and 14 eye-witnesses (including two Pentagon police sergeants and a Pentagon heli-pad employee) are mistaken in what they saw, or two aircraft have to have been involved in the Pentagon attack, one of them probably a cruise missile. Add to that the presence of nano-thermite (a military grade explosive/incendiary material whose patent application lists building demolition where the noise of explosions is to be kept to a minimum as a major application) permeating the dust of the WTC site and one has the closest thing to a cast-iron case that I can think of. Yet, raise the matter and one is automatically dismissed as a tinfoil hat wearing ‘truther’ who should be dismissed as a crank. (I am not going to get into a slanging match over this as I have promised not to. All I would ask is that anyone who feels strongly enough to reply on this point should explain the free-fall acceleration of WTC7 as part of their reply. The video ‘Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out’ should help in that regard, if only to see the quality of those with whom they will be in disagreement.)

              Climate change provides another example of public manipulation. We have pundits claiming it is all a hoax while 97% of the world’s top climate scientists are in agreement that the planet is not only warming, it is warming at an alarming rate and unless we cease BAU and move to a much lower level of production of CO2, our children and grandchildren will suffer terribly. If it were only happening on some island somewhere, I am sure that anyone with a double digit IQ would be aghast at the failure of the islanders to act and be forced to conclude that they are pretty nasty people who obviously don’t care about future generation. But it isn’t limited to some far-flung island, it affects the whole planet and we have known of the danger for over a century and a half. One would expect that in a sane world, the people would be demanding that the matter be solved by now. Instead we have done precious little and are now reaping the whirlwind. And it is going to get a lot worse if we don’t do something. While Gail may well be correct in that BAU is not going to be possible, that will only postpone matters or could even make it worse if we turn to coal to make up the shortfall in energy supply. It is not as though we haven’t been here before. Look at the way public opinion was slanted away from reducing cigarette smoking. How many people had to die before the harm it was doing became common knowledge? (And how much profit did the tobacco industry make in the meantime?) And now the same advertising agencies are running the fossil fuel industry’s campaign to curtail any action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Talk about ‘blatant’!

              Don, you can go on about box canyons, whatever they are, and mules etc, but I will go where my life experience has taken me thus far. I am sure that if we had Manhattan type projects to restructure our energy provision more towards nuclear, preferably LFTR designs (preferably small modular ones), and towards solving our energy storage problem so that transportation could be predominantly electric powered, then this entire nightmare that we currently face would soon be just a bad dream. It is sad that the major hurdle to such a solution is that public opinion (again) has been swayed – by the Greens this time – to see all things nuclear as evil. The only evil nuclear items are the latest nuclear weapons. Trident C4 and earlier actually kept the peace and if the Greens had bothered to explore them in depth so that they could take an informed position on them then those weapons might just be still around to work their magic. As it is, well that’s another couple of pages and its late …

              Just one closing comment. The thing that amazes me about the U.S.A. is that it is so backward for an advanced nation. Its people still seem to believe in the American dream without realising that it has gone to the rich and they are going to keep it unless it is wrested from them. The people still go to the polls, but why is a mystery to me. All the major issues are sorted out by lobbyists and those in the revolving door between the legislature and industry.For example: a Monsanto genetically modified crop seed can blow onto a neighbouring farmer’s land and the poor bloke gets sued by Monsanto for having his farm in the wrong place. Unless we become aware of the injustice of the modern world, and do something about it, any move to a simpler lifestyle, redolent of a bygone age, as seems to be your preferred solution, will simply postpone the nightmare. I say let’s tackle it head on. And that difference Don is, I suspect, fairly irreconcilable.

            • Scott says:

              Yes Mel I am bewildered at how easily my fellow Americans have been fooled by all the hype, and also the way they eat are being fed by these fast food joints that are sickening people. When I go shopping there are far too many sick people riding around in carts that and too sick to push a shopping cart. But there is a group of us that are waking up to it and taking measures into our own hands but looks like too little too late as we are the minority in this thing. If you did a poll on Thorium to the Americans or maybe even the Europeans would they know what it is?

              There are many things we should be doing but they are not getting done due to the propaganda that out there. World Trade Center is just a good example and the 911 attacks were likely sadly put on by our own governments and corporate interests that really control our government. Sadly we can see what happened after that with the expansion of war in the middle east and quest for power over oil rich nations. Charges were likely planted in the twin towers. When I saw that event did not even wake up our country to being mislead by greed and corporate and special interest groups and such powers, I knew we were in trouble…

              You know Mel, it has gotten even worse since then, not subject perhaps for this blog but I will put it out there anyway as I am a rebel… we now have Geo engineering underway and Chemtrails being sprayed upon the citizens here without our votes or permission.

            • Don Stewart says:

              I know (slightly) an official in the US Green Party. I think they would be quite amused at your assumption that they can sway public opinion on any topic whatsoever.

              As to your not caring about Obamacare. We spend somewhere around 6 percent of our GDP on energy and 20 percent on sickcare and the sickcare cartel controls our government. And, next year, the Federal Surveillance Machine will ferret out those people who are not paying for the mandatory insurance. In effect, Obamacare puts a fixed cost of 20 percent of our GDP on the economy. Even if energy went up to 10 percent, it would still be only half the effect of a dysfunctional healtcare system. Such are the effects of government sponsored cartelization.

              So what can the ordinary citizen do about it? I modestly suggest looking at the Maori photograph and then looking seriously at those people on the fringes who are making modern adaptations. I know some of them…and they are a pretty happy lot. If you can make infinite energy happen and can solve all the other problems, then my suggestion is moot.

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Hello Mel and others, A stark and striking article about Oyster Farms no longer viable in the Pacific Northwest and moving to Hawaii. Clear evidence of acidification of our seas.


            • Don,

              I like that photo. That type of building is substantially more sustainable than a Passiv Haus. If termites come and eat it, it will be easy to make a new one.

            • Scott says:

              That was a good picture, at least they had pristine hunting grounds (then) which would have given them the upper hand on us right away.

  21. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    If there is anything that a single human, a family, an extended family, a village, a nation, or humanity can do about The Limits to Growth, it will require thinking analogically.

    I have been reading Surfaces and Essences, by Hofstadter and Sander. I won’t have completed my first pass through the book until perhaps July. And it will take a very long time for me to perceive that I have ‘finished’ the book. But the more I read in it, the more relevance I see to our current predicament.

    The authors put many building blocks in place to support their assertion that all thinking is analogical. We call up a memory and relate the memory to what is happening to us right now. The memory is encoded ‘not by rote, but by distillation’. And the distillation is very frequently characterized by emotion. In other words, what makes two events similar is the emotional response–not the physical particulars. The authors offer abundant evidence in support of that thesis. On page 157, they state that ‘the comparison…is helping you figure out how you feel about a situation you’ve just encountered’.

    On page 162, they consider the category ‘A Trivial Side Show that is More Fascinating than the Main Event’. This exploration springs from having taken a 1 year old to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and discovering that the boy was very interested in the ants and leaves in the sand but not at all interested in ‘the Grand Canyon’. They extend the exploration by considering two authors (themselves) in Paris working on a book together. In one scenario the authors totally waste their time in magical Paris by closeting themselves in a room and slaving away on their book. In another scenario two authors, who are supposed to be serious scholars, fritter away their time in Paris munching on patisseries. And then they throw in this gem:

    ‘A mosquito hovering about Albert Einstein’s body sees it as nothing more than a warm object filled with liquid sustenance.’

    My earliest years were spent in a world which had very little access to fossil fuels by today’s standards. Walking was our standard way of getting about, for example. So many of my earliest memories are of things like building treehouses out of scrap and digging clay out of ditches and making stuff with it and similar homely amusements. We did have a radio, which mostly had factual advertisements from local businesses. So I have a pretty rich vein of analogies which don’t involve the Post-WWII world. Which probably makes it hard for me to communicate with most Baby Boomers who grew up in a world of abundant fossil fuels and television advertisements depicting dream sequences built around the theme of ‘expressing yourself’. Today I work with people in their early 20s who are living in a world quite unlike that of the Baby Boomers. So, again, I can make a lot of analogies that most people in the Social Security age bracket can’t, or won’t, make.

    The authors discuss on page 157 the scenario where a traveler arrives at a busy airport in an exotic location and is trying to get through customs at 4am and things are going wrong and lines are long. The locals arriving on the plane seem to know what to do (they have been here before), but the traveler hasn’t got a clue. ‘no helpful haven of a memory would spring to mind’. If we think about the experiences that the Baby Boom generation can call on to generate analogies for coping with our current predicament, they are likely to strike you as pretty unhelpful.

    I have found that people do adjust to reality. Even religions change–without ever admitting it. Part of the problem today is that the politicians and the corporations are determined that people will not be required to confront reality. Consequently, people are not allowed to develop helpful analogies.

    For example, let’s go back to the child at the Grand Canyon. I see this played out twice a week in the summer at my food co-op. The co-op sponsors concerts on the lawn (which is actually wood chips). Parents bring their children who have a glorious time running and jumping and dancing and the toddlers are discovering the magic of wood chips and friendly dogs. This is about as far as you can get from the vision of happiness put out by the government and the corporations. One can certainly see some snakes in this wood-pile, as even toddlers come dressed in costumes (fancy shoes, etc.) But ‘serious adults’ have learned that simply running around for the sheer joy of running is not something one should do. It is OK to run on a treadmill at an expensive gym, but playing on a lawn is an affront to the Ayn Rand crowd. It has to be about money.

    If we apply the thinking of children, but with adult intelligence, we end up with something like The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. Endless entertainment within a short bike ride of one’s home. No pressing need for the Grand Canyon. Thoreau ‘traveling widely in Concord’.

    But the current media soaked environment narrowly channels ‘experiences’ toward the virtual and the commercially driven. Amusements which were popular 40 years ago have dwindled (picking apples and floating down rivers in canoes). When I try to talk to my children about what fun we had, they shrug their shoulders and turn their own children over to much shallower experiences.

    I will draw six summary conclusions:
    1. We are each entirely dependent on the analogies we can make. We can only make analogies in response to real or virtual experiences which had some emotional content.
    2. Most people today (in the rich countries) cannot effectively make emotionally rewarding analogies which involve a world where fossil fuels are not abundant and reality has hard limits.
    3. Ancient peoples (like myself) and young people confronting a hard economy are able to make more helpful analogies than typical Baby Boomers.
    4. Governments prevent adaptation when they suppress unpleasant consequences.
    5. I think it likely that the majority of people will continue to act like a mosquito in the vicinity of Einstein.
    6. Small groups may be able to isolate themselves and survive.

    Don Stewart

    • Don Stewart says:

      One more thing. We had little in the way of fossil fuels and practically nothing in the way of debt. Since Gail’s concern is a debt crisis, this is perhaps very relevant. I never had any family experience with debt until I was 17 years old and my parents took on a 5 thousand dollar mortgage. My wife and I took on a 25 thousand dollar mortgage when I was 25. We never bought a car with debt. While I had a credit card from the time I was 22, I never ran a balance on it. My wife and I were out of the mortgage by our late 40s.

      So one huge difference in my experience and the experience of most of the young people I work with is their student loan debt. I paid for college as I went–which was very hard. But I graduated with money in the bank. The young people have a huge student loan to pay off, and, having no real paying job, have no access to the credit market. Yet the things they need to buy are bid up in price by older people who do have access to the credit market. If houses and cars and farmland had to be paid for in cash, they would be a great deal cheaper than they are. In a profound sense, Ben Bernanke is doing a great deal of damage to the younger generation trying to protect the wealthiest people who own the assets.

      I was having a conversation with a young person last week. What should they be doing with their life? I find it hard to bring up analogies from the time when I was 25 because everything is so different. My advice would be ‘find some impossibly cute little chick from Jersey City and marry her and have three children (bang, bang, bang) and deal with 2 am feedings and colicky babies and cloth diapers and playing in the park with your children.’ That advice would be about as relevant to them as something from a Martian.

      Don Stewart

      • xabier says:


        Debt is the Devil. Look at whom it makes rich……..

        When the financial crisis first blew up 5 years ago, a financier I know got very agitated (he’d lost about 10 million and it destroyed his hedge fund, so it’s understandable I suppose) and said:’ This is what happens when you let poor people think they can buy things!’

        He hit the nail on the head: your generation spent money you’d earned, or undertook a mortgage very cautiously, but over the last two decades it’s all been about extending credit, creating the debt bomb. Governments are still trying to reinflate that bubble, because the consequences of unwinding are horrendous.

        It’s enriched a very few, like my friend, but enslaved the rest and distorted their views: just try to tell a 20 yr-old that the can only get about henceforth on foot or by bicycle……and that they’ll have to pay cash for the latter: End of the World!

    • Jody Tishmack says:

      The story about the child visiting the Grand Canyon reminded me of an experience I had visiting Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border. I had been traveling alone for several days from Phoenix, AZ heading across country for Wyoming. I can still remember what it felt like as I drove down into Monument Valley from the high plateau on the Arizona side of the valley. I can distinctly remember the awe and amazement I felt looking across the valley, seeing towers hundreds of feet tall and reflecting on the volume and force of water it required to form the valley.

      I traveled many miles across that valley before I came to the official “Monument Valley” look out point that attracts the tourists. Once at the look out I could see that yes, they had located it at a very nice position from which to view several towers, but that one spot didn’t add anything significant to my overall impression already formed. It was not more impressive to me than the whole experience of coming to the edge of the plateau and dropping down into this amazing geological feature
      As I stood drinking in the view and savoring the whole afternoon’s experience a van carrying a family of tourists arrived. They pulled up and out jumped excited adults with cameras clicking. The adults rushed to the railing yelling for their children to “come and see”. The teenage children removing head phones, looked bored asking “What are we supposed to see?”. After five or ten minutes of this the adults shifted their attention from their cameras to their maps, plotting out the route to the next site they would travel off to see. And then almost as fast as they arrived they piled back into their van and drove off, apparently satisfied with their “Monument Valley” visit.

      I couldn’t help but compare my experience of Monument Valley with what theirs appeared to be. I had been struck with awe from the moment I drove down into the valley, and the awe just keep on resonating within me as I tried to take it all in. And years later I can still find that feeling imprinted within my memories. The tourists were only fixed on seeing what they thought they were supposed to see according to the tourist map. They probably have some nice pictures to show for their effort, but I imagine few lasting memories.

      I’m not sure what this experience means but I have never forgotten it. It stands out in my mind as a moment when I realized that we all experience life differently, even when we are living in it at the same time. I expect that the future will look different to everyone and for much of same reasons. I am happy to say that I’m learning to love the slow life; the garden after it’s been freshly weeded, the bird song, the smell of good soil, the feel of shade on a sunny day, and a cool breeze drying the work sweat off my skin. There is little in life that can make me feel more content.

      • xabier says:


        All to true, such a good description: same planet, very different experiences, and very divergent capacities for experience.

        Someone will be happy and sane in their garden, deriving infinite solace and interest from it, and others will pity and patronize them for leading an ‘unambitious life’ and having to get their hands dirty…..more fools they!

        In Florence once, surrounded by magnificent buildings and art, I was with a group of supposedly educated people who could only plan as to which luxury brands shops to visit next, (which they could have found in any major city) and their view of the world centred around ‘the best’ luxury (ie ultra expensive) hotels in the cities they knew or had heard about. We might as well have come from -and been on – different planets.

        I was also amused that they walked around shopping in the afternoon heat of August, but went to bed at 9, thus missing the lovely Tuscan nights. They literally had no real perception of place…… But they thought they were educated, sophisticated citizens of the world.

        • Scott says:

          Asian markets dropping again tonight for what seems like a week.

        • Jody Tishmack says:


          I know exactly the type of people you are talking about. They spend a lot of time and money trying to convince themselves they have found the important things in life, until their neighbor gets something new
          The Buddhists call it mindfulness, being present and aware in each moment. Where ever we travel, or sit, being fully present in the moment brings so much richness and texture to life. It’s something money can’t buy.

          The weather this spring has been particularly kind to the fruiting trees and plants in my garden. Or perhaps it was the bad production last year due to summer in March and exceptional drought the rest of the summer. It seems that fruiting plants produce extra the year after a bad year, as if to make up for the shortfall.

          So far, I’ve harvested over 50 lbs of strawberries from a 12 x 20 plot and the plants are still a week or so from being done. We are almost tired of fresh strawberries, although the homemade strawberry ice cream is always a favorite. I’ve made 30 pints of various strawberry jams. Yum! Home bread toasted with jam makes winter breakfast a pleasure! My grape vines are loaded with fruit as well the peaches, pears, and apple trees. Raspberries too soon to tell. If Michigan has a bumper crop fruit prices will be really low this summer. Cherries are coming to the midwest from California but cost $4 a pound. I’m waiting for the Michigan cherries, their price will be much better. This is a good year to put up some fruit preserves.

    • THanks for your thoughts. It is unfortunate that we are running head on into a situation that most people are not adapted for. I am sure this will be a big problem.

      I hope of us have been thinking about the situation enough that these issues will not be as much of a shock as you suggest. It probably helps to know first-hand how things were done in the past, but those of us who are younger remember big changes that have taken place as well. We also have learned from our parents and grandparents about how things use to be. Some people (I am afraid not me) even read historical novels, talking about distant lands.

      • Scott says:

        I would suggest people read these old books about the old days to help them re learn some things lost. I have been reading Louis Lamour and the books of Zane Gray, great writings.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Perhaps one more example may elucidate the thoughts that the ‘thinking with analogies’ book is prompting in me.

        When I was about 6 I built a treehouse. Scrap lumber was plentiful everywhere. But nails were a treasure. So I went around looking at old boards searching for nails which were salvageable. I got pretty good at straightening nails. My father had a hand drill and one could find odd bits of scrap dowel in the refuse from cabinet shops. So I learned how to make joints with wooden pegs, also. I would never claim to be skilled at cabinetry, but I could build a treehouse.

        If we see the next couple of hundred years as being substantially about a ‘salvage economy’, then I have childhood memories which may serve me pretty well. I will also have the emotional intelligence to see a salvageable nail or a well stocked screw jar as a positive experience–not as an affront to my dignity.

        My experience with joints may also serve me well. Good cabinet makers are quite skillful with joints and don’t use a lot of screws and nails. But less skilled people do use screws and nails a lot. If one has had experience scavenging screws and nails, then one begins to make distinctions:

        ***Joinery hardware is very valuable. A lot of the other stuff sold in hardware stores is not nearly so valuable***.

        So the issue isn’t so much about the survival of hardware store chains–it’s about the continued availability of joinery equipment. This sort of thinking leads to a more nuanced view of collapse, I think.

        Orion Magazine had an article about ‘professions for a downsized future’ and one of them was ‘crosscut saw sharpener’. They opined that the US stopped making good crosscut saws 100 years ago…but I think that some very good crosscut saws are available now at about 10 times the cost of a cheap one. My father had a good crosscut saw which was old before WWII–I think he got it from his father. We took the saw to a neighborhood man who sharpened saws in his barn.

        So it isn’t the survival of the Skil Saw that is important, it is the acquisition of a really good crosscut saw and either the mastery of saw sharpening oneself or else having a neighbor who can do it. Having a little oil to put on your saw so it doesn’t rust may come to be seen as more valuable than having a tank full of gasoline. So, again, a more nuanced view of ‘the end of oil’ comes into focus.

        Don Stewart

        • Thanks! I think that a lot of people have lost sight of the fact that abundant cheap metals is something the fossil fuel age has given us. Abundant cheap glass as well. So it is not just plastics and synthetics that we tend to lose, if fossil fuels are a problem, it is metal and glass as well. This is the reason for log cabins and other types of buildings that avoided nail use.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Don and others; I remember when I was in HIgh School in the 1970’s in Santa Cruz, CA and a wise teacher told the class that someday we may be mining our waste dumps and landfills. We have thrown so much valuable metals and things away I have no doubt it is true.

  22. Christopher Johnson says:

    T’would be a good study for someone capable of analyzing Japan’s economic history in terms of energy input – product output. Like Western Europe, Japan does not produce petroleum or much coal, but imports all it uses. Their development model emphasized economic efficiency; Peter Drucker is still revered, and Japanese companies and society were regarded very highly worldwide, from the early sixties to the turn of the century. In the 90’s Japan’s economic model had been shaken by many events, including the loss of oil from Iran and Iraq and some serious bubbles. But it’s not clear how the Japanese stagnation is related to energy prices.
    Japan recently mined (experimentally) some frozen methane from 20,000 ft depths, from a site within a few hundred km away. Exploitation might be difficult, but they sure want/need all the energy sources they can find, and the cheaper the better.

    • Kunstlers post this week
      is an excellent piece on Japan and its likelihood of going medeival, I am inclined to agree with him, but as he points out, they have a population problem, and in that they mirror the rest of the world. Downsizing to 16th C peasantry simply will not support a 21st century population. No matter how you cut it, that is the problem you run into.
      yet it is certain that as we run out of raw materials, our economy will inevitably power down.
      Japan faces another problem too, it has a large powerful hungry neighbour, who it pissed off 80 years ago. Memories are long and bitter there, and as Japan weakens, China will assert its regional dominance. (that’s happening right now) Japan will attempt to retain its delusion of past military strength but without the resources to do so. In terms of Pearl Harbour, that will mean honourable suicide. They will not voluntarily revert to medievalism any more than we will in the west

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Gracias, End of More. Kunstler’s analysis is delightful, and even posits some hope that Japan may actually be able to ‘lead the way.’ That might well be, as the fabric of Japanese society is probably more capable than most of meeting the upcoming challenges.

      • Thanks! I heard Kunstler give a talk in which he mentioned the possibility of Japan being the first country to leave the current industrial society not long after the Fukushima earthquake in 2011. He may be right that they will be the first country to have serious problems–but we have quite a few countries in a contest as to which one is first.

  23. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    Here are a few thoughts triggered by some reactions I have heard to the various speakers at Four Quarters.

    First, a local film reviewer characterized the Baby Boom generation as dominated by the feeling that self-expression is the supreme value. He contrasted that with older generations who put the ability to actually accomplish something as the supreme value. That distinction comes through loud and clear in the reactions…and not necessarily split by generation. A majority of people say ‘If the speaker isn’t describing the future I want in order to further my own self-expression, then I will simply reject it’. This reminds me of Bush the Senior’s comment that ‘the American Way of Life is not up for negotiation’ and the retort ‘George, whatever gave you the idea that Nature wanted to Negotiate with you?’.

    Second, someone made the comment that the villages that Albert Bates described are worthless examples because they are still based on fossil fuels. I’ll give a little bit more elaborate response to this point.

    Axiom: There are an infinite number of possible futures in which your plans for that future would turn out to be unworkable.

    Anyone can take cheap shots at any survival plan by conjuring up one of the infinite number of possibilities which aren’t adequately addressed by the speaker’s or the village’s or the family’s plan. I submit that the real judgment should take place in your own brain and emotional system:
    Based on what you know and can reasonably project about the future,
    Is your present course of action both sustainable in the current environment and also increasing your assets (physical, skill sets, social) that will increase your room for maneuver when the future actually comes to pass?
    Has the speaker or the village you are studying or the family you have met suggesting any changes which deserve more thought and, perhaps, experimentation?

    It is quite obvious that no group of people (unless they start from a position of financial wealth) can survive in the current environment without using fossil fuels. If those who are competing with you have 100 energy slaves, you will be ground to competitive dust unless you also use at least some energy slaves. But some people ARE diverting some of their energy slaves to building resilience for the future.

    Since the future is inherently unknowable in detail, and since every single one of us begins from a different starting point, and since we all have unique emotional maps, everyone’s plans for the future and current actions which are both based in reality and reasonable projections and also realistic emotional shaping, deserves respect.

    During a tour of his facility in Tennessee, Albert Bates remarked that 35 years ago he thought that Industrial Civilization was about the collapse. And so he set off on the course he has lived. But, he admitted, Industrial Civilization turned out to be far more resilient that he thought it was. Does he regret his choices? I don’t think so. Albert has a lot of room for maneuver.

    Don Stewart

  24. Ert says:

    Regarding climate Change I found this recent presentation (by David Wasdell) in a German peak-oil forum – they are seriously shocking. Based on the observed data and trends Arctic Ice in September will probably parish by September 2015 – or earlier….

    Arctic Feedback Dynamics Part 1:
    Arctic Feedback Dynamics Part 2:

    • Yes, the Arctic ice will be gone in the summertime within the next 5 years definitely. IPCC’s last assessment talks about 2085 – which is where the majority of climate panels discussions are today. The reality of the rate of change just haven’t seeped in yet among a lot of people.

      Whats uncertain though is at what rate we will see methane releases from the area. It can be anything from trickle to catastrophic. No doubt, any rise in methane (and CO2) is still bad as it is – so its really odd that we are still willy-nillying about action to limit this. No doubt the Koch funded anti-science campaigns has “paid off” for them at the expense of humanity.

      • Ert says:

        In the two videos Wasdell also explains the addtional speed-up effects that the parishing arcic summer ice will have on greenland, ice-mass, sea-levels, tundra methane, jet-stream and weather patterns in the northern and global hemi- and biosphere.

        The 2085 time-frame you mention from the IPCC is a linear one – Wasdell also talks about that, and that this is long past, because even the measured data are already diverting from that scenario in an exponential one.

        Wasdell conclusion is put in good words – but is not cheerful. He reached me much better than all others, which tell their conclusion and some facts. Wasdell tells facts and his conclusion is only repeating whats already on my mind – have to remember that even more when I talk with people.

        • Yes I have seen those videos, they explain it rather plainly that the planet is shifting to a new state triggered by our CO2 emissions. Once those serious feedbacks kick in it is really out of our hands. This is why there is growing concern and growth in the NTE-camp fronted by people like Guy McPherson. Perhaps there will be so massive methane emissions that rather dramatic collapses in ecosystems happen due to severe warming of the planet. There seems to be very few scientists airing this kind of angle though, understandably as its already hard enough get people to understand our current impact on the planet. Although if you look into the geological record and the work within paleoclimatology the rates of change earth is enduring now is often in the magnitude of 10 to 100 times that of past extinction events. So clearly we are crossing into dangerous terrain, and for what we know Guy McPherson might be right in his predictions if we dont act on this information now.

          • Ert says:

            As I understand Guy McPershon – its already to late, even If we would put a full stop to the whole global industrial world:

            Ask what it would change If we reduce now – and hard – he answered: If may help some species not to become extinct. But the whole climate machine is already underway and the lasting effects of the pollution until now are enough to kick the machine further (summary in my own words…).

            Its really absurd, that the whole system seemingly puts more energy into disinformation and producing obstacles in contrast to solutions – that at least aim to lessen the burden of the times to come. But of course: There is no real return of investment NOW or in the next quarter or in the next election period.

            Basically no one I know in my peer group of family and friends like to discuss or go down those topics, not even the evidently pure cheap-peak-oil or the economy. The outlook Guy McPershon gives is basically not discussable. Lots of my peer groups has kids now and have recently build their house – are are big in debt now. Thinking those thoughts that are thought here would nag, nag and nag on them – one had to change everything and most important: oneself.

            Even I have hard times with that – and I are no debt slave – but do currently so no real way out, except to plant fruit trees, get know-how regarding food and basic preservation, improve some things energy wise, etc. But I’m clear: When the shit hits the fan: My preparations are only as good as those that my neighbours and their neighbours and their ….. have done. And even I have to look for where the money comes from until we are at the point where everything degrades or brakes.

            • Christopher Johnson says:

              The only significant thing McPherson didn’t say was, “How long can you tread water?” But he didn’t need to because he knows the answers: a) not long enough, and b) it’s not the water that’ll kill us, but maybe the lack of it.

          • Guy’s contention is that there is absolutely nothing we can do. It is already too late. I would agree, if he is right about the situation.

            I think we are kidding ourselves if the think we can “act on this information now” and produce any different outcome. The world will recover. It is made to be very resilient, and to produce a new equilibrium. Humanity may not be part of the new equilibrium–but that was true, with or without climate change.

    • Indeed things are changing. Is there anything we can do–I would say no. It is too late, if our activity is affecting the arctic. The upcoming collapse will do as much as we can possibly do to fix the situation.

      • Ert says:

        Hello Gail,

        How much “good” time do you think we still have in central Europe / USA? So with a half-working economy, reasonable food supply and the possibility for land-based holidays if one is debt free now and has some savings?

        If I take what David Wasdell, Guy McPershon and Heinberg say… I assume mostly to the end of this decade. After that things will deteriorate fast.. China wont/cant double again, Energy-Cost problems will get bigger, Climate Change may then already disturb harvest across the globe…, some may already fight to survive or get the Rest (with reference to M. T. Clare – Ressource Wars) to many possible bad things then that can cause chain or ripple effects…..

        I would be very interested what you see time-scale-wise.

        • Scott says:

          I think we have some time, perhaps a generation or so but something could happen to shake things up fast but if it stays quiet like right now we go on this way farther that one thinks. This is a slow collapse- well that is, unless something happens to speed things up.

          • xabier says:


            With energy and determination , a crumbling economic/political system can be kept going for far longer than our imaginations might lead us to think. And individually we can prepare for the likely economic shocks which are not hard to imagine, but which can arise very suddenly, as in 2007. I envisage a long bumpy ride down, rather than a sudden drop down a lift-shaft, but may well be very wrong indeed…..

        • I think that there will be steps down, and the size of the steps will vary in different parts of the globe. My guess is that we will start seeing some steps down in the next few months or year, perhaps because of rising interest rates or because of countries dropping out of the Eurozone or because of a failure of Japanese finances. The 2007-2009 recession was probably the start of the worldwide trend toward collapse. In the past, collapses seemed to take 20 to 50 years.

          I think we have to take things as they come. We really don’t know how things will work out. Even if we lose the ability to buy new things, there will still be quite a lot of “stuff” we can continue to use until it falls apart. Worrying won’t really help the situation. Climate in particular is something we can’t do much about. We know that in the past, humans lived through a lot of climate change by moving to parts of the world that were more hospitable. I expect that that will happen again, if climate does change.

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  26. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    I just finished listening to the talk by Albert Bates at Four Quarters as presented by the Doomstead Diner. A few thoughts.

    Albert says that the future one is trying to prepare for needs some definition if one’s preparations are going to pay dividends. Are we going back to the 18th Century, or back to Hunting and Gathering, or maybe just back to the Depression? I have said the same thing on many occasions. But I have been thinking some more about the question, and will share a few thoughts with you.

    What counts in life is relationships. What is the relationship between a Park Avenue Billionaire and the doorman? How is that relationship mediated? Will the mediating mechanism survive collapse (however we define it)? What is the relationship between an Industrial Farmer and his land? How is that relationship mediated? Will the mediating mechanisms survive collapse (however we define it)? What is the relationship between a Small Farmer and a part time employee who works the farm? How is that relationship mediated? Will the mediating mechanisms survive collapse?

    Another scenario. Assume two neighbors. Neighbor One has a fine example of suburban grass, with the ornamentals in the lawn having been chosen for their ‘low maintenance’. Neighbor One couldn’t grow dandelions if he worked hard at it. Neighbor Two has turned his yard into a productive garden that Geoff Lawton would be proud to visit. He saves seeds and has the hand tools he needs to do his work, with a finely developed irrigation system using all the water which falls on or runs onto his property. There is no real relationship between the two neighbors. They nod politely, but neither picks up the others’ paper in the front yard and tosses it on the porch. Then the collapse (however defined) happens. What is the emerging relationship between Neighbor One and Neighbor Two (excluding things like thuggery)? What will mediate that relationship?

    On Park Avenue it is all about money. If the money dies, so will the relationship. No one will do the Billionaire’s bidding and he will have to provide entirely for himself. On an Industrial Farm, it is all about being a cog in a Very Big Machine. The Farmer may be thought of as a Capital Manager as much as a Grower of Food. The Farmer, in fact, may have a very tenuous grasp of how Nature works to produce food. Plowing, fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are applied on a schedule suggested by the vendors. Harvesting happens when sampling says it is time to do it and doesn’t involve much in the way of manual skill since heavy machinery is used. The Industrial Farmer has no personal use for his crops, instead relying on the money he gets from The System for selling them. If collapse entails the falling apart of the Very Big Machine, then the Industrial Farmer will be only marginally better off than the Park Avenue Billionaire.

    What about the Small Farmer? The Small Farmer will typically do things like save seeds and will have hand implements to manage the soil and food plants and the weeds. The Small Farmer may have animals worked in as part of the production equation. The small farmer knows how to manage animal breeding and harvesting to achieve a steady state population of animals. A Small Farmer, to be successful in 2013, needs to buy certain inputs rather than do everything for himself, but he probably CAN do everything for himself. But the Small Farmer is currently dependent on at least semi-skilled labor…he can direct the employee to weed a crop and confidently expect the weeding to be done competently. He will need at least all the help he uses now after the collapse. Collapse has a considerably smaller impact on the Small Farmer than it does on the Billionaire or on the Industrial Farmer, and probably modestly enhances the status of the hired worker (maybe he/she can get dates now in the crossroads bar).

    What about the two neighbors? Neighbor One may very suddenly find himself begging for help from Neighbor Two. Neighbor Two has the knowledge and the tools to do something very valuable: to grow food and irrigate it efficiently. Neighbor Two may suddenly become the Alpha Male in the neighborhood, rather than the guy down the block with the biggest SUV and the biggest debts due to his fabulous beach house.

    One could play out other scenarios involving craftspeople. For example, a cabinetmaker who can make and repair things with hand tools already in his possession is likely to prosper whereas the guys who are totally dependent on power tools will fade. Anyone with a good operating still may become an Alpha Male. Women who have mastered the art of solar cooking may become honorary Alpha Males. (Just irony. No disrespect intended.) I was watching a Harold Lloyd movie from 1919. He is sitting in his little room sewing rips in his clothing with needle and thread. Having some needles and having some thread and knowing how to mend may be a valuable skill for both men and women.

    What about all the way back to Hunting and Gathering? I think we should consider all those ‘primitive skills’ workshops which are cropping up and think seriously about mastering some portion of them–as insurance if nothing else. Very few people may make it through the Bottleneck and, if you do, you want to be able to make your living from what is there.

    What about the Thuggery that I excluded? If your neighbor shoots you first to get your food, and then starves to death himself two weeks later because he ate it all, then there is nothing I can suggest. The best we can hope to do is align ourselves so that neighbors behaving rationally will find it worthwhile to treat us with respect.

    Don Stewart

    • it’s easy to forget that society at any level is ultimately dependent on the excess energy production of that society.
      Thus aboriginal people don’t produce any ‘stuff’ other than that necessary for immediate survival, (and which is easily portable) because they only have muscle power available. On the other hand we ‘civilised’ tribes produce masses of ‘stuff’ to keep ourselves safe warm and well fed, by using energy sources other than muscle power, but we are still bound by the same law: we can only exist by the production of excess energy by someone else, no matter how far back down the production line that is. In the ultimate sense, the aboriginal tribesman has to literally ‘work’ to stay alive, we in our modern context, do not. Hydrocarbons do that for us.
      the ultimate conclusion then must be that as our access to that energy goes into depletion, then so will the excess of it. As the excess available to us falls away, humanity will have to resort to muscle power alone, (just like aboriginal tribes) to stay alive. Those of us who sit around waiting for food to be delivered are going to starve to death, while those able to go and get hold of it, will thrive. That brings us to the point of the ‘alpha’ male. We may not like the idea very much, but a woman will always breed with the male she thinks is likely to be able to support her offspring. A few centuries of relative prosperity may have clouded that fact, but it is nevertheless accurate

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear End of More
        If you are arguing that humans must, of necessity, revert to a very primitive existence, then I think you are wrong. We MAY so utterly destoy the world that we will be lucky to exist at all, but we have actually made a lot of progress in terms of understanding design and how that can facilitate human flourishing.

        I have covered the Permaculture approach to design many times, and I won’t repeat all that. Humans exist in communities, and I am not sure whether we have, on balance, learned very much about communities. I would defer to Albert Bates as way more knowledgable than I am on that subject.

        So let’s take the book Design In Nature by Adrian Bejan, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke. Bejan made his name by figuring out ways to let microprocessors dump excess heat. In other words, facilitating the flow of excess heat to the sink of the environment. What else needs to disperse heat? Snowflakes. On page 10: ‘Consider the snowflake. The prevailing view in science is that the intricate crystals formed by the snowflake have no function. That is wrong. In fact, the snowflake is a flow design for dispersing the heat–called the latent heat of solidification–generated on its surface during freezing.’ So…snowflakes and modern microprocessors have design elements in common. But the microprocessor of today is not like the microprocessor of 50 years ago. It is vastly better at dispersing the heat. Bejan played a large role in that evolution.

        Here is his formulation of the Constructal Law: ‘For a finite-size flow system to persist in time (to live), its configuration must evolve in such a way that provides easier access to the currents that flow through it’. And, Bejan argues, that is a Law of Physics, and thus also of all other sciences.

        Bejan’s description of the evolution of logs floating down rivers and tree root systems and mud puddles drying out show the breadth of the idea in the Natural World. And there are abundant examples of the Law at work in the man-made world. In fact, using fossil fuels, we have made it work so well that we now endanger ourselves. But…let’s suppose the fossil fuels go away. Does the Law vanish with them? No. Trees will still branch and logs will still float down rivers and mud puddles will still dry and humans will still seek to gain ‘easier access to the currents’. ‘Easier access to currents’ is a pretty good definition of Permaculture.

        Those who can, will.
        Those who give up without trying will die.
        Many will try and fail.

        Don Stewart

        • it’s a head hurting subject Don, and I can see your point, but ultimately we are trying to maintain an environment that we built with cheap energy. It is now too big and complex for the (expensive) remaining energy available.
          It seems to follow then that complexity of our society must of necessity simplify itself. The only unknown factor (the head hurty bit) is by how much and how soon and how violently.
          The explosions across the middle east right now would seem to give us a clue. The EU and the USA might see their situation differently, but so far not many people there are actually starving or in a majority of unemployed. when they are, i can guarantee the same degree of violence.
          Our genes will see to it that we will strive to survive, I’ve had my allotted span so in my case that’s probably not very much and it’s not very important. My grandkids are another matter of course, they will strive far more. Just how good they are at that will determine their future… but they think I’m nuts anyway.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More
            Just by happenstance, I have been sitting drinking a cup of tea and reading some more in Surfaces and Essences by Hofstadter and Sander. On page 111 they begin a discussion of fables, with Aesop’s 2600 year old fable of the Fox and the Grapes being the centerpiece. You will remember that a hungry fox tries to get some grapes which are high up on a trellis, but can’t jump that high, so concludes that ‘they are still too green anyway’. The fable has been continuously recycled since Aesop’s original telling (and may predate him).

            On page 115 they begin discussing How to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance in a Fox, building on the modern psychological research of Leon Festinger and others. ‘presence of conflicting cognitive states in an individual results in a state of inner tension that the individual tries to reduce by modifying one or another of their conflicting internal states’. The Fox, of course, resorts to the suppression of his desire to eat the grapes. But only after he has exhausted himself by jumping until he is exhausted.

            We might describe the Cognitive Dissonance in the Industrial World as a conflict between our desire for ever greater material wealth and the fact that we can’t reach those grapes. The Peak Oilers and Gail and the Climate Change People are patiently trying to explain to the Fox that it is a waste of time and, in fact, damaging to continue to try to change the physical facts. Most of the Foxes are ignoring the advice and continuing to jump.

            What will happen when people are exhausted by jumping? James Howard Kunstler suspects that Japan is headed back to Edo (see his post this morning). Give up on the Industrial dream and invent some explanation about how it was all better in Edo anyway.

            What Adrian Bejan and the Permaculture movement bring to the story is the fact that, over time, systems evolves to more efficiently capture and use for work the flows in Nature. Bejan’s work in microelectronics uses materials and design as opposed to refrigeration, for example, to disperse the dangerous heat. Permaculture uses water management in ways Mother Nature never thought of. In Albert Bates’ talk at Four Quarters, you will hear him show a slide of some agricultural efforts back in the early 1970s and then he explains that they discovered Permaculture and don’t farm that way any more. In fact, Albert now teaches Permaculture. The point is that there is no necessity to do things the same way hunter-gatherers did it.

            We will lose a lot when we lose the Industrial Economy. But survival depends on our ability to calmly look at the facts and make a good selection of a strategy and then go out and actually execute that strategy (plus some good luck). So we need some combination of psychological insight into both our own minds but also the mind of society at large, and a clear assessment of the technologies we can reasonably use to capture Mother Nature’s flows to do useful work.

            There is a sub-set of people (call them doomers) who would have been described by Aesop as ‘Foxes who chose to lay down and die’. This isn’t to deny that something like Climate Change may already have doomed the human race or that global nuclear war could break out and kill all of us or that our neighbor who can’t deal with the Cognitive Dissonance tries to solve his problem by shooting us.

            I just don’t choose to ‘lay down and die’….Don Stewart

            • I fully agree with you here Don. As a species we have a bigger understanding of the physical world now and can use its “natural powers” way better than our predecessors even without computers around (sad for me since I work within the computing field and have always enjoyed that). I am fairly confident that even after a serious collapse and even a famine that kills off half of the planets population or more, we will still have enough knowledge to master some form of technology to assist us in anything we do. The temptation to use some kind of energy by burning it will still be around though as humans are lazy and really want something for nothing if they can (for example the stock market).

              So things like permaculture and better use of water downflow and wind will always be around. I have no doubt that we will still be making a lot of purer metals and even plastics in the future too even without an abundance of fossil fuels around.

              The question remains though, what state the planet will be in when we transition into this new world. If we get burst output of methane from the Arctic area I am not sure at all what kind of future awaits us…

        • xabier says:


          Man is infinitely resourceful: the problem is our governments – I often think of them these days as ‘frozen stupidity.’

          It’s not surprising: just look at how politicians and bureaucrats are actually selected: it’s a system designed for inflexibility and to frustrate the able and far-sighted.

          • Dear Don

            Leonardo da Vince had the technology (albeit in a rudimentary form) what his ‘technology’ lacked was motive power.
            You can’t run an airline if all the passengers have to pedal like mad to stay airborne. or an aircraft carrier if most of the crew have to row.
            energy allows science and technology to flourish, that doesn’t happen in reverse

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear End of More

              I can’t discuss this intelligently with you unless you are willing to read the first few pages of Design in Nature and also take a look at things like Emilia Hazelip’s methods of growing food. There are plenty of example of Science enabling processes to work more efficiently and effectively while decreasing the amount of external energy used.

              While you are at it, read Teaming With Microbes…letting the microbes do the work.

              These are science at a very high level. How things work. Where to intervene to get the most return.

              Not just pouring on the gasoline to overpower everything….Don Stewart

            • I am afraid you are right about, “energy allows science and technology to flourish, that doesn’t happen in reverse.”

            • Nevertheless, I was impressed with the agricultural technology of the Amish in Northern New York State. The Amish farmer I visited did not tap any reservoirs of energy that had been stored for much more than a year, that is, water power, wind, but not fossil fuels; but, he must have had a reasonably complete notion of Newtonian physics judging by the clever devices he employed to increase his productivity.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Thomas
              Can science allow energy to flourish? (I guess that is the reverse of the ‘energy allows science to flourish’ statement.)

              And the answer is clearly ‘Yes’. Things like levers are quite useful when one is doing physical work…and our understanding of them is a result of science (maybe small science rather than Big Science). The Amish farmer you visited has a very good understanding of Newtonian science, and it allows him to operate a farm with a current energy budget.

              When it rains, the clouds deposit water at high elevations. Gravity gives that water potential energy. Smart people know how to use that potential energy to do work. Science helps.

              Microbes get their energy from carbon in the soil, and smart gardeners know how to use the microbes to grow more food. We are only beginning to understand the role of microbes in the soil in the last 20 years.

              Science doesn’t create energy…but it sure can help humans help energy flourish.

              Don Stewart

            • I agree that science can liberate energy although not the torrential flows liberated by setting the world on fire that were wasted almost to the extent that energy is wasted in a fire storm.

          • Dear Don
            the constructal flow principle is a logical and obvious form and force of nature.
            That much I accept
            The problem we have with humankind vs Nature is that we learned the unfortunate trick of setting fire to it. No other animal living within nature’s flow can do that. That was the single step that began our million year evolution to our current delusion of ourselves as homo sapiens.
            Fire enabled us to kill off everything that we saw as impeding our ‘progress’, (including each other) we interfered with the constructal flow
            it gave us time to think, and develop sophisticated speech. cooking food decreased our jaw size and increased our brain size, and allowed extended periods of child rearing. we found we could grow corn and enclose animals and forge weapons.
            we invented ‘property’ and in so doing invented greed.
            Fire also exploded our population.
            It doesn’t matter what ‘models of nature’ or methods of growing food are exemplified, human beings will not alter a million years of evolutionary greed in order to ‘save’ people they have no connection with. Diverting corn into biofuel and
            Africa used to be pretty much a self supporting continent, the exponential growth of humanity turned vast swathes of it to desert. Unless they are supplied with food, millions are going to starve to death there. There isn’t enough water to grow the food they need, and as energy depletes, there won’t be the means to ship much to them. Already, tens of thousands live in camps where the only water is trucked in. That will eventually cease.
            Saudi Arabia can only buy its food in exchange for oil. 30 million live in a desert that used to support 1 million. When oilflow stops, their population is going to crash.
            Which is exactly in line with Gail’s projection, on the world scale
            I would prefer to be wrong, I don’t think I am though.

        • Don. I wouldn’t choose to lay down and die either, but ultimately we are forced by our genes to eat and procreate our species. We have no choice but to seek out energy sources that will allows us to do just that.
          Everything else seems to be mere window dressing—but maybe I strip things too much to their barest of essentials?
          We build houses, elect governments, fight wars and so on, purely to safeguard our personal environment. We use that environment to rear offspring safely and successfully…and that’s it. My offspring have flown the nest, therefore I am theoretically surplus to requirements. (no applause please–save it for my wake!!)
          As to sustaining that environment long term there seems to be a broad agreement that 7 billion people cannot exist in an environment with the resources to carry 1 or 2 billion at most. if we accept that, then it would seem that at least 5 billion are going to lose out somewhere, whether they ‘choose’ to lay down and die or not. And of course that doesn’t take into account the 2 billion more due to arrive by 2050.
          this isn’t something subject to government edict, or wishful thinking, or ‘we must do this’ or ‘they must do that’, it seems to be horrifyingly obvious. Or I may be missing something here?
          If we can’t produce enough food, and deliver it to those in need of it (fuel shortages) then starvation follows

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More
            In my response to someone else (I still can’t effectively search this blog), I suggested mentally dividing the people you meet between Bourbon Red turkeys and the completely inept Cornish Cross chickens that are served at McDonalds. If 1 percent of the people you meet resemble Bourbon Reds, then 1 percent of the people are likely to make it through the Bottleneck. You can do the math. Probably not a bad first approximation.

            To me, the fate of the Cornish Crosses of the world isn’t something I can do anything about. I just don’t want to end up on the truck taking them to McDonalds. And I will try to join a band of Bourbon Reds. And the Bourbon Reds will likely be interested in using technology to live as well as they can. The people in Edo lived pretty good lives. We have better science now. That’s cause for optimism.

            Don Stewart

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More

            Regarding population. Consider Gail’s recent chart:

            As a reminder, Gail is the ‘collapse’ line. Now consider all of her charts showing a correlation between population and energy.

            Gail is a very delicate person, who would never hint to the fly that the fly swatter she is holding is anything other than an amusing toy. But if she had to do so, what do you think she might project as world population as the world goes down the energy collapse curve?

            If the energy collapse curve does in fact materialize, what do you think will happen to population?

            Don Stewart

    • Over the life of the earth, hunter-gathering has been the predominant approach humans have used to support themselves. It also requires the least structure, but it does require huge knowledge–exactly what crops grow where and when they are in season; how to capture insects and animals of various sorts for food; which plants/animals are poisonous. It would not shock me if ultimately, we fall back to hunter-gathering. I don’t know what will happen on the way down; how it will work out. We don’t have the support structures built for any intermediate layer, which is why it is difficult to imagine getting to an intermediate level, and staying there. Also, we know we have had a problem with rising population forever, and this tends to wipe out our ability to maintain any level–we need a higher level to take care of our rising population. So it would seem like we would keep falling back to lower levels, if population rises.

  27. Off the keyboard of RE
    Published on the Doomstead Diner on June 1, 2013

    Discuss this article at the Podcast Table inside the Diner
    The Diner is happy to announce we are adding regular Podcasts for Diners on the go to listen to if you can’t sit at the Laptop for hours on end reading.

    We are beginning with recordings of lectures made at the Age of Limits 2013 Conference, and currently have up lectures from Albert Bates and Orren Whiddon.

    Beginning next week we will have our own Monsta Doom show, hosted by Monsta666 based in the U.K and one of the Diner Mods. First couple of Podcasts will feature Interviews with Yours Truly and with Surly, Admin of our Facepalm Page and one of the Founding Diners who came from the Reverse Engineering Yahoo Group. Further Podcasts are planned with William Hunter Duncan of Off the Grid in Minneapolis, another Diner Admin, and Lucid Dreams of Epiphany Now, one of the Diner Mods.

    In addition to chatting with each other, we are hoping to schedule up Interviews with some of our Cross Posting Bloggers like Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World and Steve Ludlum of Economic Undertow. Look for Announcements inside the Diner of Upcoming Podcasts.

    Some of the Podcasts will be available to Guests, some will require Registration on the Diner to listen to.


  28. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    As we try to visualize what ‘collapse’ looks like, there seems to be a tendency to assume a reversion to the most primitive possible technology. I would like to suggest an alternative. Bear with me for a paragraph or two.

    Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, in Surfaces and Essences, are looking carefully at words and how they relate to concepts. They look at the way that children change the way they use language as their grasp of concepts expands with age and experience. As our world changes, we adults add new words (e.g., television) and drop old words (such as the words which described the six different medieval specialties which we now subsume under the name ‘tanner’ (of hides). On page 88 they examine certain common compound words such as ‘living room’ and ‘dishwasher’ and point out that a native speaker will not disassemble those compound words into their components, but will use them and perceive them as a single word denoting a single category.

    I am 72. On Memorial Day, we had lunch with two other couples and our combined married years totaled over 300 (6 people times 50 plus years). So we got to reminiscing about couples we had known who had spectacular breakups. I recounted my story about the two disastrous times I ‘aided and abetted’ a runaway wife (about as bad as a runaway slave, in North Carolina). The first time my wife and I were living in our first apartment. One of the apartments was occupied by a young woman and her husband. The young woman was almost always standing at the front window washing dishes in her sink. We called her ‘the little dishwasher’. One day I saw her walking with a suitcase, and stopped my car and picked her up. She said she wanted to go to the bus station, so I took her there. To make a long story short, she was going back to Mother.

    Now focus on that word ‘dish washer’. I am 73. To me, an automatic dishwasher is a ‘dish washing machine’. Even in our apartment in the late 1960s, there were no dishwashing machines. People washed dishes by hand. To have called the young woman a ‘little dishwashing machine’ would have been ludicrous. But, apparently, as I read Hofstadter and Sander, most English speakers now use the word ‘dishwasher’ to denote a machine. I am old enough and lived long enough without a machine and I wash the dishes 4 or 5 times a day while I run the machine only about every other day…that my language has trouble coping with the labeling of a machine as doing human work.

    If you worked for the farmer I work for, you would quickly find that there are several dozen tools designed to make dealing with soil and plants easier. There are all different kinds of hoes and seeders and screens for sorting seeds and implements for threshing seeds and Japanese and American scythes and the list is endless. If you looked at our concept of ‘horse’ and tried to have an intelligent conversation with someone from the 18th century, you would have a hard time. There were hundreds of breeds of horses, each best at doing some particular job. Likewise, there were hundreds of breeds of sheep and cattle. Conservancies exist today to try to keep the old breeds alive. Each breed was particularly suited to a climate, an ecosystem, and a purpose.

    One effect of Modernity has been to enormously compress the variety available. It is hard to find any ‘meat chickens’ in the United States which are not Cornish Crosses. Cornish Crosses have been bred to be exceptionally stupid, but to make enormous breasts real fast. And so people who have visions of ‘free range’ meat birds have to figure out how to deal with a chicken which is too stupid to live in a pasture. Similarly, cows have come to be ‘Angus’, which means ‘black cow’. They are exceptionally well suited for the industrial meat system which is just about the same around the globe, but they are woefully mal-adapted to making their own way with minimal human help in the real world. A friend of mine tried raising Bourbon Red turkeys. They taste delicious. But after a couple of years he gave up on them because ‘they are too smart and too mean for me’. Compare that with a Cornish Cross. In a collapse, which would you rather have at your homestead?

    If we look at old languages, we see very fine distinctions made, just as breeds of livestock were differentiated into innumberable niches. About 10 years ago I decided to study French again (I studied it one year in college, got a D, which got me out of college, having met my language requirement). I always liked the Maigret mysteries. Georges Simenon, the author, would take the Inspector from Paris into some sub-world in Paris or out in the provinces to solve some crime. The stories were ‘psychology rich’, so human behavior and human emotion and human thought were the key elements in the plot. I very quickly found that the sort of French-English dictionary you might buy at an airport was no help at all. As the Inspector moved into the sub-world, a very rich language was used. But the words were so obscure that I had to go to the library and use the unabridged dictionary way to often. Many of those stories were written in the 1930s.

    The common theme here is energy conservation. Just as there are hundreds of types of birds which use slightly different designs to maximize their ability to harvest and use energy in some particular environment, humans have used occupational specialization, language specialization related to conceptual specialization, tool design, domesticated animal design, crop design, housing design, and so on and so forth to make it possible to get along in a world which had little to no fossil fuels. Abundant fossil fuels allowed us to ‘simplify’ everything and just solve problems by overpowering them.

    I pose the conjecture that ‘collapse’ means ‘enormous differentiation in what humans do, think, speak, and how they construct their world’. We will largely reinvent the world of our ancestors.

    Don Stewart

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Lovely missive, Don, but I’m not sure I agree with your conjecture.

      HT Odum (et. al.) teach us that complexity is a function of energy. We may think of having six different sub-specialties of “tanning” or hundreds of breeds of horses as being a complexity, but compared to what goes into a modern leather factory, or a modern tractor, the complexity of bygone days is pretty minor.

      I’ve read that the human brain is shrinking. This may be due to specialization, driven by replacing intrinsic knowledge with extrinsic knowledge. The hundreds of breeds of horses were maintained by the living memories of living humans, whereas the tens of thousands of parts and bits of information needed to create and maintain a tractor is stored my microscopic bits of magnetic material, requiring a global supply chain, including the global financial system, the industrial education system, and much more.

      People will need to be generalists first in the future. This is reflected in basic ecology, where the most specialized species are found in high-energy environments, such as the tropics. Species in low-energy environments can’t afford to put all their eggs in one basket, and tend to be generalists.

      Perhaps we’re in “heated agreement” here. I just didn’t want the impression that things were somehow more complex in the past go unchallenged.

      • Don Stewart says:

        From the perspective of ‘requirements on human skill and cognition’ and ‘adaption to specific circumstances’, I think things were more complex. What I do at a small farm is a lot more complex than what a farmer with thousands of acres of corn does. The small farm does not require a hugely complex industrial society for what it produces, whereas the corn farmers with thousands of acres is utterly dependent on that hugely complex industrial society. If we are trying to answer the question ‘what does collapse look and feel like’, then I think it is worthwhile recognizing what it is humans are likely to be doing and how they will perceive the world (which is one of the fundamentals in Hostadter and Sanders’ book).

        By the way. If you want to make a pretty good first crude estimate of the population of the world after the Reverse Singularity, then get your spouse to engage in a parlor game. Start observing people and putting them into two categories: Bourbon Reds and Cornish Crosses. If 1 percent are Bourbon Reds and 99 percent are Cornish Crosses, then multiply 7 billion by 1 percent and you get (I think) 70 million people. Good for cocktail party chatter. If you are an academic, publish a paper.

        Don Stewart

    • Ert says:


      Good thoughts. Reminds me on the conclusion of the peak-oil study of the German military from 2010: We moved from redundant, robust and low-complexity systems to maximum lean, efficient and complex systems, as robustness and especially redundancy minimizes profit in a market driven economy. If something breaks or stutters… we will have immediate problems.

      Going back to the “old ways” is near to impossible for most people. Even if the old races, seeds, etc. would still exist, it would take a long time to re-adjust, re-learn and re-tool. I have a small garden – but living from it? Whoa… – that’s a different story and would require much, much more time to learn, scale up and take care of everything – especially preservation techniques.

      But with my parents generation the rest of that old knowledge passes away… and even they (>70 years) did not practice many of if – or reduced the scale – in the last 10 years since the stuff in the market is/was so butt-cheap.

      Another aspect is the available land. If you are jobless, live in the city, have no money – you may have no access to land and some basic tools. In Germany most one-family houses have between 600-900 square meters (6000-9000 square foot) total ground – there is not much left for gardening or some fruit trees if you deduct the space for the house, garage, paths, etc.

      This all will be an “interesting” journey…..

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear ERT
        See my answer to Jan regarding how to estimate the number of people who will make it through the Reverse Singularity. (On the Internet, you have to explain everything. The Singularity is Ray Kurzweil’s dream that someday our machines will know everything there is to know and we will all live on Easy Street. My ‘population estimation’ method is with tongue firmly in cheek. And I hope those things translate into German. After reading Hofstadter and Sander on the vagaries of translation, I shouldn’t take anything for granted.)

        Don Stewart

        • Ert says:


          Thanks for the quick answer. For “tongue firmly in cheek” I had to use a dictionary 😉 How many will live – depends on how fast collapse proceeds. I think diseases will take care of much, the Cornish breed people for much, too – desperation will sort out many other. Even I don’t know where I stand. Weather wise we have here enough rain but it’s quite cold – and this year is very cold and extreme wet.

          But here in the centre of Europe there are so many atomic power plants around – that what really worries me – if a collapse scenario may start big time (i.e. the issues regarding food may become essential).

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Ert
        Here is another example to contemplate. You might think that in a Post Reverse Singularity world cattle which can survive only on grass would be a really good idea. And it doesn’t seem to absurd–their wild relatives do fine on grass. But we humans have bred them down to Black Angus which need corn and the like and do well in feedlots.

        So a local guy plus five other cattle people from around the US hired a consultant to find the breed best suited for 100 percent grass. He came back with the recommendation for Red Devon cattle. They originated in Devonshire in England, but are extinct in England. They were once common in the US, but had gone extinct under pressure from the Industrial Model. They located some in New Zealand. With money from a foundation, they got some fertilized eggs in New Zealand, flew them to the US, and implanted them in, you guessed it, Black Angus. So they are slowly building up a herd across the US which is not dependent on the Industrial System.

        Don Stewart

        • Ert says:

          Yes, I know. If you put a highly “evolved” milk-cow on a grass-only diet, the cow will die.

          Who knows – we may be grow milk, meat, plant extracts (e.g. tomato-mash) in specialized facilities and tanks – thanks to DNA and nano-engineering before collapse happens. That way we could rid ourself totally of anything that may resemble the “natural” way – and the clean-up in the collapse phase would be must faster 😉

          Corn is already an abomination in regard to feed cows with it. And it is even worse as most corn in now GMO corn – probably with lots of residues of glyphosat (i.e. Roundup). That is a core reason I skip on all soy and corn products and avoid processed foods to a high degree.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            “If you put a highly “evolved” milk-cow on a grass-only diet, the cow will die.”

            As someone in the dairy industry, I must take exception. It is the opposite that is true; dairy animals not on a grass diet develop all sorts of health problems, “fixed” by routinely lacing their food with antibiotics, which are creating resistant strains.

            • Don Stewart says:

              We have had some local dairy people convert to an ‘organic, grass only’ regime. In the first year, they had practically no veterinary bills. That should tell you something.

              Don Stewart

            • Jan Steinman says:

              What are these “veterinary bills” of which you write?

              The only money we’ve spent on the vet in five years is for disbudding. I’d do it myself, but it breaks my heart…

            • Don Stewart says:

              I think the dairy guys spent no money at all on Vets in the first 12 months. The meat guy who started with the Red Devons seldom if ever sees a Vet on his property. He uses rotational grazing and his pastures are so beautiful it takes your breath away. Native grasses that had not been seen in 50 years have come back. The stream that runs through the pastureland has clear water in it. It’s truly Eden.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              We strive for rotational grazing, but goats are a bit harder to control than cattle. Alan Savory thinks rotational grazing can reverse climate change.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Alan Savory gave a talk at the farm I am talking about several years ago. When the farmer switched from regular grazing to rotational, it went from ‘nice’ to ‘sensational’.

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Hello Don, So the cows can actually still eat grass and nothing else?

          • Ert says:


            Thanks for the information.

            • Scott says:

              That was interesting what Jan said about cows no longer able to survive on grass. So I guess if the cows of today cannot survive on grass anymore they have changed from the old days and Gail said the horses were smaller then too. Farmers will still need to grow corn to feed the animals, sounds like corn will needed. The animals have changed due to breeding and feeding and drugs over time it seems. I guess humans have changed too and maybe not in a good way.
              Corn could be tough to grown without all the machines and water pumping.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “That was interesting what Jan said about cows no longer able to survive on grass.”

              Woa, Scott — I never said that, although it may have been in what I quoted.

              Cows are made for grass! I don’t know of any modern breed that could not survive on nothing but grass. They are only fed grain to either make them fat (corn, other carbs) or to increase production (oats, peas, other protein).

            • Scott says:

              Hi Jan, Sorry, I got your meaning that they will not do as well and get fat and meaty on just grass. Nothing like corn fed beef I guess. So they will live but maybe not as fat. That is what I think you meant.
              Kind Regards,

        • beckyz says:

          We raise a few Highland cattle originally from Scotland almost entirely on grass. We didn’t have to import them from any farther than 30 miles away. Why did they rate the Red Devon higher?

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear beckyz
            I was not involved in the group which selected the consultant who picked the Red Devon. There were six cattle people from around the US who were in the group. The criteria was ‘the breed which is best able to thrive and produce marketable Grade A meat solely on grass’. Grade A requires a certain amount of marbling.

            As Jan said, surviving on grass is what cattle do. But many of them don’t fatten on grass–just as a deer won’t fatten on grass. The typical fat content of a wild animal is similar to the fat content of a marathon runner. Fat prey animals don’t last long.

            Don Stewart

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Some years, or decades, ago, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on ‘Car Talk’ asked their puzzler: if the world were to collapse, what kind of vehicle would best serve your survival needs? After lots of wrong answers, they provided the solution: a 1969 Chevy Suburban that’s been well maintained in Arizona or New Mexico — low humidity, less rust. After 1969 carburetors were replaced by fuel injectors and smog control system, so later model vehicles needed professional maintenance and specialized parts.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          I suppose a Chevy Suburban Subdivision (as Dave Berry calls it) would make a good shelter, but really — where are you going to get the fuel?

          I can grow the fuel for my fleet of diesel vehicles.

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, Yes I think last time we experienced a collapse in America was the Great Depression of the 30’s and most still worked on farms and were much better prepared than our dependent generation that we have today. I imagine today that far less than half the people of the world have never grown their own food and far less that have worked on a farm.

      We now have all the machines doing most of it although there are a group of people but they are mostly running the machines and not on foot, but some crops are still harvested by hand and it is hard work.

      Those were simpler days in the 1930’s for sure and people had very little conveniences. But since then the world has changes so much and people are used to having so many things today, so my point is I think that will make things worse in the next collapse when ever it comes, people seem less prepared this time and have lost the knowledge of the way to make a simple life with less.

      • xabier says:


        More than that, they will look for someone to blame in their anger that ‘the good life’ has been switched off.

        I see some very nasty politics coming up if the financial system takes another lurch downwards.

        Equally, though, the urban young today are a lot softer on the whole than in the 1930’s, and so perhaps less of a threat because of that. No masses of hardened and bitter factory workers to revolt any more, and so on.

        In Spain they are saying that a very hot summer this year will see blood on the streets, but I’m not so sure: there’s more posturing today: that’s what Facebook is all about after all. It’s cool to protest, but I don’t see an ideology which would inspire real rebellion: in the 1930’s in Europe, Anarchism and Communism were very strong indeed.

    • We probably will have more differentiation, of the types you mention. But I expect we will also have to be more generalists in some sense. Instead of working in a particular “niche” world, working on some sub-specialty (say “refrigeration”) we will need to learn more about more practical subjects. We will in many ways need to be more broadly educated, so we can handle more tasks ourselves. We won’t be able to rely on our current system to hand us everything we need.

  29. Perk Earl says:

    Speaking of learning new jobs, during the big recession my business was falling behind on bills, so at the age of 54 I took on learning how to make molds for figurative sculpture. Not simple 2 part box molds, 3D figurative molds for arms, legs, etc. in which part lines must be figured out, and then make a rigid mother mold over the rubber mold with different part lines. This was to take advantage of the opportunity to make molds for my wife as a commissioned Sculptor instead of subbing the work out. Let me tell you, mold making is very difficult to learn and execute because it requires a combination of mental and motor skills and there are not many people that will even give you a hint as to how to do it. Applying rubber is a timed event and how well your technique is determines the quality of the detail achieved. It requires full attention and the ability to physically work hard. In any case, I never expected at that age to have to push myself so hard to learn a new trade, but it paid off because we can keep more money from each project and keep paying the bills. I really hope my remaining years will not require learning another trade/profession, however my story is a reflection of a society in flux, unlike years ago marked by consistency in which most people learned just one trade or profession.

    Bernanke recently said most people entering the work force today will have to reinvent themselves many times to learn new jobs and Obama told a class of college graduates, “No excuses.” This is a reflection of survival pressures increasing as adaptation (to learn new jobs) demands greater flexibility from each one of us to out compete the one’s that will become disenfranchised.

    As we drop down the net energy ladder, it will in a sense be like a game of musical chairs in which some continue to do well while many others become disenfranchised from their jobs and assets. Unfortunately, those that still have chairs will probably be too busy (as the bottle-neck approaches) to get over wrought by those no longer having chairs, i.e. still in the game. For those that want to keep your chairs, remain as flexible as you can to the needs around you to fill those needs.

    • xabier says:

      Perk Earl

      Satisfying to make things, isn’t it?! A day spent making something well is quite as important as getting the money that’s needed. ( I find in my own craft that I’m treated with great respect by my customers – how many jobs are like that? It makes up for the bad times.)

      You are very right in saying that as this process unfolds the unlucky people will just drop by the wayside: they’ll just drop out of sight, family by family, region by region, industry by industry, as this Great Depression continues. That’s how economic failure and poverty always is. You fail, you become invisible. The rich won’t notice you, the struggling masses haven’t the time or energy.

      I think the line that politicians are pushing of ‘continual lifetime re-education’ is pretty fraudulent: it’s not the answer, particularly when each career change can cost so much in time and money.

      Well, maybe they could give a lead and step aside for some more competent people!

      It would be more to the point if they were to stand up and say: ‘Look, this is all unravelling, so don’t put all your trust in a failing economic model, learn to take care of yourselves rather than buying services, and relying on the State, and grow some food as an insurance policy.’

      And they could help us to help ourselves by reducing taxes: this is, of course, a fantasy…….we have to effect our own personal transitions while they attempt to keep this failing structure intact (by building more over-priced real estate with no gardens.)

      • I agree that it is VERY satisfying to make things. In my hobby, one learns to make everything – but not necessarily without consuming fossil fuel directly and indirectly. I don’t know of many activities that have absolutely no fossil-fuel energy load. In any case, I uploaded a few photos of a petroleum crude unit I am working on that will not contribute very much to climate change or resource exhaustion. In addition, it illustrates efficient material recycle. I don’t know if Energy Round Table photos are available to everyone, but these will be:

    • Pretty much all of the things I have learned about energy have been since 2005–a pretty recent timeframe. Of course, I learned about finding and analyzing data, and writing reports that lay people could understand long ago.

  30. dolph says:

    I agree with the comments above about trying to maintain good health. In the end time will catch up to all of us, but while we are alive we should take care of our bodies.

    I’m an internist and, let me tell you, healthcare in the United States is in an advanced state of collapse. The basic reason is that it’s all financed by debt and nobody understands the concept of limits. Because nobody understands the concept of limits, it’s distorted the perception of what’s possible and what isn’t, even within medical science.

    Many of my patients are in their 60s and 70s and have abused their minds and bodies through the years, and they are now on multiple medications and undergo endless procedures which are supposed to “reduce mortality” or “improve function” by 5 or 7 percent or something like that. We place people on 20 medications and then institute bureaucracies and checklists to make sure it’s safe to do so! There’s very little meaningful communication between specialists, just enough to move the patients around to the next intervention. Nobody has time. We bankrupt patients until they go on disability and medicare, and by then it doesn’t matter. We keep on doing more without asking what we are trying to accomplish. If we are trying to make the people with the most disease ridden bodies live to 200 years old and feel like they are 20 years old when they arrive there, we will fail and fail miserably.

    It’s all going to implode in a few short years,

    • Scott says:

      Dolph, Good to hear you on here, I believe that most of us here on this site all agree with you. Thanks for your candid remarks about the corrupt healthcare system out there.

    • xabier says:


      That’s a refreshing contribution from someone in the medical profession!

      It’s very clear from an historical perspective that the greatest improvements in general health have come from the provision of clean drinking water, sanitation, and improved understanding of personal hygiene, not from medication.

      You very rightly point out that now it is mostly a matter of huge expenditure which is disproportionate to the real gain, above all at the end of life (which is what is going to bankrupt the welfare systems of Europe.)

      • xabier says:


        Thank you for your very valuable post. You confirm much of what I have been thinking about Orlov myself, reading between the lines of what he writes.

        (As a footnote about dental health, it was quite common before WW2 in Britain for people to have all their teeth taken out by the age of 40 and replaced by good dentures. If people fear being too poor to afford dental care in the future, it’s one preventative option to consider.)

    • Vazzellinn says:

      That is really sad to read such depressing remarks from respectable doctor….
      If his opinion is shared by other members of medical community, the situation may be definitely very serious.

      I personally think that one day government will renege on its obligations and
      drastically reduce health coverage.The decision will be wrapped in appropriate phrasing
      of course, with examples from other countries, etc. The actual meaning will be
      as much obscured as possible. The will be an endless talk about making things more
      efficient, bringing services close to the population, prophylactic (which is supposedly cheaper and more efficient) , doctors professional duty for society etc.

      When the situation finally downs to the population affected (it won’t take long)
      that will cause a huge uproar. To calm down the population, some universal coverage may be introduced with very basic services covered for all. Private companies won’t be able to increase premium indefinitely, therefore, they will also reduce coverage by wide margin.

      Doctors will be having a REALLY HARD time getting money transfers for their services. Top notch specialists, university professors,will be charging patients directly (similar to what plastic surgeons do now) and won’t bother with insurance companies. This way is currently employed in Israel.

      Doctors will always be in demand , but demand, as you may know is what people can afford to pay and not what they need (even when desperately need).

      If majority of your patients “are in their 60s and 70s and have abused their minds and bodies through the years” your next Mercedes may be much less affordable for you.

      Life expectation for men in SU was 72 years, it dropped to 56 by mid 90s. (it recovered to 63 recently). Cardiac mortality for cohort 30-75 years old in Russia is currently 9 times higher than in US for both sexes (JAMA report 2013).
      You may expect the ratio to be drastically changed in a future .

      As a money saving measure, I expect government to authorize Registered Nurses to prescribe non A schedule medications, at least for chronically sick patients.
      Moreover, it may even happen that the medications will be available over the counter without prescription at all ! Pharmacist will be expected to recommend medications and explain side effects. This is a current situation in Russia (no joking).

      That move will drastically reduce the need for family physicians and gerontologists.
      So perhaps your next car won’t even be a Mercedes after all….

      • Tom Wayburn says:

        Vazzellinn, You have a lot to say and a strong original voice to say it with. I truly believe that correcting the usage and grammar would detract from the interesting character of the messages, which I hope continue.

        • Vazzellinn says:

          Thank you Tom.
          It occurred to me that my apocalyptic scenarios may be way too depressing (and improbable) for the target audience of affluent gentlemen and ladies reflecting after a nutritious dinner on issues facing our planet . I’d rather stop at this point.
          The general idea what life in collapsed society looks like is given to you.
          Verbum sapienti satis est.

          • xabier says:

            Our friend Vazzellin has given us the pointers we need: I’d suggest reading up on contemporary Argentina and the Balkan wars to gain further perspectives on how economic shocks and societal collapse can act on modern societies. There’s some interesting personal stuff out there on the net. It does not make for happy reading, but it’s useful……

      • John Michael Greer gave a talk about how lodges and guilds functioned in the past, before health insurance. One of the things that some did was collect dues from their members, and use those dues to hire a physician to provide services for their members. This approach to funding for doctors kept costs down, and was one reason doctors very much opposed lodges–wanted fee for service, with insurance companies paying, so they could get more money, be more in control. Also, if the members did not like the services a particular doctor was providing, they would fire him.

        • xabier says:


          Doctors had a very low social status for much of history, and did not expect to get rich. It has all become profoundly corrupted.

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Health care is the worst combination of medical practice and financials that could possibly be conceived. And it’s getting worse. Routine procedures cost 4, 5 or more times as much here (eg, colonoscopy) as Europe. The hospitals set the prices to make maximum bucks. Since the financial demand has been transferred to the insurance company — for the first procedure — it costs the patient relatively little, or so he thinks. Once hooked, his premiums skyrocket and he can afford more such treatment only by declaring bankruptcy and becoming a ward of the state. This route is followed routinely now by middle income, respectable elderly (former professors, etc), who wish to leave a little bit to their children..

      • Ed Pell says:

        Wow, a free market for medications exists in Russia but not in the U.S.

    • I keep thinking about writing about the health care system, but the connection between it and the other things I have been writing about is not terribly close (at least in some ways).

      My father was a doctor. I grew up hearing about doctors who made their livings doing hysterectomies for Catholic women who needed birth control, but the church wouldn’t allow. Also taking out normal appendices. Never reading a medical journal.

      Later I became an actuary, and got involved in Medical Malpractice, among other things. The more medicine, the more malpractice.

      And also the amount of medical care has very little to do with life expectancy. Our Standard American Diet is terrible. In terms of life expectancy, the United States ranks 17th out of 17 wealthy countries. In fact, the relative ranking has been going down, year after year.

      The amount we spend on health care in the United States is absurd, as well. Way higher than other countries.

      If we fixed our diets and exercise, quite a large percentage of our problems would disappear. More equal income distribution would help as well.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “The amount we spend on health care in the United States is absurd”

        I believe it’s 16% of GDP, compared to 7% or less in Canada, Japan, Germany, and most of the rest of the industrial world.

        That’s a big part of why I left the US. You guys are getting ripped off.

    • beckyz says:

      Darn! I’m a med tech (run those zillion expensive tests) I see it all falling apart sometime soon. It’s too wasteful and expensive. I was hoping for *dis*confirmation.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        Beckyz, perhaps you can look into naturopathy, or take a course in medicinal herbs. That might be a way of leveraging your current skills and predisposition with the needs of an uncertain future.

        • beckyz says:

          Maybe. My chemistry skills are pretty rusty. Mostly I tend fancy machinery that does the actual work. The inexactitude of the old way will be a pain for me. That’s why I haven’t even made a tincture from the Valerian growing profusely in my yard.

  31. Vazzellinn says:

    Dear friends,

    I don’t usually post comments but if you think Dmitry Orlov is a highest authority on
    survival during Russian collapse…., I feel compelled to share with you a couple of really genuine ideas.

    (After all, if not me then who ? Russians are very reluctant to talk on that topic,they consider
    too horrible even thinking about it.The consensus is that someone who lived through this already knows, someone who didn’t live through this won’t understand anything in any case.
    No need to mention, of course, that all books written by Western observers about
    USSR collapse are complete nonsense ).

    First and foremost : Dmitry did not live through collapse of Soviet Union. He emigrated with his parents to US in 70s when he was 7 years old. He definitely has good understanding of Russian mentality and they way how things were and are going on in Russia but, again, he didn’t lived through 90s there.

    When he visited Russia first time in 1992 as an American tourist of Russian descent, that looked for locals exactly as if Bill Gates visited Bangladesh now days. (In Russia in 1992 doctor made about $25 per month, huge fresh organic turkey was $1 each, Samsung VCR $300, 2 bedroom appаrtment approx $3-5K and inflation was a moderate 50% per week. (welfare assistance for the family of 3 in Ontario was CAN $1350).
    Government price control was abolished and price for a sour cream jumped from 3.50 RB on Dec 31, 91 to 76 RB on Jan 2, 92. Millions of refuges from outskirts of the empire just began to appear in large cities begging for food).
    And now imagine Dmitry, computer engineer with American Passport, coming to St. Petersburg with a couple of hundreds dollars in his pocket! (to understand it better you may recall visiting Caribbean during good old days of 80-90ss…., did you notice how locals looked at you back then ?)

    The point I am making is: everything Dmitry knows is a hearsay, take it with a grain of salt.

    Here is my take on that topic.

    I share the Dmitry’s opinion on Americans: this nation of smiling overconfident crack snorting
    salespersons/business executives and pot bellied family men totally ignorant of anything not related to making money or baseball is poorly positioned as a whole to withstand systemic collapse. (> 40% of people depending for survival on government which is on the verge of insolvency, what are we talking about ?)

    For example, take Russians: anticipation of disaster is deeply imprinted into the nation conscience. Nothing is cut in stone, everything may suddenly change, everybody must be mentally prepared for disaster. Importantly, the effort-payout relationship
    doesn’t stand, rules of the game are not clearly defined and events are not under someone’s control. During 30s almost a million people were shot, many more died in GULAG, people from highest echelons were killed by hundred thousands and their families starved.
    More than 30Millions people died in WW2. Indeed, everyone who managed to survive that time was truly a special human being. (my grandfathers survived and shared with me their stories)

    In contrast, the worst thing Americans experienced so far was Great Depression of 20-30s.
    Well, that wasn’t a great time by any means, but can you compare it with a hunger in Ukraine in 29-32 when several millions (nobody knows how many) starved to death ? With WW2 when 30 million died ? With Stalin purges of 30s ?

    1.You are talking a lot about growing his/her own food. Yes, this is a sensible idea in moderate climate with good soil and enough ground water (Moscow and everything north of it is not good subsistence farming, let alone St.Petersburg, Canada, Siberia,North Russia, etc)

    During 80- 90s when collective farms collapsed government distributed lots of quality land (black soil plots 0.12 hectare per family withing 30-40km from cities) for almost nothing. People spent all weekends working on their plots, trying to grow fruits, vegetables and ,
    importantly, potato. If properly stored, the potato may last in appаrtment till New Year. Cucumbers and tomatoes were used for making preservatives which (as my wife make them) are very tasty. Fruits were used mostly for making jams (every russian woman has her
    own way of making jams but all of them are delicious).

    The drawback for this is that not everyone is suited for toiling in open field for 10-12 hours under hot sun. To me, the task is excruciating. You may try to bend for an hour to test yourselves, just make sure your back will allow you that. Besides, you need to have a genuine like for agricultural activity, I personally abhor working in the garden but like eating
    tomatoes which my wife grows.

    In any case, please don’t try too hard: Quite a few people not used to physical activity died from hard work on their plots. I personally knew two surgeons who suddenly died digging potatoes (aged 45 and 47). So, please be cautious.

    As for growing chickens or rabbits pigs, turkeys, this may be a good idea (considering you have an access to cheap food supply for them, you won’t imagine how much they eat !). I know some people were trying to grow rabbits on their balconies: the smell was simply unbearable.
    Someone who had an access to food waste (cooks, restaurants owners, etc) raised pigs year after year but you need to know how to do that. The problem is that at times of crisis food waste and grain to feed animals becomes in a very short supply and expensive.

    I don’t have personal experience but raising animals but my friend (doctor anesthesiologist) spent several years in 90s raising turkeys and his final verdict is: it is a very difficult thing to do and not profitable at all. On the other hand, my brother Mechanical Engineer tried to salt fish in his bathtub and sold it as a profit. (his wife (Engineer too) was peddling the fish on the street). Unfortunately for them, the business collapsed when they were asked to pay significant tribute to local mafia boss.

    I also know the University Professor Mathematician who raised sheep with his in-laws but don’t know details. Another doctor-anesthesiologist I knew was very successful as bee keeper working with his father. BTW, honey will be a very valuable commodity during crisis times (and very expensive one !!!). Same goes for Condensed milk,ketchup, backweat kasha, and everything solid, nutritious and which can be stored for a long time without refrigeration.

    2. The most important point I am going to make: if you want to survive collapse, first and foremost, please take care of your health. Do whatever it takes to keep you weight down, your blood pressure in control, exercise, etc. It is imperative to develop good health habits.
    Eat simple, be flexible, don’t be vegetarian, no special dietary restrictions, etc. No need to mention how important it in times of crisis.

    It is not necessarily true that someone with a chronic disease or is old will be the first one to perish. (I sense that this is an implicit assumption many of you are making). My grandmother survived 90s and lived till 2011 on a tiny government pension caring for her disabled son (who also survived) Of course, help, proper care, attention provided by family members is absolutely critical. (Besides, she had an experience of surviving hunger in her childhood in 30s and 4 years of WW2, so an example may not entirely relevant ).

    In any case,basic medications, insulin etc will be available although expensive. Hospitals will still be open, operations will be performed, etc. Be prepared to pay up front and a lot, exp if you wish to be treated well. (it will be possible to pay directly to doctor under the table but don’t expect much discount).
    How will medical service look during time of collapse ? Do you want to know ??
    Well, just imagine for a second that Medicaid/Medicare and private insurances are abolished and you pay for everything from your pocket (as millions of people in many countries do nowdays).

    What is absolutely, absolutely critical (no objections to that) is importance of being mentally healthy. Good mood, positive attitude, moral stamina, stable family relationship (with extended family too) are of paramount importance if you hope to survive.
    Millions of people who lost everything,were displaced, persecuted, without any place to go, hungry, under stress etc got depressed or developed other mental condition, turned to alcohol, drugs. Out of them nobody survived. Suicide rates skyrocketed, you won’t believe
    how terrible was that. (please look for Greek situation for some idea).

    In US there are 25 millions of people who are drug dependent. They will be dying first and at the fast rate but that will be a very violent time. The bad thing, the epidemy of drug addition, home made cheap alcohol, prostitution in its most gruesome form will engulf not only inner cities but will be spreading widely all over the country.

    As for midwifes : birth rate collapsed, most of maternity ward were closed. There was no jobs for midwifes at all. Gynecologist opened private clinic and did mostly abortions.
    Dentist will always be needed but not everyone will be able to afford them. (Be prepared to see
    people without frontal teeth )
    Well, I am already tired, let me know if you find the info interesting, I will write more (if I find time).

    Have a great weekend.
    Take care of yourself, end each others.


    • I hope many of us want to hear more from you. You are a library of information on collapse. Please send anything you write to along with permission to re-post on my blogs and websites or instructions to not re-post whichever you wish.

      • Vazzellinn says:

        Thomas , I am glad you found my writing interesting. Definitely, feel free to re-post it on any blog provided you improve on style and correct grammar.

        I am a very busy person and don’t promise to write often. However, time permitting, I may
        post a second installment of critical ideas today. You may email me on, I check this account from time to time.

    • tmsr says:

      Vazzellinn, yes please post more. It is very interesting. In the U.S. everything is Walt Disney-fied we seldom hear hard truths. Great idea about honey.

      Ed Pell

    • I appreciate your comments. One thing I would point out is that the Soviet Union collapse was a temporary, partial collapse. The fact that it still had plenty of oil that could be extracted at a higher price, meant that oil extraction could bounce back, once world oil price rose again. The rest of the world was doing well, and that helped as well. The Soviet Union may be a model for the first years of collapse (or may not), but as things get worse, the situation may definitely be worse than the Soviet example.

      I saw the beautiful black dirt plots around Moscow. They could grow quite a bit–although When I visited in June last year, it definitely was still cold. We saw tulips blooming. Living where the soil is not nearly as good, farming/gardening becomes more iffy.

      Growing animals requires a lot more food inputs than growing crops. In warm areas of the world, people tend to eat the crops directly. In cold areas of the world, if there is enough wild greens to eat, people tend to raise a lot more animals. The animals can be kept alive until they are eaten, so are convenient in that way. So there is no universal answer.

      • Vazzellinn says:

        Gail, I admire your analysis of the current trends but
        when you are talking about survival (which isn’t your strong thing)
        I see lot of misunderstanding in every point you are making.
        To clarify them would require lots of time which I, sadly, don’t have.

        The problem is that completely logical assumptions turn out to be totally incorrect
        in situations which defy logic.

        For example, you are talking about importance of living in community, acquiring
        friends, mutual help, etc.

        The topic is dangerously misunderstood.

        The assumption all of you are making is that violence from inner cities will spread
        and engulf your quiet cozy neighbors.Therefore, you survival is dependent
        on amount of food you store, caliber of your guns, food you may grow etc etc.

        That assumption totally wrong ! The most critical danger you are facing is from your own neighbors,
        the same man and women who smile to you when you meet them. You will never believe
        what people in distress are capable of doing. You would never think how people mentality will change
        just in a week ! If they don’t kill you or destroy your property (just out of jealousy or pure sadism)
        they may embroil you in an endless litigation which will totally ruin your health.

        In asiatic and kaukazian republic of the former SU Russians lived peacefully with locals for generations and
        where brutally evicted or killed by the same neighbors overnight. Jews lived for generations in Baltic republics,
        Ukraine, Poland and saw themselves robbed and killed in the most horrible fashion by the same neighbors they played just yesterday.

        The relationships between people around you will drastically change as time will become hard. It absolutely critical to
        realize that currently the law and threat of persecution (and not some abstract moral standards) are true restraints on people behavior.
        When government won’t be able (or willing ) to enforce that threat you may see lots of interesting things. For example, some of your
        good neighbors may suddenly recall that your background is way too big for your family or his ancestors were
        buried on your plot….. (the list may go on indefinitely)

        It is absolutely critical to have good relationship with your neighbors in order not to provoke them.
        Any hope of cooperation and mutual help should be dispensed with, I cannot be more clear on that.
        In time of distress, people around you won’t be willing to cooperate in any case.

        I reiterate: your goal is to preserve your mental and physical health (not your properly though) at any cost.
        For ex. my friend was heavily traumatized when he saw his dog brutally shot by his neighbors (the dog was presumably
        barking) No need to mention that the boy’s parents didn’t press any charges against the shooter.

        I remember being approached by my neighbors and warned that my dog’s barking interfered with his sleep and if I don’t
        do anything about it, he will shoot the dog. It was very imprudent for me to refer to law and order…..
        Well, the guy said, in this case next time I hear your dog barking I will shoot you. Only then I realize that
        it wasn’t an empty thread. I profusely excused myself and took all appropriate actions.

        As for making friends, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of it.

        The “you make me haircut and I will mow your lawn” approach to friendship is an absurd.
        The idea of friendship itself and what it is all about completely lost its meaning, at least in US.
        Even before Facebook was introduced the meaning of the ford “Friend” was completely distorted
        and devalued.

        Yes, it is critically important to have someone to rely on and cooperate with during hard times.
        However, if you want to make friends now in order to cooperate during hard times, it is already way too late.
        True friendship is something which takes decades to build. Don’t mistake acquaintance and fellows for friends.
        If you currently don’t have someone whom you may call your true friend, prepare to act alone.

        It is much better to rely solely on yourself than have someone you relied upon to betray you in a time of trouble.

        Having someone to rely on and cooperate with is critically important. I mean having someone who will shelter you in his/her
        basement when you are forcefully displaced and have nowhere to go, who may give you some work to do to earn a few dollars,
        who may defend you when you are brutally attacked by others,someone who will say couple of words for you to your local gang leader,
        someone who may lend you money to save your from hardship or share his food with you, someone who knows the doctor who will take money
        directly in his pocket for the operation you need and save you money on that.

        If you already have someone who may be helpful to you at that extent, please accept my congratulations .
        If you don’t, completely dispense with the whole idea.

        For ex, my father has friends whom he knows since 60s, the value of this friendship for him is hard to overestimate.

        The topics of community living (mennonite-like versus Texas style approach) , survival of old people during crisis, medical service,
        recreation, proper mindset, health, family relationship, using horses for driving, law and order, Government actions and how they affects people, true valuables, property,
        displaced people, and many others are absolutely critical and require long and separate discussions each.

        I may put some ideas on every topic in a future if I have time.
        I apologize for improper grammar, cannot spend time on it.


        • Thanks for your thoughts.

          Family and clan are probably more important than friendships, per se. In the US, we often are on the edge of losing these. But in a tougher world, even family and clan will have a harder time taking care of all of the dependent (disabled, elderly, etc) people we have today. Turning on other ethnic groups seems to happen everywhere–one of the things you mention.

  32. Randall says:


    I’ve appreciated your articles both here and at The Oil Drum for several years. I’ve never commented before. However, it seems to me the “no chicken feed” responses from readers appear a little over-the-top. I don’t want to sound too simplistic, but shortages first bring out militaries, as in international-level conflict…not local civic variety. Does anybody really believe the USA is going to graciously starve to death before 2/3 of the world’s population in developing countries? With that unfortunate fall in human population will come some resource relief for survivors, whoever they might be. Second point similar to the first: The old saw about global economics is: “When the USA catches a cold, the rest of the world get’s Pneumonia.” Again, a) the USA being the breadbasket of the world, and b) North America having the largest boreal forests available as resources…don’t you believe North Americans will adapt sooner and more seamlessly than those without large arable spaces such as Libya, Egypt or Cameroon? I don’t want to sound heartless here, but it would appear the USA is a pretty good bet for “last man standing” even with greatly diminished mechanized agriculture.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Randall, please don’t lump “North America” together. The US has hardly any boreal forest left.

      Perhaps Canada will give up without a fight, but there’s something really grating when such assumptions are made. I purposely moved to Canada because I thought the US — without Anschluss — was a lost cause.

      I don’t know if my fellow Canadians will give up without a fight. It appears that we have a Vichy government in place already!

      • Randall says:

        I only referenced North America to distinguish it from resource poor regions of the globe, such as the Middle East ( scarce water), Africa ( scarce infrastructure), or Micronesia (scarce landmass). I was not assuming Canada and the USA would “fight”…but rather, that some sort of regional trade will long survive, even after regions like the Middle East are nuclear war wastelands (A position I do NOT advocate. I’m simply quoting another blog site). North America has a modicum of similar culture, similar religious values and similar governmental expectations. North Americans are no where near the powder keg scenario of the tribalism/authoritarian/intolerence of some other heavily populated areas. Many articles already predict the hoped-for Arab Spring to evolve into a nightmarish Arab Winter even later this year.

        Gail offered very sound advice about becoming self sufficient and getting out of debt. And I certainly understand the impulse for those heavily leveraged, living in major urban areas, to feel vulnerable. In full disclosure, I’m one of those fortunate souls who live in a semi-rural area. We have a large organic garden, we compost, and I have many of those skills such as carpentry work, which can be bartered. I also have 30 years of experience in renewable energies, and we are members of a grow/eat local food cooperative, and I live in a small, affordable, energy efficient house.

        My main point from my original post was (unlike the tone of several on this forum) that I don’t expect to wake up one morning and discover the Mad Max movie becoming reality outside my bedroom window. Decline will come, but I believe it will be an evolution. Stage one will probably be resource wars, which a case could be made we’ve been in since WWII. But I expect the “haves” (North Americans for one) will beat down and oppress the have nots, rather than go without. I expect this will be the condition for several decades before anybody needs to move to Montana and raise draft horses IMO.

        • tmsr says:

          Randall, I agree North America will be one of the last places to fall. Jan, what I see is that Canada is “well integrated” into the global money system. That is it is a much run by money as the U.S.. So if China or the U.S. or E.U. show up and say we have money dig the tar sands then they will be dug.

          Ed Pell

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      My money would be on almost any of the Sub-Saharan countries whose populations are almost all far more used to the conditions expected to face those of us in the ‘developed’ world to win the ‘Last Man Standing’ prize, if could ever be considered such. The only advantage that those in the developed world have is that most will be able to live off their body fat for several months before they have to fight for survival.

    • The United States does have definite advantages. We have far less population, relative to our land area, than Eurasia. (That is also true of Central/South America). We have some very good soils, and these are in areas with temperate temperatures. While there has been some erosion, it is less than in the parts of the world where agriculture has been practiced intensively for thousands of years. We do have a lot of forested area as well, and the world’s largest military.

      I am not sure how this all works out, but there is a definite possibility that the US could end up with a larger share of its population being able to survive than the rest of the world. How the military works out is another question. A few bombs in the wrong place could be catastrophic. I expect war against close neighbors, and civil war, will become more common than international war, but there could be both.

      • Scott says:

        Hello Gail, I think the Western US will stand the best chance as the East is very populated and has many very large cities. Places like Oregon and Washington States will have more resources and less people, but no oil those states, Montana is close to them and their is coal and oil there and also in California to the south. Much of the old west US was the last frontier and much of it was not even settled until the 1900’s so the land is new and fresh and still some areas that are unspoiled although the logging has pretty much gotten into everywhere and most of the old growth forests are gone.

        We decided on Oregon as a nice place to move to after I retired. There is not quite as much rain here as Washington State. We have been here almost three years now and we love it. Plenty of water here, but it sure does rain for months in the winter. Great gardening here but It is a much shorter growing season than we had in California. Coming here from California we noticed that the summer are a bit longer, because the farther north you go the summer days are longer, but the winter days are shorter. So colder dark winters and brighter summers.

        • I think water will be critical for any place. There is quite a bit of California that is short of very water relative to the population. I expect that may limit how much the West can do.

          Transport to the West is also more difficult than elsewhere. The landlocked areas (Montana, Idaho, Colorado etc) will have to depend on their own resources. With sail boats, I suppose most goods transported to the coast would be north and south, as opposed to all the way to China/Japan.

    • My “no chicken feed” comment was a general response to the fact that a lot of people might regard their new sustainable life dependent on some source of water, chicken feed or fertilizer that will be very hard to get hold of during a serious collapse. Although a part of me believes that if it turns that bad you wont worry too much about your chickens. 🙂

      I believe Guy McPherson frequently comments the fact that many people regard water as a magical thing coming out of their faucets. The fact is that a lot of things we take for granted in normal day to day life is extremely dependent on all the domino chips still standing, including the delivery of fertilizer to an urban garden. It doesn’t mean its impossible to get though, some are lucky, some not. And I totally agree that any such scenario is best solved within a community of people.

      I believe donsailor commented that there is a lot of good knowledge in past society breakdown experiences, and that is surely something we should all be looking into. But I also agree that we live in a different world now compared to then, and the barriers to pass into a harder life might be bigger.

  33. Bill Simpson says:

    Living near a main railroad line might help. Major cities used to have to be located on rivers or on coasts to serve their transport needs. Then the railroads and highways came along and inland cities and towns could grow. Trains might go back to steam engines powered by coal. Ships too. Coal is more abundant than oil. Steam engines provide a lot of employment too. Railroads in the USA were still using them during World War II. China might still be using a few. South Africa was still using them in the 1980’s. Most people won’t care about pollution if hunger is the alternative.

    • Scott says:

      That is true, we live in a rural town that has a small railroad to move lumber, but I wonder that perhaps in the future it will be used to bring us food and supplies and move farm goods hopefully.
      I would be glad to see the railroads used properly to move food and goods once again.

    • I agree that coal is appealing if hunger is an alternative, but I wonder whether it will be easy to make a quick change. We would need to make coal fired engines again, and set up a system where trains could carry coal with them or pick up additional along the route. It wouldn’t in theory be all that difficult, but each step would require investment and access to energy sources of the right type. People would also need to be trained to operate the “new” equipment.

      • Mel Tisdale says:

        We would need to make coal fired engines again, and set up a system where trains could carry coal with them or pick up additional along the route. It wouldn’t in theory be all that difficult, but each step would require investment and access to energy sources of the right type. People would also need to be trained to operate the “new” equipment.


        Such a policy would take us back to the start of the industrial revolution and look where that has got us. Whilst climate change might be ‘fixed’ by the coming collapse, it will only be a temporary fix if it is not even considered in such discussions as the above. I don’t know what it is going to take to bring it centre stage, but surely something must. We have just passed the 400 ppm mark for CO2 and that has to be due to it not getting the attention it deserves in the past.

        If we continue to pump excess CO2 into the atmosphere over and above the natural carbon cycle, the temperatures are going to rise. The stuff stays up there for many decades, even centuries. The warming we have now is set to increase as the heat that has been pumped into the oceans due to the recent predominance of La Niña events will rise to the surface as the El Niño/La Niña cycle averages itself out, as it always does. If we pass almost any of the known tipping points (don’t forget Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns) we could hit a runaway situation. It won’t wipe us out, but it will make life hell for the few that survive, as though they won’t have enough to contend with.

        I love steam engines, but they have to be the last option to be considered, if they are to remain an option at all, that is.

  34. Patrick Flynn says:

    Great Post, though I wonder if we are a generation ahead of ourselves. The US began drilling for oil in 1858 and didn’t peak until 1970.

    Saudi Arabia began drilling after WW2. Won’t they also last 100 years before they peak?

    • Mean Mr Mustard says:

      During WW2, we extracted and burned on tenth of the volumes of oil that we are using now. That’s sufficient info to understand why the US peaked early, and what it implies for Saudi prospects…

    • Scott says:

      Extraction Techniques and pumps: Well Patrick, yes! But the well they drill today and the high powered pumps can bring up the oil and gas very fast compared to the early wells. I am not an expert on it, but I believe that the depletion rate must be accelerating very fast too. An Oil well drilled in the 1800’s must pump very slow compared to today’s extraction techniques. They are sucking the Earth Dry fast these days.

    • When Saudi Arabia peaks is not the issue (but I would argue it is before 100 years–they do not tell us much useful about what is happening-their spare capacity is mostly fictional). The issue is one of price. The oil exporters need a high price; the oil importers need a low price. We are now reaching the point where the price the oil exporters need (because they fund much of their economy on the proceeds) is higher than the price the oil importers can afford. At some point, the whole system looks likely to collapse. See my posts, How Resource Limits Lead to Financial Collapse and oil exporters reach financial collapse.

      • Ert says:

        And one should not forget the export-land-model (ELM): Especially Saudi Arabia needs more and more of the stuff that it pumps – and thus exports less and less in the future.

        Limits appear anywhere one does look.

        • Scott says:

          I read somewhere that Saudi is pumping in lots and lots of sea water into those old fields to try to keep up the pressure for extraction, but I also read that the seawater damages the field and a lot of water and oil mix will start coming up, sounds like depletion is upon them more than they will admit. That sucking sound of a straw at the bottom of a cup running dry… Well I am sure there is still lots of oil in places like this but harder and more expensive to get, which will keep financial pressure on us all, like a vise tightening as energy costs rise.

        • I agree. There are limits everywhere.

          • Scott says:

            Gail, The Unknown is out there and… The only short term fix which will only postpone the inevitable is some kind of synthetic fuel that will pump through our current gas pumps and systems. Most likely coal will be the source of this new liquid fuel. So, we will likely see 500 PPM of CO2 or more which then we will see many planet changes. I hope we can find something better than burning that large amount of Coal out there. Although this will make our environment worse they most likely will go with this if there is nothing better being rolled out.

            I hope things hold together for all of us but we are running low on light sweet crued oil, Unless there is something out there we do not know like the Hydrogen Separator, or the Hyper Drive unveiled that can use water to fuel or something else to power our cars and trucks or an other power supply not yet known to us which I am still hopeful about. But as most of us see – it really does look like a big dye off ahead for many people on the planet. Some areas on the planet may be better off than others as we have discussed. The oil that we are pumping now is getting more expensive, and more sour and harder to refine pretty much everywhere.

            I do think we may see some natural gas fired locomotives and although I am fond of the old days and the old trains I am hoping we can find something else to use to power them than wood, coal or gas. I kind see the comeback of the locomotive after the collapse and the old trains may be rebuilt if they can find the iron and wood to rebuild.

            Going back to the old ways and the old locomotive, this would only work with a much smaller population as we all know. There are far too many of us now to have horses, as each horse needs like 40 or more acres to be self sustainable. This group would be surviving perhaps by digging through our old dumps to get things to pull out refined steel and metals. I am thinking maybe a few million will be left and starting over in this new after collapse and they will be once again spread out and perhaps isolated by the seas.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “each horse needs like 40 or more acres to be self sustainable.”

              Depending on the biome, it’s generally much less than that. In our cool Mediterranean climate, a horse can get by on an acre of good pasture.

            • Scott says:

              Hello Jan, I guess it depends on where you are some places are like an an oasis and others dry and no grass for the horses. Thanks for the info on the Goats that was helpful to remember.

            • I don’t see that the finances are there for a synthetic fuel. It would need to be available in huge quantity, with huge up-fornt cost.

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Iraq is now supplying 1.5 million barrels per day to China, whose petroleum appetite is growing leaps and bounds. How many million new cars were put on Chinese roads last year? Was it 5 million or 6?

        • Scott says:

          Gail and Chris I would argue that Saudi has already peaked and they are pumping huge amounts of sea water to keep up the field pressure in their largest fields.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            I think you’re right, amigo. It’s merely a question of how big are the whoppers they’re telling.

        • Scott says:

          Gail had said that Saudi would peak during the next one hundred years, or did I misunderstand? I would argue that Saudi already has peaked and they are pumping in huge amounts of sea water to keep the pressure up in those old fields.

          • Christopher Johnson says:


            You may wish to look at some of Keith Kohl’s postings on Energy and Capital. One of them is here:
            He believes Saudi will be importing petroleum in a few years.
            Cheers, Chris

            • Scott says:

              Thanks Chris, I will check it out, I do know that Saudi is using much than they used to for their own needs, they are hot and need lots of AC a growing population thanks to their oil riches. I do believe collapse will be felt first and the hardest in these type of countries built up around oil.

            • Scott says:

              Looks like the Fracking boom will fall short and dry up very fast, these are not the deep large pools of oil that we need that pump for generations. They will fall short of output expectations although they will be a continual source of fuel at high cost.

            • This is a link to a different article on Energy and Capital (by Jeff Siegal) called “US to Export Oil to Saudi Arabia.”

              Saudi Arabia’s energy use has been growing amazingly, even as its oil production is down this year, compared to last year. This is an energy consumption chart I showed earlier:

              Saudi energy consumption per capita, compared to US and EU, based on BP data.

    • tmsr says:

      The high estimate for SA is 270 billion barrels. This is almost certainly an over inflated number but using it anyway. That is 67.5 years. So if SA is lucky they will provide 12% of the worlds oil for the next 67.5 years. If you want to know the case for the number being lower read “Sunset in the Desert”. If we use 200 billion barrels a mildly optimistic number we have 50 years. How much of that SA will export is an important question.

      Ed Pell

  35. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    You have a good list of things to consider. I would add:
    Make yourself disease proof.

    Here, for example, is a current article reviewing the facts about breast cancer and lifestyle and genes. Lifestyle is far more important than genes. I note that the same recommendations will virtually eliminate heart disease, stroke, and diabetes–just with slightly different mechanisms.

    I will also note that the dietary recommendations are strongly related to the gardening issue. Most of the dietary ingredients are readily grown in a backyard garden. And the greens, green onions, and berries are at their most potent immediately after harvest.

    While beans are relatively calorie dense, it is quite likely that either some additional garden space will need to be devoted to calorie dense foods or else that one relies on farm grown calorie dense foods such as grains or tubers. Grains are easily transported, since they are dry. Tubers are not as efficiently transported as grains, but they are far easier to transport than leafy greens. If you want to be 85 percent calorie self-sufficient, I recommend the book Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham. Markham is an engineer in New Hampshire, so he addresses issues such as nutrient cycling and growing compost and mulch crops intelligently. (In my opinion, if one grows their own organic matter, it may well require half an acre for a small family. But in suburbia, there is usually a lot of organic waste floating around waiting for some intelligent person to salvage and compost it or use it for mulch). I will also note that if you are anywhere south of DC, you will have a considerably longer season than Markham assumes.

    Don Stewart

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, Yes using food from our own gardens is probably the best thing you can do for your health and it also taste great. The whole process of growing and nurturing your garden is also good for your mental and physical and spiritual health. I am planning to dry a lot of my extra veggies in my food dehydrator this summer and put them in jars to use next winter to make soups etc. those taste good too. Certain veggies are good to dry, like Bell Pepper, squashes, celery and even Asparagus. When you dry them right away it locks in the flavor and vitamins. Drying does take energy though, I do have plans for a solar dryer if needed, but electric one in more temperature regulated.

      I think if we fall upon hard times or emergency, the types of foods we will be eating will be things that can be made in a stir pot, So, I store some beans, dried veggies, freeze dried meats in cans (these last nearly 30 years on the shelf but they are pricey but good to have). So you can throw a few handfuls beans, dried veggies and some freeze dried meat into a pot along with some water, salt and spices and you can make a rather large amount of food this way. So that is the way I plan eat if times get hard and food is hard to get or too expensive. These are things I eat anyway (except for the freeze dried meats those cases if cans I am saving).

      I also found that exercising (fast walking or treadmill with hand weights) for about almost an hour at least three times a week keeps me feeling better and hopefully stay away from the doctors. It also helps me keep my strength up so I can work in my gardens.

      These little things you can do for yourself will not really solve our problems, but it helps and at least I feel somewhat productive. Gardening could become tough in an emergency if our water is turned off, we have a well here but well needs power which could be a problem, it would be nice to have a solar system strong enough to power my well and a few things, which I may consider at some point – but a solar system and batteries and inverter would be pricey but would be nice to have. Pumping water is a pretty much needed basic function unless you live next to a creek or stream. My thinking is as long as I can have water, chances of survival will greatly improve.

    • I have been following a largely vegetarian (some fish, some dairy, a little meat in soups from time to time) diet, with little processed food. If the medical profession had to get along on what I have spent on them (multiplied by 7 billion people), they would likely go out of business. My biggest problem has been allergic reactions–something that is somewhat unavoidable. It may be that I had too little conditioning to allergens as a child–my mother was a cleanliness “nut”.