Stumbling Blocks to Figuring Out the Real Oil Limits Story

The story of oil limits is one that crosses many disciplines. It is not an easy one to understand. Most of those who are writing about peak oil come from hard sciences such as geology, chemistry, and engineering. The following are several stumbling blocks to figuring out the full story that I have encountered. Needless to say, not all of those writing about peak oil have been tripped up by these issues, but it makes it difficult to understand the “real” story.

The stumbling blocks I see are the following:

1. The quantity of oil supply available is primarily a financial issue.

The issue that peak oil people are criticized for missing is the fact that if oil prices are high, it can enable higher-cost sources of production–at least until these higher-cost sources of production prove to be too expensive for potential consumers to buy. Thus, high price can extend oil production for longer than would seem possible, based on historical patterns. As a result, forecasts based on past patterns are likely to be inaccurate.

There is a flip side of this as well that economist have missed. If oil prices are low (for example, $20 barrel), the economy is likely to be very different from what it is when oil prices are high (near $100 barrel, as they are now).

When oil prices are low, it is likely that oil production can be expanded rapidly, if desired, because it takes little effort to extract an additional barrel of oil. In such an atmosphere, it is easy to add jobs, because new technology, such as cars and air conditioners made and transported using such oil, is affordable. Growth in debt makes considerable “sense” as well, because additional debt enables more oil use. It is likely that this debt can be repaid, even with fairly high interest rates, given the favorable jobs situation and growing economy.

With high oil prices, there is a constant uphill battle against high oil prices that rubs off onto other areas of the economy.  Businesses tend not to be too much affected, because they can fix their problem with high oil prices by (a) raising the prices of the finished goods they sell (thereby reducing demand for their goods, leading to a cutback in production and thus jobs) or (b) saving on costs by outsourcing production to a lower-cost country (also cutting US jobs), or (c) increased automation (also cutting US jobs).

The ones that tend to be most affected by high oil prices are wage-earners, who find that their chances of obtaining high-paying jobs are lower, and governments, who find it increasingly difficult to collect enough taxes from wage-earners to pay for all of the promised benefits.

2. The higher cost of oil extraction in the future doesn’t necessarily mean that the price consumers can afford to pay will rise.

In peak oil groups, I often hear the statement, “When oil prices rise, .  .  .” as if rising oil prices are a given. Businesses may be afford to pay more, but individuals and governments are finding themselves in increasingly poor financial condition. Quantitative easing isn’t getting money back to individuals and governments–instead, it is inflating the price of assets–a temporary benefit until asset price bubbles break, as they have in the past, or interest rates rise.

The limit on oil supply is what I would call an affordability limit. Young people who don’t have jobs can’t afford to buy cars. If young people graduate from college with a huge amount of educational loans, they can’t afford to buy houses either.  Within the US, Europe, and Japan, we seem to have already hit the affordability limit on the amount of oil we are consuming. Economic growth is low, as oil consumption declines.

Figure 1. Oil consumption based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. Oil consumption based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

The risk, as I see it, is that the price consumers can afford to pay will drop below the cost of extraction. It is this drop in oil price that will cause supply to fall. If the drop in price is very great, we could see a very rapid decline in oil production, especially in countries with a high cost of production, such as the US and Canada. Some oil exporters may find themselves in difficulty,  because they are no longer able to collect the tax revenue they were depending upon. This could lead to uprisings in the Middle East and possibly lower oil production in affected countries.

I should point out that it is not just the peak oil community that seems to think rising oil prices can continue indefinitely. Economists and those forecasting climate change seem to share this view. If oil and other fossil fuel prices can rise indefinitely, then a very large share of fossil fuels in the ground can be extracted.

3. There is widespread confusion about what M. King Hubbert really said about the shape of the decline curve. 

M. King Hubbert is known for showing images of world oil supply which seem to show that oil supply will rise and then fall in a symmetric pattern. In other words, if it took 50 years for oil production to rise from level A to level B, it should also take 50 years from oil production to fall from level B back to level A. This relatively slow downslope gives comfort to many people concerned about peak oil because they believe that the slow downward path in oil production will be helpful in mitigation strategies.

In fact, if we look at Hubbert’s papers, we discover that Hubbert only made his forecast of a symmetric downslope in the context of another energy source fully replacing oil or fossil fuels, even before the start of the decline. For example, looking at his 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels, we see nuclear taking over before the fossil fuel decline:

Figure 2. Figure from Hubbert's 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

Figure 2. Figure from Hubbert’s 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

Hubbert’s 1976 paper talks about solar energy being the substitute, instead of nuclear. In Hubbert’s 1962 paper, Energy Resources – A Report to the Committee on Natural Resources, Hubbert writes about the possibility of having so much cheap energy that it would be possible to essentially reverse combustion–combine lots of energy, plus carbon dioxide and water, to produce new types of fuel plus water. If we could do this, we could solve many of the world’s problems–fix our high CO2 levels, produce lots of fuel for our current vehicles, and even desalinate water, without fossil fuels.

Clearly the situation today is very different from what Hubbert was envisioning. Neither nuclear or solar energy is providing a sufficient substitute for our current economy to continue as in the past, without fossil fuels. We have a huge number of cars, tractors and trucks that would need to be converted to another energy source, if we were to move away from oil.

If there is not a perfect substitute for oil or fossil fuels, the situation is vastly different from what Hubbert pictured. If oil supply drops (perhaps in response to a drop in oil prices), the world economy must quickly adjust to a lower energy supply, disrupting systems of every type. The drop-off in oil as well as other fossil fuels is likely to be much faster than the symmetric Hubbert curve would suggest. I wrote about this issue in my post, Will the decline in world oil supply be fast or slow?

4. We do have an estimate of the shape of the downslope when there is not a perfect substitute the resource with limits. 

There are many historical examples of societies that found a way to greatly increase food supply (for example, by clearing land for new fields, or by learning to use irrigation). Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedof researched the details underlying eight agrarian societies of this type, documenting their findings in the book Secular Cycles.

These researchers found that at first population was able to increase, because of the greater ability to grow food. Population typically increased for well over 100 years, as population gradually expanded to match the new capacity for growing food.

At some point, the economies analyzed entered a period of stagflation, during which wages of the common worker stagnated, because an early limit had been reached. Population had reached the level the new resources could comfortably support. After that point, growth slowed. New babies were born, but additional area for crops was not being added. Adding more farmers didn’t increase output by very much. Debt also increased during the stagflation period. The chart below is my estimate of the general pattern of population growth found by Turchin and Nefedov, in the years following the addition of the new capability to grow food.

Figure 3. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turkin and Sergey Nefedov.

Figure 3. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on Secular Cycles by Peter Turkin and Sergey Nefedov. (Figure by Gail Tverberg)

Eventually, a crisis period hit. One major issue was a continuing need to pay for government programs had been added during the growth and stagflation periods. With the stagnating wages of workers, it became increasingly difficult to collect enough taxes to pay for all of these programs. Debt repayment also became a problem. Food prices tended to spike and became quite variable. Governments became increasingly susceptible to collapse, either because of outside forces or internal overthrow. Population was reduced through a combination of factors–more wars and a weakened population becoming more susceptible to epidemics.

It seems to me that our current situation is somewhat analogous to what has occurred in these secular cycles. The world began using fossil fuels in significant quantity about 1800, and reached the stagflation phase in the early 1970s, when US oil production began to decline. We are now encountering the classic symptom of resources not rising as fast as population–namely, wages of the common workers stagnating. Fossil fuel prices tend to spike and be quite variable. Government financial problems we are seeing today sound very similar to what past civilizations experienced, when they hit resource limits.

We don’t know that our current civilization will follow the same shape of downslope as earlier civilizations that hit limits, because our economy is not an agrarian economy. We are now dealing with a globalized civilization that depends on international trade. Jobs are much more specialized than the past. But unless there is a miraculous growth in cheap energy supply that can fix our problems with young workers not finding good-paying jobs, there seems to be a good chance we are headed in the same general direction.

5. High Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI) is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an energy source to be a suitable substitute for oil. 

We are dealing with a complicated financial system, but EROI is a one-dimensional measure. It can tell us what won’t work, but it can’t tell us what will work.

Any substitute for oil (for example, a transition to battery-operated cars) needs to be considered in the context of what the total cost will be of a transition to a new system, the timing of these costs, and who will pay these costs. It is important to consider what impact these costs will have on those who already are at greatest risk–namely, individuals who are having difficulty earning adequate wages, and governments that are finding it increasingly difficult to pay benefits that have been promised in the past. If individuals are being asked to pay higher costs, this will reduce discretionary income to be used for other purposes. If a government is already stressed, adding energy related stresses may “push it over the edge,” making it impossible to collect enough taxes for all of the promised programs.

6. It is easy to be influenced by the fact that everyone likes a happy ending.

People coming from a peak oil perspective often accuse the main street media of putting forth a “happily ever after” version of the oil story. But I think there is a temptation of the peak oil community to put together its own “happily ever after” story.

The main street media version says that the economy can continue to grow, and we can continue to drive cars and go to our current jobs, despite a need to change to different kind of fuel supply.

The peak oil version of the story often seems to say, “If we conserve, and learn to be happy with less, there won’t be too much of a problem.” Some seem to suggest that hoarding solar panels for our own use can be helpful. Others seem to believe that society as a whole can be transformed by adding more solar and wind power to our current electrical system.

The difficulty with adding a new energy source in quantity is that we don’t have any such energy source that can truly act as a cheap substitute for oil.  If solar PV or wind, or some other new energy source were truly a good substitute for fossil fuels, such a fuel would be exceedingly cheap and could be used with today’s vehicles. Governments could improve their financial condition by taxing this new energy resource heavily. It would be obvious to everyone that by adding much more of this miraculous new fuel, we could add many more good-paying jobs, especially for our young workers.

Unfortunately, I cannot see that we have found a good oil substitute. Instead, quantitative easing is temporarily hiding financial problems of governments and individuals by forcing interest rates to be very low. This makes cars and homes more affordable, and keeps the amount of interest paid by the federal government very low. We know that these artificially low interest rates are temporary, though. Once they “go away,” tax rates will need to rise, and asset prices (stock prices, bond prices, and home prices) will drop. Oil prices may very well decline below the cost of production. We will again be at risk of heading down the “Crisis” slope shown in Figure 3.

The Oil Drum Going to Archive Status – Important Story Still to Be Told

The peak oil community is filled with many dedicated volunteers coming from a variety of backgrounds. I particularly commend The Oil Drum volunteers for sticking with the issue as long as they have. Many of them have discovered at least some of the pitfalls of the traditional “peak oil” story listed above.

I will continue to tell the story of oil limits on my site, Our Finite World.  In the near future, I am also giving a number of talks about the issue to actuarial groups. I need to get the story documented in other formats as well–in book form and in the actuarial literature. The fact that The Oil Drum is going to archive status doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real, important story to be told. It isn’t quite the original peak oil story, but it is closely related.

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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456 Responses to Stumbling Blocks to Figuring Out the Real Oil Limits Story

  1. Chris Johnson says:

    To All Displeased Gas Tank Filler Uppers and All Other Interested Parties:
    End of More called it first yesterday, 27 August 2013 at 1:50 PM (Eastern): “We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think…”
    As of Monday, 26 August, NY Oil Futures were in the $106 range.
    As of Wednesday, 28 August, Brent Crude is in the $118 range. $125 is expected, and $150 is not outside of considerations.
    Well done, Vladimir! You saved the exchequer again.
    However, one consequence you may have overlooked: several reports say the Syrian army is scattering in anticipation of a US strike. It would be interesting to see if the rebels are able to take advantage and cause some ruckus in Damascus.

    • Scott says:

      Hello Chris and others, Yes! With the news this week on Syria it looks like oil is rising and other commodities. This kind of feels and looks like to me just like the time right before the second gulf war. I do not like the looks of this event that is unfolding in Syria. This is like throwing match into a dry tinder box. Very worrisome indeed especially for countries like Israel withing distance of short range missiles from Iran and Syria. This is really going to piss off Iran if we launch this attack it seems to me.

      I do not believe our country (The USA) should be the world police and I am unhappy about that. I was looking at the oil reserve’s of Syria and nothing close to Iraq’s or Iran’s. I am concerned this will spread into Iran as that is where the big prize in regards to oil reserves. Gail can correct me on this if I am wrong, but I believe that Iran has some of the largest oil reserves remaining on the planet next to Saudi Arabia.

      On other news, I just read today that foreigners sold a record amount of bonds last month and that they are bailing out of the bond market. That tells me that the bond market crash may be near, so they are taking us to war which is historically what they do as crisis approach.


  2. The oil supply problem can be summed up by the chaos brewing in many key supply states to quote Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review.: “We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think,” “Libya is reverting to war lordism. Nigerian is drifting into a bandit state with steady loss of output. And Iraq is going back to the sort of Sunni-Shia civil war we saw in 2006-2007,” “We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think,”
    Supplies will stop suddenly as anarchy tips into full scale regional warfare

    • Chris Johnson says:

      End of More: I’m afraid that’s not going to deter some US origin explosives joining the fray in Syria, which will serve admirably as the needed ‘incident.’ One might just wonder if that were Putin’s objective in the first place. Or do you think Assad would have used CW without Putin’s approval. I certainly don’t.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Well, as of 2200 GMT, 27 August 2013, the prices of West Texas Crude are up about 2.8%, and other prices, including OAO, Gazprom’s petroleum seller, is up a similar amount.
      If you want to check the figures on Russia’s economy, it’s very flat. Sales of oil and gas have dropped, and the Russians don’t have much else to sell other than weapons. In fact, Gazprom’s oil and gas revenues have been declining for a long time, for reasons that can best be described as ‘corruption.’
      Is the Russian czar capable of ‘jacking up’ the war in Syria in order to earn a few rubles? Is he not?

    • Scott says:

      Hello everyone, I agree we are close to a big price spike in oil and that will be inflationary in the near term. We will all soon be happy just to fill our tank at any price under $10 perhaps.
      And also happy to find goods we need at the store but at higher prices. Including silver and gold about every thing else it seems to me now.

      We may just see a three day battle but I fear there is already too much instability there and it will be spreading to other places like Iran.

      A new war is beginning in the middle east in Syria which is the driver of these changes.


  3. Edwin Pell says:

    Gail, your post on living things over reproducing and nature killing off the defective and excess was highly refreshing. You are correct, it is a subject 99.9% of people can not tolerate talking about.

  4. ravinathan says:

    All the optimal prep talk is futile according to this summary of emerging scientist opinion.

    • tmsr says:

      By this guys definition Phoenix Arizona is uninhabitable yet millions of people are living there using electricity from nuclear power to run air conditioners.
      Ed Pell

      • Phoenix is an example of draining finite resources.
        It is an anomaly made possible by the overall wealth of the nation. As that wealth declines due to resources depletion, cities in regions of extreme temperature, whether hot or cold will decline rapidly

        • Scott says:

          Hello, Take a look at this story about China, a main stream media article that speaks of oil depletion.


          • Chris Johnson says:

            The Chinese situation is in flux since their economy is currently crashing. They’re not admitting that GDP growth is about zero, perhaps negative, but it really is. They’ve overspent and over-leveraged everything; their debt to income ratio is about the same or maybe higher than Japan’s. That doesn’t dampen demand, however, and the government has to be very careful about raising gasoline prices because so many poor people are so close to the edge. Look at it this way, we in the USA have it kinda tough now, but our GDP per capita is somewhere around 37-40,000 USD; the average GDP per capita in China is 4,000 to 5,000 USD, about 1/8 – 1/10 of the US GDP per capita. So when the price goes up it hurts a whole lot more.

      • ravinathan says:

        Phoenix area faces severe water limits, arguably a more binding constraint for them than energy.

    • I am sure that this forecast is using much more fossil fuels than are really available for its forecast. Of course, the amounts may still be bad without more fossil fuels.

  5. Don Stewart says:

    To All: Young People and Old People

    There have been some earlier comments about young people (made by we out-of-it late middle aged or frankly old people). I was thinking some more about that yesterday.

    My wife and I went to a music concert at our food co-op. Gorgeous fall day in and dry and sunny. A Latin band playing on the lawn. Lots and lots of little kids running and playing and dancing and a fair number of adults dancing. I like to watch the kids to get a reminder of the basics of life. In case you have forgotten, it’s about playing with each other. While the bow in the hair or the fancy shoes or the soccer ball have significance, the most important thing is finding a friend and playing. You observe that there is no problem in life that can’t be overcome by a good fast run around in a great big circle. You also learn that from the time they can crawl, most babies want to be out there in that great big world which is happening on the lawn. A few are clingers and are scared of the world.

    So I go into the store to get a few things. As usual, I like to make jokes with the cashiers. Now the problems start. My jokes may just sound sadistic to the much younger cashiers. The co-op is housed in an old textile mill. Inside the large building is a new coffee/tea shop which I had visited a couple of days before. It is run by an old hippie couple who recently moved down from the mountains. He has a picture of Ken Kesey’s bus. I ask him if he knew Emilia Hazelip, who was a Merry Prankster before she discovered Masonobu Fukuoka and went back to France and revolutionized gardening. He tells me he was never on Kesey’s bus, although he did meet Kesey once or twice. A young woman is patiently waiting in line behind me while we have this conversation. Then I turn around and she is gone. Later, I see her outside the co-op drinking coffee. I say something to her and she says ‘I love that place, but the coffee here is cheaper and I really need to manage my money.’ I flippantly advised her to ‘get a richer boyfriend’ who will treat her to expensive coffee. She said ‘those aren’t called boyfriends’.

    So yesterday I am checked out by a young woman that I have known casually for several years. She wants to be a Science teacher. The problems, of course, start with the implosion of teaching opportunities and the degredation of science education in this country. The problems doubtless extend through student loans, although I have never discussed that with her. The next cashier over was the girl in the coffee shop. After exchanging the latest ‘science discovery’ with my checker (a ritual we go through), I walked over to the coffee shop woman and said ‘making any progress on the rich boyfriend?’. It becomes quickly apparent that I have offended both of them. The would-be Science teacher says ‘being frugal is always a good practice, even when you do have some money’.

    With men or women my own age, I can almost always make cynically flippant jokes and get a laugh. On Mother’s Day our mail kiosk was flying a flag. I was walking up to get the mail and a woman asked me ‘why is the flag flying?’. I said ‘probably to celebrate Mother’s Day’. After just a second, I said ‘My wife considers it a day of mourning’. The woman laughed heartily. I can’t imagine either of the two checkers laughing at that.

    Is this just a generational thing? Maybe the young people tell each other that old people are uncaring brutes who should be promptly put into the grinder and turned into dog food. I think I picked up my habits early in life from the preceding generation who had gone through the Depression but were now emerging into the post-war world where the cost of living was low and jobs were almost always available.

    I read this headline yesterday:
    in Minnesota we find that “since 2000, rents have risen about 6 percent statewide, but renter incomes have dropped about 17 percent.”

    This is what Bernanke and company have wrought. Incomes are falling to ‘make us more competitive’ while the cost of living is rising ‘to avoid deflation and achieve healthy inflation’. The victims are the young. The beneficiaries are the One Percent and to a lesser extent those over 65.

    So how does this relate to the kids on the lawn. As we get older, we forget that running really fast in a big circle solves most problems. We come increasingly under the delusion that Stuff solves problems. And Stuff is bought with Debt but Debt must be repaid even if it kills everyone involved (e.g., Greece).

    I think this is what Decline looks like. We simply have fewer real resources which the Authorities want us to buy with debt to keep the prices up and therefore increase corporate profits. But now even the corporations are being hollowed out as increased Earnings per Share are increasingly coming from stock buy-backs. Capital Expenditures are flat and showing signs of catabolism. And old guys trying to make jokes don’t get laughs.

    Don Stewart

    • Don,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed it very much. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom why people don’t hear our humor. Perhaps the young women working and shopping in the co-op, feel that life is serious business. They are young adults making their way in the world and becoming adults. At this stage of their life they probably believe their actions will make a difference, and so they are constrained by beliefs. As we get older I think we eventually realize time passes and life turns out not to be greatly impacted by our actions. We never save the world, no matter how hard we try. We still grow old and come closer to death. We eventually relax and find humor is the best medicine. After all, life is about savoring, not saving.

      Yesterday my family attended the Downtown Jazz and Blues Festival. We had a great time. Young and old, gay and straight, men and woman, boys and girls, all sharing an enjoyment of some wonderful music in the midst of strangers and acquaintances.

      There was a mother and her young son (18 months old I’d guess) that sat near us on a mounded mulch island under the shade of a few trees. Perfect place to enjoy the music out of the sun until the evening twilight set in. Her son was actively exploring the distance he felt comfortable moving away from his mother, looking at the strangers around him. People kept smiling at him, enjoying his liveliness and intelligence.

      The mulched island had a slope to it with some gravel at the bottom edge, which had been pushed into small ridges. It was obvious that he was still learning to navigate on his feet. The first time he tried to run up the mound when he crossed the uneven gravel he faltered, lost his balance and fell. Undaunted, he immediately got up and tried again, but going down proved harder than going up and he wisely put out his hand to his mother for balance. She all the while just watching and enjoying his actions as much as the rest of us, alert to any need to prevent disaster but letting him learn.

      At the bottom once more he turned and went at it a bit more cautiously. This time he made it to the top without falling but still lost his balance. Turning once more, down he went, this time without reaching for his mother’s hand. Third time he made it to the top without a problem. He turned and looked at us all, jumping up and down with pride and happiness, his pleasure upon being successful in his efforts to reach the top evident.

      As I sat observing this it struck me how amazing is the experience of learning, and how beautiful it is expressed in the children. How much pleasure there is for us to find in figuring out how to do something. There may be dangers in the world that we are unaware of, yet we try. There may be limitations we don’t know, yet we try. It is often our belief that we “can’t” that stops us from trying. I wonder why we stop believing we “can”? Meeting with obstacles we either get up and try again, or not. But if we reach the top of that “slope”, fleeting as our accomplishment might be, it is moment to savor.


    • There will always be differences in what is funny to different people. You ran into differences by age, but probably there are other breakdowns that are important too (recent immigrants, unemployed, disabled, etc.)

  6. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    A British team has found that a vigorous soil food web is the key to solving many problems.

    Soil Biodiversity Will Be Crucial to Future Land Management and Response to Climate Change

    Soil food webs describe the community of organisms living all or part of their lives in the soil and their complex living system interacting with other substances such as carbon and nitrogen. The study shows for the first time that there is a strong link between soil organisms and the overall functioning of ecosystems.

    Back to me. While the British claim that they are the first ever to show this, the knowledge has been around for quite a while. Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden was first published in 2001 and is saturated with the importance of the soil food web. For example, Toby notes that most pests spend at least part of their life cycle in the soil, and that a healthy crop of predators makes pest outbreaks much less likely. Elaine Ingham has spent the last few decades explaining the importance of the soil food web. When she was fired by Oregon State at the behest of Monsanto, she established a commercial soil testing company which counted the richness of the soil food web.

    Now a little tutorial on ‘what is permaculture?’. Permaculture is a philosophy and set of design tools. IF science showed that a sterile growing medium were the key to the salvation of the world, Permaculture could be used to achieve sterile soil. But science actually shows that a rich soil food web is the key to the salvation of the world, and so Permaculturists use the philosophy and tools to achieve a very rich biological environment both in the soil and above the soil, including humans.

    Here is another science article:

    My comment. Big animals (and birds) have the ability to move seeds and nutrients long distances. Much farther than the microscopic critters in the soil could ever hope to do. Rainfall tends to leach nutrients out of the soil. A healthy soil food web can slow the leaching, but it can’t prevent it entirely. Enter the big animals. Joel Salatin in Virginia uses his cows to move nutrients back up to the top of the hill by controlling their grazing. They graze in the rich grass at the bottom of the hill and are then moved to the less nutrient dense upper slopes where they deposit nutrient rich manure. So, instead of being lost into Chesapeake Bay, the nutrients are retained on his land. More nutrients equals healthier soil food web because Nature doesn’t let nutrients go to waste.

    In short, a Permaculturist will try to understand the flows in the system and how those flows can be managed (preferably with biological means) to maximize biological activity. (If you are Joel Salatin, you think that is why God created humans.) The biological activity will also be shaped to benefit humans. For example, other things being equal, a tree which is more valuable to humans will be selected over one which is not very valuable to humans. The Native Americans on the East Coast managed forests to select tree species they valued.

    I hope this clarifies the ‘what is Permaculture’ issue.

    Don Stewart

  7. Chris Johnson says:

    I’d be delighted to continue in a less public forum. If you could drop me a line at, I’ll respond — probably Sunday evening, as the day is spent at church and with children and grandchildren.
    Cheers, Chris

  8. Chris Johnson says:

    Hi Gail,

    You’ve been quiet so are probably preparing to drop a new ‘energy bomb’ on us to get us all thinking — as if we haven’t been, right master?
    I thought you might welcome a little update on the sale of your favorite items: Electric Vehicles!! I know how eager are to keep up with the coming tidalwave of a new technology that’s just getting revved up to turn back the economic / oil collapse. Did I get all that right?

    Anyway, Tesla, according to the QZ.COM story, Begin Quote: In June Tesla outsold Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Fiat, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mitsubishi, Porsche and Volvo in California. End Quote. They sold more than 4,700 in the first six months (Calif) and more than 1,000 in June.
    Hong Kong is buying as is China mainland.

    Tesla really look as if it’s going from strength to strength, and there appears to be some spin off effects to the Leaf and the hybrids. Their sales numbers are going up. Is this the end of bad times? Well, mebbe not this week, but it’s moving in the right direction.
    Maybe in a few years we can rename those ‘survival gardens’ to be ‘victory gardens.’

    Cheers, Chris

    • Chris Johnson says:

      To All (Is the term ‘Buoyant Doomsters’ offensive? Lacking respect? Any suggestions, such as ‘Gails’ Hordes’? (How do you say ‘horde’ in Norwegian?)

      Anyway, I occasionally tend to the flippant side of amused, so please forgive. In the item directly above about Electric Vehicles, I neglected to point out that Gail, our wise moderator and leader, has indicated that she’s from Missouri, the ‘show me’ state.

      Gail hasn’t seen but the tiniest little pip on the bottom of a graph and that’s just insufficient to convince her that EV’s might prevent the collapse of modern civilization. She’s probably right about adopting a cautious attitude about ’emerging’ technologies.

      Has anyone know if these ideas have been taken to the Las Vegas bookies?


      • xabier says:


        A ‘Norwegian Horde’ would be Vikings I suppose: ‘Doomer Vikings?’ ‘Permaculture Berserkers?’ Hell’s Angels had better watch out!

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Are you and I the only ones to find some humor in all of this? Maybe we should take a poll: “Do you find any humor in the rapidly arriving Collapse?” “If so, when do you think you will laugh the hardest? 2013-15, 2015-20, after 2020?” “How important to your peace of mind and general disposition is the need/desire to laugh at something every day?” “On a scale of 0 to 9, how important is laughing, even when nothing’s particularly funny?”
          I feel kind of like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, but that’s okay. Actually, that very lucid, serious and erudite essay last week that included a reference to ‘Dr Strangelove’ inspired me to bring a ‘Dr Strangelove’ link into this blog. Why? Because it’s so darned funny, and if anyone on this blog thinks that humanity was not feeling the same sorts of ‘doom’ in the last ‘few minutes before the nuclear clock hits midnight…’ then they should look it up.
          Is there a human compulsion to ‘chase doom’, let it dominate your thoughts? How morbid.
          I can’t imagine that our Creator had that sort of existence in mind for us.
          Cordially, Chris

          • xabier says:


            If we’re all going to go together, let it be with some humour.

            The Sufi Idries Shah told a story about a party of people overwhelmed by a terrible sand-storm: the pious got together to say prayers and prepare to meet their Maker,the Compassionate, the Merciful, in a suitable state of grace (or is that too Catholic a concept?) and with much lamenting of their sins, while the others, the ne’er-do-wells huddled together and told jokes and funny stories, no doubt some quite risque and un-Islamic. The former group perished, the later survived……. but maybe the pious got more kicks out of confessing their sins, who knows?

    • I see electric cars as an add-on to petroleum operated cars. The output of gasoline is pretty much fixed. We can’t use more gasoline than we have, so we add on electric cars, thereby increasing our use of fuels used to make electricity (mostly coal and natural gas).

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Thank you, Gail. Your position is eminently logical, especially at the outset. EV costs are declining, market share increasing (could reach 3-5% in another 5-10 years or so and more later), which could begin to affect petroleum demand. And if I’m not mistaken, I think I almost heard you acknowledging this? You don’t have to yet, of course, and we’ll keep watching it over the years. I’m just a tad more optimistic, perhaps, but I’m glad you’re keeping an open mind on the subject. I think it might be fair to say that among the two great human motivations, the desire for an automobile is about as strong as the instinct to reproduce.
        Cordially, Chris

  9. Chris Johnson says:

    To Jody: Excellent, grasshopper. Your poem flowed as a melodious stream.

    • 🙂 glad you liked it.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        I spent some years over there and can still speak a few words. Much to admire, much to learn. The future will be difficult for all of us, but even without a collapse China faces hard times.
        Much likeee poem. You ask Chinee girfren she do same same poem like you?
        Hen syihwan nide dwan shr. Ni keyi wen nide junggwo penggwo neng bu neng sye shr?
        Cheers, Chris

        • Chris,
          I will have to ask my Chinese girlfriend to translate, as I don’t speak Chinese. Or maybe you could translate the last line.
          What did you do in China?

          • Chris Johnson says:

            The last line is a romanization (similar to pinyin) of the Chinese characters. It says the same as the ‘pidgin’ on the line above it, which I think you can decipher. I hope she’s not offended by the pidgin; it used to be standard inter-racial medium. Have you ever seen ‘Sand Pebbles’ with Steve McQueen and Candace Bergen?
            What I did in China are subjects not appropriate for this forum. Rather than ask you to provide me an email address — which could leave you more vulnerable than you might wish — I offered my own. It’s not important. Suffice that it’s an exotic potion that once consumed can never be purged.

  10. Adam says:

    I notice the stated number of comments slowly increasing, but every time I look (Firefox, Chrome), there is nothing later than August 21. Anyway, here is a link to a short article about demand destruction (petrol/gas) in the UK:

    • Adam says:

      So now I’ve posted something, all the posts of August 22 and 23 miraculously appear!

      • Scott says:

        Hello, I wonder if petrol shortages will become the thing before we see financial collapse. Gail believes the oil shortage will look like a financial collapse and therefore most of the world will not see it as such and not see peak oil for awhile yet it seems. I think when the world sees it and realizes it is not financial but a resource scarcity of crude oil and gas, especially the shortages of light sweet crude, then we have the beginning of our long emergency as JHK wrote about.

        • Adam says:

          Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future in such detail, Scott, beyond that we know there is a huge problem looming. Here in the UK, we have massive debt, so this masks the demand destruction caused by higher oil prices, and people assume it’s a result of “the cuts”.

          I’ve mentioned “peak oil” over the years to my sister, but whenever I do, she just smiles indulgently and changes the subject. Yet she admits she doesn’t drive out so much now because of the petrol/gas price. And this is a woman who believes she is psychic, because she once saw “intruders” at dusk in the grounds of the mental hospital where she worked. “Oh no – not YOU as well!” groaned her supervisor, before going on to explain to her that the grounds were reputed to be haunted. 🙂

          I notice that the public toilets here are not so well kept now, presumably because they are not in the front line of public view, and there is often one part cordoned off as “out of order”, or a drying machine bearing a similar notice. At the entrance to our local park, where tree branches are growing through the windows of the men’s toilets, a notice from the local church asks for volunteers to help maintain the toilets. But most people don’t connect these little things with the bigger picture, and certainly not with things going on in Egypt, etc. Ominously, while we Brits refer to “The Middle East”, the Continental Europeans call it the NEAR East.

          I’m interested in perspectives on your experience that you think “scared people off”. Here is not the place, but my email is xxxadamxxxUNDERSCORExxxswansburyxxx AT xxxyahooxxx DOT xxxcomxxx. (Remove all the x’s). 🙂


        • The economics of fuel extraction are entirely linked to the prosperity of billions of people using it.
          It seems to me that there will be some kind of crossover point, where the cost of petrol rises beyond the economic reach of the majority, irrespective of how much is left in the ground.
          At that point production must crash, because its extraction and distribution costs cannot be supported by a wealthy elite minority.
          No matter how much money they have, they cannot use anything other than a fraction of potential production. Owning wells will cease to indicate wealth, because oil only has value if you can convert it into a tradable asset. ie– the process of burning oil gives it value in our commercial sense.
          so wells and refinieries must eventually become uneconomic to keep in operation long before the stuff actually runs out

          • Scott says:

            Hello End of More and everyone else on here, I look oil in some ways like trees, but trees grow back so fast compared to oil. I have heard stories that they are no longer building new refineries because “they” (the oil industry) know there is not enough oil downstream to run them. So they are just kind of keeping the old ones running and they are aging.

            Kind of reminds me of how they are closing the lumber mills in the N. W. US. They just closed another mill in S. Oregon, because there are not enough trees to keep it running due to over logging. We could say the same for over pumping of these aging fields, except for the fact that these oil fields will not be coming back anytime soon. The trees will be back many millions of years first and we could say the same for the water aquifers too.


      • I’m sorry, I don’t understand the system, either.

      • I’m sorry, I don’t understand the system, either.

  11. Chris Johnson says:

    Some Bad News About China’s Farmland was in a recent Atlantic Monthly article. I’d be interested in your views. How can a society or country cope with such things?

    • Chris,
      For whatever reason, the Chinese or it’s government don’t appear to value their farmers. A friend of mine is Chinese and still has ties to China. She said that only city dwellers have rights (education and healthcare). The peasants have no rights.

      I think the Chinese government is betting that they can buy all the food they need, or the food companies, or lease land to grow food in other parts of the world, as long as they have the money that allows them to do this. And they get the money from industry exports. So far, this idea seems to be working for the, as evidenced by the Chinese company’s purchase of U.S. company Smithfield Farms, the largest pork producer in the U.S.

      It’s shortsighted to say the least. A country can only really depend on their own ability to produce food when the economy goes sour.

      Something I discovered while I was researching for a recent talk I gave on antibiotic use in animal production. There are two bills before the Senate and House that will ban the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in CAFO’s. This was done by the EU in 1998. If passed and made law, it will hit hog production hard. Smithfield farms may have seen the writing on the wall and decided to sell out. The farmers they contract with to ;grow/finish’ hogs will not be able to do business as usual. They will not be able to fatten 10 hogs in a 10′ by 8′ pen without the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics. This will reduce their ‘economies of scale tremendously’. Smithfield farms only contracts with it’s farmers. They don’t own the barns. They do own significant breeding facilities. Maybe this is what the Chinese wanted to buy. Hard to understand at times.

      Eventually, the Chinese may find themselves forced to go to war with countries where they have purchased food companies or leased land to produce food, if they prevent the export of food to China. It is so unfortunate that people don’t really understand that every civilization collapsed when it depleted the quality of its’ soil.

      not so cheers,

      • xabier says:


        Everyone stands on the peasant’s back, and everyone kicks him, too.

        I suspect this is particularly the case with countries that have modernized rapidly, or wish to do so: the rural life is seen as something of an embarrassment, a blot on the image of the country. I find mass murder and corruption more of a blot, but it’s all a matter of taste I suppose, and how ‘progressive’ you are!.

        Historically, privileges for city-dwellers are an old phenomenon though: they were used by kings in Europe in the Middle Ages when they wanted to civilize areas and promote trade and get people away from the control of the nobles – the origin of many of the lovely little towns of Spain, Italy and France. In my family’s home province of Navarre, the imported French townsmen (artisans and merchants, lawyers, etc) were kept in a ghetto and forbidden to mix with the locals (mostly peasants) for about 600 years!

        What China is doing seems immensely wrong-headed, but then they have a recent history of rather big mistakes and mass-starvation don’t they?

        As for short-sightedness in food production and animal breeding: some people seem to like to play Russian Roulette with their future. Or is it just straight suicide…..?

        • Chris Johnson says:

          The Chinese not only overbreed hogs in small areas, their soil is largely poisoned, and owing to a general disintegration of any social contract, the rich get richer and the poor die off. China christened more Billionaires and Millionaires than the US a few years ago. And most had pretty good connections with the authorities.
          It’s not a matter of ‘the Chinese people’, it’s a fairly small group of decision-makers who happen to be rather wealthy.

      • xabier says:


        As a foot-note, I think I saw an article about the Chinese importing breeding stock of pigs from Ireland, which are fine animals. I’m sure they have a breeding programme underway. China is now a major market for Irish food products and that sector is doing well for the country where so much else has gone wrong.

      • ultimately most wars are about energy and resources—ie you run out of home supplies/ production of essential things for the sustainability of the home economy, so are faced with two choices: either you revert back to a previous ‘inferior’ national /international status, with subsequent lose of face, or you go to war to steal somebody else’s resources in order to keep your own populace focused on the need for survival.
        Hence the Chinese might well start wars to ‘justify’ taking what they need.
        It is a human pattern of behaviour.
        They certainly will not allow their civilisation to simply collapse.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Clausewitz and SunZi would agree about war being the pursuit of political goals by violent means. The Chinese are pursuing and achieving their political and economic goals without violence. Their methods are a combination of ‘East India Company’ and Sicilian. Their control of forest, petroleum, mineral and agricultural resources globally is growing faster than anyone could have imagined a decade ago.

  12. Jasan says:

    Gail have you given any thought to doing a story on Japan and there debt problems? I see them as the match that might start the fire…economically

    • I’ll think about that. I agree that Japan has serious problems, with their high debt level and dependence on fuel imports.

      • Scott says:

        Gail, Japan is interesting, they have an older demographic population and high debt but they have held together so far. I wonder if they will be okay with these debt levels. It seems as though they have farther into debt than anyone so far.


  13. Chris Johnson says:

    For those who remember it, you may appreciate the parallels. For those who never saw Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove, here’s one of several You Tubes available. Note that he didn’t know much about permaculture, but his solution to some of the other problems should make you smile.

  14. Hello Sherra,

    Thank you for the information you provided about Australia’s Work for the Dole Program. I jumped to the bottom because we were running out of options for reply. Here is the link you provided if others want to check it out and join the discussion.

    I want to respond specifically to your observation that “many of people placed into a work for the dole program lack basic job and communication/interpersonal skills. This places a significant burden on the Not for Profit organization to up-skill the workers and as there is no funding provided for this training and mentoring, it can be a significant drain on the resources of the NFP.”

    I agree this is a big drawback to finding work for these people. But their lack of skills is also the biggest reason why these people can’t find work in the first place. Families who have been on the dole for generations simply no longer have the skills needed (and some would say the desire) to find a job that will support them if they lose their welfare and medicaid benefits. This is why I thought a Vista-type program could help with training and education, allowing the government to assist both groups; the young people who can’t afford college or trade school, and people on welfare (or the Dole).

    The first time I thought of this idea was after reading an article about the back log of repairs needed for government subsidized housing in New York.

    We suffered from a similar problem in Chicago. Five years ago Chicago tore down many of their dilapidated subsidized housing units on the south side. The rumor was that they gave residents a fixed time to move out along with bus tickets to various cities. Nice way to eliminate your welfare issues, send them somewhere else. Seems we have a liberal welfare program in our county. Many of them chose Lafayette and now our city schools are burdened with the influx of students who are severely behind for their age, constantly disrupt classes, increased numbers of teenage pregnancies, worse drug and gang violence in our city than we had before, to name some of the many “benefits” we’ve received. The problem was getting so bad the county schools agreed to take a few of these students, so now the problem is bused to other schools as well.

    I’ve also started thinking about how many climate refugees we may end up having as climate change gains strength and more disasters unfold. Many of the people who fled New Orleans after Katrina are still living in other states. It is only the poor families without insurance that can’t rebuild, so they move somewhere else.

    I thought, why can’t we train these people to fix their own houses and apartment buildings so that they don’t become dilapidated? Why can’t we teach them to take better care of their children and their health? Wouldn’t they be better off receiving a wage rather than the dole? There are so many jobs that could be created just to fulfill their own needs. plumbers, carpenters, electricians, childcare, soup kitchens, gardens schools, etc… And think of how much they could improve their communities? If society is going to spend the money anyway, why not get a positive result from it instead of more generations spiraling down into poverty and degraded values. The day may very soon be approaching when governments can’t afford to provide dole. Then where will these people be?

    Seems like Australia is at least trying to find a solution.


    • Chris Johnson says:

      You’re picking up some ‘PI’ influences from Xabier. Fortunately, this is a mostly friendly blogsite, but some might object to ‘these people to fix their own houses and apartment buildings…children and health? wage…dole?’ I agree with you, of course, and believe there are ways to achieve those important social objectives, but the general thrust of modern American socio-political energy in urban areas is dependency and victimization, which appears to nourish these sociopathies.

      • xabier says:

        While on the subject of what we might call de-socialized young people, and the problems perpetuated by the welfare support of aimless lives, there’s another issue which crosses boundaries of class and income-group and level of education, with implications for our future society: spoiled narcissism. And maybe we should call it a ‘sapience’ problem, too, borrowing from Mr Mobus?

        Recently, I went back to my old College for a year- reunion: bad food, excellent and limitless malt whisky and a free room for the night (essential following the whisky). Chatting to the housekeeping staff I was a bit non-plussed when one said:’ We like to have older ones like you back,Sir, we get so much trouble from the students these days but you older ones know how to treat us.’

        Now, I’m only early middle aged, so to be described as something from an earlier Golden Age of good manners really took me aback, and the thought of these nice women having trouble with students just didn’t make sense anyway,and actually left me feeling rather angry. So after sympathetic noises, I dug deeper: what was going wrong?

        It seems the new problem is one of students being extremely, shockingly, rude to the staff who clean their rooms, change their beds (if they like you, even making the bed and plumping your cushions:luxury), etc, as they have done since the sixteenth century (which was certainly the date of my horrible old student room in the attic where one could hardly stand up!). They have the right to enter the room at any time, and you can’t bar their entry (this is also a primitive pastoral care system). And it’s always been like that (except that before WW2 they would cook atrocious breakfasts for you too!), and unquestioned.

        After hearing their woes, I asked what sort of students were behaving like this: spoiled rich kids, the privately educated, the ones from state schools ( the social mix is about 50/50) : was it drink? drugs? It seems to come down to students from all classes and backgrounds not wanting any intrusion into ‘their’ rooms, ‘their’ space, ‘their’ lives. And not really knowing how to interact with live human beings who are there to help and look after them, according to the basic rules of the society that is the College. Pure narcissism, encouraged by the modern way of life which is more detached from reality every day: ‘Get out of MY life!’ We are not talking about one or two rude people here, but a whole generation.

        So spoiled are they now that most refuse to start Term without the entire – and this is no exaggeration – contents of their rooms at home being brought up by car by their grey-haired parents. (I was sent up with a train ticket and whatever I could carry on my back,as was usual then).

        This is the urbanized, digitalized, generation, that wander along the street or hunch in their rooms always plugged into something, living like untouchable princelings at home, in rooms that parents probably don’t dare to enter, that will have to face the hard times that we can see developing.

        This is not another ‘It’s all going to the dogs!’ anecdote: it seems to me this has profound implications, as I see it being rather difficult for them to establish proper civil and working relations with the ’99 people’ that Don reminds us will be needed to keep them fed, and a lot of problems with adjusting to a reality that may very well disappoint their expectations.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          I’m strongly tempted to bounce your very moving message off an anthropologist and ask what he thinks? Has our society changed that much? Are the 20 somethings so self-obsessed and narcissistic that the social fabric is under attack? My youngest is 21 and not quite so anti-social, but I’m aware that many are somewhat disrespectful of their elders.
          Cheers, Chris

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Chris and Xabier
            I work with a self-selected group of young people…those who are interns on small farms. I find them far more mature than I was at their age. Some things are different, such as the much more casual and fleeting sexual relationships. But in terms of money, I find them a lot more conscientious. In my day, it was easy to get a job. All these kids now understand that jobs are really hard to come by. Almost all the kids I work with are college graduates, and some have masters degrees. Life has certainly not dealt with them the way most of them thought it would 5 years ago.

            Most of them think politicians are just a joke and corporate leaders are crooks. But they do have their digital networks..

            Don Stewart

          • xabier says:


            What dismays me is that these kids are meant to be the intellectual elite of Britain….!

            They do seem to run rings around their parents I’m afraid. This is a big change in the last 20 years: as I said, we just found ourselves away from home with a suitcase of clothes, not molly-coddled – cheap institutional sheets and blankets and a little radio (no music systems, lap-tops, wide-screen tvs, etc) did me just fine, but to them it would be hardship.

            But then the parents are to blame: ‘Turn yourself into honey and flies will devour you’, as the Arabs say.

            But from what Don says, there are plenty of fine young people out there with their heads screwed on the right way, above all in rural areas.

            Some derision of elders is very healthy and as old as the hills. After all, there’s much to mock in all of us is there not?

      • Chris,

        Yes, I see your point. If I was ever planning on running for a political office I’m sure my comments ended such aspirations! While it’s true that I have grouped people into a category I labeled “these people”, it wasn’t because I feel hatred or disgust for persons in poverty. I don’t see people in poverty as incapable of wanting a better life. I feel compassion for them, not indifference, which is what I often see happen in society when a problem is “fixed” by a government program and we don’t have worry about it anymore. I think as a society we have given up the hope that we can find a solution. This is a shame. Helping people in need was a good idea in theory, but when it became an institution it failed.

        I speak from experience on this issue. I have lived much of my life near or below the poverty line. My mother was a housewife. My father was a union pipe fitter and worked on building factories. He was often unemployed for long stretches during the 70’s and his alcoholism became much worse. I understand the pain of living in a “dysfunctional home”, which is a very nice euphemism for hell!

        When I was in graduate school living on a meager stipend, a friend said to me “It must be hard to be so poor!” Of course, this is the life of graduate students, so we in general don’t think much about it. It is just the sacrifice we make for higher eduction. But his comment took me back. I’ve never thought of myself as poor, even when technically I was poor. I had adopted the attitude of my grandmother who often described her life as a farmers wife during the Great Depression, “We learned to live within our means. We considered ourselves fortunate if we had a roof over our head and a little to put on the table.” Her stories have shaped my life. Even though she was widowed at 53 and lived on a very meager social security check, she always saved money. It was her “nest egg.” She was the epitome of “Wast not. Want not.” But she was rich with love for all she gave to her children and grandchildren. Our lives were enriched by knowing her.

        I’ve thought a lot lot about this issue. What happens when we label ourselves as ‘poor’? Why is it that some people move up out of poverty and others get sucked into a downward spiral? Obviously there are too many answers to that question to even begin addressing them all, and mental health and substance abuse (another euphemism for hell) play a large role.

        But I think in many ways the question relates to other strings of comments on this site. I think there is good evidence that high quality fresh food and a purpose driven life give us rewards of better health and better outlook on life. The opportunity to be responsible for our needs, to be able to take care of our self, there is a genuine value in such things.

        This, I think, is what has gone wrong with our modern system. Fossil fuels allowed some of us to live like kings of old, but in doing so we became a slave to the system. We are dependent on the economy to provide us with jobs so that we can buy all we need to survive. And in the U.S. that means import most of these things. And what happens when the energy and resources are not available for the system to continue supplying us with our needs? What happens when the system pollutes our planet in a way that threatens our survival?

        Mel might argue that the system can still serve us well if we just try to fix it. Gail will argue that there isn’t enough resources to fix it, and most of us agree. Many others, including Don and I, will argue that we need do something individually to help provide for our own needs. Whatever position one takes, I believe Gail is right, the system is going to fail and it won’t be much longer. After it fails we are all going to be required to do something to help ourselves survive, and whomever else we choose to help. The sooner we adapt to this new reality, the sooner we start to make some form of transition, the more likelihood that some will survive. Sitting by and wishing it weren’t true, or complaining about who is at fault, won’t generate any forward momentum at all.


        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Jody and Anyone Else Interested
          I was listening to Ugo Bardi’s third discussion with Doomstead Diner yesterday and learned that Toby Hemenway will be the interviewee next week. I don’t know exactly what he will say, but if you are interested you can listen to the interview when it is posted.

          I recommend that anyone who plans to listen also spend an hour or so with Toby’s lecture in Sebastopol, CA, which is on his web site:

          click on the first video or go directly to:

          As Toby describes the lecture, first we descend into the Empire of Mordor and then we re-emerge into the Shire. He covers some of the same drivers of human action that George Mobus describes such as the spiritual and the co-operative, with evidence that they predated agriculture. Agriculture may have grown out of the need to feed large numbers of people who gathered in order to meet their needs to co-operate in a spiritual environment. Then he traces the destructive power of agriculture both in terms of the broad environment and also on human flourishing.

          He then gives examples of flourishing in a spiritual and co-operative environment using the principles of permaculture in urban and suburban settings. He concludes by saying ‘I want to live directly connected to spirit, and with a model of abundance’.

          He says that if you think your sustenance comes from a job working in a bank, you will defend jobs in banking to the death. If, on the other hand, you think your sustenance comes from your garden, you will defend gardening…maybe not to the death.

          Pay attention when he is talking about the school in the Bahamas and the sewage disposal system. ‘It doesn’t cost enough’. ‘Nobody can make a lot of money doing this’. ‘No bond issues were floated’. If you think that your sustenance comes from more GDP, then you will favor sewage disposal that costs a lot more and you will elect politicians who will make systems like the one pictured illegal and use deadly force.

          Don Stewart

          • Thanks Don, I’ll check it out and finish my reading of the George Mobus article. It sounds like a philosophy with which I agree. Once one starts down the “garden path” it seems we arrive at a sense that there is a spiritual connection to life that is more important than the reasons we went to the garden in the first place. I think this is why our ancestors wrote myths of the Garden of Eden. Just a natural progression in human development I think. This is where Walden and Thoreau traveled.

            By the way, I’m also enjoying Robert MacFarlane’s books. I purchased several after you recommended them. If you enjoy the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching, you might enjoy “A Thousand Names for Joy, Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are” by Byron Katie. Really fascinating woman!


        • Chris Johnson says:

          Delightful, Jody,
          I accept with humility, appreciation, and general agreement. One of the benefits of reading good fiction is that good writers often show how lives are impacted. Just think of Pearl Buck or James Michener. No two lives are ever nearly close, and noone knows what’s going to happen, beginning to end. FYI, my grandfather graduated from Purdue in botany / agronomy in about 1910 and went to work in Hawaii, where he figured out how to fertilize the pineapple (iron is the big need), and became mildly famous. But he and his son, who went off to fly airplanes for the taxpayer, were both affected by the undiagnosed chemicals that were used ubiquitously in the fields. Thus both died young. And they left their children, etc., all different, all their own mysteries, as are all the rest of us.

          Gail and a few others have remarked, from time to time, that our generation lived at the peak of civilization. Never before — and perhaps never again — will so many people flaunt so much profligacy just on their daily commute to work. And throw money around as if it were kleenex. Is all that pretty much over? Is this the evening of last day? I don’t know, and I expect 99% of the people on this blog don’t really know either. Didn’t Yogi Berra have something to say about predicting the future?

          I do know that there are huge reservoirs of heat energy below the 20,000 foot level, and my partners believe much of that energy is harvestable are relatively low cost and good efficiency. So we have to try, as ignoring it would be churlish.

          BTW, before you joined this community Don had mentioned the Edo society in medieval Japan. If you enjoy Dao DeChing (this spelling is closer to the pronunciation), you might also appreciate the Japanese poets and philosophers. I’m quite sure Don would be thrilled if you were to compose a haiku about the dragonfly on the cucumber or something.
          Zen (Chan in Chinese), of course, is a mix of Buddhism and Daoism, and it can be very healthful.

          Cordially, Chris

          • Chris,
            You are a mystery to me. Each time I think I understand where you are coming from, you say something that surprises me and I have to reconsider my perceptions. I am curious about your age, and what other life’s experiences you have had. I am also curious why you appeared surprised that I have teenage sons. Unless that comment was something else.

            I’d really like to know more about your efforts to harness geothermal energy. You said you had partners, so I assume you are pursuing a new business venture. What can you tell me?

            I pronounce the words as Dao DeChing, but I still prefer the spelling as Tao Te Ching. Probably because that is how I first read it. It seems quite appropriate since one could say “The Tao that can be spelled, is not the eternal Tao.”

            I enjoy meditating with the Buddhist group that meets at the UU church on Monday nights. The Zen Buddhist group meets on Thursday. I’m told they face the wall. Reminds me too much of punishments when I was a child and set in the corner. I practice meditation as taught by a yogi, which comes from Hinduism, but is esoteric not dogmatic. I’m very eclectic and have incorporated insight from wherever I’ve found it. We used to ask our yoga instructor how many different yoga postures are there. He said there were 86,400. It took me many years to realize what he was trying to tell us. Goes to show you that I am a slow learner.

            Haiku, hmmm…ok here goes.

            Dragonfly’s wings keep
            buzzing past me and are gone
            cucumber hangs still

            best regards,

            • Scott says:

              Jody, I think it was Chris that wrote about the Geo thermal power that can be dug down to below our feet and there is energy there waiting to be harvested. But I believe that Gail may argue that we do not have the finance means the money needed now to build these things are short and unstable to undertake such an expensive but worthwhile endeavors.

              I would like to see it happen, but Gail may argue too little to late due to finance these projects we need now along with solar etc.

              If we had the political will to do it, but in reading tonight’s news they are more interested in invading Syria tonight.

              Looks like collapse has begun in these countries now, Egypt, Syria etc and will likely spread slowly towards Europe and then elsewhere in the years ahead, Be prepared the best you can folks!


          • Scott,
            I agree with you about unrest spreading to Europe. Every country that is near one failing could be overrun by those fleeing the collapse. I think this will happen when weather related droughts or disasters strike too.

            • Scott says:

              Hello Jody, I guess in the US we have to worry about Mexico next door which is struggling with its falling oil revenues too. I guess we can clearly see peak oil in looking at these countries.


        • xabier says:


          Your grand-mother sounds like my revered English great-granny. She fell into poverty, real defenceless poverty, from a comfortable life in 1912 London, when her husband died uninsured and bankrupt. With 9 children to bring up, the last still in her womb. No social security then.

          But she had courage and sense,and – luckily – good health.

          Her two responses to every challenge: ‘God will provide’ (Hymn singing was an entertainment for the family, especially ‘He who would valiant be’); and of any situation: ‘If I’m unhappy, it will be my own fault.’

          And like yours’ she miraculously saved money and had a little stocking of gold sovereigns by the time she died. A great example, these courageous women of old.

      • xabier says:


        I’m very uneasy about ‘workfare’, because although the principle is fine, it often just gets high-jacked by the big corporations for cheap labour, and it can be accompanied by slurs and insults from politicians and journalists.

        What use is shelf-stacking? None at all. But teach someone to grow their food, for life, and it’s a real development opportunity: real self- discipline (not just fear of getting sacked); effort, planning, etc. And I include in that making structures, fencing, clothes, maintaining tools and houses, breeding livestock, etc.

        There’s some very nasty rhetoric aimed at the unemployed here in Britain at the moment: a junior and very privileged minister even announced that ‘they have no grit’! It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

        We need to recognize that for many people the well-paid jobs, or indeed any jobs at all, of the past are simply never coming back, -even without a ‘collapse’ – and deal with it appropriately and positively , not demonize the unfortunate, or educate them for an economy that no longer exists. And not insult them.

        But that’s not the way we are going. To prepare for the Olympics in London, the Government bull-dozed several thousand vegetable plots in East London, which had been given ‘in perpetuity’ by a member of the aristocracy in the 19th century for the ordinary people of the East-End to feed themselves. But there wasn’t money in that for the Olympic parasites, was there?!

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