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:

    A Sprinkle of Good News from The World Bank (talk about big bureaucracies…) claiming that
    “prices of internationally traded food have declined for the third consecutive quarter since their historical peak in August 2012. Increased production, declining demand from large importers, and increasing stocks are exerting downward pressures on international prices, but global markets continue to be tight for maize. Domestic prices have generally followed seasonal trends, but wide variations remain. Large increases in domestic prices between February and June 2013 are due to unfavorable weather conditions, dwindling supplies, currency devaluations, and large public purchases. In addition, consumer price subsidies, far from being a thing of the past, continue to be used despite their past record of meager benefits to the poor, high fiscal costs, corruption episodes, and questionable nutritional effects.”

    • Thanks! It sounds like there are questions about what food is actually getting to the poor–whether the subsidies are enabling more purchase of soda and other junk food, for example. And there seem to be huge differences in price changes among countries.

      • Gail,
        I thought it was interesting that the World Bank report issued in July (probably written much earlier) had such a bad forecast for maize (corn). A year ago corn prices were above $8/bushel largely due to the severe drought in the U.S. In early July the prices were still above $7 but shortly after they plunged downwards after the USDA announced it’s forecast for a bumper crop this year due to favorable weather. Prices today are at $4.89/bushel. I don’t think I’ve seen them this low for a long time.

        This just goes to show how much weather will impact food prices and how volatile prices can be. Makes long range planning very difficult.

        I also was wondering if you could shed any light on current gasoline and oil prices. Indiana is seeing gasoline prices dropping at the same time as oil prices are going up. Oil prices were around $85/barrel for light sweet crude last November, and our gasoline was around $3/gal. As oil prices crept up to $95/barrel our gasoline crept up to $3.75 or so. Now oil is at $105 and our gas is at $3.40. In fact, as oil has been rising in July our gas prices have steadily declined. I don’t understand this. I know there isn’t a linear relationship between them because of all the variables, but in general they follow the same trend in direction of up or down.

        • gas jumped to $3.65 today.

          • Scott says:

            Jody and others, there have been lots of folks making replies here and I would like to see a wider communication with people posting on this site although we value the post from Chris, Xabier, Don and Mel etc, perhaps you and the other main posters could reply to some of the others too that are posting on this site.

            Perhaps my UFO post scared many people away. but I am just a retired government worker that saw something and seeing peak oil is a something that should worry us all.


          • Scott,
            I scanned backwards on this page of comments and didn’t see your post about a UFO. I apologize if you feel I’ve left out of any conversations. Communicating this way is new to me and I’m probably posting too much as it is, but I enjoy the “conversations”. There seems to be some sort of etiquette but it isn’t articulated so I’m learning as I go. But I do understand. It is nice when someone replies to our comments. Can you repost your comment about the UFO?

            • Scott says:

              Hello Jody, Okay here is the story one more time, folks- stop reading now if you do not want to read about the UFO… When I was 16 years old it was 1976 and I was working remote area at Old Gold Mine that was a lodge in Sierra Mountains. Up there you can see the skies very clear at night at the elevation of nearly 8 thousand feet where we saw it. We drove up to the top of the canyon to check on the forest fire that was burning about 15 miles away. We (4 people that worked at the lodge including me) saw a light hovering over the ridge across from us just about mile or so away and at first we thought it was a helicopter, but light was brilliant that shined from it a blueish green that was so bright it surrounded craft which looked round. The light was so brilliant it looked like nothing I had ever seen. We watched this for a few minutes and then it decided to leave, the think leaped into the sky and right into space so fast that if you had looked away for a moment you would have missed it. It kind of like jumped and each jump it seemed to increase the distance and we watched it leave so fast unlike anything we currently have, faster than rocket and it became one of the smallest stars in the Sierra Sky and just disappeared. One of the men with us was in such shock he fell to the ground and rolled around and asked us just to take him home and he kept saying I did not see that… But we all saw it.

              Ever since then I have wondered if there is source of energy used by aliens or ? who knows. It kind of gives me hope to have seen this thing. So I have brought up the issue a few times on the blog if there is a type of energy out there that is not yet known to us. The power and the speed of this craft we saw take off with was spectacular.

              There have been thousands of sightings around the planet of UFO’s (there are documentaries that have been made about some of these sightings) and many more profound than mine like some abduction stories I have read about. We just saw it from across the canyon and that was enough for me to become a believer.


          • Scott,
            Yes, now I do remember seeing this in an earlier post. I guess for me UFO’s are in the same category as psychic ability. If you have seen or experienced these things you believe. If you haven’t, it is hard to believe, or worse, something people will ridicule. Probably why most people don’t talk about it.

            I have no problem believing that you saw what you described. It certainly must have been a very interesing experience. I’ve also seen and experienced some unexplained things in my life. When I lived in Arizona and traveled in the desert SW the sky at night was so much clearer it was easier to see stars as well as unexplained lights moving. My husband saw a light that was about the same brightness as an airplane, but didn’t have the blinking tail light. It also just seemed to stay stationary rather than move across the sky. Then all of a sudden it shot across the sky from horizon to horizon. Unexplained event. Hard to gather evidence of proof.

            It’s difficult for me to know what technology our military has developed that might explain some of these things. Not that I’m a conspiracy advocate. Personally, I believe it likely that life exists on other planets in other solar systems. Seems odd if in all this vast universe we were the only intelligent life form.

            I think that human’s are at a stage of evolution and there may well be other life forms at higher stages of evolution. It seems logical to me, but not provable. If there is more advanced technological lifeforms capable of traveling to our planet using a power source we don’t yet know about, I wonder what they would think of us? Why would they want to share it with us. Perhaps this type of wondering is why I enjoy reading science fiction.

            Seems to me that until such time that they revel it to us, we are just going to have to keep working at what we do know, constrained by limits we discuss here all the time.


            • Scott says:

              Thanks Jody, I totally agree with all you said. These things may be out there and it gives some of us hope and they can also be frightful as we are dealing with the unknown. I also understand that we need to stick to the points that we see and until something reveals itself if they are indeed out there. Just something to keep an eye on on the “back burner”.

              Gail does not have to endorse this and although she may be interested by my posts, I can see why it would be a difficult subject to put out there. So Gail just read and delete this if you wish.

              Gail may not wish to include these in the blog and that is okay, I understand that this is not a widely accepted subject, but also, I would point out that peak oil is even a lesser accepted subject out there than ET’s and UFO’s.

              At least the group looked at the issue and are now aware of some other possibilities. I have no intention on making our group looking like we believe in a bunch of green men from mars and so far we have not received enough data to make a determination regarding any of these outside influences that may exist. I just told a story about something I saw long ago when I was 16 in 1976.

              The possibility of a unknown energy out there still exists in my mind. But realistically speaking we would really need to be able to take way more than half of the people off the planet move them if that were even possible to save the Eco-systems of the Earth. At this point we no hope of that happening. I have talked about is there a garden planet out there we can move to and divide up our overpopulated Earth to to other planets. No evidence so far on that.

              But certainly we cannot ignore the thousands our perhaps millions of UFO type sightings and strange stories of abductions on the planet Earth this century and last.

              So that is all I will say about that and let us all watch the skies but we must keep in mind the business at hand here on Earth.

              For me I am just watching and curious about what shows up in next few years on that subject.

              Best Regards,

          • Chris Johnson says:

            Jody, I’m not a connisseur of such things, but I’ve picked up a few tidbits over the years — others may have better and/or contradictory tidbits, which would be welcome.
            1. The correlation between gasoline prices at the pump and oil barrel prices is loose at best.
            2. The retailers tend to raise prices just before a 3 day weekend or holiday week.
            “And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

          • Gail,
            My reply to Scott yesterday at 12:08 pm says “Your comment is awaiting moderation”. I’ve never seen this message before. Just curious.

            • An author can choose words that will put posts into “review first” mode. WordPress has built in moderation requirements. For example, WordPress asks authors to review comments that have over a certain number of links in them.

              FYI, the word that triggered moderation in this case was “conspiracy”. While the comment may be fine, it gives a hint that this may be a 1,000 word discussion about the latest theory.

  2. Don Stewart says:

    Dear End of More and Others
    The current post by George Mobus is relevant to many of my comments:

    Note a few themes: collapse and the chance to make new; the survival of ideas such as permaculture; the natural role of co-operation in groups. So learn permaculture and go out and find the other 99!
    Don Stewart

    The only way forward now is the way backward. Humanity will have to take a time out from its energy cocoon-based life. It is time to go back to biological profit taking and far fewer individuals living on the planet if there is ever going to be some kind of settling down. The planet will take care of imposing the punishment. We are witnessing the on-set of a population bottleneck scenario and the pruning process will be chaotic and definitely not pretty.

    When the dust settles, if there are humans left standing, then life will be very different from what we have come to believe is normal. The human animals will once again be constrained to just the biological profits needed to maintain life and reproduce. I do expect that the few remaining will try to retain some semblance of an energy cocoon to the extent of Neolithic or early Bronze Age lifestyles augmented with knowledge of permaculture and a few more modern tools that can be manufactured with minimal energy inputs. For a very long time thereafter human beings will once again have to adapt to environments with very limited resources. And they will have to evolve beyond the limited capacities they have for sapience.

    The other two loci provide more specific, yet generally subconsciously processed, cognitive capacities, and these are what more directly affect cooperative behavior as the default mode (aggression and selfishness are now thought to be triggered by specific situations or as due to brain defects). The first is systems perspective/thinking. This facility, if sufficiently operative, is what helps shape perceptions and guides integration of new information into our tacit knowledge base. It is also responsible for making us look at the larger picture, or attempting to put instances into whole contexts. Systems thinking allows the mind to encompass the whole group and situate the group in the larger environment (which includes other groups).

    The second is strategic perspective/thinking, which is the ability to model the world (along with the self) and, in essence, run simulations far out it time and space. It is the ability to use your systems knowledge to see what the likely scenarios for the future look like taking into account all of the model veracity that your judgment and systems thinking can bring to bear.

    Anyone who has been an observer of the world for very long and has built up a veridical model of how it works can feel the long term consequences for whole groups of cooperation being for everyone’s good. Moral sentiments include desires to make others happy and to not make them inadvertently unhappy. But it also includes desires to see those who do not cooperate (so-called “cheaters” in game-theoretic treatments of social and evolutionary psychology) punished for not doing so. This is experienced as emotional responses, joy at seeing someone smile at you or anger/disgust at someone’s selfish behavior.

    So my argument is that there is a possibility that humans may evolve even greater sapience capacity as a result of a future stressful environment that will require cooperation among members of groups

  3. To all,
    Here is a previous post that I asked Don to respond to. I would also like to hear others opinions on this idea. The string of comments had to do with welfare reform.

    “I have thought for many years that we should convert our welfare system into a work fair system. We could start with all the subsidized housing that is in dire need of repairs and maintenance, places in the inner cities that lack jobs or affordable daycare for those that want to work, and have poor access to job training, information on preventative healthcare, and nutritious food.

    Everyone in these situations receiving welfare would get a job working in building maintenance, daycare, clinics, kitchens, or gardens. Everyone would be expected to work for the money and benefits they receive. It would require some upfront capital to establish daycare, clinics, kitchens, and provide tools but I don’t think it would be as much as people think. A few pilot projects would be interesting.

    At the same time the government could offer young people the opportunity to pay for advanced schooling by creating a vista program, where graduates must work for a specific number of years in return for loan forgiveness. I think we already have such programs in place. The educated young people would help to educate the welfare population as well as staffing these facilities so that those on welfare can learn how to take care of themselves as well as a marketable skill. Eventually those on welfare might be able to leave and find work in their respective field. We would train them as plumbers, painters, carpenters, electricians, nurses, cooks, child care, teachers, urban farmers/gardeners, etc.

    We are already paying to support these people, why not use that money to help them support themselves?”

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Jody
      I am not going to say anything about education, because I don’t think I have any original thoughts on the subject.

      Here, I’ll stick with the food issue. My experience with this comes from looking, as an outsider, at poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods and food and community organization (or lack thereof) and also at the pervasive web of laws and bureaucracy which prevent people from doing what they need to do.

      My thinking is also influenced by the conceptions of Anarchy as newly articulated by Dmitry Orlov and the notion of Membership as recently examined by John Michael Greer. I am also influenced by Charles Hugh Smith’s observation that the most successful ‘intentional communities’ are owned by someone who can evict any bad actors quickly.

      Suppose the Nation, State, and Local governments went bankrupt and I were appointed the King of it all. So I could just rescind with the stroke of a pen the jungle of laws and programs and start from scratch. From the government angle, in no particular order, I would:
      1. Eliminate all zoning laws which regulate the use of land to grow, prepare, and sell food.
      2. Eliminate the requirement that one have a Commercial kitchen in order to sell prepared food.
      3. Offer tax incentives to those who either grow food in their yards or rent their land out to SPIN farmers. (Small Plot Intensive).
      4. Eliminate any taxes on food prepared in home kitchen and sold as a way to make a living.
      5. Eliminate any building codes or zoning restrictions which prevent people from constructing modest shelters.
      6. Then I would tackle the food stamp program.
      a. The program is eliminated as of a date certain. (say, one year)
      b. Cities and counties are required to offer gardening opportunities
      i. Any individual can go to neighbors and arrange to SPIN garden their yards
      ii. Some people will lease land from the city or county and offer individual garden plots with basic amenities such as water and tools and compost.
      iii. Some people will lease land from the city or county and offer communal gardening (everyone shows up on Tuesday to work and we have two harvest days, etc.)
      iv. If someone is incapable of working, they need to appeal to private charities.
      v. No one is guaranteed tenure. If you abuse the land you are SPIN farming, you will be thrown out. If you abuse the individual plots or the communal plots, you will be thrown out. You won’t be thrown out by a court, but by a very short chain of command. You will have to learn to get along with people and pull your own weight.
      vi. Anyone who is SPIN farming or participating in one of the community gardens gets an allotment of grains and dried beans (not industrial food).

      The perennial question…but what about the people in the teeming cities? My guess is that, in order to survive, they will have to disperse to the countryside. When they get there, there will be plenty of labor opportunities as a result of the collapse of industrial agriculture. And they can construct modest shelters cheaply.

      What the preceding is, is a REACTION to the triple problems of economic collapse, social disintegration and abject dependence, and political bankruptcy. My assumption is that we have to get real very quickly. As Albert Bates put it recently, ‘we have to find the others’. (From the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind). We have to establish our 99 connections.

      Don Stewart

      • Don
        to briefly sum up what you described, it would be an economy of serfdom I’m afraid.
        Not very nice, especially for the serfs
        Are you advocating planting food with digging sticks?
        because to use anything else requires energy input again. a one horse plough can only turn over 1 50th of a 50 hp tractor.
        Serfs also require overseers, who ‘oversee’ …they dont work.
        therefore they have to live on the surplus output of the workers. Which is a system we’ve tried before.
        I don’t need to go on—you can get my drift with this I think

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear End of More
          It’s far from serfdom, and there aren’t any horses doing any plowing. It’s an anarchic system where everyone ‘finds the others’. One potential bottleneck in the system is the people in charge of the community farms. But if they are limited to a single acre, if there are hundreds or thousands of them, people can freely choose which community farm they go to, if they always have the alternative of SPIN farming, then I don’t think the bottleneck is a serious issue.

          A serf could not call his time his own. People who are growing food in a community garden or SPIN garden have time to work at cash paying jobs of their choice. It’s just that I propose to resurrect the ‘home economy’ from the dumpster where it has been tossed. And to kill the notion that free humans should be dependent on handouts. And to cut through the obstacles which prevent the re-emergence of the home economy.

          Whether it will be miserable depends largely on the psychological state of each individual.

          Don Stewart

      • Don,
        I think your idea has merit. I also think this may possibly be initiated as government resources shrink and more people are left without subsistence.

        I would also like to see the development of abandoned city lots community garden space so that inner city housing areas had access to growing food without moving or traveling far.

        I like the idea of giving people beans and grains, but I would include some cooking instructions to help them understand how to use grains and beans.

        In Lafayette we have a wonderful program called the Lafayette Adult Reading Academy (LARA). They offer English as a second language classes and get a rich diversity of students of all ages from many countries around the world. Likely, many come with spouses or children who are coming as graduate students. They also offer students of all ages opportunity to get their GED if they didn’t complete high school, which attracts U.S. born citizens at the lower socioeconomic level. This creates very interesting dynamics in their program.

        The academy started hosting summer pot luck parties for their students and they get a wide assortment of home cooked ethnic foods. The woman who runs the program said that the students often share recipes. Many of the dishes are made from beans and grains. This method of “teaching” cooking seems to be one most people find enjoyable.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Consider the pot luck meals and the law. Suppose that a poor person who needs money tries to cook ethnic meals and invite people into their home and charge them for the meal. Then they will run into a thicket of laws which will prevent them from doing it. We knew and ate with a woman from India who was inviting up to 10 people to her dinners. The County shut her down. Albert Bates went to Yucatan to write a book and rented a cheap room. He said there were a steady stream of food vendors coming around so that getting food was never a problem. The US does its best to keep that from happening.

          I despair of government ever ‘getting it’. Governments say they have to protect the white tablecloth restaurants from competition or they babble about unsanitary conditions or they talk about having to tax informal dinners so that they can hire a gaggle of inspectors to make sure all these poor people are abiding by the letter of the law. It’s easy to see why poor people see the government as an enemy.

          There is a long-standing community dinner in an old farmhouse outside Ithaca, NY run by Priscilla Timberlake and Lewis Freedman. They started it as a way to raise some cash, jobs out of college being scarce at the time. Their book The Great Life Cookbook is endorsed by everybody who is anybody around Ithaca, and the pictures are inspiring with all these happy people gathered in an old farmhouse eating good food. Of course, they are middle class, can afford the inspections and regulations about commercial kitchens, and all that overhead. Poor people can’t afford that nonsense.

          One way or the other, I think the US is going to have to confront reality. I see government as a major obstacle.

          Don Stewart

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Jody, I strongly subscribe to your proposals, plus some. It is essential that we try to avoid losing a generation. Among the other relatively simple construction and building improvement tasks that could/should be funded are upgrading insulation and windows for residences and commercial buildings. Similarly, although slightly more expensive, geothermal heating and cooling systems can make a huge difference. That’s just a couple of easy ones. There are many more: road repair and maintenance, etc.
      BTW, the boss of Siemens USA put out some supportive ideas regarding apprenticeship. Well worth reading:

      • xabier says:


        Sadly, in Britain the unemployed are just pushed into shelf-stacking placements in giant supermarket chains, which merely provide the latter with no-cost labour. Or sent on ill-judged courses that make a few providers rich. It’s all scandalous.

        Give the working man a spade or a paint brush is what I say!

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Concur, of course, Xabier.

          But I’m more concerned about the youth, who will learn all the wrong lessons growing up a punk in a hood, selling dope and knocking off stores and old ladies to make a few bucks. And refining a culture of dependency and victimization, angry at everyone who hasn’t been so unfortunate. They become cancerous.
          Only the Germans have installed and stuck with an apprenticeship program, and their unemployment levels — youth as well as adult — demonstrate the difference. What is it about the Germans? Is it a ‘communitarian sentiment’ in their culture that is lacking elsewhere? (Actually, Japan also has tightly woven social structures). Americans have allowed the ill-defined, fuzzy notion of ‘freedom’ to assume dominance of their society, rather than responsibility and commitment to family and institutions. It’s strange, too, because scouting and other communities (church, school, etc.) can have strong impacts. But they seem to have lost some of those impacts. Or is it just me approaching dotage? Are we middle-aged too far gone to be good judges anymore about what would be good or bad for society? Do the statistics even matter? Does any of it matter much if (in the Buddhist view) ‘all of life is an illusion’? And especially if the current ‘illusion of waning prosperity’ may soon be overtaken by a hard illusion of starvation.

          Maybe the healthy, strong youths will find their stride in the coming collapse. But will they want to maintain a civilization? Boy, that lCeads to a whole cauliflower garden of questions.

          Cheers, Chris

          • Scott says:

            Hello Chris, I think it just boils down to where you live and what the local culture is. I think as oil runs low will will be pulling into our borders and local cultures may prevail. Some cultures like the Germans and Japanese can be very strict and they may fare well in collapse but also there are some very strong folks especially young people living in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. I think we may see islands of prosperity during collapse in some regions.


          • xabier says:


            Seventy years later, it’s widely recognized that the Welfare State,and state education system, in Britain has had some very negative moral consequences, above all for the working-class urban young. It is certainly out-of-date now, and yet all reforms are very ill-conceived and clumsy.

            I was intrigued to read in a book by Rebecca West about life in immediate post-War Germany that the Germans were presented – proudly – with the new British welfare model for the rebuilding of Germany, but rejected it to develop their own model.

            All Germans and Austrians I have known have tended to be very rule-bound, orderly, people. The cultural clashes between Germans and other students when I was at university were very amusing indeed!

            Certainly, the path from school to work has been more carefully planned in Germany, and was for long ignored in Britain where a liberal arts-based education was to thinly spread over all with little thought to later life and the needs of industry.

  4. Don Stewart says:

    Jody Tishmack and anyone else who is interested

    I recommend that you go to

    and buy Larry Santoro’s talk for a dollar and fifty cents. A few excerpts:
    1. In case you haven’t heard, the future is Abundant
    2. Do Epic S..t
    3. Beware the Peddlers of Fear
    4. Revolution into Renaissance
    5. Let’s not embrace Sustainability because we fear the future. Let’s embrace sustainability because we love the things we love about right now.

    He defines Permaculture thusly: Permaculture Design is decision making and problem solving protocols based on the patterns of Nature.

    Thus, a forest doesn’t apply phosphate rock to itself, it doesn’t bring in organic matter in trucks, and—sorry about that—it doesn’t turn compost. So, to the extent that we can copy nature’s patterns, we minimize the work we have to do and our demand on resources. That relates to all that verbiage I wrote about cash crops and cover crops.

    Another thing he talks about is Dunbar’s Number, which is 100. It takes 100 people to feed 100 people. So if you are thinking post collapse or just plain old sustainability, think about having connections to 99 other people. He also talks about the necessity for each of the 100 having valuable skills. The group is going to ask ‘why should we allow YOU into our group? what can you do?’

    I think you will like the talk…Don Stewart

  5. you are perhaps an accurate sounding board for people in general Mel
    Taking mankind as a whole, you, and they (and perhaps we) are worshipping at the altar of hope, sacrificing wishes to the god of they
    unfortunately, they will not heed our prayers, for the simple reason that they have no answers no matter how many wishes we offer up to them

    in the entire recorded history of mankind, there has never been a major change of social direction without violent conflict and revolution.
    people just don’t believe that change is necessary. their personal status quo is of prime importance.
    for that reason, natures stretches to breaking point, unstoppable pressures build up then change happens very rapidly
    that is what will happen to humanity

  6. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    This blog does an excellent job of confronting us with the conditions which will likely compose ‘reality’ in the future. We’ve been much less successful, as a group, in figuring out what we might do about that reality. Dave Pollard wrote an interesting article about The Death of Imagination, and how that death severely hampers us in figuring out what to do…Don Stewart

    So that’s why I speak of the death of imagination. When our culture collapses, and we run out of cheap energy and cheap money and cheap labour to provide and operate our mind-numbing technologies, the survivors will have to learn, again, to imagine. They will discover it isn’t hard, or expensive, and that it’s fun, and that with practice they can get very good at it. It’s part of who, underneath the pall of our declining culture, we are.

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      Wise words, Don. Just a little question: Why do you find it so difficult to imagine a world where all the city dwellers are starving because they do not have enough land, if any, with which to feed themselves and you in the Permaculture movement need to adapt your farming techniques so that Permaculture not only feeds those who tend the crops, but also feeds those self same and starving city dwellers?

      • Don Stewart says:

        For the ten thousandth and last time. I don’t think any of us can, as a matter of fact, take on the responsibility of feeding someone else. Those who are wise will be thinking about the issue, those who are foolish will not. I think ancient fables serve well, here.

        Don Stewart

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          I cannot recall your ever saying that Permaculture will not be able to feed more that the individual tending its crops. If that is the case, then it oes not suit the state of development that the human species has achieved and small wonder it is taking so long to catch on. We simply cannot let the doctors, surgeons, scientists and all the other people doing important work starve because they have more important things to do for us than spend their time messing around in muddy fields producing food for themselves.

          Having said that, Jody manages to feed a family of five on only about three hours per day, which doesn’t tally with your statement of not being possible for anyone to take on the responsibility of feeding anyone else.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Let’s put it this way. Who do you think is going to feed YOU?

            Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Don, if we could manage to do something about the fact that the energy supply to the food industry is going to be reduced as the supply of oil diminishes, then I expect the people who feed me now to be able to continue to feed me. I do not know all their names, nor can I identify each and everyone of them, but I doubt that you can either, unless you get absolutely all your food and farming/gardening tools from your plot of land. If you purchase anything, instead of growing it or making it (tools, implements etc.) then you, too, to some extent should be keen to maintain the status quo.

              I haven’t grown anything in the way of food for ages, except for a couple of plum trees that I bought earlier this year for aesthetic reasons to complete my front garden. If I get to the plums before the locals do (they are very near the track that runs past my house) then I will eat them, but I won’t rely on doing so.

              If the food supply dries up locally, I can guarantee that very little of any food that I was responsible for growing (and it would need to be very tolerant of being poorly treated) would not end up on my plate because anyone from the nearby town who comes scavenging for food would almost automatically go past my house; a fact that only adds to my view that it would be futile to even bother. I do not enjoy gardening and much prefer to mess around in my workshop or do something with my computer, which might also be futile, but I have managed to make a gas missile weapon that might come in useful if it all goes really pear-shaped, a better use of my time than struggling to grow food for others to steal, food, I might add, that would be an attraction to unsavory types.

          • Hello all,
            In answer to your post Don, I agree that our civilization currently suffers a deplorable lack of imagination. We will need to imagine new ways of doing things, which can actually be quite fun once we get started.

            I also want to clear up a few misconceptions. My oldest son lives with his wife and daughter in Montana. There are only four of us at home. Second of all, if you look at the list of food I said I store, much of our food is still being purchased outside of the home. Although I do grow a lot of food, cook a lot of food from scratch, and can a lot of food, we are still not self-sufficient. So, technically, I am not feeding even four people.

            However, that being said, I have the knowledge of how to grow more food. I grow mostly heirloom varieties and save some seeds. I can save more if I need to. I have grown beans for drying, as well as wheat. But I don’t know if I can grow enough wheat to make the amount of bread we eat. I have books in my library that tell me what to do, just haven’t had the need to do it yet.

            Most of the food we eat (except for olive oil) can be grown in Indiana. This is why I am fully in support of developing the small farmers Don is talking about who will be able to grow beans, grains, and forage such as hay for animals. I also work with urban farmers and city gardeners, helping them grow food even on their patio.

            Now, how do I imagine a collapse. I believe that my food in storage will be enough basic staples to last the four of us for 6 to 12 months if there was no store bought food was available. I think by this time a network of food supply would be reestablished from the small farming operations that already exist in our community. How expensive this food would be is anyone’s guess. Knowing these small farmers is a valuable asset.

            Barter items will become very important. One of the reasons why I have kept potbelly pigs is because they are easy to bred and would make good barter items. I think of meat rabbits now and then, but have enough on my hands right now. I also have a rooster and chickens that go broody. I can produce chicks for barter. We have neighbors within 10 miles that raise dairy goats but not chickens. We have neighbors across the road that have three horses. Neighbors on the others side that have a herd of Angus cows. We are 10 miles from the city’s edge, but only 3 miles from a small community that was once a thriving farm community. There are three farmer’s that grow for the market within five miles of us. Many people near us already have gardens, or produce something they can use for barter.

            I know how to use a lot of weeds and wild foods that are easy to grow and plentiful around here. Yes, special items such as morel mushrooms in our woods would be picked by everyone who knows where to find them, but I doubt others recognize the value of lamb’s quarter, dandelion, plantain, and stinging nettles. I also doubt that once we stop mowing our lawns we will run out of weeds to forage.

            With respect to vegetables, we would have to significantly ramp up production, planting some of the dried beans for example, that I currently buy each year. But, I know how to do this and have the tools (several sets of them in fact) to make this happen. Neither we nor our neighbors will starve.

            With respect to our nearest neighbors who are firmly and proudly in the “red neck” category, we have had great fun over many bottles of beer drank late into the night discussing the coming economic collapse. They told me they already had the “compound” laid out. Since they go back many generations in this area of Indiana, I am quite sure I can take their word on this. I asked them if we were included and they said “Hell yes! You’re the most important person because you know how to grow food!” I told him, as long as your all out at 7 AM weeding, I’ve got no problem with that. I doubt that anyone would be allowed to be a slacker. We are all pretty hard working folks.

            With respect to security, Mel, lets just say guns and ammo won’t run out for a very long time.

            This is how I imagine one possible future. But while the economy is still working, and we still have income and debt to pay, I am going to continue gardening, cooking, collecting books, and trying to educate others about the importance of living well now. I personally think we need all the farmers, gardeners, and cooks we can muster. The doctors, surgeons, and scientists will need to take their turn in the mud if they want to eat, unless someone values their skills enough to barter with them for food.


            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Jody
              I think what you are doing is eminently sensible. There is no point in trying to live with ‘post collapse resources’ until collapse actually happens (if it ever does happen). But you have very signficant skills which can be applied more extensively if you need to. And you have a lot of connections. Also resources in the form of tools and animals. Janaia Donaldson should probably make a video of you to inspire the rest of us laggards.

              Regarding the depletion of phosphate rock. First, if collapse happens the way Gail thinks it might, there simply won’t be any industrial fertilizer available. So the industrial agricultural system will have multiple challenges including transportation and purchasing inputs like fertilizer and harvesting and on and on. If there is no collapse, then we can expect phosphates to go the same way as oil for the same reasons.

              Did I tell you I went to a cover crop seminar on Monday? A local farmer went for 15 years without bringing any fertility boosters onto his farm. No fertilizer and no off the farm compost. He was relying strictly on recycling and cover crops. (For the last 2 years, he has been using a different rotation and has had to bring in some outside fertility. He is going to tinker with his current rotation and see if he can become entirely self-sustaining again.) So it is a myth that farms cannot work without fertilizer and compost from outside the farm. They can, but the farmers need to know what they are doing and plan precisely their cash crop/cover crop rotations.

              It is much easier for a home gardener to achieve self-sustaining status. All you have to do is keep recycling everything that comes out of your garden. Plus all you can steal from the neighbors. The farmer has to offset the nutrient losses they experience when they sell something which goes to town. In Edo Japan, the farmers went into town and diligently collected food scaps and humanure to bring back to the countryside.

              It is also important to keep nutrients from leaching. Using good permaculture practices such as deep rooted plants which bring nutrients up to the surface and put them in leaves which then drop and decay leaving the nutrients in the top layers of soil are important.

              If you haven’t read Gaia’s Garden, I suggest it as a good reference on nutrient cycling.

              One other thing about nitrogen. (I can’t remember whether I have mentioned this or not). At the session Monday, the Ag College professor was emphasizing the need to till under nitrogen and organic matter rich cover crops. But then she showed a graph from a 2011 study which showed that the organic matter in the soil is actually highest with organic, no till. (She didn’t explain the contradiction…I think it is inertia. Repeat the old story.) The cover crop is killed by winter or by crimping and left as a mulch which is then planted into by drilling or by transplants. The worst organic matter is a result of conventional chemical agriculture combined with plowing. Chemical agriculture with no till isn’t much better. Organic with tilling is a little better than the chemical agriculture but not a lot better.

              I visited briefly with the farmer who spoke at the cover crop seminar today. My comment was ’30 years ago Ruth Stout and Emilia Hazelip showed that planting into mulch is the right thing to do, so why are we surprised?’ He responded, ‘Yes, but the Establishment doesn’t believe it until some academic proves it’.

              But if you are using chemical agriculture you are killing the biological activity in the soil. So the decomposers are all dead and do not attack the mulch and take it under the surface with them. That is why organic practices are important. If you are mulching heavily and not applying herbicides and insecticides, then you will quickly get a very vibrant soil food web going which will put the organic matter and the nitrogen in the soil and in the bodies of the critters and you don’t need outside fertility.

              My friend, the farmer, said that he believes that the mulch method is especially important in the Southeast because of our warm, wet climate. If you have a good soil food web, the organic matter and the nitrogen disappear quickly. The academics draw two bell shaped curves—but the available nitrogen peaks before the peak of need by the plants. What I think is that the mulch is broken down more slowly, and so better matches the peak needs of the plants.

              Winter killing is not reliable here for most cover crops. So crimping is the correct solution in many cases. My friend uses a jury-rigged crimper behind a walk-behind tractor. He would like to have one of those water-filled rollers with the chevrons, but money is always an object. But he does not till the soil. The killing has to be done at precisely the right time when the plant has given up on growth and is ready to put its nutrients into seed and then die. Crimp too early and the plant struggles back to life. Crimp too late and the nutrients are in the seeds, which will then sprout when you don’t want them to.

              I think this is still a work in progress. At our small farm convention in November, a Rodale guy will be here to lead two sessions. We also have a retired professor from Virginia Tech who is doing on the farm sessions mostly in western North Carolina.

              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Don, it’s quite obvious that your method of farming is vastly superior to the one we are currently stuck with. The problem is that by your own admission, your method is just not capable of feeding the numbers we have now, let alone the number we will soon have.

              Is there a way out of that situation? I did think that population control would be a natural spin off from discussing how we feed people so that we avoid resource/food wars, or even local inter-group battles. I expected that discussion to take the form of: We have an energy shortage > Solution: build more power plants to produce energy: It’s the wrong sort of energy > Solution: adapt whatever needs the energy so that it can use what the power plants produce. From that discussion would come the fact that we are trying to feed far more people than we should be and with that fact would come suggestions for remedial action, about which I have no opinion, only some loose thoughts that would need professional oversight and that I would only put forward as a thought starter.

              The discussion has not gone the way I had hoped, but the problem still exists. While some on this site seem to think that it should just happen and let the dice fall where they may, I think we can do better than that. So Don, or anyone involved in Don’s type of food production, if someone gave you, and all food producers like you, a magic oil barrel (bear with me, I am not playing a joke), one that every night when you went to bed, automatically replenished itself, would that help improve the yields from your Permaculture and similar type of farming? If the answer is ‘yes’, then do you think there is any chance of adapting your methods so that yields might approach the needs of today’s population?. Again, if the answer is ‘yes’, then what can be the objection to building a fleet of nuclear power stations and funding a massive project to electrify farm machinery and equipment? I am well aware that it is not that simple and indeed it might be impossible in the timescale we have available, having wasted so much time already. More importantly, if would give us some time, time that those alive today can use to consider seriously whether they really want to bring children into a situation where they are likely to die from starvation. It would also give future generations a pointer as to the best direction of travel.

              There is one thing that everyone who thinks that they are safe because of their personal food supply situation should bear in mind. If society does collapse due to a lack of food, or before that due to lack of sensible financial administration by the central banks, among others, then the armed forces will collapse too as their members abscond in order to protect their kith and kin. There will come a point where armaments that the armed services have at their disposal will not be secure and will fall into the wrong hands. Should that happen, I don’t think it will matter how well you might consider yourself prepared. If people so armed want what you have, they will have it, probably over your dead bodies. I think a better route should be to try and do something about food security now, even if it is too late. Who knows, something might happen to save the day. it didn’t work for that lot on the Titanic, but we might as well try. And while we are doing so, does anyone have any ideas as to how we can reduce the size of our population without all the grief?

            • Don Stewart says:

              When natural farming or permaculture or whatever you want to call it is done correctly, yields go up. They aren’t necessarily the kind of yields you used to get, but you have MORE biological activity from which to harvest, you are building soil rather than destroying soil, you are much less dependent on irrigation, you don’t use chemicals, etc.

              The problems with feeding people in a sudden collapse (in no particular order)
              1. Lack of skilled people
              2. The jungle of laws restricting what people can do
              3. The need to reshape the soil to manage water better
              4. It takes some time to get an ecosystem established
              5. Poor distribution of people across the landscape (overcrowded cities, etc.)
              6. Prior destruction of rural villages
              7. Prior destruction of farmland with industrial practices (as described by Jody)
              8. Severe concentration of ownership thanks to Neo-Liberal economics, Thatcher, Reagan, Bernanke, etc.
              9. Transportation and distribution collapse.
              10. Ignorance of the consumers. (A mid-40s woman came into my food co-op yesterday who said that she had never, in her life, bought a vegetable and prepared it.)

              Only the the first and third are peculiar to natural or permaculture farming. A collapse of the type Gail envisions would, I think, devastate industrial agriculture and Big Food. A Tverberg collapse would create a few problems for Jody Tishmack, but nothing she can’t overcome. And this gets back to David Holmgren’s comments. Permaculture is a bottom up effort. We are trying to take care of ourselves and our 99. You keep trying to make it into a top down effort. ‘What is your roll out timetable?, who will decide, etc.’ A bottom up plan can’t be described in government bureaucratese.

              I have previously stated my belief that, given the lack of interest by most people in doing anything at all to make themselves more resilient, a very high percentage of the people now alive will die in a severe global collapse. It wouldn’t be like Greece where people can emigrate to another country.

              You rely on your pension and people you don’t know to feed you, as the present time. I suggest you study what happened to Gorbachev when Russia collapsed. His pension was effectively cut to pennies on the ruble. Have you set up a situation where survival requires 99 others and you have no one?

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Mel, I do not think there is a way to reduce the population without the grief. Even if every couple in the world had just one child (which will not happen), we would find ourselves with too many old people and not enough young to support the elders. I do not see a solution to this one, the many different religions of the world would make it hard to make policy for family planning on a world basis. Many religions encourage families to have as many kids as they can.

              I think the population will continue to grow until collapse comes.

              I did read that during the great recession of 2008 and that period after that, many families held off on having children in the US and probably in Europe too.


            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Sounds like you can guarantee to last through phase one of the collapse with no trouble. As long as phase one leads to a restoration of an economy and all the locals have survived, you will have protected your family well. If phase one goes the Mad Max route then who knows. (I hope that is a good analogy, because I haven’t actually seen the film. I am basing my comment on what I have heard.) I think The Day of the Triffids, (book, not film) gives some realistic ideas of a possible post collapse scenario and is also a good read.

        • Don,
          I have skimmed Gaia’s garden and one day I will sit down and read it more thoroughly. Most of the information on permaculture I’ve read before. It is in my library among many other books including those written by Gene Logsdon who in my opinion is one of the best authors of “how to be self sufficient” books. He has written on so many topics and from the ones I’ve read and collected he has done a fantastic job of researching his topics. He also practices what he writes about. There is also a book you might enjoy called “Farmers of Forty Centuries, Organic farming in China, Korea, and Japan. by F.H. King (1911). It is a fascinating study of Asian Farmers and the practices that allowed them to continuously farm land for more than 4,000 years. It is so unfortunate that the current Chinese government doesn’t value it’s farmers.

          I will include this from the book’s preface. “We have not yet gathered up the experience of mankind in the tilling of the earth; yet the tilling of the earth is the bottom condition of civilization. If we are to assemble all the forces and agencies that make for the final conquest of the planet, we must assuredly know how it is that all the peoples in all the places have met the problem of producing their sustenance out of the soil.” Heady stuff!

          Modern agriculture is ruining the soil. Yesterday, I took a walk along a different field. The soil was hard as concrete, even though the soybeans thrived. This is due to the chemical fertilizer and the hybrid seeds Monsanto sells. I’ve also noted the abundance of weeds that Round-up no longer kills. So much for the promise of genetic engineering. So many farmers in our county have planted corn-corn-corn lately because of corn prices, they are skipping the soybean rotation. I can recall my soil science professors talking about how quickly corn depletes soil fertility. No sane farmer planted corn every year…unless he didn’t care about farming for more than 5 years. Perhaps it has something to do with the number of farmers that rent land rather than own the land.

          When I first started improving my soil at our home I tilled in compost each year. It would take about 3 years to finally get a reasonable soil tilth. Now I just bring home topsoil I make at my business and spread it 8 inches deep and start planting into it. Much easier that way. Not possible for anyone but a gardener though. I sell a lot of soil to home owners who are willing to pay $200 for a truck load of organic rich soil that will have great results. I do make damn good soil if I do say so!

          The observation that organic no-till practices create the highest organic matter content in the soil may be explained by the activity of bacteria, worms, etc. associated with the plant roots that remain in the soil. I’ve noticed that when I leave perennial weeds that sprout up in my garden the in fall until spring when I pull them, their roots always pull up lots of worms, both red wigglers and night crawlers. Worms are very industrious critters. They pull organic matter down into the soil into their burrows, which can be 10′ deep or more in the case of night crawlers. I think the reason that organic no-till creates the largest bank of organic matter in the soil is the relationship between plant roots and soil organisms. The soil is really an ecosystem and the zone around the plant’s roots has the highest activity.

          Once we add compost to soil we reestablish the microbes needed to transform dead organic matter back into nutrients available to plants. Weeds are very good at pulling nutrients up from the soil. Letting them grow and adding them to the compost pile makes for some very rich compost. I’ve also noticed that since I started allowing weeds to thrive in certain places in my yard, their ability to multiply is astounding. The biomass they create is large indeed, creating an enormous amount of compost.

          Perhaps sometime I can attend these workshops in North Carolina. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a fluidized bed boiler. I don’t know that the regulations are in North Carolina, but that ash makes an excellent liming agent. One would need to know who is contracted to manage it currently and make arrangements to acquire some for farmland. In your area, fly ash and lime would help to reestablish the clay minerals that weathering has removed. This happens to be my specific area of research for my PhD.


          • Don Stewart says:

            I am a fan of Gene Logsdon’s and of Farmers of Forty Centuries.

            By the way. Toby Hemenway says that another myth is that legumes have to die to release nitrogen to other plants. He points out that roots are constantly dieing and regrowing in response to the wetting and drying of soil, and so significant amounts of nitrogen are made available without the whole plant dieing.

            Don Stewart

          • Don,
            Leaving legumes to grow and enrich the soil through their roots is probably why clover in a lawn helps support grass growth without annual fertilizing. I stopped applying ‘weed and feed’ to my lawn 4 years ago. I have had to spot treat a few obnoxious thistle plants, but it has been interesting to watch the white and red clover, dandelion, several different plantains, and violets spread. I also cut my grass at 3.5 to 4 inches, the maximum height of my mower deck. This allows a very nice healthy stand of grass that isn’t as stressed later in the season.

            I get a chuckle seeing homeowners with lawn maintenance contracts. These companies fertilize 6 times a year and then charge an arm and leg to keep up on the mowing! The homeowner pays a high price and uses a lot of resources just so they can have a turf green, pristine- looking, but fragile lawn. These pampered systems are so susceptible to stress or pests.

            As I was mowing my lawn today I was thinking. Funny how time spent doing something monotonous like mowing provides such excellent opportunities for observation and reflection. I was noticing how much my landscape has evolved over the ten years since we’ve lived here. It was all Kentucky blue grass when we moved in, the typical grass seed of choice for new construction homes. Six years previously it had been farm land divided up into building lots. Our lot was part of a 20 acre farm field divided into a 10 acre “homestead” and four 2.5 acre building lots surrounded by farmland and woods. I spent months researching what types of native trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials would be the best mix for our landscape, and where to put them. Those first few years were spent watering and mulching small saplings. But I’m happy to say the results have been satisfying.

            As time has gone by, some plants have thrived, and others moved on. The funny thing is how many times the things that didn’t like where I originally put them reseeded themselves somewhere else, where they apparently they liked it better. So much for second guessing what nature wants! I also find it interesting to see what the birds bring in from the surrounding area. We are near a community named “Mulberry” and I’m sure the name came from the fact that mulberry trees pop up like weeds here. Funny no one wants them because their berries are delicious. I’ve decided to leave a few for berries and pollard them for fire wood. Why fight nature when she wants to grow something! May as well just admit defeat and figure out how to use the tree. This was once forest land after all.


      • if you study the medieval farming practices of uk, land was divided into strips. each strip was apportioned to people according to land quality, so that peasants had land of various productive means, some good, some not so good in different places, but all within walking distance. the strips made up an average productivity
        those strips were the permaculture of the period and are still visible 500 years later.
        the strips supported a village economy and a local lord of the manor (the idle rich) with a bit left over to sell in the local town market.
        London for instance was surrounded by a 10 mile deep ring of market gardens, that being a reasonable distance for a horse and cart in a day.
        what it did not support were tower blocks full of hungry people
        if you had crop failure, (google the famines of 1315) people died, and the numbers were culled back to sustainable levels.

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          I do not have any particular views on how we manage over-population, but I do not see how we can continue with exponential growth without some plan as to how to rein it in. It would be nice if we could use the knowledge that we have gained in the last seven hundred years or so to do it in a more humane fashion than having people die of starvation. But, first we need to survive the possible problems that a lack of oil is going to present us with. They could wipe us out, literally.

  7. xabier says:

    There’s an interesting post on The Oil Drum by ‘Big Gav’ surveying all the possible sources of energy globally.

    He confesses to being disappointed that the world hasn’t gone solar just yet: he might see the reason for this state of affairs if he had considered the financial, political and social aspects of energy use and creation, which of course he completely ignores.

    Reading such flawed presentations makes one value the realistic approach of this site even more, if that were possible. It’s no more than techno-dreaming: financial fragility, the debt burden, ideological, racial, religious and regional conflicts, soil depletion, and so on, do not figure at all. he is blind to them.

    The naivety of this kind of approach is astounding. I’m reminded of the old Master of my College who is devoting his retirement to elaborating a theoretical re-ordering of global society in order to ‘eliminate war.’ A noble ideal, but I think we all know that for various reasons that will not happen until the last human being has perished. Theory has blinded him to reality……

  8. Laban says:

    Gail – some of this reminds me of a paper by a UK research economist, Tim Morgan. He’s not optimistic.

    “Fundamentally, debt can be defined as ‘a claim on future money’. However, since we have seen that money is a tokenisation of energy, it becomes apparent that debt really amounts to ‘a claim on future energy’. Our ability, or otherwise, to meet existing debt commitments depends upon whether the real (energy) economy of the future will be big enough to make this possible.

    Therefore, the viability (or otherwise) of today’s massively-indebted economies depends upon the outlook for energy supply. If one chooses to believe that the exponential expansion in energy use that has powered the growth of the economy (and the global population) since the dawn of the industrial age can continue into the future, debts may be serviceable and repayable out of the economic (for which read ‘energy’) enlargement of the future. If such enlargement cannot
    be relied upon, however, then the debt burden can only be regarded as unsustainable.”

    • Thanks! I have seen that. There are a fair number of folks who would agree with him. You really need economic growth (which in turn needs energy) to support more than a very small amount of short-term debt.

    • Stan says:

      Laban quoyed UK research economist, Tim Morgan
      “…debt really amounts to ‘a claim on future energy’….(will) the real (energy) economy of the future will be big enough to make this possible…”

      Taking that further, instead of “Figuring Out the Real Oil Limits Story” would it be more fruitful to explore “Figuring Out the Real Energy Limits Story”? A small distinction? – maybe, but a shift in perspective (however small) sometimes leads to new insights.


      • I wrote the post in response to a request from The Oil Drum to write something for my last post there. So I made it oil limits.

        I am not sure that changing the question to energy limits would make much difference, though. I see the issue as a financial issue, that is brought on by oil limits, particularly price limits, rather than other types of energy shortages. We don’t have much time, so we don’t have the luxury of being able to change to other kinds of energy. Anyway, nearly all of them that are being looked at are “add-ons” to the fossil fuels system, so will work only as long oil does.

  9. ravinathan says:

    Here’s Argentina in the verge of becoming a net oil importer. Not looking good for them.

    • Scott says:

      Hello – Thanks so we can add Argentina to the list of endangered species… It really looks like most oil exporting countries are facing crisis in the next 10-20 years as they have become dependent on the oil money and also their people have become dependent on it too. I see this as the heart of our crisis.


      • xabier says:


        What’s very interesting in the Cassandra article (very badly translated from Spanish sadly) is the mistake which the Argentines and Chileans made in over-estimated the exportable Argentine reserves, and the desperate and very expensive measures that the Chileans had to take in order to meet their internal demand. There is much to watch in that part of the world, against the background of the ‘elected dictatorship’ of the current government in Argentina. It all shows very clearly that we are not safe in the hands of our rulers.

  10. Chris Johnson says:

    To Fellow Buoyant Doomsters, anarchic and/or (mis?)-governed:
    And especially to Mel, with whom I share numerous sentiments and objectives, especially the hope that we can limit the damage, save and preserve the things that should be saved and preserved, and reform our social systems to achieve greater harmony.
    These may sound incompatible or even impossible, and under current structures they may be. Smaller populations may reduce the difficulties and enable some of the ‘anarchic’ dreams — by the way, they’re very close to Thomas Jefferson’s ideal — to flourish.
    Mel was a bit flippant (just moderately) in remarking that we should easily be able to convert to electric vehicles in 20 years. He may be right, but probably is overoptimistic. In one sense, however, the actual number / percentage of EVs on the road probably doesn’t matter so much as the pressure relief it will provide to petroleum demand. The Economist’s good spread on EVs and vehicles in general from April 2013 provides grounds for optimism, however faint. Oh, and BTW, converting trucks, buses, trains and planes to electric power will further relieve pressure on oil.
    The game is not over, there’s no reason to get excited. Two behaviors are exceptionally misguided and wrongheaded: 1) to get excited about things that are going to be happening over the next 15 to 20 years, not tomorrow, and about which we really can be sure of almost nothing, and 2) to expect our political leaders to do anything other than what they’re doing now, which is smiling broadly, acknowledging your concerns and patting your hand (as if you’re a bit loony) and hoping you will keep your mouth shut and not get other voters excited. (Key word: ‘voters’ — whom they want — beyond all else — to keep placid and ignorant.)

    Cheers, Chris

  11. p01 says:

    Only the wealthy and privileged can afford to be the new&improved species of rational, well adjusted, “anarchic-with-properties” humans . The vast majority, and possibly all of the younger generations or the world’s periphery don’t have this luxury, even if they would like to.
    Not that I don’t admire the fact that this new species actually does something instead of generating jet and car fuel fumes on debt, but if we want to be realistic, let’s be realistic to the end, please.
    Most won’t care that what you’re appropriating from the the commons on one form or another of unpayable debt is for one’s community consumption or a new vacation, car or house. For those who don’t have the luxury, it’s all the same.

    • There certainly is a wide spread today between the well to do and the many poor. And it is hard to see the world through the eyes of others.

    • xabier says:


      You are quite right. So many are living entirely day to day trying to survive.

      The only possible freedom open to all human beings is spiritual: in the material and political world, we are all bound by the decisions and actions of our peers, those long dead, by the future actions of those being born even as we debate, and by the limits of this finite system and our own genetic inheritance.

      This is also why grand speculations as to the construction of a new global era of rationality and sustainability (whether from a back-to-the-land perspective or that of technological cornucopianismand ‘modernity’ ), of radically and beneficially transformed societies in which no-one suffers is mere pie-in-the sky. This is not a pleasant perspective, and is the reason why the dreaming and futile debate persists.

  12. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    In defense of Anarchy. I just received my monthly statement from Medicare. I went to the eye doctor for some routine checks. He charged me 150 dollars for ‘diagnostic imaging of optic nerve’ and 150 dollars for ‘measurement of field of vision’. He also charged me one cent for ‘optic nerve head evaluation’. Medicare accepted the two 150 dollar charges, but paid the doctor only 43 dollars for one and 63 dollars for the other. They refused to pay the penny. But they helpfully attach a form I can complete to request a review of the disallowal of the penny.

    My wife’s eye doctor, meanwhile, hasn’t got this figured out quite so successfully. Medicare denied the entire list of charges for her.

    If this isn’t utterly ridiculous, I don’t know how you would define the term. We have erected an enormously complex and expensive system in which financial success is dependent on gaming the system. It is not unusual for a doctor to play the coding game three times before they hit on the magic codes which Medicare will actually pay for. It has nothing to do with what the doctor actually felt was necessary and thus did. If a sharp eyed auditor was studying it, he would find ‘Medicare Fraud’ which provides fodder for news stories on slow days (when there isn’t any news about how traitors are endangering our great country).

    So why did my doctor perform the evaluation and charge me a penny? My guess is that if one does a test and doesn’t evaluate it, one has violated medical ethics and would be subject to a malpractice suit.

    I see no evidence that this system can be reformed. There are enormous bureaucracies which benefit from all this stuff…and it certainly generates a lot of GDP and is providing a lot of the increase in employment.

    It’s hard not to speculate about how misguided Obama was in terms of medical care. I sometimes think he was just an innocent lamb who was slaughtered by the lobbyists. At other times, I think he is the Devil in cahoots with all the dark forces in our country. Could Anarchy be worse?

    Don Stewart

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Well said. Ours is the most expensive and poorest performing health care system in the world. Compare to any / all. Canada’s might not be perfect, but for the average person it’s a whole lot better than ours; and none of the kind of garbage you and your wife just ran into. Obamacare just makes it worse.
      Cheers, Chris

    • Don,
      I brought my sons in for their annual physicals, because it is required for them to play sports in school. We normally pay a $35 co-pay and insurance pays the remainder. When I received a bill for an additional $200 I called the clinic and requested an itemized bill. Turns out the doctor was reimbursed $260 for each of the physicals, but insurance rejected the $200 fee for some sort of special medical procedure. I had to call the doctor’s office to inquire.

      Turns out that the doctor had to clean the wax out of one son’s ear in order to see the ear drum better. He had to use a “special” tool to do so and this justified the extra $200 charge. I told him I wouldn’t pay it since he hadn’t asked my permission to do this ‘special procedure’, and that frankly I thought his charges were exorbitant. He said next time he will refer my son to the ear, nose, and throat doctor. I said next time we’ll clean the wax out at home.

      The clinic resubmitted the bill to insurance and coded it as something else. Insurance paid it.

      The physical consisted of a nurse taking height, weight, temperature, and blood pressure ; the doctor took 10 minutes to listen to their heart and lungs, look in their ears, eyes, and throat, and check for hernias. No blood work or any other test was done. just basic physical. The doctor spent half of his time typing his notes into a laptop computer so that he wouldn’t have to do this “chart” work later. I wonder why the cost of physicals has more than doubled in the last five years.

      There was an excellent article in Time magazine “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” By Steven Brill Monday, Mar. 04, 2013. Unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber to read it online. But it’s worth reading if you can find the magazine.


      • Scott says:

        Hello Jody, Since my wife and I retired medical insurance has been unaffordable and doctor bills on my desk are worse than car payments. The insurance is too expensive for us but hoping to get some eventually because these medical fees and costs are just insane. That system is surely out of control.

        • Scott,

          I lived without health insurance for five years when I was in my 20’s. When one is young and we feel immortal it’s easy to think we won’t need a doctor. Although I rarely have to see a doctor, I’m certainly glad that we have insurance. I don’t know the statistics but I’ve heard that medical bills are one of the main reasons why people file for bankruptcy. I don’t hold out much hope that we will ever get skyrocketing costs down to where they are even close to being reasonable. The system is terribly over priced, but how do we get them to give up their profitability. The healthcare industry says don’t worry, we are only projecting an increase of 15% next year as opposed to the 20 or 25% they’ve been running at. Small comfort.


          • Scott says:

            Hi Jody, Yes the medical system is crazy and can ruin a person if you sick without some coverage. I am worried they will come after our home or something if we get sick. We are faced with some stiff penalties in a couple of years if we do not buy the insurance in the USA. So they are forcing people into it or pay $700 fine on your federal taxes soon for for each of us that does not buy it. A good way to force people into an insurance plan and not fair.

      • xabier says:


        A typical experience of a corrupt vested interest in action. The interesting element to me is that the physical is actually compulsory in order to play sports: at my English public school way back this would have been laughable and unimaginable!

        In the same way, I have had to pay an inspector to view my wood stove and confirm that I have put a notice beside it, informing me as to the size and heat capacity of the stove I bought myself. Pay him for that!

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Your society, sir, may be less litigious than ours, but may have equal or greater numbers of rent seekers. Perhaps we should suggest to Transparency International and the others that do global reviews of such things as ‘freedom’ and ‘impediments to founding businesses’ to rate countries for these features as well. USA wins in ‘most litigious’, I think. Shoot, then we could include number of lobbyists, total number of lawyers, etc.

    • Part of our inability to compete with other countries is the high cost of our healthcare. This indirectly gets back into the cost of goods we make–through taxes or through payments for health insurance. I agree, it is ridiculous.

      • xabier says:


        The irony is that 100 years ago, the dream of reformers and philanthropists was universal healthcare and education. Universal education created masses who could be enthusiastically led to war and murder through propaganda (before they were just drafted, enthusiasm was not required): then standards fell to what we see today in all ‘advanced’ states, where most ‘universities’ are fairly bogus – not what the dreamers imagined.

        And now medicine and education are two of the most corrupt and economically destructive vested interests, increasingly delivering diminishing returns and crippling our economies, but revered as untouchable and essential. Bankers have little to teach those medical companies and teaching unions! There is much irony in this situation………

        • Just yesterday, I heard an insurance economist say that Medicine is one of the big growth areas ahead. According to him, it is expected to hit 20% of GDP by some date in the not too distant future, because of the aging of Americans.

          I don’t think anyone figures out that we have to compete with other countries on costs, and health care is one of our costs, that we pay one way or another. TO make matters worse, our high priced health care works worse than cheaper health care elsewhere!

      • Gail,
        I agree totally, but our system has gotten us into an interesting dilemma. Healthcare now accounts for something like 16% of our GDP. And I don’t believe this includes drug expenditures, which add another 6%. So more than 20% of our GDP is healthcare and drugs. If the government trys to reduce healthcare expenditures this will result in a decrease of our GDP, who knows by how much. This will reduce government tax revenue. But since I believe 50% of the money paid for healthcare and drugs is paid by the government through medicare and medicaid it is in the governments best interest to reduce costs. I think this is why the government focuses on cost containment as opposed to cost reduction. Unfortunately, they have not been successful and containment.
        I think this is the main reason why our government isn’t more active about reducing health care costs.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Jody and Gail,
          I first started watching health care costs in 1989-90, as a baby was coming and I no longer enjoyed military healthcare. I recall well that aggregate US healthcare cost was about 2% – 3% of the US GDP, but growing by 20-30% per year. It wasn’t long before it was 5% of GDP — and Ms. Clinton was trying to get some political traction out of fixing it. Obviously that didn’t work. In 2010 it was about 20% of GDP. Now much of that could be that the ‘productive’ portions of the economy have gradually dwindled, but I really think the problems are with big pharma, big hospital, big doctor, big insurance, big lawyer, big politics, big labor, etc. Now that the people have had the opportunity to really read and absorb the implications of O’care, such as the projections that costs will continue growing at 1-2% per year ad infinitum, they’re beginning to balk a little bit. Even the labor unions, or at least some of them.
          In fact, I saw an article recently that most employers have been firing long term employees, then re-hiring at part time wages because the businesses cannot afford the health care costs — either current or O’care, but the big fear is O’care.
          I think the only solution is a ‘single payer’ and draw and quarter all Walls Street bankers.
          Cheers, Chris

    • xabier says:


      Anarchy’s might not be better, but it’s cheaper!

      • Chris Johnson says:

        What is your opinion of the relative merits / adequacy of the European healthcare system compared to the US (at least by reputation/volume).? My Canadian colleagues much prefer their, but also note that US right wing refuses to accept ‘single payer’ system as a government socialization of health care.
        By comparison, in Canada the system pays for the service; the taxpayers receive the service as a ‘right’.
        What are your views?
        Cheers, Chris

  13. Stan says:

    More “fuel” for The-End-Is-Near camp.

    “Last week (German) power giant RWE grumbled that many of its coal and gas power stations ‘are no longer profitable to operate’, and said it would be closing some of them down.”

    See article at:


    • Stan,
      I wonder if some of the closings aren’t simply old plants that were slated to be closed anyway. Also, I wonder if cost to operate them relates to decisions to run old plants into the ground rather than perform costly maintenance and upgrades? I worked for Purdue University’s Utility Department and there was discussion about 15 years ago to out-source operations to make them more “inexpensive”, as some power plant owners were doing. The big problem was the maintenance costs, and down time due to annual maintenance. There were stories circulating of how the private management companies were skimping on the basic maintenance required, and within 5 to 10 years the plant were so run down it became too expensive to repair. Another example of businesses focused on short-term profits versus long-term investment.

      I also wonder what people thought would happen when their country made an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Seems like Germany’s success is now considered a liability.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Were those powerplant upgrades mandated by DOE and EPA? I think there were some ‘phase-in’ requirements for plants based on longevity. Some of the very high temp and high pressure coal plants have been able to reduce emissions significantly, but at a cost. I think most businesses figure they’re going to have to buy this program this year and a more expensive one five years down the road, etc.
        Cheers, Chris

        • Chris,
          No, the oldest boiler was grandfathered in to some extent. Most of the upgrades had to do with efficiency or controls. Purdue did, however, go with a new clean coal technology furnace called Fluidized Bed Combustion. They did this because Indiana has so much high-sulfur coal and Purdue is required by law to buy its coal from Indiana (or at least they were at that time.) Their newest boiler is a gas-fired boiler. I guess they are expecting gas prices to stay low for the next 20 or 30 years (the ROI for a boiler).

          • Chris Johnson says:

            Thank you, ma’am. Good explanation. Natgas / fracking impact is huge and maybe growing. John Deere and the rest are all devising hybrid / multi-fuel engines that will relieve price pressure on diesel.

          • I am waiting patiently for a hybrid diesel engine so that when I have to replace my heavy equipment it will be available. Diesel fuel bills for my business are a huge part of overhead.

    • It is not possible to use the pricing mechanism Germany does, and get gas stations to operate. I didn’t realize the situation was so bad, that coal stations couldn’t operate either.

      Subsidizing wind and solar, but not others, does not work. If you need an integrated system, you have to set up a more equitable pricing scheme. Electricity which is not available when you need it is worth a lot less than electricity that can be ramped up and down. Somehow, this needs to be recognized in the pricing scheme. As one of the EIA staffers told me a few years ago, wind and solar only replace fuel. You essentially need as many other electric power plants as otherwise, plus more transmission lines, and more attention to balancing. Somehow, the cost structure has to recognize this.

      • Gail,
        I think people also need to understand the reality of intermittent electricity. Look at the lengths Japan went to when they had to deal with electricity shortages and brown outs after the earth quake and Fukishima disasters. People in the western world have become spoiled by easy and instant access to relatively cheap electricity. I wonder what would happen if the Utilities were unregulated with respect to pricing? It would seem that this would solve some of their problem of affordability and it would make renewable more cost competitive. In the U.S. we wouldn’t need government subsidies for renewables if electricity prices were higher. I realize that this will hit fixed and low income persons harder, but that could be solved by giving them tax credits instead of those who install renewable energy. The money is in the pocket of people more likely to spend it, thus helping to boost our economy. These people might actually decide to conserve on electricity so that they can spend the money on something else. The higher cost of electricity would make utility companies more profitable and help renewables compete. Isn’t this how society has made energy transitions in the past?


        • Energy transitions in the past have come because a new energy source is better (cheaper or more versatile) than the old one. “Efficiencies of scale” have also helped bring costs down, as a larger share of the population is served. The current plan of trying to go toward more expensive energy sources is unprecedented, as far as I know. The current plan of conservation also goes backward–we still have exactly the same overhead costs (keeping lines in good repair, for example) even if everyone uses less electricity. If people conserve, base rates probably need to go up, to offset the conservation. (Systems to conserve water especially run into this difficulty.) So the entire plan is backward.

          The one and only reason I can see for adding intermittent renewables to the electric grid is if a person thinks that somehow, by doing so, CO2 emissions will be reduced enough to justify this action. (Adding renewables almost certainly will not make the electric grid last longer–perhaps it will make it last shorter.) With collapse apparently close at hand, I personally don’t see a point to adding intermittent renewables to the grid, because I doubt that there will be much if any CO2 emissions savings. (Intermittent renewables have front-end CO2 costs. These will not be amortized over a very long time, which keeps their CO2 contribution for the short term, high.)

          I don’t think allowing unregulated rates is the way to go. As long as buyers have a choice of who to buy electricity from, they will choose the cheapest provider. Even if we don’t think there is competition for electricity rates, there really is, because electricity costs help determine the prices of goods manufactured. People will buy goods with the lowest cost. High energy costs (generally oil, but electricity could be a factor too) are one reason why the US in not competitive with China and India. So higher electricity rates will tend to reduce employment in the area.

          The situation with subsidizing poor people doesn’t really work either. These people don’t pay much taxes to begin with. And somehow, one needs to get all of the dollars back from someone. Society is worse off, for something with very little real benefit.

  14. Mel Tisdale says:

    Don, you have already convinced me that Permaculture is a better way of living off the land than current methods. It doesn’t use Monsanto for a start.

    It seems to me that there are significant number on this site who seem to relish the idea of a mass die-off of our species. I cannot for the life of me understand such a view. For one, my son, wherever he is, will probably be in the thick of it. What parent could view the prospect of their offspring with glee? For another, it will probably mean a violent death for both me and my dog, which was never part of my plan. (I would prefer to go quietly in my sleep, preferably dreaming of Sophia Loren.)

    In all the list of events that you provide, there is no mention of distributing the produce to towns and cities nearby. I can’t help but wonder if this is because you do not think that there will be any urban areas soon, which can only happen with a die off of massive proportions.

    I have to say that I would enjoy most, if not all, of your planned events and if my late wife were still alive and we were still young, I would go all out to learn and apply the methods and techniques that are being discussed. As long as I could find some avenue to apply my brain in an inventive way, then my dislike of ‘gardening’ would probably go away. And there seems to be plenty of opportunity for that. I could imagine setting up a defense for my local community so that we would survive when the ungazi hit the fan. But, and it is a big but, I hope that I would also do my best to avoid the trouble that I perceived as needing a defense in the first place.

    I am an optimist, Don, and so I still believe that we can manage the over-population situation and also feed the masses while we deal with it. What I am not so optimistic about is the ability of our world leaders (if such a word is appropriate) to actually devise and instigate the measures necessary to achieve those goals. But if they surprise me, then it would be an excellent piece of good fortune if Permaculture were to have developed to such an extent if it could be shown capable of feeding the new population levels as they decline in number. We would have a smaller, better fed people with no more concern about having out of season fruit that looks like it should, but hardly tastes as it should. We would also have better land management, which should set humans on a more sustainable path. Most of all, we would not have plague, resource wars and disease together with the inevitable attendant emotional upsets.

    • Don Stewart says:

      You use words such as ‘feed the masses’. In the US, at the present time, there are around 50 million people on food stamps. If you count the people getting social security payments and military retirement payments and all the other stuff, we have an awful lot of dependent people.

      To me, the dependency is toxic to the recipients, is the source of social unrest, and facilitates grossly misallocated resources.

      Yet one never hears a politician utter the words ‘make it possible for people to feed themselves’. Ponder that a little while, and you will begin to get to the roots of the problem. The ability of the Earth to produce food is not the real issue.

      One of the aspects of anarchy is ‘making it possible for people to feed themselves’.

      Don Stewart

      • Mel Tisdale says:

        Food stamps and the like are political issues and American ones at that. My concerns are when food physically cannot be produced globally.

        I suppose we can paraphrase what you say with the words: Give a man a Permaculture and you feed him for a day. Teach him Permaculture and you feed him for life. (Plagiarized without consent).

        • the USA used to be the global larder.
          food was produced in abundance because there was so much empty land and rich soil
          It isn’t any more

          • Chris Johnson says:

            To End of More:
            You might want to reconsider your previous statement once we determine how much land farmers are turning under every year. The government pays them to leave huge acreages fallow in order to keep markets properly tight. I don’t know the numbers and percentages of total agricultural land available, however.
            There is another issue, however, which is water: the Ogallala Aquifer is reportedly drying up, from South Dakota to Texas. So the ultimate effect could be similar.

      • Here are a couple of interesting articles about the food situation in Greece. The one from last year shows how some people headed for the country to grow food when they couldn’t find work. The more recent article from this year shows that families who stayed behind in the city are starving.

        These are people obviously in need of food. Yet I haven’t heard of any efforts to help them, only bank loans and austerity, or the selling off of public works to raise the money demanded by investors. I don’t see any indication of violence. Mel, what would you do if you lived in Greece? What do you think the rest of the world should be doing to help these people who are starving?

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          Jody, what on earth does what I would do if I lived in Greece have to do with trying to ensure that world food production is maintained so that we can, as a species, do something about over-population instead of this site’s general view that we should just let it happen? By having the discussion I was trying to generate there would be a far wider public appreciation of the danger we as a species – not just little old me – face and thus the need for action.

          If Greece’s conditions obtained in your country, I wonder just how long it would take for you to be deprived of your food stores. Greece does not have a second amendment and therefore does not have a population armed to the teeth the way America’s is (I recognise that that might be an over statement, but that is the way it seems from afar). The Greeks will go into the woods to grow food. Your city dwellers will do the same, but only when there are no more people such as you and your family with a free supply there for the taking. What surprises me is that you actively do not want to try and avoid a global famine so that you do not suffer such a fate. It would have absolutely no affect on your preferred means of feeding your family. All I am against is the idea that food production by such methods as Permaculture will fix the oil shortage problem. There just isn’t time. By all means switch to such methods, but do it naturally by getting enthusiastic people into positions of influence within big ag, though whether Monsanto is capable of change is another question. I like the idea of fresh, locally grown food. I am just so keen to grow it personally. I doubt that you like crawling on your back to fix your car, but I am not going to ridicule you for that, the way my dislike of gardening is seen by some as a sin. I honestly think that a very public discussion on how to avoid a global famine and what its cause is – over-population – would lead to fixing that cause at the same time, especially having looked into the abyss.

          You would think that this site, informed as it clearly is, would revel at the chance to act on its information, but obviously not. I find it all very sad, especially the vituperative nature of some of the comments. Even Gail thinks we should accept that we are no better than animals, and if this site is typical, she’s right.

          • Mel Tisdale says:

            errata: ‘so keen’ should be ‘not so keen’ – it seems to have posted itself as I went to edit it!

          • xabier says:


            No-one is vituperative: some just don’t agree with you on many points. We contribute, you contribute, anyone who cares to can whenever they please (thanks to Gail’s broad-minded moderation) and readers can decide or themselves what is valuable, which is as it should be. But this isn’t a techno-cornucopian forum, so you will always find opposition to your ideas I’m afraid, particularly when they are dismissive of those who are doing something here and now.

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              If you don’t call the suggestion that I might get a punch on the nose vituperative, then fair enough.

              Where exactly do I say that the organic methods proposed by yourself and others is anything other than a good thing in the long-term? I have real difficulty seeing how we make it work short-term. I can only see that making the current system operate with reduced oil supply pro-tem while you and your kind do something about getting your preferred method adopted more widely as the only option.

              I am strengthened in my view that Permaculture and the like is not ready for immediate roll out globally because whenever I pose questions about it, I don’t get answers. So, Xabier, I will try again. We face global food shortage due to a diminishing oil supply. Seeing as you disagree with keeping the existing system and trying to electrify it, or something along those lines, what are your alternative(s)? I have already raised a lot of questions with Don on that topic, so if that is your preferred solution, please address them.

          • Mel,
            “You would think that this site, informed as it clearly is, would revel at the chance to act on its information, but obviously not.”

            This was the reason I brought up these articles,to give a chance to discuss it. I thought we could begin a conversation about a specific situation that is currently happening in our world. I wanted to hear what your thoughts were on how you would deal with the situation if you were in the midst of it. Personally I find it difficult to discuss “solutions” to very broad general issues, such as over-population. Our globally linked, complex world is very difficult to understand. There are just so many variables to all these complex issues. So I thought we could discuss a specific topic and what solutions might be needed to help Greece.

            As an aside, I don’t find it helpful to a discussion for you to make references to people stealing my food. This isn’t because I haven’t thought of it, rather it’s because I prefer not to discuss the steps my family and neighbors have taken to secure our food. Perhaps we can agree to leave out references to violence and death, although I agree that as society deteriorates these things are likely to occur. This is not the situation currently in Greece so I think we can leave it and focus on more practical aspects.

            What can or should the global population do to help the many Greeks suffering from food shortages? What can we do if this ever happens here in the U.S.? What did the Russians do when the Soviet Union collapsed? What did the Cubans do when their oil imports plummeted after the Soviet Union collapsed? Access to food was a huge problem.

            Did anyone catch the reference in one of the articles to fresh food markets in Greece? Apparently small farmers are bringing food into the city but city dwellers didn’t have enough money to afford the food. Apparently taxes and fees were taking a significant chunk of their earnings due to austerity imposed on them by bond holders. So it isn’t a matter of no food available, it’s a matter of no money to buy food. Which also brings us to the issue of jobs and welfare that others are also discussing.

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              First, apologies for mentioning the stealing of food. I was raising it generally in order to raise awareness that there is going to be more to feeding oneself and one’s family than simply growing it, but I can see your point now and I should have seen it before I wrote it.

              Thanks for making clear your purpose in raising the articles about Greece etc. You are right to want to discuss what preparations you can make as a people to protect yourselves. Unfortunately, I do not live in the U.S.A. and don’t speak the language of my adopted home well enough to take part in any discussion of the issue locally (you should see me in the shops trying to buy something if I cannot point to it!)

              There are sites that dedicate themselves to home defence that I remember from way back, but what there is today, is something about which I am ignorant. My house is on an unpaved track that is guaranteed to be called upon in the search for food and there is only me and my dog. If I am still alive when the bad times come, I expect that my dog will die from a crossbow bolt for reasons of silence and I will be overpowered and forced to point to where I keep my food and whatever else they may need. I will consider it a success, of sorts, if I survive and an even bigger one if I keep the house, though seeing as my dog is my best friend, just how much of a success it will prove to be is questionable. If it happens in winter and they throw me out, then the outcome can be taken as a given. You on the other hand are a family of five and could certainly achieve a much better level of protection. I don’t know, but I guess you would only need to maintain full vigilance for about three months. After that the threat is going to take the form of gangs, probably organised to the point where they have motor driven vehicles in support and who knows what level of armaments. You’d probably be better off joining them, if they are open to expansion.

              There must be websites dedicated to the discussion of such matters, which are probably a better forum than this one, for obvious reasons. You could try Alex Jones, if you can stomach the self-promotion, of course. He does have some good information occasionally among all the panic and fear and threats round every corner and beneath every bed. I wonder sometimes how he copes with his own shadow.

          • like I said once before, if people on here met in RL, it would certainly go a little way towards reducing the surplus population.
            But to face reality, I have grandchildren, one of whom has a degree in computer science, and helps his deranged grandpa with his website and ebook publishing. he thinks I’m nuts.
            So all I can do is try to arrange things so that I might be able to help in a few years time—if it becomes necessary. I can do that because I’m financially secure.
            but his reality is different to my reality, he is convinced that ‘they’ will come up with ‘something’, because they always have. I could weep for their future, but that serves no purpose, I won’t be here.
            To cover Gail’s point that we a merely animals, what else can we be?. Surely not some etherial being, created in the form of a mythical god, exempt from the laws of physics?
            That’s where wish-religion came from.
            Because if we are not animals, that is your only alternative.
            If we are subject to the laws of physics, then it is all of them. Humanity cannot pick and choose.
            all species, plant or animal, are ultimately subject to those laws, and no form of dogma whether from priest or politician, is going to change that.
            If we are agreed that we are an animal species then, we are here to eat (ie absorb energy from our environment) and reproduce our own kind (pass on that energy-function to the next generation). Literally everything else is window dressing, ultimately with the purpose of facilitating those objectives.
            Man is a big brained primate, with the unique ability to control fire. And that’s it, in fundamental terms.
            only fire has given us all those lovely extras that other animals don’t have.
            We have also used fire to wipe out almost every other species on the planet except bacteria. With some justification, it might be said the we are now burning down our only home to keep warm

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              It is a wise man who can describe themselves as financially secure in this age of fiat currency with no gold standard backing it and the value of gold being massaged by the central banks for reasons that I cannot fully understand! (Think Norwegian Krona if you have money to spare and cannot find any gold to buy (almost guaranteed, unfortunately – no charge for the financial advice!)

              From a pedantic point of view, it cannot be argued that we are anything but animals. However, I am sure that the majority of those who follow this site would understand what I mean when I express the view that such and such a way of behaving will make us no better than animals.

              I rest my case

            • Scott says:

              Hello Mel, I am also a pensioner like you and all is well as long as we get paid and the money still buys the goods we need. My pension comes from the State of California which concerns me becuase it is a giant welfare state, so I am making some other plans including refining my gardening skills.

              You know our kids moved away into the cities and we are in the country and as we get older it may be harder to keep up what we are doing with the larger gardens, so I understand you there if you are not able to do it anymore. As far as my savings goes, no stocks or bonds right now, I sold them all since I do not like the markets, just a few silver coins and a bit of gold for my savings along with some food stored away. You know we may feel financially secure until some huge event hits us.

              My point is I do not think any of us can really feel financially secure right now even if I had a million in the bank which I do not.


            • Mel Tisdale says:

              I think anyone with a pension can expect for it to be hit. Let’s face it, with interest rates at half of one percent it is hard to see how the pension funds can hope to support the current level of payments.

              At least you have a family who can support you, Scott. They may well prove to be worth a lot more than any savings and financial instruments you might have.

            • Scott says:

              Hello, Not much chance of our kids supporting us as they can barely take care of themselves. Just recently I had take over payments on my daughters car since she could no longer afford it. The kids these days do not have the same opportunities out there that we had 30 years ago. So it looks like we are pretty much on our own.

              There is not much work in this mountain town where we live, the only thing I got going on, besides the pension is we have a rental home that we are working on getting paid off. So we will have something to sell or to rent if my pension fund goes under during a time of collapse. But who knows how bad it may get and if people will still have money to buy and rent homes.

              To me a home is as basic necessity and people will always need a roof over their head. So that is my Plan B aside from trying to raise food ourselves at home. So we have been investing part of our pension (while it is still being paid to us) into the rental, sort of a savings as someday it will be paid hopefully.

              Hopefully pension payments will just be reduced instead of going away completely or perhaps paid in devalued dollars, who knows what will happen in a financial collapse. Everyone should have some sort of plan B.


          • with a few exceptions, animals do not kill each other wantonly.
            Thats why you see a pride of lions resting in the shade, with herds of antelope grazing in the near distance. Lions take only such energy as they need and no more.

          • I still haven’t seen any ideas of what to do about Greece?

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              I have no idea what to do about Greece and it seems to me neither do its leaders. Why on earth does what I think matter? I am not an economist, nor or am I a financial expert, as even the briefest glimpse at my bank statement will confirm. I am also very definitely not in any way shape size or form a gardener. I never have been one and never ever will be one.

              All I am, Jody, is someone who is increasingly forming the impression that it is no use asking this site to discuss how we tackle the famine that is highly likely to result from the drop in oil supply that Gail tells us is coming. To me it is far more important an issue in terms of its potential scope and possible ramifications than anything that might emerge from Greece, terrible as their situation is.

          • Mel,
            You keep asking people who respond on this site to answer the question of what to do to solve the problem of feeding 7 billion people. We keep telling you we don’t think it’s possible (to which you said it is unacceptable to you). Don and others keep telling you that we personally believe that we can only be responsible for our own actions (to which you respond that we are insensitive or refuse to see reality). Yet, when I ask you to offer up solutions to a current situation, how we can help starving people in Greece, you have no answer and no willingness to speculate or offer ideas. Seems rather hypocritical of you for someone who claims that the starvation of others is unacceptable to you.

            I think I can speak for many who respond on this site, we don’t have the answers for the what might or might not happen in the future. We only have ideas for what we believe will work for us today. You will have to decide what you are going to do for you and for your son. It is not up to us, it is up to you.


            PS. I have a MS in Soil Science and a PhD in Civil Engineering. I also have over 5,000 hours operating heavy equipment, which is what it took to start up my composting business. I have been under the loader greasing many times. So don’t assume that just because I now talk about spending time in the garden, I don’t know the feel of grease under my fingernails or what it takes to clean it off.

          • We really don’t have time to do much of anything. Our population problem is an over-population problem right now, not 10 or 100 or 250 years from now.

            I am certainly not advocating going out and killing people, because of our population problem. I don’t see that we really have the option of ramping up nuclear or any other fuel in the near term, enough to fix the food situation better. I am not convinced that there is really anything that we can do to keep food production up with current methods. It is possible that permaculture, or some other variant of enlightened food production (such as “food forests”) can provide food in a reasonably sustainable fashion. But making a big transition to this, in a few years time, can’t really happen. It probably would not feed as many as industrialized agriculture, and would require up front energy expenditures (it if involves earth moving, for example), I expect.

            Having children is one of the great joys in life. It is reasonable to go out and ask people not to have more than one or two children, but anything more than that, and it wouldn’t possibly be accepted. Even a two-child limit would be hard to get people to subscribe to.

        • xabier says:


          Quite right. I was just reading a review of a book which described the awful half-starved life in German cities (indeed most European cities after WW2), written in about 1955. The reviewer said simply ‘What we can conclude is that a hut in the country with a well, vegetable garden and an earth closet is probably the best bet to survive such times.’

          Not a universal solution, and not for everyone by any means, but not to be neglected if you can do it. I can certainly foresee a situation in which basic staples like rice, flour, potatoes can be bought from the national/global system, but extra nutrition from the fruits of one’s own efforts will be vital – and scouring of the hedgerows. The retention of the family plot in the home village in Greece, Italy and Spain is potentially very important to survival.

          I’ve noticed that some dreamers think the solution is to push everyone, but everyone, into dense cities, and devote the countryside to industrialized hyper-intense agriculture. No small plots, no homesteads (not ‘productive’ enough you see) This seems to me to be potentially another Great Leap Forward into Mass Famine. Needless to say, the reps of the big agricultural companies support this……

      • Here’s a third article more recent. Situation hasn’t gotten any better.

      • Today’s jobs require fossil fuels. It is hard to have anywhere near enough jobs of this type, though. Many such jobs have been lost to competition to other parts of the world, where salaries are lower. In many cases, the primary fuel is coal. Or the jobs are lost to automation. The business doesn’t have to pay taxes to cover the loss of wages for all of the people put out of work.

        It is theoretically possible to have jobless people in this country do things that can be done with fossil fuels, but without using fossil fuels. For example, we could have people dig ditches with a shovel. It is very hard to pay people a living wage for digging ditches by hand. Yet, I expect in some parts of the world, people do dig ditches by hand and these people live on the same low wages (perhaps $1 or $2 day) that others do in these countries.

        It is very hard to support anything near today’s standard of living, doing jobs without fossil fuels. In fact, as we have discussed before, it is not clear that we could even feed everyone without fossil fuels. The government doesn’t have money to do hand-outs either–that is our problem in the first place.

      • xabier says:


        Bravo! Anyone who has had experience of interaction those who have been forced to live off welfare/food stamps and not given the chance to earn a living, produce food for their well-being and self-respect, can only agree. Now one can find families where this has been the case for three generations.

        When it goes on for generations, you end up with utterly useless people, to themselves and society, depressed and without aim in life, and it is a tragedy. A tragedy born of philanthropy and ideology.

        To which we may add that the welfare state is very destructive when it keeps people trapped – for generations – in areas where old fossil-fuel industries have failed but there is no realistic hope of replacing them with another industry (only phoney ‘regeneration projects based on deficit spending and poorly-paid call-centre employment).

        And let’s not get on to the crimes committed by architects in the housing provided for these poor souls in ‘projects’ (although I was amused by an article on the private house of a famous Belgian modernist architect whose own home was as soulless as the rubbish he foisted on the poorer members of society)!

        Land, advice and some tools for those unhappy people would have done more good – as well as welfare of course.

        • Xabier,
          I get a chuckle every time I read your blunt comments. Americans have been trained to be more politically correct!
          However, that being said, I would also like to say that no human being is worthless. They just haven’t had the opportunity to prove their worth.

          I have thought for many years that we should convert our welfare system into a work fair system. We could start with all the subsidized housing that is in dire need of repairs and maintenance, places in the inner cities that lack jobs or affordable daycare for those that want to work, and have poor access to job training, information on preventative healthcare, and nutritious food.

          Everyone in these situations receiving welfare would get a job working in building maintenance, daycare, clinics, kitchens, or gardens. Everyone would be expected to work for the money and benefits they receive. It would require some upfront capital to establish daycare, clinics, kitchens, and provide tools but I don’t think it would be as much as people think. A few pilot projects would be interesting.

          At the same time the government could offer young people the opportunity to pay for advanced schooling by creating a vista program, where graduates must work for a specific number of years in return for loan forgiveness. I think we already have such programs in place. The educated young people would help to educate the welfare population as well as staffing these facilities so that those on welfare can learn how to take care of themselves as well as a marketable skill. Eventually those on welfare might be able to leave and find work in their respective field. We would train them as plumbers, painters, carpenters, electricians, nurses, cooks, child care, teachers, urban farmers/gardeners, etc.

          We are already paying to support these people, why not use that money to help them support themselves?


          • Don Stewart says:

            The Federal Reserve can print trillions of dollars to ‘save’ the banks. But if anyone proposes that community gardens be built in low income neighborhoods so that people can feed themselves, all hell breaks loose. Beginning with ‘we can’t afford it’. I’m sorry, look at sentence number one again. So let me get this straight:
            We can afford to print money to save the banks, but we can’t afford community gardens?
            We can’t promote community gardens because that takes money away from Big Ag?
            We don’t want poor people to get the idea that they are not totally dependent on corporations and the government?
            It is inhumane to ask poor people to work, producing their own food?

            These absurdities are part of the reason the US is in decline….Don

          • Careful Don, or I might think you’re a cynic! 🙂 Let’s assume we can ignore the current situation with regard to our government and corporate interests, what do you think of the idea overall?

          • Chris Johnson says:

            Jody, You have teenage sons, no? We in the USA have done a pretty good job through the years of maintaining a generally effective education system, but youth unemployment is one of the growing problems in urban and other poverty-stricken areas. In Europe in General and Southern Europe more prominently, it’s mushroomed.
            Only the Germans have done a good job of both preparing their youth for the labor markets and providing apprenticeship training (you hit most of the categories) so that they can get hired immediately after high school. We all need to learn there methods.
            And this is not just for this country; it should be world wide.
            Cheers, Chris

          • Chris,
            Youth unemployment is very worrisome. I read that if a person doesn’t get started on a career track by the time they are 25, they will not be able to do so. They will become a lost generation.
            I’m also concerned about the number of former middle class families that have fallen to a lower economic level since the Great Recession and yet still maintain the hope/belief that their children can only succeed in life if they go to college. However, they do not have the ability to pay for college, grant money is disappearing, and loans are also becoming higher priced. What will happen to all these young people? This is why I think some kind of Vista program (if that is the right word) could really be helpful right now. Otherwise the only option is ROTC.

            My sons are fairly bright students and have been taking advanced placement classes in mathematics and science. They are on a track to study engineering or engineering technology at Purdue, which is a good engineering school and they can live at home while going to college. They are also studying German as their second language. My husband is a second generation German immigrant to the U.S. I have always admired the German engineers!

            • Don Stewart says:

              I admit that I can’t search this site. I will be glad to respond, if you can give me a longer quote to respond to.

              Don Stewart

            • It is possible for anyone to search articles on this site for the word of your choice, using the “Search” button. Of course, you may find a longer list of articles than you want.

              Commenters cannot search the comments, but I can. So if you have something in the comments you want me to search for, write me an e-mail at GailTverberg at comcast dot net. It helps to have an uncommon word to search for.

          • Sherra says:

            Hi Jody
            We have a system that operating in Australia called work for the dole. It is designed to give job seekers the chance to develop job skills and gain work experience with the aim of helping job seekers find paid work. An unemployed person on benefits is placed by a “Job Find Agency” with a Not for Profit organisation, working about 15 hours per week. Some, (a limited few), find the experience rewarding enough that they go on to undertake training to gain qualifications needed to gain paid employment. I would like to make the observation that the 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 organisation 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. Also if the organisation does not have staff in place who have the ability to train and mentor these people, the unemployed person may end up having a very negative experience that could set them back in their efforts to gain employment. More information can be found at this address,
            Kind regards

            • Thanks for the information.

              I think that part of our problem is that a large share of people without jobs have some underlying problem – autistic, or schizophrenic, or not-very-bright. They may also lack transportation, and many not be able to drive.

              I have read that US jails today are to a significant extent filled with folks with people who have a hard time fitting into society. At one time, we had mental hospitals who took quite a few of these people, but times have changed. When I was a juror in a trial several years ago, I heard a policeman testify that quite a few of the homeless would commit some minor crime in the fall, to be certain of having housing (and food) for the winter. It is not really a very good system.

          • These are a few thoughts about the details:

            The government doesn’t really have money for programs such as these, no matter how worthwhile they might be, except to the extent that a current program is modified to require work in order to get the benefits. For example:

            One form of aid is food stamp recipients. Of course, many of the food stamp recipients are already working, but getting low wages (perhaps at a part-time job at Walmart). And some are mothers of infants, and ideally would nurse their babies. We would need to work around existing jobs and other limitations of recipients.

            Some other big recipients of payments are those getting social security income or disability income. But people have grown to expect that they don’t need to work for those benefits.

            Perhaps the one where it would be easiest to make an argument for requiring work is for those receiving short-term unemployment benefits. (Long-term unemployment benefits have mostly gone away, I believe.) It still would require quite a bit of administrative effort to make the program work. How does one get people to come to a work site, without paying them for the transportation expense involved, for example? People who are unemployed cannot be expected to have cars for money for fuel. There would need to be quite a bit of supervisory staff hired, as well. And the people would have to be given time off to look for a job.

          • xabier says:


            Oh, English people pussy foot issues around too, these days, but not Spaniards, so I do tend to be blunt. I think this is why I broke up with a Canadian girlfriend: total culture clash, Canadians are so ‘nice’,…..!

            Of course, when I said worthless I meant ‘rendered worthless’ by their circumstances, not intrinsically so: even the most apparently hopeless people can be turned around, although some are indeed hopeless propositions, or just rotten to the core. Then again, even Hitler was sweet with his dog Blondie……

            I believe in the possibility of redemption, but not in welfare programmes that just benefit the managers and deliverers, and not those they are supposedly designed to help – ‘computer training’ that is obviously going nowhere, shelf-filling that only profits the supermarket, and so on.

            As more and more people find themselves in lifetime unemployment, we have to get this right. Lack of dignity and hope = resentment=rather violent politics. Moreover, we just shan’t be able to afford these programmes.

            I’ll try to be more diplomatic in the future, I do promise.

  15. ravinathan says:

    Here is an article in The Atlantic that confirms the roots of the Egyptian crisis and the fragile situation in the Middle East and North Africa.

  16. Don Stewart says:

    To Mel Tisdale and Others

    I really do think people need to find their own way. But maybe a broad suggestion from me will get you out of ‘stuck’ mode. Let’s suppose that you have bought some land which is hopeless and have deliberately isolated yourself from your neighbors by buying lots of land and have zero interest in growing anything. The choice you face is that you can double down on the current system or you can find some way to support the emergence of an alternative system. Let’s just examine those broadly.

    I was in a seminar on cover crops yesterday. A cover crop is planted between cash crops to prevent erosion, grow organic matter to incorporate into the soil, and to store nitrogen in the soil. Now there was a little bit of cognitive dissonance in the presentations. The University professor was promoting the optimal timing for killing the nitrogen fixers and tilling them into the soil. Yet we all know that regular tilling ultimately destroys the soil. Then she referred to a 2011 study published in the Agronomy Journal which found that no till organic cover cropping resulted in by far the best levels of organic matter in the soil. By far the worst levels of organic matter result from conventional agriculture. Then we had a presentation by a local farmer showing in detail how he has successfully implemented the no till, organic, cover crop method for the production of peppers (one of his major crops). This weekend a Professor Emeritus is doing an on-farm demonstration of minimum till, organic, cover crop methods in western North Carolina. And this fall at our annual small farm soiree we have several people talking about no till, organic, cover crop methods.

    So, from your perspective, if you double down on the current system, you are voting for putting even more carbon into the atmosphere and oceans by eliminating it from the soil. You are voting for dead soils with no organic matter which will not have the diverse soil food web which prevents diseases and controls pests and for making climate change worse. Your ONLY hope is chemical and irrigated agriculture…good luck with that.

    Alternatively, you can decide that where you really ought to put your efforts is into efforts which take Nature as a (sometimes unruly) partner. Below is a small selection of the presenters at our fall soiree.

    But let’s suppose that you don’t want to get your hands dirty and abhor physical work and your land is hard packed desert. What can you do?

    Does your neighborhood have any local food traditions? Are there small farmers still in existence? Do any people have gardens?

    I will let you in on a little surprise. Getting sessions such as this one to happen requires some money. I am one of the people who makes it happen from a monetary standpoint. A little bit of seed money can go a long way. You don’t have to organize it yourself. Just find some existing local organization or some local individual who will take on the project and give them some money to make it happen.

    Now admittedly, this is all very bottom up. David Holmgren gave an eloquent defense of bottom up, so I won’t embarrass myself on the subject.

    It’s your choice…Don Stewart

    Presenters: Chuck Marsh and Debbie Lienhart, Useful Plants Nursery and Sarah Vroom and Kate DeMayo, Bountiful Backyards
    Come join an expert crew of teachers as you learn about food forests and orchards at the amazing Leigh Farm. Chuck Marsh and Debbie Lienhart from Useful Plants Nursery, and Sarah Vroom and Kate DeMayo of Durham’s Bountiful Backyards are noted teachers and plant enthusiasts who have come together around the edible park project. This hands-on workshop will cover the basics of how they go about planting gardens built for ecological benefit and human nutrition. More than 250 plants reside at the Leigh Farm Park, including fruit trees and berry bushes, dozens of beautiful plants for pollinators, and many medicinal, tea, and soil improving crops.

    Will Hooker, Professor, NCSU (who lives at 610 Kirby)
    Two years ago we offered a permaculture design workshop led by Will and his design students. This year, we are taking what we learned from that experience and going to the next level. Will is a noted permaculture teacher and well-loved mentor. He will lead the workshop and introduce key concepts. Working in a small group, you work closely with a designer to create the best plan possible. Bring your farm or garden plan to the class. You will work on specific design issues during the afternoon. You may be surprised with what you come up with! Class size is very limited.

    Sandor Katz, noted author and speaker, “The Art of Fermentation” and “Wild Fermentation”
    When the subject of fermentation comes up, one name immediately comes to mind: Sandor Katz. Michael Pollan has called him the guru of fermentation. Sandor is a passionate advocate for the art of fermenting foods, an expert on a wide array of techniques and a champion for their health benefits. Come learn about a variety of fermentation methods. You will leave with recipes, tips, new techniques and inspiration. Sandor will do demos, take questions and will have some surprises for you. Not-to-be-missed.

    Are you an urban homesteader who wants to save time, save money, save your back and save your planet? Liberated Gardener, Frank Hyman, can help you. He’s a former organic farmer and writes the Green Thumb column for Urban Farm magazine and the Coop Builder column for Chickens magazine. He’s made his living from gardening, building and writing for 21 years and he and his wife have created a beautiful, functional and tiny urban homestead. You’ll learn about their front yard vegetable garden, an herb garden with permanent mulch, a Lawnlet, a rain barrel that’s a water garden, a backyard nursery that never needs watering in summer, a Zen garden with dwarf citrus trees, compost that never needs turning and their chicken coop called Hentopia, among other useful features. Bring your questions and ideas to share.

    Learn about two impressive small farms that are integrating livestock with horticulture. Our first stop will be Fickle Creek Farm run by Ben Bergman and Noah Ranells. The farm showcases a variety of innovative farming practices. Check out their egg mobiles, pastured pigs, sheep, cattle and ducks. Nestled in the woods, the farm has a unique design using agroforestry principles. The livestock plus a market garden supply meat and vegetables to a broad mix of customers. The next stop on the tour is just five minutes down the road. Minka Farm has a wide variety of livestock including chickens, ducks, beef cattle, goats and horses. Come learn about pasture and pond management practices; using goats to control weeds; and their hatchery. You will also see a large and impressive fruit orchard with dozens of fruit trees.

    You Make It–Outdoors and Hand On
    Hands-On Farm Hacking: Fun and Efficiency with Farm Machines

    Keyline Design for Water and Soil Benefits

    Talk on Fermentation: Coevolution, Culture and Community

    • Don,
      Sounds like a wonderful series of workshops. I also see many young farmers and gardening enthusiasts trying new and innovative things here in my community. Purdue University started up a Student Farm, where students are learning to grow for the market. Our county extension and Master Gardeners have teamed up with a demo garden that has been going (and growing) for many years. They donate literally more than a ton of fresh food to Food Finders, a local food bank. A charter school called the New Community School is developing school gardens where children learn about growing food. The Cary Home for Children has started raised beds where their residents learn about growing and cooking with fresh food. A retirement and nursing home called West Minster Village offers community garden plots for their residents. This is just a small sampling of all the things I see going on here.

      It gives me a sense of hope when our community is trying to become more resilient, and reaching out across the generations to instill new (and old) values and skills. Our city engineers are building rain gardens to handle storm water runoff; and they are building numerous biking and walking paths throughout the city. Our downtown development organization continues to restore old buildings, bringing in new tenants, business, and tourists. Even my husband and I enjoy eating downtown and going for a walk along the river. Most weekends there are entertainments going on. This weekend we will be attending the Downtown Jazz concert.

      All these efforts are mostly bottom up, but we seem to have some good leadership at every level. I like to think I’m a small part of these efforts when I donate compost, soil, or mulch to non-profit organizations. I’m often asked to give workshops on composting, in fact I have one coming up in a few weeks. I’m going to be at the farmer’s market in October answering questions about sustainable living, in their “education” tent. I just gave a presentation on the use of antibiotics in animal production for the forum at our church. The Unitarian Church I am a member of was doing a month long look at antibiotic resistance in bacteria, another big problem our health care industry faces.


      PS. I have an old book entitled “Farm Soils: Their management and fertilization” that was first published in 1927. When I get a chance I am going to see what they have to say about soils in your region. I have some thoughts, but I want to do more research before I offer my thoughts.

      • xabier says:


        Sounds wonderful! At so many levels, as it should be.

        Not even a fraction of that is happening here: the authorities pay lip-service to it all of course, but the reality is that this region of England is money-mad and in the grip of ‘developers’. It’s the same where my family live in Spain too (small farming is collapsing there).

        It’s a matter of stranded like-minded souls finding one another, which we do, but institutionally they are committed to killing life, not sustaining it. I don’t think that is an exaggeration: losing good fields all the time.

        • Xabier,
          Isn’t it nice when we find like minded souls? In some ways I think it has been the farmers markets that are really bringing these people together. Many people tell me that they go to the market for both the food and the socializing.

          We also see developers here tearing out wooded areas and bull dozing farmland to build more Mc Mansions and cheap stick-built homes. These homes are so cheaply made (even when they are expensive to buy) I don’t expect them to hold up more than 10 years. Even our home, which was built in 2006 and won the residential masonry award that year. It is made from concrete split face blocks and structurally the house is great, but most of the other things such as electrical and plumbing components are being replaced all the time. We have had many issues to deal with: shingles that failed in 9 years, furnace failed in 8 years, windows (named brand) began rotting out at the bottom of the crank out panes in 9 years (just after the warranty expired). We just had our well repaired and they found that the company put in galvanized pipe that corroded and formed a hole. Nice mess that was!

          We bought a very expensive low flow, high efficiency washer. When it was 7 years old a plastic part failed. The repair was about 25% of the cost of the unit. The repair man said “Oh, these machines are only built to last 6 years.” Really pissed me off. My first set of washer and dryer were 20 years old when we bought them for $200. Ten years later we sold them for $200 and never had any problems. That is one thing we shouldn’t tolerate as consumers, planned obsolescence.

          I wonder what families will do when their homes begin to fail and there won’t be supplies of materials to repair them. We really need someone who can repair appliances and fix windows. For example, our windows were made as a unit. They had 4 lower panes and a transom of windows above. Only the two outer lower windows that cranked out were rotting at the bottom (mostly because of a design flaw). They were held on by 2 bolts. How difficult would it be to make replacement windows for the crank outs? But when I called the company they said they only sell entire units. I asked a local carpenter if he could build replacements, but no luck. Our society will have need for people with the skills to fix stuff.


          • Repairmen have told me similar things. The new high-efficiency machines are often made for short life-spans. They tend to be more expensive, so the manufacturers cut corners. Use plastic parts instead of metal, as you indicated.

            Without fossil fuels, we won’t be making any kind of machines. If things fall apart, we will pretty much have to do without them. Or in an ideal world, we would have old machines that we could cannibalize for needed parts. But if they are made badly, even this won’t be helpful.

          • xabier says:


            What a depressing catalogue of faults, but not unusual.

            As someone who makes and restores books that should last at least 500 years with only reasonable care (how about that for a idealistic occupation at what may be the end of our civilization?) I find ‘planned obsolecence’ – isn’t it also called ‘consumer engineering? – at a time of diminishing resources almost a moral crime. Even worse: the appliances that cannot be repaired.

            A Polish friend has a Soviet fridge that has lasted for 60 years – they buy new ones, they break down and it’s time to start the Soviet one up again! It’s like a satirical short story…..

            The new buildings here in Britain (and in Spain) are very badly built: they adhere to the latest codes, have more insulation than ever before, but the materials are shoddy and the workers – and their employers – just do not care. A builder friend estimates about 20 years before serious problems start to show, and says he would never buy one: I privately baptised a recently-built mansion in my village the ‘matchstick house’, because that is indeed what it seemed to be built of……….

            Repairers need good tools: now is the time, perhaps, to buy good axes, hammers, screwdrivers, saws,etc, before quality declines even further under the pressure of economic decline: really good ones are expensive even now. And to buy in spares of essential items.

            I can imagine a time which will be like Communist Poland where, as my friend said, ‘You could buy anything from the State Factory, but it always just broke.’ Rather like Chinese tools today. There’s a lot of hidden cost-cutting going in right now, I’m quite sure.

  17. suttonbooks says:

    There is an analogy with modern physics. Prior to the 20th century there were two parameters: time and distance, and one variable: the speed of light. So, if the speed of light from a static source is 299,792 km/s then it will increase to 299,800 km/s if the source moves forward at 8 km/s. But, in 1905 Einstein stated that the speed of light is fixed regardless of the motion of the source. Hence the speed of light becomes a parameter and distance and time become variables with respect to one another.

    With regard to your post we have traditionally had two parameters: economic activity and the price of oil, with one variable: the flow rate of oil. That is the economic paradigm that most of us grew up with. Economic activity increases, the price of oil increases correspondingly so more oil is produced thereby allowing the price of oil to go down again. However, the flow rate of oil is now a parameter due to geological constraints. Hence economic activity and oil price vary with respect to one another.

    On reflection this is actually not a very good analogy, but my point is that, just as we still have trouble understanding that space and time vary with one another, so we will have trouble understanding a model where increased prices don’t lead to increased production. It will be a long time before people “get it”.

    • I appreciate your description of the problem. It is helpful. I may quote it.

      ” . . . we have traditionally had two parameters: economic activity and the price of oil, with one variable: the flow rate of oil. That is the economic paradigm that most of us grew up with. Economic activity increases, the price of oil increases correspondingly so more oil is produced thereby allowing the price of oil to go down again. However, the flow rate of oil is now a parameter due to geological constraints. Hence economic activity and oil price vary with respect to one another.”

  18. ricklakin says:

    Gail, This is slightly off-topic. I just read excerpts of the UN Climate Report that states a worse case scenario of a 3 foot rise in sea level by 2100. My question is this. Do the extreme predictions for sea level rise hold up if you overlay various Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas scenarios?

    • I have said that the models are not right–they use too much CO2. I am not convinced that we are very good at modeling sea level rise, though. It is possible that the estimates are correct, despite t eh model using too much CO2.

      I expect by 2100, there will be a lot of other changes besides sea level rise. Population will be much lower. We will not be using very much of what is currently built infrastructure at sea level. A three foot rise in sea level may be much easier to live with than it is today. Today we are very focused on maintaining our current infrastructure, but if in the future we are dealing with much simpler boats and small huts along the shoreline, we may be able to easily move the infrastructure.

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      You might like to visit Click on ‘Most Used Myths’ and then ‘Models are unreliable’. You could also search for ‘sea level’

    • humanity has been a disruptive tenant on Earth, sea level rise is just another way that nature is using to terminate our lease

  19. To all,
    There are several comments I would like to respond to. First, Don’s post discussing David Holmgren’s essay and his comment “If Permaculture has a political program, it is one of permissive Anarchy. ” I loved your post, Don. I looked up anarchy in Webster’s dictionary and found the following: “Anarchism: A political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups.” I vote for this path forward (in fact it is probably the path I am already following!).

    Being a rational, well adjusted human being I feel that I am quite capable of guiding my actions and refraining from doing harm to my fellow world citizens. I think people who study and practice Permaculture are similarly minded. Such people have a heightened sensitivity to our place in the natural world, or what I like to think of as the “interdependent web of life”.

    Mel subsequently said “How would you decide on who should be allocated what? How would resolve disputes..” As an anarchist my response to that question is that each of us does. Each of us decides what will do each moment of each day. I decide to plant seeds, harvest vegetables, preserve them or cook them, etc. I decide that by learning how to grow food I am doing the best I can do to provide for my family now and in the future. If you decide to shop at the grocery store, purchase a microwavable dinner, and eat it while watching T.V, and complain about the state of our world, that is up to you. Neither I nor the government should tell you how to spend your time. We each decide what to allocate our time and money to, and how to resolve any disputes.

    And finally, Mel said “We have an imperfect system in place at the moment. But, imperfect as it is, it works and if we could provide it with energy, it would continue to work. ” I would argue that our system is not working. It does not provide us with health and happiness, nor does it provide us with the opportunity to develop our health and happiness even if such a thing were one of its goals. It is impossible for any system of government to determine what all its citizens need, when they need it, or how to deliver it to them. That is something only we can do for ourselves. Our government and corporate businesses will not provide solutions (even if solutions were possible). What solutions we find are up to us.

    I recommend the book “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas for those who would like a preview of what life will be like on a hotter planet, one degree increase at a time. I have enough education and knowledge in this area to be firmly pessimistic. I see no route in which humanity can reduce fossil fuel consumption and green house gas emissions in time to avoid an increase of 6 degrees in temperature. Our economy has a momentum. It is like sitting atop a train hurtling along at 160 mph without breaks and knowing that up ahead is a cliff. We are all just along for the ride. We don’t have a governing body or the individual ability to apply the system’s breaks. Only an economic collapse very soon might have a chance of reducing GHG emissions enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. I don’t personally want to see our economy collapse, but I know it is probably the only way that we can avoid 6 degrees of warming. Either way, it is only wishful thinking because the system has momentum and we can’t prevent the course it takes.

    I do, however, have control over what I do today. Today I canned a dozen jars of spaghetti sauce. Whether or not my actions mean anything to anyone else, it will make for some good food this winter.

    PS. Nice to hear from you David Holmgren. Keep up the good work.

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      Ye Gods and little fishes! Just what does one have to do round here to get some action. We have the very real possibility of a human cull will kill at least some, and possibly many of those reading this and instead of a serious discussion regarding how we feed ourselves – and by that I mean all 7 to 9 billion or so of us – all I get is brickbats and quite frankly ridiculous notions, such as the one that conflict resolution is down to personal choice, in the form of “we will decide”. No you won’t! Ever had a ‘neighbour from hell’ Jody? Try your anarchism on them if you ever get to be so unfortunate. You will mysteriously find your crops ruined or stolen, your home vandalized and so on. That is why we need a police force. There have been cases in the U.K. where the victim was driven to suicide in at least one case and to murder the perpetrator in another. Not a good outcome for the victim in either case. And they are just the tip of the iceberg. So much for freedom to decide.

      Back to the present. If the coming oil depletion leads to severe food shortages, which is entirely possible, how do you intend to avoid a famine, Jody? How do you intend to ward off those without food wanting to take yours? They won’t be coming at you with pitchforks, will they? Not in a country with a second amendment, they won’t. Don’t think that they will exist? With about fifty percent of the population living in cities and obviously not able to grow their own food, what plans do you have for them to be fed sufficiently that they are not temped to come round your back yard? Permaculture is fine, as I say elsewhere, but how do you get it to feed all of us and feed us before the oil runs out? My list of questions to Don was an attempt to highlight the obstacles in the way. Result, dismissal or ridicule. I would not mind, but where are the constructive suggestions with which to replace them? Nowhere to be seen. It is easy to carp and criticize, but it gets us nowhere fast and that is a waste of time that we can ill afford. Just look back over the comments since my original post. Spot any solutions that are not in the ‘I’m alright, I can grow my own food category? Worse still, I see no mention of how they might share that food with those less fortunate.

      While you might not like the current agricultural system, Jody, it does put food on the table. Perhaps not food to your liking, but given the choice between that and starvation, I’ll bet you would eat it. If we can find a way of ensuring its continuation, then the way is clear for people like you and Don to push Permaculture and the like and get it widely adopted. Though good as you think it is, you have not had much success so far. Why is that? When you are successful, it will be possible to ditch the current system, but not until then. So how about some serious, constructive suggestions instead of knocking those made by others. Or are you just going to take the I’m alright default position?

      As for any suggestions from the wider readership as to how we keep the wheels of food production turning sufficiently to avoid a mass kill off, well look for yourself and judge. it won’t take long.

      • Mel,
        You and I are on different pages. You want to believe there is something humanity can do something to save itself from overshoot and population collapse. I no longer believe a solution is possible. I believe that all we can do is endure the consequences of our dilemma. The reason I liked the definition of anarchism…..advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups, is because I think this is how we will pick up the pieces of society after the collapse.

        You want action or discussion on how to save the world, but you don’t seem to be able to motivate others to think or act the way you want us to. That is exactly how groups work. What else is social behavior except voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups? Laws are just another way of saying we agree to cooperate or face the consequences of social ostracism.

        When I reached the conclusion that our current economic system was broken and doomed, I spent my time learning skills; how to grow and preserve food, how to use wild food, how to use herbs for medicine, amongst many others. I thought these skills would have value in the future, in a much lower energy lifestyle. But in the process of doing this I’ve found that I feel better because I’m helping myself, improving my health, and learning to enjoy a more simple, less stressful life. You may not see the value of this approach, but it is working for me and I don’t see a better one.

        You express frustration because you don’t find comments here that appear to offer real solutions. What if there are no solutions? What can we offer when the future is going to be so unpredictable? Perhaps you are frustrated because you don’t know what you can do personally. The feeling of helplessness in the face of disaster leads to enormous stress and feelings of anxiety. This may kill you long before your neighbors do.

        Maybe you don’t like my solution to grow food, get in touch with the natural world, and find personal happiness. Maybe you think it is trite, but that doesn’t make it any less valid a solution. In the grand scheme of things we are all going to die. It’s how we live today that matters.

        grow food and be happy,

        • Scott says:

          Hello Jody, I think population overshoot is the real subject we are dealing with sadly. Lets looks at the world for a moment as if it was a tree. I had an Oak Tree once that got overpopulated with worms, it stripped its leaves, but it came back the next year, but after a few years some of these trees do not come back.

          I am also torn between solutions, I see many strong people in my area and I see a collapse that is perhaps uneven, some areas will fare better than others in the face of turmoil.

          We talked about solutions like Thorium and hydrogen which may still be used but I believe post collapse at this point. Sorry Mel, unless I see a huge turning of consciousnesses of our misled world population, then the world’s people will continue as they are as Lemmings marching into the sea. If we had the will there would be things we could do but overshoot in population in a “Tree” can be devastating.

          I still have hope that we have another 20 or so years before we really face the peak oil situation, but I think the next 20 is going to be difficult in many ways that include financial troubles and depression which will likely be worse some places than others.


          • Mel Tisdale says:

            Twenty years is probably more than enough to electrify the vehicles and machinery that we need to maintain the current food production methods and also to build the electricity generating infra-structure in support. The only real unknown is how long it will take to improve storage of the electrical charge so that range is not a problem. I imagine, too, that twenty years is also long enough to adapt Permaculture to the higher level of the farm rather than at the personal level.

            Perhaps some of the brighter members of government are quietly seeing to it that the necessary funding is in place and it is all happening behind our backs.

            As for overpopulation, I will leave that thorny issue to the next generation.

            • Scott says:

              Hello, Mel, I agree we could do a lot in 20 years, if we had the political will. If the governments of the world would stop trying to deceive the masses into believing that our current system is okay and we have plenty of energy spare capacity and reserves. I have asked some of locals around here if they believe we are headed towards an oil shortage someday, and no they do not see any problem. Few, see the problem and unless that changes, nothing will happen.

              People I have talked to in general are concerned however about the economy and are starting to see the and detect corruption in our government especially after witnessing the 2008 bankers bail outs and all the games the Fed has been playing since then.

              I wish they would start to work on these projects to electrify and build more nuclear (preferably Thorium power) now, but sadly they are too concerned about printing more money to keep the game going. As much as we do not like nuclear, we have to face the fact that it is only option other than coal which is really bad. Not many good options out there so we have to go with what we got. But it seems like oil monopolies of the world want to milk every penny out of their wells first and likely we will not be told of the impending shortage until it is in our face.

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Truth will out, Scott, sooner or later. Perhaps this site has an obligation to spread the word that the numbers show that population collapse is written in the runes. What they do with that information is up to them.

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          You make some very good comments, Jody. I can understand why you think the way you do. From my perspective, I fear that for people such as yourself, Bob Dylan’s “Yesterday is just a memory and tomorrow’s never what it’s supposed to be” will almost certainly prove to be the case. I wish you luck when all the supermarket shelves are bare and the mobs come looking for food. Maslow put food as the most important need that has to serviced above all others, and for good reason.

          Enjoy what is often called the ‘aftertime’, Jody, and remember the mobs will almost certainly have heat detecting equipment, well, not all of them, but the better organized ones will have, so wrap up warm and don’t even think about doing any baking. Your talents would be a great asset to a group looking to get established at some location or other, so be ready to be carried off as a trophy once they have taken all your food!

          I do not expect to have a gravestone, but if someone happens to mark the spot where I lie, I hope it says ‘At least he tried.’

          • Mel,
            Exactly what have you really tried to do?

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Pertinent to the current thread, I have tried to get some discussion going that might, just might have led to a better way of managing over-population than the one we will probably get, i.e. food wars, hungry mobs marauding for food and the human animal descending in status to that of just another animal, and a pretty nasty one to boot. On this I failed.

              Pertinent to my engineering career, I have tried to make cars more fuel efficient. Together with the rest of the team, we succeeded.

              50%. Not brilliant, but not too bad.

      • xabier says:


        Your basic premise is quite wrong, not that of the others with whom you disagree: if a valuable porcelain vase is lying smashed on the ground, but could be restored by a supremely skilled expert, and people point out that such an expert is either not available, or would be too expensive to hire (maybe in excess of the value of the vase), then however desirable that repair might be those people who point out the hard fact are not being ‘unconstructive’, but Realistic.

        The vase is our globalized system, although we might say it is at present teetering on the edge of its display stand, nearly going over as a result of some violent agitation by a ground tremor out of human control (Jody’s train rushing on to its doom). Nearly every proposed fix in fact overlooks financial constraints, and over-population pressures, pointing out which is our host’s great strength as an analyst.

        Your language is also emotional, not rational. ‘Cull’ is inappropriate: we are in over-shoot, particularly in Asia and Africa, (Europe is dying, but has mined out its mineral resources in the last 200 years) which goes almost beyond imagining, and the consequences, delayed, disguised and exacerbated by the use of oil wealth and the insane extension of credit, will be played through whatever we may wish or hope, probably accompanied by immense violence.

        Governments in advanced and developing regions are clearly fully committed to the strategies, and dominated by the vested interests, which have got us here in the first place. We can expect nothing constructive from them: this is the hard and brutal fact, and it is they who hold the reins on this out of control buggy, not us.

        Most of us here realise that trying to construct grand schemes to save the teeming billions are pointless: we are here to gain – thanks to our host’s careful researches – some understanding of the fatal oil and credit bubble we have been living in, and to discuss and share information about personal and group strategies for useful action at a very humble level. I suppose all thoughtful observers know by now that governments, corporations and current regulations are the problem, they will simply go on trying to perpetuate themselves and pursuing failed strategies within bankrupt ideological frameworks. Just think if the energy and time being taken to hammer whistle-blowers, or used in micro-regulation of citizens’ lives were used to address real problems that affect the destiny of billions…… Well, it isn’t going to happen, no more than the Emperor in Rome or Ravenna cared about the fate of a small farmer in a distant province (or even the small farmer just outside the palace gates).

        So the question is: what can the sane individual do? Most can do nothing, they have no wriggle room, not even to buy a few cans of food for the store-cupboard. The fortunate few can get their hands dirty and maybe, just maybe, leave something beneficial for future generations -if they exist.

        In my case, my large garden was for some thousands of years, from at least the Iron Age I imagine, a cultivated field, – and in fact the old (and fruitful!) field boundary hedge still survives at its bottom, – until the house was built in 1949. My personal objective is to return this modest plot to maximum productivity for whoever comes next: it is by no means survivalism on my part. They may not come, we might die out, but it seems worthwhile, and interesting. I have no responsibility for the billions, and those who do are leading them to Hell as far as I can see. I’m doing this as the local administration and University (my old university I admit to my shame) build tens of thousands of tiny shoddy, housing ‘units’ taking good fields out of production, with all the usual lip-service to ‘sustainability’, but in fact a massive, ill-thought out financial speculation (the university in particular have their eye on the large fees paid by students from Asia).

        That is my answer to Don’s ‘What are you doing?’ It’s not much, but at the very lest the soil will be improved!

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          So, when I donated to save the Ethiopians back in the 80s, I should really have turned my back on them on the basis that it was only nature in action – red in tooth and claw. Not in my nature, I’m afraid. Seeing as the lack of action to reduce or hinder the slaughter seems deliberate, I think the word ‘cull’ is appropriate. Any other term can only be seen as avoiding responsibility. But enough; we will get what we deserve.

          Good luck with your field. When you done that, come have a go at mine. You did say I should offer it to someone more willing than I am, and you seem ideal!

          • xabier says:


            I don’t think you grasp my point: wishful thinking about saving the world is pointless, even if it makes us feel good about ourselves.

            But a field full of thistles, which you have assumed responsibility for, is right there in front of you waiting for YOU to do something about it!

          • Chris Johnson says:

            If you have a historic almanac, you can quickly find that since the 80’s Ethiopia’s population has doubled and its deforestation has increased from 20% to 60%. It is now trying to build a dam that may well wreak havoc on the societies downstream on the NIle. Back then we used to joke that the fastest animal in the world was an Ethiopian chicken. Now we know that Africa’s population crossed the 1 Billion mark and is due to double within 40 years.
            I think everybody who has read your screed during the past few days will agree that you are a smart person, but one whose sense of humility needs nourishment and exercise. As with us all. Just because you think you might have all the answers, or can pose them more demandingly doesn’t give you the right to misbehave so badly. All of us have some answers and voluminous questions, but many, I think, would rather punch you in the nose or ignore you than help you out.
            Cordially, Chris Johnson

            • Mel Tisdale says:


              Perhaps you don’t have children who will be in the thick of it when the population does collapse from starvation. I do and am amazed at the blaze others, who I know also have children. I can only think that when reality strikes, it will come as quite a shock. As for your comment that my thinking I know everything, you clearly have not read many of my comments. I repeatedly admit to not being an expert and did hope that a mature discussion would have brought in people who really are expert. I don’t expect an apology, but it would be nice if in future you made more informed comments if you are going to denigrate people.

          • we all put money into charity buckets—thats part of what we are and what we do as human beings.
            but, we cannot escape the reality that twenty million well fed human beings will double their numbers in the same land area, given the opportunity.
            that is simple biology and human nature. You then have 40 million starving peoiple.
            The human psyche recognises a food supply, and makes use of it. If 4 million or even 400000 are left from the original 40 million, nature considers that a rebalancing success.
            We make the mistake of overlaying human emotion on to the relentless grinding wheels of nature.
            nature really is red in tooth and claw, we’ve just had a 200 year vacation from it. it hasn’t gone away

  20. Pingback: the long path continued | Brain Noise

  21. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others, especially Mel Tisdale
    A recurring question is whether the current industrial food system can feed 9 billion people, and whether some other system such as Permaculture can feed 9 billion people. Here is David Holmgren’s answer. Please note that the sound is not the best in the world. The link will take you to a page with a bunch of videos. Each video is about 7 minutes long. Go to the video third from the end and click on it. There is a volume control slider.

    David gives a nuanced response. First, he says that with the looming energy crisis, the current system will not be able to feed 9 billion. However, the current economic system may result in the richest 2 billion starving the remaining people as the rich people devote land to biofuels to feed their cars. In addition, the recycling of nutrients from human waste is extraordinarily difficult in the current system. Yet such recycling is essential to future food production.

    A Permaculture system which reconnects the place where food is produced with the place where it is consumed, the great reduction in the percentage of calories accounted for by dead animals (especially cows), stopping the practice of feeding high quality grains to animals, the eating of food which is grown in gardens and is currently in surplus rather than exotic foods from around the world, the farming of land which is now marginal, and the reinvigoration of the home economy WILL permit Permaculture to feed 9 billion people DESPITE a great reduction in energy availability.

    I believe David bases his belief on two observations:
    1. Permaculture demonstrably greatly increases food production.
    2. Permaculture changes human behavior for the better in terms of feeding billions of people.

    I would add that you need to understand that food production can increase amidst a general lowering of standards of living. Many people may become subsistence growers of food. If the economy is producing one fifth of the current GDP in 20 years, then people will be spending a much higher percentage of their income on food.

    Is this a reversion to some bad, old ways? If you care to listen to the earlier videos, you will find a nuanced answer to this question, also. David says that one criticism of Permaculture is that ‘it is just common sense’. His retort is that the ‘sense is no longer common’. When he visited Italy, for example, his translator said ‘this is the way we used to do things’. People from Japan have a similar reaction. But even in countries with a robust historical tradition, the traditions are dead or dying. And there are tricks which the historical tradition did not incorporate, which can be stolen from other places. For example, it is commonplace in Australia to catch rainwater from the roof, but in many countries this is an entirely novel idea. The notion of doing earthworks to control water in the landscape is common in certain cultures, unknown in others. In short, the globalization in terms of knowledge permits us to adopt the best practices from a much broader palette.

    Don Stewart

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      There is no doubt that we can improve food production by such methods as Permaculture. But there is one great big gaping hole in the notion that we can just apply it to global food production as if by throwing a switch. If you listen to the other talks, Don, there is one that talks about the subject more generally, In that it is clear that the vast majority of adherents to the Permaculture method, so to speak, are all keen on the subject, much like yourself. Also, they are mostly feeding themselves and their families with, on occasion, assistance from local farmers, who are also working to the same methodology. We have to get from there to one where people such as myself, who don’t have any interest in the subject are expected to work on the land. And while doing so, provide food enough for others. Surely you can see that that can only lead to large numbers going hungry. I’ll help others by spouting forth on sites such as this one, but get soaked and muddy to feed some other person just because I have some land and they don’t is not something I will queue for.

      We have an imperfect system in place at the moment. But, imperfect as it is, it works and if we could provide it with energy, it would continue to work. I hear no mention in the Permaculture talks of distribution needs, such as decisions on crop choices so that the distribution system can continue to work without ending up with a right old mixture of grains etc. It is like steam trains, Some hark back to the good old days of steam and wish for its return. We have moved on. Steam trains can only use existing track by special arrangement because they don’t fit in with modern track safety technology. We could make Permaculture work on a grand scale, but I just don’t see any ideas from you, Don, or Mr Holmgren, on how we transition from a bunch of enthusiasts to a bunch of unenthusiastic individuals forced to do work for which they have no vocation.

      I see no option but to try and make the existing methods last as long as we can while we find ways of energizing them past the point where oil shortages would be a problem. By all means start now with getting schools to promote Permaculture by teaching it and providing certification to reflect that teaching. Get colleges and universities to take those secondary level students and provide them with degree level tuition so that we soon have a body of highly knowledgeable young people enthusiastic about food production, steeped in a methodology more suitable to the problems we face than the current methodology. Let them go out into the world of agriculture and introduce Permaculture as though it is the most natural thing in the world (which it seems to be, anyway). That way, current farming methods will change in line with the needs of Permaculture and Permaculture will change in line with current custom and practice where that is more suitable on a global scale. For example, food today sometimes has to be shipped to starving people in a hurry. Farming methods have to support a distribution system that can meet make that happen.

      I think, Don, if you read my other post and try and answer the questions I posed, you will see that the idea of pushing Permaculture, or any similar method, onto the public generally, is doomed to failure. We only have to look at climate change to see that. We know that climate change is on course to kill a large number of people, most as yet unborn. You would think that for a God fearing person, tackling it would be a no-brainer. Yet if we look at America, a God-fearing nation, one of its two main (almost ‘only’) political parties has, almost as a right of passage, the belief that climate change is all a hoax, even when they experience drought, floods and rising sea-levels. These people should be charged with committing a crime against humanity, but we let them get away with it. How can we expect people to do hard labour that they have no affinity for in order to save lives when they won’t even support political action to save other lives?

      One of the talks mentions that more people will be needed to work on the land in future. If we can provide tractors, combined harvesters etc. with energy, we will not need those extra people and probably could manage with fewer than at present. So let’s get back to solving that problem, shall we? It involves fewer people, is quickly applicable when solved, and most of all, feasible.

      • Don Stewart says:

        David Holmgren freely admits that Permaculture hasn’t changed the world. As someone who took The Limits to Growth to heart, and did something about it (invent Permaculture), he is of course dismayed. He is quite pessimistic about ‘big solutions’ coming from governments or mass movements. He thinks that when some people see the obvious advantages, they will adopt the methods. It’s not at all about ‘top down’, its about ‘bottom up’. The fact that you have zero interest probably just indicates to Holmgren that you won’t make it through the bottleneck. Sorry…that’s just the way the universe works. It’s not personal.

        So when you pose a lot of questions about ‘fairness’ and ‘doctor’s excuses’ and all that stuff, I just can’t work up the energy to reply. People either see that The Limits to Growth are real, or that Gail’s formulation of Peak Finance is real, or something else convinces them that they have to change…or they continue to do what they are doing. Holmgren, I think, believes the former have a chance and the latter don’t. But he also admits that the system has held together a lot longer than he thought it could.

        As for the notion that if we just had infinite amounts of nuclear energy we could solve all the other limits such as nutrient depletion, I think he would just laugh and wish you luck.

        Don Stewart

        • xabier says:


          It seems to be a common psychological failing to declare that The End Is Nigh when one has seen the fracture faults in the system: the perception is usually correct, but the assessment of timing is often hopelessly wrong.

          I’m sure there are old evolutionary reasons for this tendency to jump the gun: not least being that as we tend to go into automatic in our daily routine lives, a mechanism that impels us to immediate, drastic action once a threat is perceived has great survival potential – just as much as the denial-reaction which helps to minimize the perception of threats and so save us from a constant sate of anxiety.

          So the wise man ends up looking like the little boy who called wolf, and a fool or liar. But he ain’t none of those!

          Another factor is that no-one will listen to a prophet of doom (or hope) who can’t put a time-frame on his predictions: like the ‘the economy will recover to growth in 6 months’ predictions which the European leaders have been making for the last 5 years, an estimate is required from the pronouncer however much that defies reason. Of copurse, in this instance, the prophets are just downright liars!

          Waiting for mass action or government initiative in this field is like, as the Spanish say, waiting for the Virgin Mary to turn up in court and dispense Justice. Nice idea, but……

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          Sorry you feel that way, Don, but of course I am bound to feel that you do not have answers to my questions and have taken the easy way out. You think Permaculture is a good thing (so do I, thanks to your links and information). As I indicated in a previous comment, I just don’t see being applied in time to feed the planet when the oil supply falls to dangerous levels, not without some assistance at least, which we soon won’t be able to provide. You admit that it has not caught on to the extent it was hoped, which shows that there is something wrong with the current methods being used to introduce it. I have suggested some ways that might work, about which you make no comment, yet make no alternative suggestions. Why? I would have thought an enthusiastic bunch of graduates let loose in today’s same old same old agricultural industry would be just the shot in the arm that it needs. Do you have an alternative suggestion?

          So Don, what do we do? Give up? Let the world starve? Your reference to a ‘bottleneck’ would seem to indicate that you accept that there is going to be a cull and only some will survive. Is this the ‘can do’ America we hear so much about? An America that has an abundance of talent, produces more Nobel Laureates than any other nation and is better equipped than any other nation. I’ll bet that given a Manhattan Project approach to coping with diminishing oil supply the best brains in America could come up with solutions, though I would prefer a global effort. It might be too late, but I am damned if I am prepared to just give up. It just isn’t way we do things on this side of the pond, and quite honestly I don’t thing giving up is an American trait either.

          We will get nowhere while the discussion is limited to this website, good as it is. All I am trying to do is get some wider discussion going. Sure, nuclear power is anathema to some, but it is at least a source of energy, which is half the battle. If not nuclear, then let us at least have some realistic analysis of renewables, or perhaps synthetic oil – from coal, if I remember right. I like nuclear, especially thorium, but I recognize that I am not the best informed. People might ridicule my position, but that doesn’t matter as long as it is done in a positive, informed manner rather than what we have become used to: “It’s nuclear, we’ll all be murdered in our beds!”

          If Gail is right, we are long past the time when the governments should have come clean about the situation we are about to experience and at least started a public conversation with and among their populations. So it is a case of ‘better late than never!’ If we can get an informed public, we might cut through some red tape and get some honest opinions about the alternatives available. And perhaps get some direction towards avoiding what appears to be an imminent global disaster. If that means wind turbines spoiling our green and pleasant land, so be it. If it means nuclear power, then others will have to accept it. Getting the energy is only part of the solution, for most available energy supplies, we need to develop a much better way of storing electrical energy that is currently available.

          Or we can just curl up and let fate run its course – over my dead body!

          P.s. A global Manhattan Project would be an excellent distraction from the mess the world governments have made of the financial situation!

          • Please—not ”Manhattan project ” again. Or another Apollo project
            These projects consumed cheap energy and in so doing created a vast range of employment, but without access to cheap fuel these projects would not have been possible.
            Oil underpinned the wealth of the nation that created them, allowing such colossal enterprises to ride on the back of prosperous fuel burning, profit making industry
            That cheap fuel is no longer available, so projects on that scale can no longer be supported

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              O.K. And what constructive suggestions do you have for us as to how we manage to feed 7 to 9 billion? Or do you, like so many others on this site, see the coming potential food shortage as a glorious opportunity to kill off a few billion?

            • Scott says:

              Hello Mel, I enjoyed reading your recent posts today, you said a lot there. I think what many of us fear is that this change will be crisis driven and not pre-planned as it should have been 30-40 years ago. I think what Gail is trying to say is that the planet cannot support all of us for much longer using the fossil fuel model and for that matter, there is just too many of us now sadly to be supported by the ecosystem that would stay in balance, so things are getting increasingly out of balance.

              I do also see a food shortage ahead perhaps coupled with a major Depression that likely will affect us all and may likely cull.

              There are things we could be doing now, but they are not being done. Even to build a new type of power plant would take years and loads of red tape, we need to start over with a new fresh way of thinking, but I do not see that happening until post-collapse.


            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Hi Scott. All I am trying to do is at least make an effort to feed the people while the planet transitions to a more sustainable way of producing food and, perhaps, becomes pro-active in tackling over-population. To read some comments, one would think I was trying to do something akin to organizing a hog roast at a bar mitzvah!

            • I am afraid I agree with End of More. Over-reproduction is built into the biology of all living species. There is no possible way we get this rate down, and keep it down. Nature’s way is “natural selection” — a large share of the young will not live to maturity. The ones that don’t live to maturity will disproportionately reflect the handicapped, those with diseases, and those who happen to live in areas where there are not enough resources to survive. We have managed to get the rate of reproduction down, through birth control, education of mothers, medical treatment of those who are born with handicaps, and promises of pension plans so that people do not need to make certain that they have enough children of their own to provide for their old age.

              Unfortunately, our method of getting the reproduction rate down is not sustainable. Even the education component is not sustainable, because it requires that we have a large surplus of labor who can be kept out of the fields, thanks to metal tools, fertilizer, irrigation, and other manifestations of the fossil fuel age. Also, ending up with a significant proportion of the population that is disabled is not at all helpful. Even such issues as people living in the part of the earth where their skin color does not match what is needed for best use of Vitamin D is a problem. So is intermarrying with others, to produce an “average” skin color. There is no way that we can convince people that it is best that they allow their disabled child to die–whether or not this is what nature would dictate. These changes would be too much for people to even consider. I would be considered a nut, a bigot, or worse.

              If we are headed back to nature’s way we will have to have very much lower population. How we transition to that point is an open question. The world’s resources are finite–any crops moved from one type of production to another are lost to the first set of production. Our current industrialized approach, as much as we dislike it, is very good at producing a lot of food, very cheaply. A remnant of population can perhaps be saved in this transition. The remnant will most likely need different approaches. Whether or not permaculture is the answer has not yet been proven. Historically, humanity has been hunter-gatherers, far longer than we have been farmers. But agriculture of some form has the possibility of allowing at least 100 times higher population than hunter-gathering, so using some form of it, such as permaculture, seems like something worthwhile trying. Current permaculture methods are tied in with the fossil fuel system we have today. I think that we need to be considering sustainability of the permaculture systems without fossil fuels as well (and I know some do). Otherwise, we just move the die-off a generation or two later. Of course, that may be (for some) a goal in itself.

            • Don Stewart says:

              David Holmgren describes a constellation of practices that we might call ‘natural farming’….as distinguished from pure hunting and gathering (which was rare over the last thousands of years) or the industrial extraction and chemical agriculture. As he describes it, permaculture came out of the peculiar situation in Australia where there was no available tradition (except, perhaps, the extremely broken Aborigine society). If Holmgren had grown up in Japan or Italy, he would likely have latched onto some traditional practices. In Japan there was a rich tradtion of ‘natural farming’ and there was a rich tradition in Italy. So…if you look at what the inventor of permaculture thinks, he doesn’t try to claim that some trademarked word ‘permaculture’ is the solution to everything.

              If you look at our upcoming Carolina Farm Stewardship conference, you will see presentations on a very wide range of initiatives from rotational grazing to food forests to no till, cover crop, organic annual plants to local sourcing of food by restaurants to nutritional education in schools and on and on. To call all these ‘permaculture’ is stretching the word and doesn’t serve any useful purpose that I can think of. Can they all be described as ‘natural farming’? No. Not really.

              All of them DO reflect a turning away from the extractive, manipulative, hubristic, resource depleting, disease promoting methods which are now ‘business as usual’. I don’t know what the right word is to describe it, but if you were to attend the conference, you would feel it.

              Is it all about ‘organic’? No. For example, I was in a cover crop seminar yesterday and we saw some results on soil organic matter. To really put a lot of organic matter in the soil, there are two general approaches. One is rotational grazing…the kind that built the tall and short grass prairies in the US and is promoted by people like Alan Savory. The deep roots of grass can put astonishing amounts of organic matter and thus, carbon, deeply into the soil.

              The second is growing crops without fertilizers by using nitrogen fixing cover crops and then using the cover crop as a mulch and planting into the mulch. No pesticides are used. A huge California certified organic farm almost certainly does not do things this way. They will have a little more organic matter in the soil than a conventional farm, but not markedly so. They will probably import a lot supplies onto the farm. Yesterday, we heard from a farmer who did not, for 15 years, import any fertility (fertilizers or compost) onto his farm.

              Another important point was made by David Holmgren when he talked about behavior change. The two methods I have mentioned produce more biological activity than any industrial agriculture method…but not necessarily more corn per acre. So diversifying oneself away from total dependence on a few staple crops is also important.

              The important thing is the practices…not what it is called.

              Don Stewart

            • You are right. The important thing is the practice.

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Otherwise, we just move the die-off a generation or two later. Of course, that may be (for some) a goal in itself.

              At least that would give people a choice of whether to risk having children who might suffer a short and painful life. But what do I know, I am only an atheist.

              One hopes that the powers that be store today’s intellectual wealth securely so that future generations are able to take advantage of it and thus avoid re-inventing the wheel if or when civilization returns some time hence. One also hopes that they also record any mistakes that we have made that could have led to the die-off so that future generations can avoid making them.

              Considering that even if we stopped producing CO2 today, future generations will also have to cope with a quite markedly changed climate that we know is already in the pipeline and we have hardly done as much as we could have to ameliorate, surely we should do whatever we can to assist their survival. Let’s face it, they are going to need all the help they can get.

            • Scott says:

              Just looking at this story about Chicago violence, It looks like this is going to get worse as the economy gets worse again soon.

            • I was rereading part of Secular Cycles yesterday, and noticed discussion about the big role violence (and protection against violence) seems to have played in early collapses. Defense mechanisms seemed to have been very important after early collapses. People didn’t settle where the crops would be best–they settled on the hilltops where it would be easiest to defend their properties.

          • Mel
            when they make me el Supremo—I shall certainly take the glorious opportunity to bump off everyone…well I might make a few exceptions.. too good an opportunity to miss wouldn’t you say?
            And as with all self elected supreme beings, I shall no doubt find a lot of willing helpers in my task.
            On the other hand, if we leave out the hysteria and concentrate on rational thinking, that clearly shows that every human being needs a fixed amount of energy just to stay alive, plus all the ‘extras’ we’ve come to regard as some kind of essential right.
            That is the reality we have to live with.
            So, we must burn fuel to live and there is only a fixed amount available per person.
            When the manhattan project started, the USA had 120 million people, and more natural resources that anyone had ever dreamed of, food as well as minerals etc. Now there are 330 million.
            Each one demanding their share of energy, which is itself diminishing.
            The arithmetic of distribution is simple.
            When you had 120 million, you had spare capacity to divert to the the manhattan project. (and the rest of WW2)
            Now there are no spare resources, everyone is borrowing like crazy to keep going..
            The manhattan project was another aspect of a wartime economy. Everyone ‘appeared’ to be prosperous and fully employed, but the reality was that everyone was burning up resources in an effort to defeat physical enemies, who were effectively doing the same thing. People were getting paid to turn resources into wartoys, which were then destroyed.
            You cannot turn the clock back and do it again, because we do not have the spare resources to ‘burn’.
            Which brings me to killing off the excess population.
            Any species that outgrows its resource base is culled back to sustainable numbers once food sources have been used up. Hysteria about ‘wanting to kill off a few billion’ won’t alter biology I’m afraid. People eat, and once they’ve eaten they tend to think about reproducing themselves. Every species on the planet does the same thing. A plant can’t reproduce itself in badly nourished soil. We need the soil just as much as plants do, unfortunately we drained its nourishment and replaced it with (cheap) oil based fertilisers, and carried on reproducing ourselves as if that was normality.
            So there are now seven times more of us than there should be.
            There are no ‘suggestions’ about feeding that excess, because the means to do so isn’t there. Altruism is not part of nature’s vocabulary.
            It’s what’s known as facing reality.

      • This discussion about the practicality of top down (eg nuclear power and industrial food system) vs bottom up (permaculture and behavioural adaption) responses to the energy issue reveils some structural dynamics that are quite interesting. Mel and others proposing the top down solutions rely on the power of existing structures to keep on doing what they have been doing only bigger and faster. It feels like getting with the strength, a strength that just needs encouragement and commitment from the masses to enable the scientists, entrepreneurs and politicians to save us all from having to leave our screens or worse. Don and others put their energy into the bottom up approaches not just because we like them, but because we have the power to do so. The problem with the top down solutions is that all we can do is shout louder demanding the solution. As conditions get worse the perception of the problem and the solutions starts to look more like what is happening in Egypt. My Future Scenarios ( work is specifically designed to empower activists committed to the bottom up responses more nuenced understanding of the energy descent future. The Brown Tech scenario looks like it is consolidating as the default scenario and this is very relevant to this discussion because in this world, citizens will increasingly be forced to choose between the strictures of a failing centralised system or trying their luck in the wild uncertainties of the parallel economy. The example I have used in workshops to illustrate this divide is a situation where the government will guarantee the supply of No Name GE food at the nationalised supermarket food distribution system, if you have your ID card and various other restrictions on your freedom. Otherwise you are out in the feral food system growing your own, farmers markets and community supported ag etc. Similar situations would apply to health, education and so on. At present we have the luxury of developing one while having easy access to the other for back up. It might seem in everyone’s interests for this parrallel development to continue but inevitably the bottom up solutions are a threat to the viability of top down systems suffering extreme stress.

        In the Brown Tech senario, the central system spends its limited resources, keeping the lights on, the food in the supermarket and the borders defended in a world of escalating climate change natural disasters and more climate and environment damaging expensive energy sources. For the shrinking middle class, the comforts provided might allow them to keep their hands and feed out of the dirt but with the on-going loss of freedom and autonomy and little hope for the future generations. Will it be any better out on the feral fringes? It maybe less secure, but with greater freedom and hope for future generations.

        • xabier says:


          A lot of sense in that: a (necessary) minority pursuing a dirty hands alternative at the fringe, while most are (happily for the most part) stuck in the globalized system which has been constructed around oil.

          It seems to me that the greatest threat to the former is that, as the system creaks and groans, it will intrude on their lives ever more disruptively with hyper-regulation and punitive taxaion – for instance, it was fatal to Rome and disastrous for the individuals concerned that the independent farmers were bankrupted by taxes and their sons taken for the army, but for a system bent on self-preservation there was really no viable alternative: the people were squeezed and the army got paid until, one day, it just wasn’t possible anymore.

          In a modern context, some draconian property tax payable only in fiat currency or by surrendering one’s property to the state in lieu is most likely as the system seeks self-preservation.

          The historical record shows that most elites have no difficulties of conscience in reducing the mass of citizens to penury. As societies become ever poorer and more stressed, there will be much electoral advantage in property confiscation (‘it’s only Fair’ as they say in Europe.)

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Xabier and Others
            I have never met David Holmgren, and I never met Emilia Hazelip. But I very much like the work that David is doing and that Emilia did (she died around 2003). I have recommended Emilia’s You
            Tube video on gardening many times on this blog.

            Very frequently people who favor the status quo, or, what amounts to the same thing, say that ‘there is no alternative’, resort to character assasination. Therefore, I will append this note from Emilia as it regards David. You may find this illuminating in terms of ethics and anarchy and the feral fringe…Don Stewart

            david told me: “when i finished with my thesis i put it in a drawer & went
            to my mothers property & started the realisation of the concept, my
            intention was only to start divulgating permaculture after seing the
            results, by bill starting immediately its diffusion, since the concept works
            he has speeded up the process of making it accessible to other people by 10
            years”…(some words are mine as i don’t recall verbatim the conversation
            but the meaning is there) david is about the most opposite in personality
            to bill, he is truly modest & his time he spends it in direct involved
            ecological activism…he has given me back the respect i had towards the
            “tool of permaculture” but i have nothing to do with the institutional
            empire that bill tries to create with the institute, tagari & the pc
            trademark. (from Wikipedia)

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Don, I, and I am sure many others on this site, can see that Permaculture works, at least at the very local level. You have given us more than enough information for me at least to see that it has a lot of merit.

              Now what we need is for you and the other experts in the subject to stop ‘pushing at an open door’ and tell us how precisely you intend to expand it beyond the ultra local so that those who work and live in cities can be fed by it. And if you can’t find a workable solution, then tell what you think we should do to feed them. Please, let’s have something constructive. It is not too much to ask, is it?

            • Don Stewart says:

              People should not listen to me. David Holmgren has given some of the most thoughtful advice about future scenarios. People should study his work. I have additionally posted on this site work by Geoff Lawton. I have also referred to Toby Hemenway. These people are the real experts.

              If you want to look at what a really nice Permaculture home in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, looks like, go to

              Then go out and DO SOMETHING yourself.

              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Thanks for the advice to DO SOMETHING, all caps noted. The problem is that if I were to DO SOMETHING along the lines of Permaculture then I would see myself as part of the problem, not the solution. As for making changes locally, who in my adopted country is going to listen to the mad Englishman who only speaks enough to get by in the shops?

              The problem is, Don, that you and some others on this site just don’t get it. Or if you do, are quite content to let millions, probably billions, die of starvation. Permaculture is a solution to a chronic problem, and from my admittedly limited perspective, it seem to be a good solution, too.

              The coming oil shortage is going to present an acute problem that will swamp anything on the Permaculture front, and it is that that we need to address. OK, I can DO SOMETHING, such as make my house a Permaculture paradise, but it will only be part of changing the chronic problem, just one of the dribs and drabs that people make from a personal perspective, and then it will only be for my dog and me. Compared to It is even going to feed one of those destined to die from a collapse of the existing food production system, unless they happen by my house and the dog lets them in (he tends to get his way in such matters).

              What I find most telling is that while I suggested that we rapidly expand our nuclear power generation and work flat out on electrifying the farm vehicles and tractors (plus associated transport vehicles, No one so far has put up an alternative. All I get is Permaculture and the like put forward as if it is going to feed the multitude with absolutely no suggestion as to exactly how it is going to perform such a feat. If absolutely everyone who has a garden or plot of land big enough to feed themselves adopted Permaculture whole-heartedly, it would still leave the vast majority of city dwellers without food. It will be too late then to address the problem of food production.

          • pre-industrial revolution, what we think of as ‘society’, as opposed to an aboriginal existence, most people lived in poverty because access to food production was ultimately controlled by the church and state.
            In UK, they owned the land, all of it. landholders kept their land under fiefdom to the king–ie they were required to supply soldiers in time of war. priests just kept all the profits and built more churches.
            Essentially church and state converted peasant muscle power into wealth and profit
            It wasn’t until Henry 8th confiscated church property and sold it for cash that the concept of freehold land began to evolve.
            We added fossil fuel to the mix and boosted wealth for everybody (temporarily), but the system is still the same.
            we are now seeing it revert to old arrangement, its just that titles have changed, theyre not called kings anymore

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          First, David, if I may call you that, thanks for joining the discussion. If we can only get others of a similar status involved from other disciplines, we will be getting somewhere. I have answered some of the points you make in a reply to Don, but will reiterate them here because it will give me a chance to explain my position, which from reading your comment, could do with clarifying.

          First of all I am not opposed to Permaculture. Don directed us to your talks (about nine of them) and also to Lawton’s Greening of the Desert video. And I have to say that I was impressed. My original comment regarding finding a solution to the fix we are in was intended to lead to finding a solution to the problem that agriculture takes energy and energy, according to Gail – and I have no better alternative source – is going to be in short supply pretty soon. Having a world population of 7 going on 9 billion is going to test our ability to feed ourselves unless we can manage to maintain food production and delivery. Some on this site seem resigned to there being a cull. Personally I consider that irresponsible. The weak and the young will be most susceptible to a cull and they have done nothing to deserve it, period. To think otherwise, is, I think, to deny our humanity. It may still happen, but not without a fight if I have anything to do with it.

          Moving on. Oil depletion will mean that feeding ourselves is going to require an alternative source of energy, which we currently don’t have in the quantity we need, and if, when we have it, it takes the form of electricity, it is going to require the electrification of the vehicles and machinery associated with food production. Seeing no discussion on what form that energy production should take and more importantly how urgent it is, I thought it would be a good idea if we started a discussion here and if possible for it to spread until the politicians were forced to address the issue and with luck put their global heads together to find a way out of the forthcoming mess. What you would no doubt call a top down approach.

          So far, so good, bad or whatever. My problem with Permaculture as far as I understand it, comes down to the fact that we have to feed the population and not let people starve to death (or die from wounds obtained in any wars fought over food). For me, a cull is just not an option. So, I look at the prairies and see vast swathes of crop that is widely regarded as the breadbasket of the planet and thus essential if we are going to avoid those deaths. Call it a lack of imagination, but I just don’t see how we can apply Permaculture to that type of farming, at least in the short term. Heaven knows they face enough problems with climate change putting them through extreme weather events, not to mention that they will probably move northwards as the planet warms. This will take them to virgin territory as far as suitability of the soil is concerned (alkalinity, microbes etc) which will almost certainly affect yields. Do you have any ideas as to how we can apply Permaculture to this type of farming, which currently takes multiples of combined harvesters and I assume multiples of seeders (if that is what they are called)?

          While I did not mention it in my original post (or I don’t think I did, but whatever) when we have avoided the calamitous cull and got some direction to where we are going, I did think that the world, having looked into the abyss, might be in a state of mind to have a grown up discussion as to population control. I have no opinions as to how this might be achieved, but it will be for the next generation to tackle, not me. It is here that Permaculture could come to the fore and form a cornerstone of at least some of the options.

          As for Permaculture as a technique/philosophy, I am now actually quite enthusiastic. I can see that when we have averted the cull, or possibly before, but with care just in case it doesn’t work on very large scales, it would be excellent if it could be rolled out to a much wider usage. I suggested to Don that one way is to get it into mainstream education to the point where school children, secondary level, could be attracted to take an agricultural degree, a large part of which should be Permaculture centred. Once they get into the farming industry and start wielding their knowledge, if it is as good as you and many others, Don included, say it is, it should spread like wildfire. What’s not to like about increased yields with better land management? But first we have to ensure that we live up to our responsibilities to feed the hungry. Do you remember the Ethiopian drought and the awful scenes that Michal Buerk showed us every evening? As probably shows, it has had a lasting effect on me.

          In passing, one of your talks made a rather disconcerting statement regarding potassium depletion; do you have any links that might further inform a non-agrarian like me, especially the ramifications of a shortage?

          Once again, thanks for your input.

  22. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    Here is a thoughtful essay by David Holmgren defending the relative lack of political programs in Permaculture. The attack was from someone who believes that individual and family and community actions are ‘worthless’, and that mass political action is necessary.

    I second most everything David says. Some people who comment here think that we have to keep doing what we are doing to feed 7 or 10 billion people. Some commenters think it will all end in massive bloodshed. Some think we will wake up and begin to use various magical sources of energy to replace fossil fuels. Permaculture, as articulated by David in this essay, is a middle way. Yes, we have to change…but the change has to start at home. Governments are incapable of directing the changes we need to make. Even if some ‘enlightened’ political authority decided to change things, the powerful people who would be hurt by the changes will stop them.

    Some might argue that global corporations can make the changes we need. I don’t see any evidence for that at all. Corporations are like greyhounds chasing the mechanical rabbit, and pointing out to the dogs that real rabbits reside outside the oval in the grassy fields is not going to get their attention.

    If Permaculture has a political program, it is one of permissive Anarchy. Holmgren notes the debt that Permaculture owes to Anarchic thinkers and practitioners. What we need is for the government to stop persecuting people who don’t meet all the codes and thousands of pages of laws written to keep the Indians on the reservation. We need to be able to get off the reservation and build our houses from shipping containers and cob and collect our drinking water from our roof and use composting toilets and send our graywater out into a little wetland which cleans the water. We need to be able to provide our own healthcare rather than pay the taxes to support an indecently bloated sick care system. In a fantasy world, we would also get the government to stop with the Empire nonsense.

    Don Stewart

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      Don, it is quite obvious that you disagree with technology and believe that we can feed the planet by putting more boots on the soil. I, on the other hand, I have grave doubts that such remedies are the panacea you claim them to be. Please allay my fears:

      You will agree that half the world’s population lives in cities, most only having minimal ground, if any, associated with their property. So to start with all those with more land are going to have to feed those who cannot feed themselves. How do you intend to administer this situation? I note that you object to general health care (I think it is called Obama Care), so I assume that you will object to feeding others (health or food – about the same thing really). If so, what happens to the ones you should be feeding?

      There is a lot of farm land that could be redistributed to city dwellers. How would you decide on who should be allocated what? How would resolve disputes about size of land allocation, and re-allocation of of it after dispute resolution? What do you propose for handling long-term disputes, such as when the size of the incumbent family increases/decreases in size and by rights should have more or less land, whichever is appropriate? How would you handle the fact that these city dwellers will need to travel from their homes to their plots of land? What happens when they decide to commandeer farm houses of the locals instead of having to travel each day back and forth, say when the weather. Or how do we house these people when we need to harvest vast tracts of land and travel to and from home is not an option? Who decides on when they should move from their city job to their rural job? How do they get paid and by whom? For those that can travel from home, how do you propose to arrive at a fair resolution as travel costs become ever more expensive? What plans do you have for water distribution? Please cover who does the maintenance and how are the costs decided, etc. Who is going to do the work these city dwellers normally do while they are putting their boots on the soil? Some will claim that they should be excused farm work because of the nature of their work, such as doctors and surgeons. Their case is clear, but what about toilet cleaners and other such menial work? If they are not excused, how long will it be before the hospital has to close because of dangerous hygiene conditions? And what then? Relent and give them permission to be excused from farm work? If so, how do you propose to handle the claims from others doing exactly the same work, but in offices and factories? Do we make the current farmers work in the city in order to equate the working experience of the city and rural communities? How should the produce from these boots on the soil be distributed? What happens when there is a disaster such as a famine, as happened in Ethiopia? They starve? Or do we impose a levy in order to save lives? And if so, how do we decide on the amount and how it is collected?

      The argument is often made that nuclear power plants take a very long time to build. That is true when planning permission drags on and the power station is a particularly large one. I suspect that you will not have resolved half of the above questions before the new plant is switched on. But, seeing as you will have given the application of your proposed new agricultural methodology much more thought than I have, I expect you will already have the answers.

      But there is one final set of connected questions: Why oh why did this God creature that so many believe in give us the technology that freed us to spread our wings in so many different directions? Why did it give some the ability to create great works of art, marvellous music and poetry? Why did it make radioactive materials that, if we so choose, can make many more people free to enjoy their lives, if we are not intended to take advantage of that freedom? Why is it so important to you and those who think like you that we should all get back to the soil? Would you stand outside a prison and try and persuade any escaping inmates that they should go back to the chain gang? You obviously love the soil. I don’t. So why do you think you have the right to force me to do something I do not like doing while you do something you do like doing when there is technology that frees me and leaves you to do it of your own accord?

      Don, there are some excellent videos of the prairies being harvested lots of combined harvesters in echelon formation working fields that appear to go on forever and try and imagine just how on earth you put enough boots on the soil to do it by hand. It would take an army and it if ever it were to arm itself, they will decide the answers to the questions that I posed above, not you, not the government, not anyone but them. In fact they will probably say “Sod this for a lark” and force others to do the work for them.

      • I think a good analogy relevant to individual and wages is: If brain surgeons go on strike–maybe a few hundred die, if refuse collectors go on strike, we all die. Maybe an extreme example of worth, but I think it makes the point quite well.
        As to other jobs, menial to whatever degree you choose, anyone not involved in food production/delivery, is riding on the excess energy made available by those food producers. That is where our ‘civilisation’ comes from.
        To further make the point, go back to the brain surgeon, put him alone on a desert island and he instantly becomes a hunter-gather.
        You make the point very well Mel about city dwellers and land—just where are these city dwellers going to find an acre of land to feed themselves. or indeed the knowledge to do it. The notion is dangerously nuts.
        I have a reasonably sized garden–but the idea of getting substantial amounts of year round food from it is laughable.

        • xabier says:

          End of More

          The answer to this debate is that this system of industrial agriculture and resource depletion will simply go on until it breaks, (very much for financial reasons, and the impact of social disorder, I agree with Gail’s intuition) as the social, and moral imperative is to keep feeding those who exist now and only industrial agriculture can accomplish this aim.

          And human population – which is in any case grossly excessive and highly damaging to this planet – will be very drastically reduced in most unpleasant ways.

          Not such a bad thing, too, in the long run.

          • nope—unless it’s you and yours being reduced of course.
            we have no alternative but to go on as we are, because we know no alternative. We think we do, but that really is wishful thinking by a few daydreamers, who, having dreamed their dreams, get in a car, put petrol in it, drive to the supermarket and buy their food with paper or plastic money.
            OK—so I accept there are exceptions—no brickbats please—, but their numbers are miniscule by comparison the people who run their lives in the normal way. To insist that the lifestyle of a few thousand can be scaled up to include billions is dangerous nonsense

          • xabier says:

            End of More

            Watching my neigbours over the other side of the village green – two fat kids, very fat mother, even fatter father, squeeze their way out of their front door (getting back in with shopping is quite a challenge) heading for their second car, I have a perfect picture of the mass human being bred by this crazy system. No, they won’t be adopting permaculture!

      • xabier says:


        I don’t think that Don is the Pol Pot of Permaculture: who’s talking about forcing you or anyone to do anything?

        If someone tells you that the only way to get to your destination is up a stony mountain path, he’s not imposing pain on you, just pointing out a fact.

        You seem, however to despise the soil and everything associated with it.

        I’ve noticed this in people whose family have only recently moved ‘up’ from being very poor landless peasants, which is understandable, and of course among extremely urban people who have a self-image (a new term for our old friend vanity) that precludes getting their hands dirty.

        It is of course an ancient attitude, and used in the past to define one’s place in the class structure: until recently in England no gentleman would be seen carrying anything in his hands other than a cane (and some walked into battle like this even in WW2!). And he would be gloved in dainty leather to show he didn’t ever soil his hands with work.

        Maybe you are an aristocrat of the old school?

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          Grow up Xabier. My son will have live through the turmoil that is coming our way and all I am doing is fighting for his survival. Its what grown ups do. As for your ridiculous notions regarding getting my hands dirty, I am a retired mechanical engineer and probably more used than you are to having dirty hands, and dirt that took chemicals to remove, not simply soap and water. When it comes to dirt, soil only just makes it on to the list.

          • xabier says:


            I’ve noticed that you accuse others of being offensive and vituperative, but engage in quite a bit of that yourself, notably your patronising attitude to Jody and those who live like her which was very rudely expressed.

            I’m afraid you seem to lack the skill in polite engagement and sharing of views from around the world, which has always characterised this site, and which make it interesting unlike some of the blogs out there, and it would be very nice to hear less about how much you are ‘trying to do’ for humanity.

            You are doing nothing much more than boring us. When you first appeared, you attempted to convert this site to your obsession with 9/11, which bored us all. Then you directed a general insult to all those discussing ‘homestead matters.’ Now you are the earnest Saviour of Humanity trying to find a global solution. It’s all more than a little tedious.

            If you are serious, put a spade in your son’s hands.

            • Don Stewart says:


              No, I don’t have the time or the will to answer all your questions. I believe you are going to have to answer them yourself. So I will pose two questions to you which may start you on a road of discovery. If you do go down that road, you most certainly won’t end up in the same place I am…that’s part of the beauty of Anarchy.

              (1) Do we need more nuclear energy so that we can perpetuate lunches such as this one that was given (but not eaten) to Joel Salatin?

              It was the first meeting of this kind I’ve ever attended that offered no water. The only thing to drink were soft drinks. Lunch was served in styrofoam clam shells — Lay’s potato chips, sandwiches, potato salad and chocolate chip cookie. It didn’t look very safe to me, so I didn’t partake. But I’d have liked a drink of water. In another circumstance, I might eat this stuff, but with these folks, felt it important to make a point. Why do they all assume nobody wants water, nobody cares about styrofoam, everybody wants potato chips and we all want industrial meat-like slabs on white bread?

              (2) Do some research on Joel He appears in tons of YouTubes and has written extensively. Over a 50 year period he turned a gullied, worn-out hilly farm in Virginia that his family was able to buy really cheap because it was worthless, into a highly productive and beautiful farm. Joel speaks frequently at Permaculture gatherings, although his ideas were formed somewhat independently (as were Sepp Holzer’s ideas in Austria). If Permaculture isn’t ready for prime time, how come Joel made it work so beautifully over a 50 year period?


              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Don, I am really not that interested in Permaculture to study it any depth. I consider that I know enough to know that it is not going to be rolled out across the board in sufficient time to feed the multitude. If it were, you and others would have presented, or linked to, a full analysis of how that was going to be achieved.

              On a personal level, from what I have seen, I think it is a very good idea. I like the idea of eating food when, and only when, it is in season. That way, it is something to look forward to. I like the idea of strawberries that not only look like strawberries, they actually taste like them, too, and are only available in the late Spring, early Summer, and NOT at Christmas time. There is a lot to like about your farming methods. I just wish that you could hurry along this bottom up approach. It is no good trying to convince people like me to try it, I don’t like gardening to the extent that while my father’s food that he grew at home tasted a lot better than anything I can get from a supermarket, I still prefer to open a bag of frozen peas than grow them myself (and, yes, it does mean that I will probably not survive the bottleneck as you called it, a fact in itself that tells just how much I do not like gardening!). BUT if you can get young people interested (school meals – a possible route in, perhaps?) you can eventually flood the farming industry with people steeped in your methodology. And more power to your elbow, say I.

              If there is a mass die-off, then at least those who survive will have examples of a better way of farming than the one that not only let them down by not producing enough, it made them ill and overweight before doing so thanks to its poor quality. You and Jody have a lot on your side in terms of quality, you just don’t seem to have time on your side, too. (And I have a niggling doubt that it will need altering if it is going to feed mouths not involved in it from a production point of view. But that is not insoluble.)

            • Don Stewart says:

              You want me to do your work for you. I won’t do that.
              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Don, I am not in the least interested in promoting, defending or anything else …ing the Permaculture movement, so am at a loss as to what work you think I want you to do for me.

              Let’s recap. I started out by suggesting that an increase in nuclear power stations would provide enough electricity to enable an electrified farming industry (machinery, tractors, combined harvesters, etc. for use on the farm and the heavy goods vehicles used to transport produce to (and from) distribution centres). I put the caveat in that I am no expert and called for other opinions as to how we can maintain food production so that we do not end up with food wars, food riots and a general breakdown in law and order. I did not mention that I had the hope that such a conversation would lead to there being a mature discussion about over-population and how to fix it, but that never-the-less was in my thinking.

              Just look at the outcome. I have been branded as some sort of pariah who is completely opposed to organic/Permaculture farming and will kill his own grandmother in preference to seeing it succeed. I cannot for the life of me understand why. I am not opposed to Permaculture/organic farming at all. I just don’t see how it can meet the needs we are going to face in the near future and no matter how much I ask for some explanation as to how Permaculture can rise to the challenge, I have yet to see even one explanation, be it serious or advanced as a joke. Why? I suspect that the answer has to be that there is no explanation to be had. It will just have to grow from the bottom up and evolve to meet the needs presented to it, which will almost certainly be slow process.

              Where we need to be is the public aware of the coming threat to food availability and from that the politicians, bless them, rising to the challenge. In preparation for that dawning of awareness on the part of the public and politicians I think there is the need for us to have some idea as to what solutions are possible. I stated my preference, by way of seed-corn for the debate, that I saw nuclear, preferably thorium fueled, should be the source of the electrical energy and we should have a major project to develop improved ways of storing that electrical energy so that the vehicles have a sensible range of operation. How does that exclude Permaculture, Don? We can keep going round in circles on this issue and while we do, the famine comes relentlessly down the pike until eventually we realise that we have left it far too late. The sad thing is that thanks to the poor quality of our politicians it might already be too late, so should we give up? Surely not, not even to please those who seem to relish the prospect of a mass die-off of our species.

  23. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Jody Tishmack

    Dear Jody
    Here is a reference from Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, page 132. It just illustrates how unfair life really is…you folks in Indiana have been favored by God while we poor sinners in the Southeast are still pushing rocks uphill, which continually roll back down on us.

    ‘Organisms are another factor in the development of soils. Plant roots penetrate the soil and, when they die, leave behind gaps and channels, contributing to soil structure. Because climate also determines the biota of a region, it can be difficult to tease apart the influences of climate and organisms on soil. (Hans) Jenny succeeded in differentiating the two in the prairie-forest transition in the Midwest. Here, in a broad stretch of land with similar climate, some areas are covered in prairie and others in trees. Beneath the prairie, Jenny found, organic matter and total nitrogen were higher than in forest soils. In the forest, soil carbon was largely in the surface layer. Leaching was also higher in the forest soil.

    Because of the governing influence of climate and organisms, soil types are distributed across the earth’s surface in much the same way as biomes….Utisols are the red clay soils of the southeastern US. Heavy precipitation has weathered these soils greatly and leached them of base ions such as calcium and magnesium. The resulting acidity supports forests of typical southeastern plants such as pines and azaleas, which in turn contribute moderate levels of organic matter to the soil. Mollisols form in grasslands. They are most notable for the thick A horizon (the top layers), filled with organic matter left by generations of grass roots. Precipitation is adequate to move carbonates and clay particles from the A to the B horizon but not so great as to strongly leach the soil. These are the fabulously productive soils of the US corn belt.’

    Then he describes the soils typical of arid regions, which are high in nutrients (no leaching from rain) but typically quite alkaline and thus the nutrients are not plant available and the soil may be underlain by caliche rocks which needs dynamite to break it up.

    When I was growing up on the tall grass prairie land of northern Oklahoma, we were taught (and I still believe!) that our obvious superiority to all other humans came from being the Chosen Ones of God, and being pruned by our individual ability to tolerate extreme heat, extreme cold, droughts, and floods so that only the most select survived. Consequently, I don’t buy all this baloney that it was really just the luck of the draw that our ancestors settled on such fabulously productive soil.

    But if you have seen Wes Jackson’s big hanging scroll showing the roots of perennial grasses going down 30 feet into the soil, and then you see a pine tree in the southeast that is blown over by a hurricane with no trouble at all, you are getting an object lesson in putting organic matter deeply into the soil I think it also has something to do with why grass fed beef really flourish in the southeast. The natural tendency to climax toward trees is prevented by the grazing, the grasses with their extraordinary roots flourish with the rotational grazing, and you can see some gorgeous farms.

    Because I live in a suburban area, I can scavenge all the organic matter I want. If I keep everything mulched all the time, I stay ahead of the microbes and all is well. Broad-acre farmers obviously have a harder time of it.

    Hope this is informative…Don Stewart

    • xabier says:


      To some the soil is a source of nourishment and health (mental and physical), and an object of study and reverence.

      To others, whose limited conceptions and spiritually famished minds have determined the tragic course of our civilization, it’s just ‘dirt’, to be smothered with chemicals and concrete and avoided at all costs.

      I suspect these two tribes are irreconcilable, rather like those who have empathy with dogs – and those who hate them.

      Reading about the Parsee religion recently, it seems that reverence for the land and trees was inculcated in its adherents above all else. A modern cynic would of course just see that as keeping the peasants in their place, I’d beg to differ. It also seems to have been one of the least cruel of all religions, and there may be a connection there.

      (There’s a dating agency here in the UK called, I think, ‘Muddy Boots’, so you can be sure of meeting the right kind of partner for tribal mating if you are in the first category: but I find walking one’s dog is just as good!)

  24. Don,
    I also wanted to comment on your post about longer growing seasons and the effect on carbon in the soil. You said…”As we warm the planet, growing seasons get longer. The longer the growing season, the more microbial activity in the soil. The soil microbes are powered by the carbon in organic matter….As it gets warmer, the soil microbes are active for longer periods and so consume more organic matter in the soil and eventually are forced to eat the humus and so the water holding capacity of the soil is decreased.”

    We lose so much more organic matter when we open up or turn over the soil and expose it to higher oxygen content of the atmosphere, that I doubt this will be a significant problem. There are so many well established no-till practices, we can easily preserve humus this way. And permaculturists are looking at perennial crops which allow us to leave the ground “closed”.

    But, another proactive approach is to feed your soil and keep it cool. Organic surface mulches do both. Put a covering of 2 to 3 inches of mulch (leaves, grass, hay, straw, chopped newspaper and food scraps, even cardboard) on your soil. Organic matter provides fresh food for microbes, mulch reduces the loss of moisture, keeps soil temperature cooler, and helps plants grow. Growing cover crops or “green manure” is another way to add fresh organic matter to the soil Even some types of weeds make good cover crops and feed lots of carbon to soil microbes. You just want to avoid letting them go to seed if you want to avoid too many weeds next years. Soft green weeds you pull out also make a tremendous compost pile that breaks down in by the next season. Shading the ground with shade cloth or certain types of trees planted at wider spaces can intercept solar radiation and keep soil cooler. This is one of the reasons why permaculture has such potential.

    There was an old soil science experiment I read about where back in the 30’s the scientists put fresh farm soil in pots and buried cotton pads (in those days cotton pads were actually made from natural cotton). Periodically the scientist would dig up the pads, rinse them, and measure weight loss. They were determining the ability of soil microbes to digest organic matter. So in today’s farm soil, how long do you think it would take to digest cotton pads? I’m guessing maybe several years. I don’t think you need to worry if our soil microbes start get hungrier….but as always we need to feed them regularly.


    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Jody
      I am particularly sensitive to the soil microbe issue because I live in the Southeast. We have a warm and wet growing season. Even the best farmers have trouble maintaining 1 percent organic matter in the soil. I am going to a ‘show and tell’ on Monday with a star local farmer who will explain his multi-year rotation. If you check the soil samples he sends in each year, he has less than 1 percent organic matter. I have talked a little with him and he says it is just a treadmill–keep feeding the microbes and they keep eating. It is very difficult to get ahead of them and actually accumulate organic matter up the 6 percent that a Minnesota organic farmer might take for granted.

      Back during WWII a soil scientist in Missouri checked the induction records of young men subject to the draft. He found that the men from the higher and drier northwestern part of the state (high prairie) were a lot healthier than the men from the southeastern part of the state (low and swampy). He thought it had to do with the leaching of the soils in the southeast due to the much heavier rain down there. (Back in those days, everyone ‘ate local’.)

      I agree that keeping a constant mulch on everything is a very good idea. But I will observe that mulch has to come from somewhere. It’s not that big a deal for a suburbanite where all the neighbors are mindlessly discarding organic matter every day of the week. But for a farmer with significant acreage, it can be a problem. One can dedicate some land to growing mulch, but, again, that subtracts from cash production.


      • Don,
        I see your point. I think like a gardener dealing with relatively small plots and not a farmer who has to treat many acres. I wonder what the history of your agriculture is. Some of the land in our Southeast has been so mined you are really dealing with subsoil not topsoil. Cotton and tobacco are very hard on soil. How close is your nearest city and what size? Cities that have to pay to dump their yard waste or sewage sludge can sometimes afford to move it out pretty far. Cornell University wrote the book on On-the-farm composting, which gives small farmers lots of ideas on where to source their organics.

        • Don Stewart says:

          It took the pre-revolutionary European settlers about 20 years to substantially mine the topsoil here. Then they moved west to new lands to ‘conquer’.

          In my little side yard garden, I have been pretty successful turning sub-soil into topsoil I recycle everything that I harvest right back into the soil. I also collect organic matter from the neighborhood to use as mulch. If you began to scratch around in my soil, you would find a very rich soil food web.

          By contrast, I have never seen an earthworm at the farm I work at. And the farmer considers himself a champion of putting organic matter into the soil. It’s like being in the tropics where there is really no humus in the soil.

          I am still puzzling why the Southeast has such low organic matter in the soil. But as I think about it, I have formed certain tentative hypotheses:
          1. When I lived in St. Louis, the oak forests in the Ozarks section of southern Illinois had a faster growth rate than oaks anywhere else. The days at the summer solstice are very long and thus there is a lot of solar energy to power photosynthesis. The days are several hours longer than they are in the tropics. Therefore, other things being equal, the oaks should grow faster than in the tropics.
          2. Then the leaf litter falls in the autumn and pretty soon there is a frost and biological activity in the soil slows down a lot. So the leaf litter sticks around until the following spring. It compacts, but you can still walk in the woods and kick leaves well into April.
          3. Then the critters tackle the leaves and leave humus to work its way into the soil, all the while the trees are making yet more leaves from the abundance of sun and mild temperatures and adequate but not excessive moisture.
          4. In the Southeast, the oaks pretty much stop growing as the days get shorter, but the frosts don’t happen right away. Therefore, the critters have longer to attack the fallen leaves. In short, it seems to me that the breakdown of the fallen organic matter gets ahead of the creation of new organic matter.
          5. My evidence is just remembrances of walking in the woods when I lived in the Midwest with sometimes the leaf litter being 6 or 8 inches deep, and lasting until the spring. It seems that the leaf litter in the Southeast never amounts to all that much.
          6. For whatever the reasons, it seems to be harder to accumulate organic matter in the soil in the Southeast. If frosts in the Midwest start being delayed into late November, then I would think that the same pattern might happen there. The critters get a longer shot at the leaf litter and organic matter doesn’t last over the winter in the volumes you have been used to. And organic matter in the soil begins to decline.
          7. This is independent of the effect of plowing.

          In short, I can imagine that longer growing seasons may not be the godsend that everyone expects.

          Don Stewart

  25. To everyone interested in food storage here is a link to a website created by the Church of the Later Day Saints (i.e. the Mormons).
    Lots of good information.

    Personally I have always kept a lot of food on hand (a big pantry) because I like to cook and bake. It was what my parents and grandparents did. I have always bought dry goods in bulk because they are cheaper that way. I have a big basement so I have lots of room. I buy flour in 25 or 50 lbs bags, dried beans in 20 lb bags, rice in 25 lb bags, etc. I also buy things I don’t grow when they are in season. Wheat is cheapest in the mid to late summer and the most expensive in the spring. Dried beans and nuts are cheapest in the fall. Same for oats. It takes awhile to get to know what is in season. But the most important thing is that I’m buying ingredients for the food I cook all the time. I’m not storing this away in a closet for some future disaster. This way my stores are always being used and rotated.

    I bake bread, muffins, sweet breads, cookies most of the year as needed. I like to grind whole grains for some of the flour I bake with, but I also buy flour. I regularly store about 200 lbs of flour, 50 lbs of oats (for granola), 20 lbs bags of about 12 different types of dried beans, peas, and lentils, 100 lbs of rice, and about 100 lbs of various other grains. I keep sugar, several cases of honey (quart jars), baking powder, baking soda, tea, salt, pepper, vinegar, baking yeast, nuts/seeds, powdered milk, etc for baking. Each year I can about 120 quarts of tomatoes, 50 to 60 pints of various jams, 30 quarts of fruit butter, and 50 or 60 quarts of different types of pickles. I freeze blue berries, rhubarb, pesto, and sweet peppers. I always keep potatoes, carrots, and onions on hand, growing about half of what I typically use each year. I dehydrate herbs for soup mixes and always cook them vegetarian. My chickens give us 6 to 8 eggs a day, and I keep 500 lbs of chicken feed on hand (about 6 months). I usually can get something from the greenhouse or garden most of the year. My hothouse cucumber plants live last year in the green house until November. Kale and spinach, chives, chinese garlic, leeks all year… always something to throw in a pot with potatoes or rice.

    We are currently buying cows milk (until my goat gets bred again and delivers next spring), cheese, oranges, bananas, other seasonal fruit, celery, a few other veggies I don’t grow. We eat mostly vegetarian dishes, lots of curries, stir fries, salads and soups. My family never complains about the food I cook, which is good because I have a policy of “if you don’t like what I cook, cook it yourself!”

    I don’t think I spend more than 2 hours a day on average in the garden and kitchen. Hard to tell, really, because most chores only take me a few minutes here and there. During canning season or spring planting, it is longer, but as with other seasonal chores they only come around for a relatively short intense period and then they are over until next year.

    I haven’t done the math but my guess is that my family could survive for at least 6 to 12 months even if we couldn’t go to the store. By then some type of economy will develop in the absence of the grocery store. My husband and I could get along very easily living off of what we get from our greenhouse and garden (my teenage sons are big eaters and eat more than we do.. But since we eat this kind of food regularly, it wouldn’t even feel like a hardship. All though I haven’t started making beer yet.. That would be a hardship to live without!


    • Mel Tisdale says:

      Thanks, Jody, very informative. One wonders when you find time to sleep!

      On a practical note, what do you do about mice and perhaps even rats helping themselves to your stores? It’s that time of year when the mice start looking for somewhere warm and I have already found some evidence of them testing my defenses. I, too, have a large basement, but can’t imagine storing bags of anything edible down there. I suppose large plastic drums/containers are o.k., but some of your amounts must mean that you divide them into smaller containers.

      • Mel,

        As I said, I average a few hours of work a day. Ok, maybe three. I don’t know why people assume I work so hard. It takes me 15 minutes in the morning and evening to feed animals and gather eggs. It takes maybe and extra 10 minutes when I have to milk the goat. Two minutes to feed the dogs, but an hour to walk with them along the fields and woods. When I’m walking the dogs am I working or enjoying myself? I really enjoy cooking and eating. It would be painful for me not to have time in the kitchen. Is that work or play?

        I am really a lazy person, who would much prefer to sit in a comfy chair and read a good book, or type these comments. Even if I’m in the garden, I putter. It’s a fine art…puttering…moving here and there, stopping to smell the roses or listen to the birds. No hurry. No time like the present to pause and take a deep breath and just admire the day. Even stopping when I’m weeding, kicking back in a chair and letting the breeze dry the sweat from my skin is a very good feeling. If I weed, it’s early in the morning when the day is cool and the birds are in full voice. I fall asleep every night at about 10:30 or 11:00 watching a video or movie; we have a large collection and haven’t had cable T.V for 17 years. A cup of chamomile tea puts me right out! I get up when I wake up, usually 5;30 or 6. The house is quiet, the family still asleep. Best time of the day! A nice pot of tea in the morning, a few hours of reading or writing in my journal; reflection starts the day out on the right note. I’m a big believer in simplicity. Stress is our worst enemy.

        We have dogs and I’ve never seen rats around. As regards mice, I use galvanized garbage bins to store bags of opened grains. I have large jars or canisters that I fill from the bins for the kitchen. Seeds and nuts go in an extra fridge in the basement. Wheat, oats, nuts, and sunflower seeds are the main things I’ve seen mice go after. I store unopened bags on shelves with wire racks that make it easier to keep an eye on them for chew marks. Also, my husband has this thing about catching mice. He knows just how to set the traps (sunflower seeds or peanut butter), and which type of trap works the best. And he sealed off all the holes he could find in our foundation and garage so they can’t get in. He likes to brag about how many mice he has caught. Even a guy who works in an office all day likes to hunt!


    • Scott says:

      Hi Jody, That sounds like a good plan, even with all that you are doing, I bet there are times in the winter when you need stuff from the store like the rest of us perhaps? No matter how hard we work it is really hard to grow everything we need and we need to trade things with folks.


    • xabier says:

      Thanks Jody, a very thorough food-storage site indeed.

      And those lovely Mormons will even sell you the storage equipment – they don’t miss a trick.

      (Meanwhile, the Church of England is busy registering its mineral rights in the UK, so as to take part in the fracking ‘bonanza’ – ‘for the sake of the poor.’ One is left speechless at such hypocrisy.)

  26. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    This relates to the ‘crowding out’ phenomenon of high oil prices and the resultant rush to exploit higher cost reserves. Please see:

    I found one source which said that global oil and gas exploration will result in capital expenditures of 1200 billion in 2013. The cash flow from the S & P 500 is 1800 billion and stagnant. Capital expenditures are in the range of 500 billion. So the capital expenditures (globally) for oil and gas exceed by quite a large margin the total capital expenditures for the S & P 500. What I would really like to see is how the global capital expenditure line looks segregated between oil and gas and all other and how they relate to cash flows..

    I’m not clever enough to do that. Does anyone have a source?

    Thanks…Don Stewart

    • Andy says:

      Not quite what you were looking for, but a useful chart showing capex used to build vs maintain existing assets.

      • Interesting!

        • Andy says:

          It seems logical that something like this would happen as we approach energy limits, though I’m sure there are limitations to how accurate a chart like that could be, considering how vast the current capital accumulation is. Too many variables for it to be much more then WAG IMO. I found the link at the bottom of the article interesting as well, titled ‘Is global warming unstoppable’ though it should have been titled ‘global warming is unstoppable’.

          • Scott says:

            Hello, Looks like the ball on global warming is already rolling. Kind of like how we have the longest days in the spring — but the hottest days come later in the summer when the days are shorter…

    • I am afraid I don’t have a source for breakdown of capital expenditures of the S & P 500.

      I was looking at Steve Kopits presentation that showed that worldwide, capital “upstream” capital expenditures for oil and gas was close to $600 billion for 2012, worldwide. The US was over $100 billion of this.

      Steve quotes Barklay’s in making this estimate. Barklay’s is now saying that US “upstream” capital expenditures will amount to $140 billion out of $644 billion worldwide for 2013.

      Those amounts exclude “midstream” and “downstream” capital expenditures. Including midstream and downstream, capital expenditures are quoted as being $1.039 trillion for 2012, which is in line with what you are saying for 2013 for the world. North America is quoted as being $253.1 billion of this total.

      There may be more detail, if you poke around. It looks like an awfully lot of the expenditures are by the National Oil Companies, elsewhere in the world, that are not included in the S&P 500. These companies are some of the biggest companies in the world.

  27. Adam says:

    An interesting article of a year ago, about worrisome problems with the grid in Germany, and how energy from renewables can exacerbate these problems:

    • I expect to see more articles like that in the future.

      This is a different link that was posted in the comments here recently.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks for the link. The article certainly doesn’t mince its words about unintended consequences. While I don’t dispute the veracity of the article, and indeed it chimes with what you, Gail, have written about the shortcomings of green solutions,The Global Warming Policy Foundation is not what it seems. It is headed by (Lord) Nigel Lawson, who sits on the board of BP and is what Greens would call a climate denier. Not that it matters – the slow motion train crash is already underway.

        Mr Lawson was the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (that’s “finance minister”, in modern English) during the 1980s, until he fell out with Mrs Thatcher at the end of that decade. He is most definitely a free marketeer, so state intervention designed to mitigate climate change is anathema to him.

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          I’d like to know just how much Lawson has been remunerated for setting up the GWPF. He is very quiet about its funding, which makes me wonder about the whole issue. And don’t forget, he is related in a tenuous sense to Monckton, which should cause anyone who has bothered to study the subject to be suspicious. (See the Youtube videos entitled ‘Monckton Bunkum’ put together by one Potholer 54, a British journalist.)

          • Adam says:

            OMG, this Monckton guy has the eyes of an anencephalic baby. He looks weird enough to be one of your avatars, Mel!

  28. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Xabier
    Regarding the question of the nature of the collapse. I wholeheartedly agree that heavily armed people with full stomachs who realize that food is about to get scare is a really dangerous situation. If people have been hungry for a week, then everything changes.

    A friend of mine lived here during the hurricane of 1997. The electricity was gone for 8 days. The morning after the hurricane passed, he assembled the neighbors and they made up a plan. The grocery stores had been completely depleted in the couple of days before the hurricane, and no supplies were getting through. Gasoline pumps were not working. I think the water was not working either. Their plan involved:

    1. 8 or 10 families agreed to share essentials for the duration.
    2. All potable water was reserved strictly for drinking.
    3. All fresh food was eaten first. One refrigerator was opened at a time to avoid loss of cool air.
    4. Once the fresh food was gone, they began to open one freezer at a time.
    5. All cooking was done on one of the gas stoves (the gas did not fail) They also located camp style cookstoves, but never had to use them.
    6. They opened the last freezer on the 7th day. They still had some cans, but not very much.

    On the 8th day the power was restored, groceries reopened, gasoline could be purchased, etc.

    I think these dates are fairly informative in terms of thinking about a very sudden, catastrophic collapse. The grocery stores will be looted quickly, as the pre-hurricane panic buying cleaned them out. If a global collapse occurred, then it would probably take around 8 days to run out of food, including what could be looted. Whether FEMA would be any help is speculative. They would have the entire United States to try to get around to. I don’t know how many people they might be able to feed and for how long and how the failure of electricity would affect them.

    If people run out of food in 8 days, then by 14 days things may be pretty desperate. If someone hasn’t eaten in 6 days, they may be pretty weak and depressed. Babies and sick people will be dying. Many will die from contaminated water. By 21 days, I think things would be desperate and more people will begin to die. Many people will have diarrhea. By 30 days most people would be dead.

    In our hurricane, we had a local shortage of food, but there was plenty of food just outside the area flattened by the hurricane. In a global collapse, there is no ‘outside’ to offer help.

    I read a story about a young woman from Portland, OR who tried to forage food on a dare. She lasted less than a day. But she studied the subject and, a year later, was able to live for quite a while strictly on foraged food (with no dumpster diving). But I doubt that many people are going to put in very much study of wild edibles which might be growing in vacant lots. And most people never think about how one might collect rainwater…unless they are sailors.

    As I see it, there are many imponderables. If financial markets close down and banks fail, then I don’t know what the government would do. Would it print money and deposit it in the banks and try to reopen them? How would it prevent runs from rapidly depleting the new deposits? Would it install martial law and put military people in charge of running companies and simply doing the physical things that need doing and pay no attention to finances? How would they get people to work if they don’t pay them? I have no idea.

    I think it is comforting for some people to assume that there is going to be gang warfare with blazing assault weapons…because that excuses everyone from doing any preparation. It’s harder to think about surviving in the aftermath of a really big hurricane or atomic blast. It’s really, really hard to think about making a new life after a global collapse when things stay broken for years or forever. I am pretty sure that the population would be much lower in such a scenario.

    thanks for the observations about Argentina….don Stewart

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, You are getting to be a real doomer!, but it is true it would not take long for the stores to go empty and all hell break loose. A good reason to store a bit of food, whether it is peak oil you fear, or an earthquake, or storms and/or other calamity – like financial collapse.


    • xabier says:


      Fascinating details. I see the disaster plans for Oregon allows for between a week up to a year for the restoration of some services and ammenities after a natural disaster, depending on location within the State and assuming no problems in obtaining supplies from outside….

      When there was just a bit of heavy snow here in England last winter, there were tales of people rushing to food stores in panic and taking anything they could find – simply because of their now ingrained habit of going once a week to the supermarket and not having any food reserves at all at home. It was all rather pathetic, but that’s the modern home economy – it doesn’t exist!

      In Argentina, the government, preoccupied with it’s own internal and international problems, with macro-economics and trade, just left everyone to their own devices as to how to survive – hence the sudden upsurge in robberies and violence to get the money for food, after an initial stunned lull while stocks ran down.

      As ‘bank holidays’ and capital transfer limits, ‘haircuts’, disruptions to fuel supplies and problems at refineries (strikes and blockades?) and sudden out-of-the-blue economic crises such as a balance of payments crisis are the most likely short-term events we have to face on a national scale, anyone with any excess cash at the end of the month would be well-advised to use to it provide a food, fuel, water and cash buffer. And get growing stuff.

      I have the impression that charity food banks seem to have very limited stocks for the desperate to fall back on, drawing their stocks mostly from the long-supply-chain supermarkets in the first place.

      • one of the most telling factors in all this was when the UK had a fuel delivery strike in 2001. The heads of supermarket chains here collectively warned the government that their stores had about 3 days supply of staple food in hand, after that the shelves would start to empty. The strike was settled in less than a week
        It demonstrates just how thin the thread is that holds everything together.
        It is critical to have food reserves. I look on it as insurance—in the sense that if you have stuff and it goes well over sellby date—you get more after a few years
        but from experience I know that stuff can go 5 or 7 years over date, which gives you a 10 year safety window at least. Though I do feel for those people without sufficient means to build some reserves
        As with fire insurance–you have to renew it every year, and hope you never need it.

      • Scott says:

        Hello, Interesting on the Oregon Disaster plan. Sometimes in Oregon the power can be out for days or weeks in places, so some more prepared. However, many also out of work up here and they live week to week waiting for their next benefit card. Our power went out for a few days last year in a snow storm here in Oregon we kept the fridge going with a little generator so we did not loose the food.

        That group that does not really think about or or are out of work. This is the unprepared group and they do not have some emergency supplies and food stuffs. They will be the most vulnerable group. Sometimes the churches try to help feed the out of work and homeless, but even they can run out of food.

        There are quite a few Mormons in our little town here and I noticed they like to store lots of food as part of their religion. So maybe I can trade with them if times get tough. To me it just makes sense to have at least a few months worth of food around as we could face anything – earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, financial collapse.


        • xabier says:


          Well, maybe it’s ‘Make Friends with a Mormon Today’ time? That’s a new approach to prepping!

          • too late—you shouldn’t have slammed the door last sunday morning

            • Scott says:

              Good point, it is hard to make friends with some groups without actually joining their churches.
              I am a Christian that does not really belong to any single church, which is a whole other subject.

          • Scott says:

            Hi Xabiier, Yes, I have made friends with my neighbors, a good thing to do. We have already traded some food items.

            One thing about living in the country is neighbors are more approacable so you will likely get to know them better.


          • Don’t count on buying food from the Mormons if food gets short. They will want to hold on to what they already purchased.

      • One thought about food…some basics I bought 5 years ago have tripled or quadrupled in value. Beat that with any other investment.
        But it does show where we’re headed.

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      Another insight into how things might pan out post collapse can be found in the book: The Day of the Triffids (1951) by John Wyndham. O.K. it is old and there are no such plants as triffids, but there is a lot that might just apply to today’s world. As usual, don’t bother with the film version.

    • watch Egypt right now—that’s our dress rehearsal for what happens when a country runs out of cheap fuel and people get desperate. One leader gets elected, finds out the books dont add up so tries to grab what he can for himself and his tribe. that leads to even more chaos and desperation from the mass of the people.
      Everybody starts fighting and the economy collapses around those denying that there’s anything wrong.
      Egpyts problems are food and jobs, not religion and politics

      • Scott says:

        Hello End of More and others, Yes we can watch Egypt right now to see what is going on, but I wanted to point out that right now there are many countries supporting Egypt. And, the big thing I wanted to mention was that perhaps by the time the collapse reaches Europe and the USA there will no longer be other countries to prop up the whole thing.

        In looking at a potential collapse, Egypt has it pretty good right now, another bail out just around the corner especially after a bout of trouble like we are seeing now. Who is going to bail out the USA, the Euro Zone? I think no one entity, unless some new world bank appears, which we may see, but it may be hard to understand where it came from and who is behind it, they may be our new leaders. They will also have new currency in hand that they want us to have faith in.


        • I agree, Egypt is a pivot nation, so everybody who can is propping it up. but the prop is exclusively oil. If the lunatics take over the Egyptian madhouse, they’re all in trouble.
          With regard to a new world bank, there isn’t one. We’ve only got one world, and we’ve used it up. By far the best summing up of our situation is here
          Professor Albert Bartlett does it with simple mathematics, well worth spending time to sit through his lecture.
          Thinking in terms of ‘world bank’ is indicative of our overall problem. Banks = Money, the ‘bail outs’ and so on, which is what most people think we need. That is imagining a future based on past thinking. Money has nothing to do with it. We created an entire civilisation on the concept of converting energy sources into money tokens.
          We’ve had that situation for thousands of years, we are now so conditioned to that way of conducting world business we have the odd notion that it works in reverse: if we spend hard enough, our ‘world economy’ will kickstart itself again. Nobel prizewinning economists think the same way, as well as our politicians.

          • Mel Tisdale says:

            Thanks for the link. I don’t know what others think, but I doubt that there will be many reading this who are not fully aware of what it says, and even more that it does not say, such as the mess that the politicians have got us all into with the need for growth to pay off the debt. A debt whose default in paying down will likely precipitate the collapse that all their kicking the can down the road is desperately trying to avoid.

            We need ideas for a way out of the mess we are in, not telling, incompletely at that, what we already know. Old Bartlett has been pushing his exponential growth talk so much, you can imagine him doing it in his sleep. A better, more relevant explanation can be found here.

            It is no good relying on politicians. Take the U.K. for example. Believe it or not, the Secretary of State for Environment is a climate change denier! But that is what you get from a system that puts history graduates in charge of scientific issues. Though having said that, I cannot believe he is so poorly advised that he doesn’t know full well what the science is telling us. But what care he for his or our children when there is a Prime Minister to please and the need to survive any pre-election re-shuffle? Bah! A plague on all their houses!

            It seems to me that we are at a crossroads. We can either carry on in the same direction and continue to kick the rather battered can even further down the road until it eventually gives up the ghost and we all head for the emergency shelters. Or we can choose another route: ditch the battered can and start to take control of the situation. I don’t believe that we can come this far as a species and fail. So, preferring action to inaction, I suggest that we take the latter option. it might take too long, but if the population could see the prize that success would bring, then they may well be persuaded to tolerate some privations rather than rise up against them with all that that would mean. This would buy us some time.

            We have an energy shortage problem, so let’s go about generating some (while avoiding that other great problem, climate change). To my mind, that means renewables where possible and nuclear in all its forms, unless we can identify a preferred option. (It is no secret that I prefer small, modular thorium fueled ones). I hope that the realization of the size of our problem will tend to quieten objections on the ‘same old same old’ grounds that modern designs have mostly made irrelevant. If the energy produced happens to be in a form that is not best suited to our needs, such as being in the form of electricity and we need it in liquid form to power our transport and agricultural systems, then let’s pour money into electrifying those vehicles together with the associated machinery and equipment. We know that there are some rather inefficient means of doing so already, so it is not a fool’s errand.

            We know we can electrify cars and bikes, so at worst, we might reduce the demand on oil to some extent and thus its price and availability while providing more time to find a solution. This can either be done nationally or internationally. While some might prefer the national route with the idea that the technology can be sold upon completion, there has to be doubt as to whether there will be a monetary system in place to facilitate those transactions. (If ever a central banker had a tiger by the tail, it is Bernanke with Q.E. Fun to watch, until you realize where it is headed!)

            There have to be alternatives worthy of consideration, so let’s hear them. But please make them relevant to our global needs, even if one is personally self-sufficient to some extent. The alternative is that we all metaphorically put our heads between our legs and kiss our backsides goodbye?

            This site cannot solve the problem, but perhaps it can start a public discussion on the matter. Who knows, it might for once be one that the politicians actually take heed of. They might even act upon it, too. It is an understatement to say that there is more than votes at stake.

          • xabier says:

            End of More

            I see that the Generals in Egypt are now talking about ‘liquidating’ the 3 million or so Muslim Brothers in the country.

            It grows more interesting by the day. Much supports your basic thesis.

            No mention, of course, of over-population and energy crisis in any of the MSM pieces on the situation.

        • Mel
          I’ve watched the Martenson lectures as well as Bartlett’s, they come up with the same conclusions but from different directions I think.
          Our politicians are aware of what faces us, just as much as ordinary mortals, but standing up and saying so will get them kicked out of office
          Theirs is a job like anybody else’s,and they want to hang onto it as long as possible.
          ‘growth’ is all they can offer, even though they know there isn’t going to be any

          • Mel Tisdale says:

            You are right, in the end it is a job for leaders, not politicians, but I can’t see any that stand out as being anywhere near capable of doing what we need doing.

        • Adam says:

          Here’s what Jeremy Grantham said about Egypt in April 2012.

          “Egypt had a population of 2 million when Napoleon invaded; it has 82 million today, and it’s going to rise to 120 million. It can feed about 60 million. Egypt used to feed the Roman Empire; without Egypt, the Romans would have collapsed long before they did. Egypt has been the world’s bread-basket for ever, and still today it has some of the most productive acres on the planet. But it can only feed 60 million people, and it buys the rest by selling the oil it was lucky enough to find.

          But Egyptian oil has peaked, and its trade deficit is growing. Nobody is going to pay for the trade deficit to feed 120 million Egyptians. We’re not going to volunteer. With the growth rate way down, we are getting to be very, very cheap about foreign aid. Any country that starts to run a food deficit, from now on, is on its own. And this will happen to Egypt next year, basically; the game is up. Every year, they’ll be struggling for the resources, financial or otherwise, to feed their people, and pretty soon there will be waves of reasonably well-educated Egyptians attempting to find jobs in Europe. This goes for many other countries on the African continent, and one or two other countries, and the social pressures will be massive.”

          Jeremy Grantham is a British investor. He is co-founder and chief investment strategist of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo. He is also a Quaker and philanthropist.

    • Andy says:

      Is it really hard to think of a slower decline? Things get worse year after year, prices go up, incomes go down. It’s a long slog between here and Egypt, yet people are not starving in Egypt. They still have access to food and gas, times are tough, but not desperate.

      • xabier says:


        I agree: slow steady deterioration is an unglamorous concept, but an important one. It’s underway in the West, of course. And as long as international trade flows and internal networks function, a country which is not highly financialized – like Egypt – can go into a long slow decline and stabilize at a very low level: as you say, not nice, but bearable. People adjust: and the attitude becomes ‘Well, at least we put food on the table today’: no narcissistic fretting about pensions, international holidays and health care plans! Dental problems? Hand me those pliers!

        People viewing it from their own very high Western standard of living can find this hard to understand. In the same way, people looking back on the Middle Ages find it hard to conceive of anyone surviving and flourishing in such circumstances, the more so if they are unfamiliar with the literature and music and only view the economics and life expectancy using modern expectations.

        Similarly, very high unemployment and low salaries (as in Spain, Portugal and Greece, Hungary, etc) crime rates S. Africa, Venezuela, etc) and even the very bloody civil disturbances we see now in Egypt, can become regular, established features of life without ‘total collapse’ occurring. Shooting people down in large numbers was not uncommon in 19th century Europe after all.

        The flesh hangs thinner, but the bones of society remain. I suppose one could conceive of real Collapse’ as those bones dissolving completely?

        Egypt has the singular advantage – for the time being – of considerable subsidies from political friends who are richer: hence those tanks can still roll and the soldiers are still paid……. The appalling demographics will, however, surely tell against them in the end: it is Overshoot and no mistake!

        • Scott says:

          Hello, I agree with the slow grind down but with some bumps like we saw in 2008. When the Bond and Stock Bubbles Burst, those will be the bumps or should we say steps down…

          I do not think the bond/stock market collapse will will thrust us into complete chaos, but surely a lot of rich people will loose some money and probably another big round of money printing to recapitalize those special bankers.

          The rich will receive some help, but average Joe that was invested in the markets will loose their shirts. These continued bail outs most likely will bring upon us inflation and or stagflation and bond/stock collapse which I think looms will bring upon us recession. So I do not see a total collapse not anytime soon, but things continuing to get harder and perhaps a worse recession coming next than we saw in 2008 due the size of the bond market and that bubble is ready to pop. Higher interest rates and likely higher taxes ahead to fund the debt at a higher rate. But next recession will likely make it difficult for the government to collect the higher taxes.

        • I think your reference to the middle ages put two words together which were somewhat incompatible—surviving and flourishing.
          Sorry—but most people survived to their mid 40s, and they most certainly didn’t flourish.
          As late as the 1900s, the British army started recruiting soldiers for the Boer war, and then WW1, and found the average recruit from the lower classes was 6″ shorter that his aristocratic equivalent, and in many instances was literally too weak to undergo basic military training. Diseases were appalling and too numerous to mention here.

          • It is not too surprising that men’s height was for a long time a good predictor of success. It may still be true.

          • Height as a measure of success…that is interesting. My sons are 6’4″, 6’4.5″, and 6’5.5″ (the almost 16 year old is the tallest). The first question people ask me is “What do you feed those boys?”. Their genetics have a lot to do with it. There are above average height people in both my and my husband’s family. I’m 5’10”, but my great uncle was 6’4″. My husband is 6′ tall but his great grandfather was 6’6″. Next comes diet and lifestyle. Lots of dairy for calcium, whole grains, veggies, and fruits. Meat when I used it was the best quality I could afford. Everyday I feed them a good breakfast. Lifestyle…rules they are expected to follow such as bedtime. Always plenty of sleep (even at 17 my child’s bedtime at 10:00 is enforced). If I have to I remove computer and phones from their rooms.

            I attribute my son’s height mostly to their genetics and epigenetics (i.e. our lifestyle and our ancestor’s lifestyle. Our ancestors were farmers with access to plenty of food, exercise, and rest. I don’t think financial success had much to do with it in the last 50 years.. When I do buy meat I buy the best quality, but most of the time their diet consists of beans, dairy (calcium), vegetables, and fruit. The other thing I attribute their health to is plenty of sleep. Children needs lots of sleep and a lack of stress to achieve their best growth rate. A stable home with plenty of good healthy food, fresh air, and exercise will probably allow most children to attain what their genetics determine.

          • xabier says:

            End of More

            I do enjoy your posts, but still I would suggest that your view of the Middle Ages is rather too grim! Your perspective is a bit too modern and anachronistic. It was different, but not unredeemed horror.

            Even if one lives to only 40, or even 30, one can lead a good and full life – particularly when you considered boys of 16 could lead divisions armies, like the Black Prince and craftsmen were fully trained by 21. Again, one has to read the poetry and literature to understand what life felt like. We are much taller on the whole, and fully ‘nourished’, but life is fairly degraded in many respects. Maybe six of one and half a dozen of the other.

            Many of my ancestors were in the army which defeated the last great Muslim invasion of Spain, Las Navas de Toledo : over 100,000 men engaged, and I suspect those brave men weren’t recruited from starving dwarves! Those battles went on for whole days, maybe even two or three. The peasants had to be strong, too: there are men of the older generation who might be very short, but strong as oxes!

            Malnutrition did not pay the masters well, when you think about it: peasants were good livestock in a sense, to be looked after. Absentee landlords are another matter: as in the south of Spain, or Ireland, they let their tenants starve alright.

            And what about the ‘stout’ yeomen of England who gave the French their due deserts? An Italian ambassador to England in the 1490’s noted the strength, height and beauty of the English common people….and so on.

            On the whole I envisage quite strong and hardy people, certainly shorter in many cases, but inured to hardship, and usually going to meet their maker as the result of wearing out ‘early’ with immense manual labour from an early age, plague, and very importantly tainted meat or water – this took out even aristocrats well into the 19th c. Typhus and cholera are feared by the rich in Edith Wharton’s novels, in the very midst of their luxuries.

            The real degeneration in the very poor began with the rapid urbanisation in slums of the 19th c which showed up, as you say, in all its tragedy in the assessment of men for WW1. Also in WW2, although the masses were fitter then. I knew an officer from then who said that he had men from slums who didn’t know how to wash in his unit, let alone read and write…..he never guessed that such poverty and ignorance still existed.

      • Don Stewart says:

        I don’t follow Egypt very closely, because it seems to me to be more of the same old, same old. The US wants three things in Egypt: a safe place for US based multinationals to operate, a government favorable to Israel, and a government approved by the Saudis. The Saudis want a government which will do what they tell it to do and will suppress popular uprisings. Israel wants a military which is armed heavily enough to repress the local population, but still pose no credible threat to Israel. What you are seeing in the last month is simply what those three powerful governments do to get what they want done. Our Nobel Peace Prize Winner is supplying the bullets which are killing the Egyptians, all the while occasionally mouthing off about ‘peaceful means and democracy’.

        I think the stock market in Egypt advanced pretty sharply in the wake of the coup. So Egypt is not an example of the financial crash/ collapse of supply chains type of crash that I think might kill a lot of people in the US. I see Egypt as simply one more example of very powerful players manipulating the middle east to get what they want.

        If I haven’t been clear, I will also reiterate that I am not preparing for a 6 week period in the US when money has no value and nothing moves through supply chains. It might happen, but at my age and in my circumstances I don’t think preparing for such a thing is the best use of my time and resources. What I am doing is growing and working on a farm for the preponderance of my fresh fruits and vegetables. These are the most expensive items you can buy in supermarkets. So my plan is frugal right now and also works if refrigerated transport in trucks is disrupted. My plan also puts me in the field with some wonderful young people, 50 years my junior. I buy grains and dried beans in bulk (e.g., 40 pound bags), so I would probably have enough calories in the house to keep us alive for a couple of months. I also periodically take classes in things like foraging wild foods and fermenting foods. These are both fun and useful.

        I don’t mean to be seen as some prophet of doom. I think everyone should look at what is happening now, read and ponder those who are making reasonable prognostications such as Gail, Korowicz, and Greer, and then take inventory of their own life situation and decide what they want to do, if anything. The only reason I write about the ‘starvation scenario’ is because I think it is one logical extension of the work of Gail and Korowicz and because I see a lot of people assuming that the collapse is all going to end in a hail of bullets and so there is no point in doing anything.

        Don Stewart

        • Scott says:

          Hi Don and others, I wonder if anyone has read the book Ismael by Daniel Quinn? It describes how humans changed paths thousands of years ago from being hunter gatherers with wandering animals to graze, to basically farmers, from what they called “Leavers” into “takers” where the takers. The takers would block off the water divert it into there farms away from the wandering animals and sheep herders and hunter gatherers. It describes us changing paths long ago and it kind give me the impression that this path we took could not be changed once we took it long ago. The path must be followed to the end. I do however believe we are smart enough to make changes, but we may have to need a new beginning with new leaders to do so which is not likely to happen anytime soon, so I see more of the same coming our way for awhile.

          I imagine a few of you may have read Ismael. However, it was interesting, and the book gave me some things to think about. Quinn also has some podcast out there that I have downloaded. Interesting author.

          about the author Daniel Quinn

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Hi Don and Andy, and other Buoyant Doomsters:

          Please forgive, Don asked Andy for an assessment of Egypt and I just looked for same but couldn’t find it, which indicates Andy probably took the rest of Sunday off. Given my propensity for the ‘pol-mil’ business and having spent some time in Egypt and that part of the world, I thought I’d take a crack at Don’s task.

          Overall, Egypt is a mess. Most historians say that for the last 3,000 years it’s been conquered repeatedly and ruled horribly. When Mohammed’s cavalry came through 1300 years ago, there were 4,000 horsemen that subdued the country of 5 million. And so on. Throughout the medieval and into the modern era, Egypt was ever a doormat. Still is. But I should be somewhat discreet and avoid offending anyone.

          For the last 30 years Egypt has become much better educated, Western oriented and liberal. Many now call the latest activities not a ‘coup’ but a ‘revolution’ against tyrannical islamists. They know their economy is controlled and not free, that all the statist ills of the old days and the ‘khaki capitalism’, ‘crony capitalism’ and horrible corruption plagues their economic life. And still, the average Egyptian is content with little.

          Mubarak’s ‘social compact’ was really based on the subsidized ‘balady bread’ sold everywhere, and cheap gasoline. People were generally content until they got fed up with the corruption and then the cruelty of the security forces’ response 18 months ago. They’d seen enough TV and they believed they deserved something better. They were right.

          Unfortunately, in the election to replace the old regime, the Muslim Brotherhood won by a very small margin, and immediately began to insert revolutionary organizations and methods. The economy was falling badly despite international assistance and offers of more if only the government would try to stabilize conditions and get commerce flowing. They preferred the roles of ‘political organizer’ and ‘islamist politics’, to the point that the people and the Army believed they had to launch their rebellion in late June.

          Some observers have noted that parliamentary elections were scheduled for September, and the anti-Muslim Brotherhood forces should have been more patient, as the MB would surely have lost badly. Rebelling and toppling the MB government, however, elicited sympathy for the MB, especially among liberal western societies.

          It appears that the ‘people and the Army’ are gaining supremacy. Perhaps peace will be restored soon.

          Don’s reference to Saudi druthers appear just about right. US druthers are less focused on Israel than the Suez Canal. Israel can take care of itself, as shown repeatedly. But the US and UK stand for stability – or they’re supposed to…

          Afternote: Ethiopia is constructing a large dam on the Blue Nile which will probably affect water levels through Sudan and Egypt. Difficult negotiations and perhaps serious tensions ahead.

  29. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Mel Tisdale
    I didn’t realize your land was in eastern Europe. I am under the impression that you live in England. Is this just some odd land that you own, but don’t really have much interest in?

    If you do have some interest in it, I suggest you spend a few minutes and look at this video:

    This is the history of Geoff Lawton’s involvement in Jordan. This is one of the worst growing environments on the planet. And yet, with some investment of money and proper continuing care, it is yielding abundant crops. As you will see in the video, Lawton originally established a very successful demonstration project which has been horribly mismanaged. Now Lawton is working on a number of sites which some NGOs control. The side by side comparisons are startling.

    You have to understand that Lawton would say that your spraying weed killer and plowing are further destroying the land. Conventional agriculture is the destructive enemy.

    You also need to understand that water management is the key to restoration. And in some cases water management requires some considerable construction. Therefore, money is involved.

    The second thing I recommend is Nabhan’s book Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land. There are many, many case studies of places in the deserts of the US Southwest, Northwestern Mexico, Morocco, and the Arabian peninsula. You will learn how Mestizo Mexicans and Native American Mexicans build soil in poor locations with the strategic placement of brush and plants along intermittent waterways. You will see rocks placed on hillsides to control water (you will see something similar if you keep a sharp eye on the Lawton video).

    Sometimes Amazon will let you look at a few pages in a book. Try to look at pages 4-7, where you will learn about a remarkable Sufi in Morocco and his construction of oases in the desert.

    From the way you are describing the place, I suspect that you need professional design help. If the land is not something you actually care about, then you have to factor that into your decision. There are probably not a lot of people in eastern Europe capable of doing what Lawton is doing in Jordan and what the poor farmers in the Americas, Morocco, and Arabia are doing.

    Good luck with it….Don Stewart

    • Don Stewart says:

      If the land should be grassland, you can check Alan Savory’s videos. Here is one:

      Alan has a couple of videos with some stunning before and after pictures once he developed his theory and practice of rotational grazing in Africa. Look at his Youtube videos and you will get the idea. There is also a video of him flying over sections of Texas which are turning into sand dunes…perhaps reminiscent of your land. He blames it on poor grazing practices.

      You will note in the above video that Alan thinks that the biggest contributor to climate change is industrial agriculture–not burning fossil fuels. I have no opinion on that except to say that industrial agriculture is a very big contributor.

      Don Stewart

      • Mel Tisdale says:

        Thanks for this, Don. I believe I have seen, and been very impressed by, his TED talk. At least the person looked the same as far as I can remember and it covered the same area of concern.

        Judging by that TED talk and the accompanying visuals, he is on to something. I am no expert, but I do know that we know that the carbon dioxide that is in the main causing most of the climate change is from fossil fuels because of the isotopes, but that aside his talk was really very good and got a TED standing ovation and although that seems to be the norm for good TED talks, for once I felt like standing up at home!

        (I still need to find the 36 minutes to watch the Greening of the Dessert video, but as my previous posts will have indicated, I suspect that the remedies are going to be outside my price bracket.

      • Mel Tisdale says:

        Don, I owe you and Mr Savory an apology! After posting my reply, I had a niggling feeling about the isotopes and have managed to find a source for the accurate position ( We know that climate change is due to fossil fuel burning and the clearing of forests, which is the point Mr Savory is making. Sorry, I thought it was just fossil fuel burning.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Thanks for the link.

          Here is another fascinating (scarily fascinating) dynamic that Nabhan refers to in his book…the effect of longer growing seasons on carbon in the soil. As we warm the planet, growing seasons get longer. The longer the growing season, the more microbial activity in the soil. The soil microbes are powered by the carbon in organic matter.

          A farmer knows he is doing something wrong when the microbes are forced to eat humus to survive.

          So we have a vicious circle. As it gets warmer, the soil microbes are active for longer periods and so consume more organic matter in the soil and eventually are forced to eat the humus and so the water holding capacity of the soil is decreased. The soil is giving up its carbon stores which increases the carbon in the atmosphere and oceans with consequences we know too well. The soil is also depleted of its ability to hold water, which means it either has to be irrigated more or else the plants which traditionally grew there won’t make it through droughts and perhaps the land becomes a desert.

          The correct response seems to me to be growing more cover crops to get more organic matter into the soil (or buy more compost from Jody Tishmack). But cover crops don’t really bring in much, if any, cash. So the farmer is producing less food and getting less income. (All the while, the central bankers are busily printing money to drive up the cost of the land which is becoming steadily less productive). What the farmer will tend to do is keep right on trucking and then a dreadful drought strikes and there is widespread crop failure (as we had in Texas in 2011 and 2012),

          I hope there is some really smart person reading this who can explain just how wrong I am on this subject.

          Don Stewart

          • Mel Tisdale says:

            Yet again, the law of unintended consequences raises its ugly head! The more I study climate change, the more concerned I become, and the more annoyed I get with those who deny that it is a problem. (There are a couple of British peers whose retention of their titles is a mystery to me, considering the effort they put in to denying that it is a problem and never mind the harm done to their country. I’d sling both of them in the Tower of London and call for the executioner and his axe, preferably blunted for the purpose so that it is a slow process.)

            Here is another set of unintended consequences to mull over:

            You hope for some expert to prove you wrong and I hope to wake up and find it is all a dream. Sadly, I suspect that we are both destined to be disappointed.

          • Scott says:

            Hello Don, as far as farming goes, some areas are doing good, but weather changes make it harder for farmers to plan crops in this new farming world we have now. I think especially if you are planting only one crop, mono crops can be risky, we planted about 15 things and a few did not make it this year for reasons unknown. Our compost needed to be fertilized or more trucks to haul in more because we did not have enough. However, we do not have chickens and goats which I imagine could be the solution to the small plot composter, so I will keep that in mind.
            Having farm animals or any pets is a big commitment, and it make one have to stay close to home especially with farm animals.


    • Mel Tisdale says:

      Don, thanks ever so much for pointing me to the Greening of the Desert video. I found it extremely informative. You are right in what you say about the need for a more sustainable way of feeding ourselves, I just hope that you can see that in the meantime we have to stick with what we are used to if we are going to feed the masses.

      I can see exactly how and why Lawton is enthused about his plan and he has every right to be enthusiastic. Were I a young man, I would be joining him. Whilst I do not like gardening, I can see how the science and the mechanics of what he does could be fascinating and also provide an excellent career, which would almost certainly not fizzle out, the way my motor industry one did, thanks to a certain female British prime minister! Indeed, getting involved in such work is something that all young people should at least consider.

      Regarding my land, I bought it before there was any hint of the coming collapse (I had not found Chris Martenson’s Crash Course by then) and my main reason for buying it was that it was cheap, the farmers wanted to be rid of it (I now see why) and it would allow me to stop houses being built too close to mine (so that I could play Bob Dylan at full volume if I so desired without attracting complaints). Growing my own food was not very high up the list, for the obvious reasons I spell out in my previous comments. For me to follow Lawton’s methodology and ‘grow’ my soil would be very expensive and way beyond my means. I will just have to go to the shops for my food and hope that the collapse is nice and slow when it comes and does not begin too soon.

      For some reason, I find that I do not read much these days, so will give the book you recommend some thought before I purchase it. As for the other article, and this on the Greening of the desert, I can see the point you are making, and accept it. I might have come across as being anti self-sufficiency. I am not. Indeed, I applaud it. But, to repeat myself, I can only see big ag feeding the multitude. Though I would happily put Monsanto out of business if I could find a way of doing so that did not put me behind bars.

      Thanks once again, Don, for all your attempts to help me, I really do appreciate it!


  30. Ed says:

    An excellent article, as usual, however I have one serious bone to pick.

    The statement, “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,” is highly misleading.

    Pages 14, 15, and 16 of the pdf Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels very clearly spell out the conditions of the “Hubbert Curve”, and symmetry is definitely not a requirement of it.

    The requirements are:
    (1) that it begin and end at zero at times t=0 and t=infinity, and
    (2) that it conform to the fundamental theorem of calculus.

    While figure 11 on page 16 shows the idealized symmetrical “Hubbert Curve” which everyone is familiar with, it is immediately followed by two real-world examples of this curve on the same page, figures 12 and 13, which clearly include multiple anomalies and are anything but symmetrical. This choice is not accidental. He then discusses the background of the anomalous factors in them.

    Clearly symmetry is not a necessary part of his model at all.

    Again, in figure 18 he draws a somewhat symmetrical dotted line, but counters it with, “the shape of the curve is variable”. Also note again that the to-date portion of the up-slope has anomalies.

    What Hubbert is doing is mathematically elegant, and very common in the age before computers, choosing a curve for the purpose of simplifying the process of manual calculation, without introducing undue error. In several cases, he is using a graphical technique to solve the equation, which makes the exact shape of curve even less important. It takes a fair degree of mathematical literacy to do this successfully.

    It’s what engineers, scientists, and mathematicians have always done, choose a mathematical model that gets the desired result with the least effort and the least error in the result they are trying to obtain. They openly admit that models are merely idealizations and discuss what the errors are.

    What Hubbert was primarily concerned with was the inability of a finite amount of material to meet exponentially growing demand for it. This is why he discusses inflection points appearing in the previously exponential data, and expends most of his effort discussing the timing of peak production. It’s one reason why he chose the derivative of the Logistic curve rather than a Gaussian curve. Frankly, he was not focusing on the exact shape of the down-slope because he had more important fish to fry. He did discuss some factors that could distort it because it can alter the timing of the peak slightly, but uncertainties in the official estimates of the ultimate resources were a more overwhelming factor, making the down-slope moot at the time.

    There is a concept in engineering called “boundary conditions” for any model. They are the conditions within which a model is designed and will give reasonable results. Exceed them, and the results the model gives may be gibberish. Newtonian physics is an example. Stay well below the speed of light, and his equations describing the motions of bodies are reliably accurate, but approach the speed of light and they become more inaccurate, until at some point you need Einstein’s equations of Relativity. Using equations that take into account Newton, Einstein, and quantum physics together at the same time, is cumbersome and usually unnecessary.

    Hubbert’s detractors, most of whom are clearly unfamiliar with his actual work, take great delight in misstating, misapplying, and over-idealizing his model in order to exaggerate discrepancies and use these straw-man conclusions to falsely discredit his thesis. (It is really the only argument they have against it.) I believe this is the source of the incorrect notion that the Hubbert curve must be some-how symmetrical, when Hubbert himself clearly did not think so.

    • I agree with you. I no doubt overstated what Hubbert intended for symmetry. Hubbert also made the point that improved techniques might skew the distribution to the right.

      My problem is that an awfully lot of people seem to think Hubbert’s curve is symmetric, and looking at the outlines he shows, it looks pretty symmetric. There seems to be a lot of (mis)belief that the shape of the curve is symmetric, whether it is or not. The general shape of Hubbert’s curve clearly makes no sense without a substitute coming into play early on, and he in fact had one coming on early on, in each paper I read.

      With theories about peak oil, sometimes a person feels like he/she is playing a game of gossip. Each person explains things as they think they understand them. After a few iterations, people have found the parts that fit in best with what they want to believe, and emphasize those parts. Symmetry seems to be one part that has stuck, more than it should.

      I am not sure I can figure out a clearer way to say this, without making the post a lot more complicated/difficult to understand.

      • Mel Tisdale says:

        Perhaps I have it wrong, but surely the real ‘peak’ of anything is when its supply fails to meet the need that there is for it, which will still be there until alternatives are found (or economic conditions reduce that need) even if demand falls off due to the commodity’s increased cost. For example, I will not demand fuel for my car if I cannot afford to pay for it, but I will still need that fuel and will have to find a way of coping without it.

        I cannot see how the symmetry of the extraction curve can be anything other than simply as good a way as any to depict something that will vary from well to well, from pit to pit, and from extraction site to extraction site, even from commodity to commodity. I imagine that the ‘peak’ can even occur on a rising part of the extraction curve if it is not rising fast enough to match the rate at which the demand/need curve is rising and the curves cross over. Indeed, there can even be several such peaks as supply and demand each react individually to the vagaries of economic conditions, locally, nationally and globally.

  31. Andy says:

    A great article thanks Gail.
    I do not ‘know’ that low interest rates are going to go away. It is a very prevalent assumption, but as I see it, interest rates are no longer a market function, and there is no price discovery. Interest rates are set by the Reserve Bank. If they were to go away, then lots of bad things will happen, and I suspect most people know this, and every measure possible will be used to prevent that.

    I think we have more of a Malthusian problem, where things measured in per capita terms are in decline, and per capita wealth measured in access to resources is in decline. Most of the money in the world is stored in non tangible assets such as bonds and to a lesser extent in stocks, though stock do have a tangible aspect. Were this money for some reason seek realisation as a claim on tangible assets then we would have the inflation, where the price of tangible assets would have to increase to absorb all the as yet unrealised claims. As they say, we can always print more money, we can’t print more oil.


    • We have a lot of things that aren’t working right with very low interest rates. One of them, of course, is defined benefit pension plans. They are assuming a lot greater return than is actually the case recently. With QE, banks don’t have the spread to work with between high and low interest rates, and this reduces their willingness to give loans. Also, the super-low interest rates encourage speculation in stocks and real estate, including farmland. This distorts decision making, and eventually is likely to end up in a crash.

      But you may be right that governments can do more than I think they can, to keep our problem hidden for a few more years. I never ceased to be amazed at the creativity of government leaders in kicking the can down the road a while longer, in Japan, Europe, and the US. While we are hitting limits, it is hard to know exactly when they will come into play.

      Pension plans own a large share of stocks and bonds (50% is the number I remember, but I am not sure how that is defined). As long as there is enough funding from new pension fund participants, it seems like not much of the bond and stock revenue will need to be “used.” I am not sure how this all works out now though, with new participants usually in 401(k) plans and defined contribution plans, for smaller amounts.

      Also, at some point, even if interest rates can remain low indefinitely, we are still going to reach a point where the cost of oil extraction becomes too high for oil importers to pay. We will end up with more recession, even with the low interest rates. Or if oil prices drop too low, then oil producers with high cost of production (like tight oil producers and oil sands producers) will have problems, and oil exporters will find they are not collecting enough tax revenue to keep their economies from falling apart.

      • Andy says:

        I saw this interesting crude oil price chart, which possibly shows the conflict between producers and consumers, and seems to have a target of $115.
        Technical patterns like that can be used to predict price moves, and I’d imagine that a breakout should see price move significantly in one direction or the other. Of course if price comes down the peak-oil ballyhooers will cry that peak oil is dead and buried, and we have hit peak demand. Haha.

        Thanks again Gail, always a pleasure to read your articles.

        • Andy,

          I am not sure that that method gives exactly the right amount, but the general idea is right. The amount oil importers can afford to pay is dropping, while the amount oil exporters require is increasing. The following is a recent chart showing what one set of analysts says the OPEC oil prices need to be, in order to meet both the cost of extraction and pay the taxes the country requires to meet their budget. (Without enough taxes, riots and lower production may take place.) This chart says OPEC required prices are approaching (or exceeding) current actual prices. I have also seen indications that Russia needs very high oil prices to meet its budget.

          Sept 2013 Fiscal Cost Curve APIC

          • Andy says:

            Most developed nations haven’t had a balanced budget in years, so I assume that Opec can also use debt financing to a certain extent. To what extent is the big mystery.

  32. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    One more plug for Nabhan’s book and I will shut up. It is frequently a mistake to try to go from scientific first principles to the practical. How can I say such a thing? Consider Nabhan’s story on page 154:

    ‘In the later 1980s, I happened to be present and humbled when a remarkable archaeological discovery was made in Arizona–the presence of living century plant populations on terraces and rock alignments constructed 500 to 800 years earlier. This marked the first time that scientists confirmed that the very same crop variety (or genetic lineage) has survived in an unbroken chain since prehistoric farmers had first planted it on terraced hillsides centuries before us. What’s more, the volcanic cobbles laid down in rock alignments and low terraces by desert dwellers 25 to 40 generations before us still held soil and moisture in place long after they had been abandoned.

    Like most so-called discoveries, ours was a fortuitous find; many other archaeologists and botanists with just as much or more expertise as our own had tramped along the same slopes without ever glimpsing the remnants of ancient crops surviving in these terraces….I was curious to learn whether any of the century plants know as Agave murpheyi could still be found…And so I invited a few of my achaeological mentors…to come into the field with botanically trained scientists…Within 50 yards of leaving our cars on the sole rocky road that climbed up the mesa, we spotted a few century plants on the lower slopes…that flanked the mesa. As we gathered around the plants to see exactly where they were situated, I pointed out the prehistorically constructed rock alignment that followed the contour for dozens of yards across the slope. Another of us realized that this clonal population of century plants was still situated on the very same terrace created by a rock alignment built hundreds of years prior to our own arrival there!

    And then–to our astonishment–one of the archaeologists reached down between the century plants and found what prehistoric tool experts call an agave knife. It was a thin piece of carefully shaped stone that had a curvilinear blade with obvious serrations along its cutting edge. Our jaws dropped. Here were the very same crop plants, terraces, rock alignments, and harvesting tools that had fed a prehistoric farming family half a millenium ago! What’s more, most of the terraces still retained enough fertile soil and moisture that both agaves and a fishhook cactus with delicious strawberry-like fruits continued to produce abundant food crops long after the last cultivator had departed from this landscape 5 or 6 centuries ago.

    ….And so many of the cultivated agaves were intentionally planted in loosened soil and then half buried in rock piles, where dew and light rains would collect on the bottom sides of the cobblestones in the pile. This enhances the moisture available to each plant.’

    Here is my point about depending too much on science. It took a COLLECTION of scientists to recognize and understand what they were looking at. Neither the botanists nor the archaeologists singly would likely have pieced the story together. Today, we tend to look to specialists who tell us that ‘everything is created by energy’–by which they mean everything that has economic value in a market economy and by energy they mean some sort of combustion. Yet the farming family who lived here had an extraordinarily sophisticated way of using some human labor (which is very efficient) with some intelligence (finding the contour) and some know how passed down from their ancestors (planting agave on the lip of a terrace to stop erosion), a tool which may well have come from their parents, a botanists understanding of plant guilds, and multiple free sources of energy that had nothing to do with combustion. The result is something that has continued to work up to the present day without human maintenance. I would call this a very high EROEI example. Perhaps we should redraw the graphs starting at 10,000 to 1 in the good old days back in the Sonoran desert—instead of the paltry 100 to 1 in the East Texas field. But then it would make the tar sands disappear into the abscissa of the graph and we might feel inferior to an illiterate farm family. And we know they were savages.

    Sepp Holzer was in Montana a couple of years ago doing his thing constructing terraces and lakes. One of the things he told his hosts was to work in a circle–trying, observing, modifying, observing, expanding, observing, etc. The dominant thought in Permaculture is to start from Ethics and work out toward the practical. Yet a number of Permaculturists now agree that talking about Ethics rarely solves any problems. Problems are solved by actual work and observation. If you read Gary’s book, you may have a more mature conception of how you want to procede as Collapse unfolds.

    Don Stewart

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Don, at the beginning of this post you said, “One more plug for Nabhan’s book and I will shut up…” Don’t you dare.

    • Nice comments Don. I couldn’t agree with you more, most people tend to think of energy as only fossil fuel powered machines, and that there are many other viable forms of energy that our ancestors knew much more about than we do. The sooner we learn to understand other ‘free’ forms of energy, the faster we can transition to a different lower energy lifestyle. As long as we cling to the hope for ‘modern’ solutions, the false belief that some technology will save our current economic system, the longer it takes us to see new opportunities.

      Personally, when I look at our modern economy, modern agriculture, modern health care, modern diets and life styles, I see mostly stressed out, hormonally unbalanced, unhealthy people desperately trying to find the health and happiness they lost because they are cut off from the natural world that we evolved within. I see this as the legacy of fossil fuels and the technology it spawned. I am not unappreciative of the opportunity to live with technology, but I am not blind to the curse that comes with the blessing. I see how technology has cut off humans from a perception of our place within the web of life on earth.

      The more I work in the soil, with plants, insects, and animals, the more I feel connected to Life. We are in such a quandary of how to replace all the energy we currently use. Few people stop to think about why they cling to this system. Do we really need to use all this ‘energy’? Do we need the appliances that are now engineered to last only 10 years, when we used to build them to last 30 or 40; hand tools that are almost disposable because they are made so poorly? Are we giving our bodies what they need when we eat ‘food’ that has been formulated to taste good and look like natural? Do we need that closet full of clothes that we frequently have to “clean out” and haul to the thrift store? Do we need to watch 4 hours of T.V each night, or surf the internet for hours on end? Are we perhaps missing relationships we need when do so? Do we perhaps need miss something in life when our children move hundreds or thousands of miles away? Is your life only about your job?

      I suggest that we can be happier without these beliefs. We just need to pick up a tool and start using our hands. The wisdom comes with the sweat.


      • Mel Tisdale says:

        Anyone who supports reverting to the old ways also supports the cull of vast numbers of human beings that will have to die in order to facilitate such a move. They must take that into consideration when advocating same. We can only feed the numbers we have now by using the technology that we have thus far developed. The problem is not that we have developed too much, but that we have not developed enough. Fro example, we discovered nuclear fission ages ago, yet have failed to develop it to the extent that we needed to. And the reason we have failed to do so is mainly because of the influence of the Green movement over public opinion. They have a lot to answer for. So too do the governments who have failed to steer policy towards the long forecast population numbers that we now face and are morally obliged to at least try and support. We won’t do so if we are all working by hand in the fields, will we?

        It is clear that we face a period of turmoil caused by a perfect storm of energy deficit combined with a corrupt finance system seemingly designed to cheat the rest of us in order to provide obscene bonuses to its practitioners. With proper leadership, we could take the opportunity presented by this forthcoming period of turmoil to hit the reset button and develop coherent strategies to deal with the problems that beset us all as a species, not least of which is climate change. Despite being well informed on energy matters, this site takes a view that climate change will sort itself out when the oil supply fails. Unfortunately, in the meantime we are supposed to ignore it and continue to pump vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is going to hang around for hundreds of years at least and spoil things for our children and grandchildren, and so on down the generations, it would appear. Out of the turmoil must come respect for scientists and their scientific opinions, no matter how much they might contradict political opinion.

        Perhaps Douglas Adams got it right and coming down from the trees was a mistake in the first place. But curiosity is part of our nature – well of many of us anyway – and that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to stop us as a species continuing to develop, providing the coming collapse doesn’t kill all of us off, of course.

        You stick with the old ways Jody, like the Amish do. There is room for those who reject modernity, but not so much room that they can be allowed to stop us seizing a future where technology is our slave, not the master it has been allowed to become.

        • Mel,
          I don’t reject “modernity”, in fact I live in a very nice modern home, powered by solar panels. Yes, I grow a lot of food. Yes, I can many types of vegetables and fruit. Yes, I have a small flock of chickens, a few pigs, and a milk goat. Seems logical to me given that most high quality food in the store is getting more and more expensive, not to mention the possibility of salmonella contamination or perhaps even worse a disruption in the food supply. I suggest that if you don’t know how or aren’t prepared to grow some of the food you eat you will be one of those “culled” from the herd.

          My point is that we should question our assumptions of what we need and what we get from our current modern economic system. I will pick just one of your assumptions. You made the statement “We can only feed the numbers we have now by using the technology that we have thus far developed.” Is that really true?

          The majority of grain grown in the U.S. is corn and soybeans. The majority of that is either feed to our car in the form of ethanol, or it is feed to animals, of which pork and beef are the largest volume. I would estimate that of the 7 billion people in this world, few of them actually benefit from all the beef and pork we grow. Most of the 7 billion, if they eat pork or chicken, they raise it themselves. I think this is just one of the assumptions you made that needs to be looked at more closely.

          • Mel Tisdale says:

            You live a very nice life, Jody. The problem is that if the whole of the human race lived as you do, we would run out of land pdq. (Yes, that is another assumption.) I will admit that I am in no place to argue, having about two hectares to myself – mostly sandy soil and currently with a nice show of weeds. Yes, my assumptions do need to be questioned as do those of others – and examined now, before the ungazi hits the fan, is surely the best time to do so, yet, do we hear anything other than cans being kicked down the road? Not in my experience.) My main point is that I don’t believe we can ditch the Industrial Revolution by going backwards as if it were one big mistake. I contend that we need to develop a post Industrial Revolution life that employs technology for the benefit of all. You are right about the TV hours and the like (I don’t own a TV and have not done so for many years. And I could not care less about having the latest iPhone, or whatever similar device is all the rage.) The technology that I see as vital is energy production and associated matters.

            I suppose what I was reacting to is the large proportion of the commenters herein who see living off grid as the be all and end all – a box I put you into, perhaps a little hastily. Living off grid might be best for them, but at the expense of the wider population. In addition to be rather selfish, it is hardly helpful from the wider perspective of the problems we know are headed our way and they are not going to get solved if those who do consider the issues important, i.e. those whose subscribe to this blog, are all too busy comparing the size of their homesteads – like some mass exhibition of penis envy – to force the powers that be to get off their butts and start doing the things we pay them to, instead of planning where their next campaign contributions are coming from and which revolving door they will exit and re-enter through should they lose their seat at the next election.

            • Don Stewart says:

              I am pretty sure I referred you to this previously. But I doubt you have read it or thought about it.


              As a rule, the way to increase yields is to put more feet on the soil. It’s not about using nuclear energy to exponentially increase the resources put into the industrial food system. Your assumption that the real scientific agricultural methods are ‘a step backward’ is just wrong.

              I’ve no intention of arguing with you about whether nuclear is a good way or a bad way to produce electricity. Just that your characterization of true scientific agriculture as a ‘step backward’ is terribly misinformed.

              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              “More feet on the soil,” Don, sounds fine, until you have to decide what to do with them when the crops are growing quietly without the need for any feet on any soil. I live in the middle of a crop growing area and it seems to me that there is precious little going on outside of harvest and sowing time from mid summer to late summer or early autumn depending on the weather.

              Surely one the biggest benefits that the Industrial Revolution ushered in was the use of traction engines that took over the donkeywork that was being done by the farm hands. Progress has given us the combined harvester and other mechanisations. If we had to prepare the land, sow the seeds and harvest the prairies by hand, just where would that army of labourers live? And just what would they do when their feet are not needed on the soil? And if we do come up with something, it is more than likely that for each individual, one or the other of the types of work will not suit them. Surely it has to be better to develop our technology so that it takes the back-breaking work away from humans and frees them to do things from which they might extract some pleasure.

              If we, as a species, went on a war-footing and saw it as essential that we electrify heavy transport, farm machinery and the like, I am sure that a solution would be forthcoming that removed our dependence on oil. Failing that, we might just have to resort to more feet on the soil, and heaven help us. It sure as hell will not suit me and people like me. I am creative, I like messing about with computers and I like messing about in my workshop, In contrast, I came bottom of the class at gardening in school (yes, the school had soil upon which we were expected to put our feet) and have spent my life trying to keep my feet as far off the soil as possible ever since. I doubt that I am alone when I say that the prospect of working on the land with my feet on the soil fills me with dread. I rather think we are at opposite ends of the spectrum, Don, don’t you?

            • Don Stewart says:

              You obviously still haven’t read the reference. These farmers do live on the land. I’m really not interested in hearing more of your excuses to keep doing what is obviously not working until you actually read the reference.

              Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              I did read the reference, Don, but I was applying its recommendations onto our western lifestyle. We have a load of other work that ‘needs’ doing (inverted commas because obviously one can argue about the need for many of todays jobs). I just don’t see the technique you recommend fitting into our world, sorry. It is not for nothing that we are referred to as the developed world.

            • Scott says:

              Greetings Mel, Hey – isn’t one of those big modern day tractors equal to like doing the work of hundreds of farm animals in a day? We are surely going to have trouble with that one, last night Bio diesel being made on farms was something I read somewhere, is that any hope for the smaller farmers? Perhaps, but I am sure it no hope for the large scale industrial farms we have today, looks like a problem if we run short on diesel in the years ahead.

              I think if we could indeed invent a decent battery, you know one that could run a car for 500 miles, then we would have something, and these batteries maybe strong enough to power a locomotive, but there is nothing in sight now, just expensive batteries that have little range and not enough to power the locomotives.


            • Mel Tisdale says:

              You make some good points, Scott. I cannot see how we can possibly support food production for the masses if we divide the land into small plots and try and allocate them to families to feed themselves. The administration of such a system would be a minefield, not to mention the handling of claims of unfair treatment because some have better plots than others and so on. And then we have the problem of water supply (as ever). Who should have the well and how much they can charge, and who sorts out disputes etc. etc. etc. Such a system might work o.k. in an area where it has evolved out of custom and practice over a great many years, but to try and impose it from scratch – no chance.

              If we are going to feed the masses, we are going to need ‘big ag’. One has only to look at the effect a bad harvest in America has on grain prices worldwide to see just how important it is. Big Ag needs oil to work, and as Gail has told us, supply of that is going to be a problem. I would like to see an emergency effort to develop a means, or many means, of electrifying the big tractors you mention, together with the big trucks we need to move stuff around, not least of which includes food. But that is never going to happen while we cling to the dream of impossible methods where we all feed ourselves. Or is the idea whose name cannot be spoken that those who live in cities must be allowed to wither on the vine? I rather think they might have a contrary opinion on that, and therein lies the rub. It all depends on the quality of government that each nations has and having seen them in action, courtesy of YouTube, I don’t have much hope, unless the solution involves Playdough, Lego bricks or paper and crayons.

            • Scott says:

              Well said Mel, That is the way I see it too, with all these people to feed in cities, we are stuck with big ag. until such a time the world population is what it was perhaps a hundred or more years ago.

              I hope an effort is made very soon to electrify also.


          • Mel,
            You live on 2 hectares….of sandy soil! Wow, I am envious. I live on 1 hectare of heavy clay. Of that I use about a third of for growing food and animals. If the people you associate with are more into comparing the size of their homestead, than sharing their knowledge of homesteading, then I wouldn’t consider them worth envying.

            The assumption that we don’t have enough land…is this really true? I live near a small city with a population of about 100,000. Surrounding our community are thousands of acres of farm land that is currently planted with corn and soybeans. If the banks were to collapse or couldn’t loan money to big farmers for whatever reason, most of that land would sit idle. Although occasionally I am starting to see a few small farmers working their land with ‘old fashioned’ i.e. small tractors. It would require significant manual labor, but I think it would be quite possible to grow enough food to feed our community.

            In fact, our community has four farmers markets. People who sell at the market have complained that sales are dropping because of all the competition from new small farmers and from families growing their own food. Interesting problem I think. We have grown the small farmers to the point where we have more of them than customers. So the supply is there, now we need the customer.

            I am sure it would be a massive adjustment for most people, but I think our small farmers and urban families could provide enough food for our community if the global supply were to dry up. People will need to eat less meat and dairy, more beans and whole grains, and much more seasonal fruit and vegetables, much as our grandparents did. But we wouldn’t starve. Might even get healthier! I grant you, this is not true for other regions of the world. Time to move if you can.

            If you are serious about growing crops on sandy soil you need to add lots and lots of compost and mulch. You might also investigate dry land agriculture and crops that do well in sandy soil. You might also try figuring out which weeds make animal fodder, or are beneficial as food and medicinal. It’s surprising how many weeds are good herbs. Goats are also very good at eating bushy weeds and don’t require much in the way of housing. Offer up that vast acreage of yours to someone who needs pasture for a herd of goats. In a month or two, no weeds! Add a few pigs for the summer and the soil will be turned over and free of perennial plant roots such as dandelion. Of course, crop rotation with animals on pasture is a very old fashioned technology! 🙂

            • Scott says:

              Hello Jody, I think it was Mel that said that we do not have enough land for all 7 or so billion to live as you do and as some of us with our small plots of land, gardens and livestock, but I wish they could. Probably not enough land with water out there to do it so they are doing it with the factory farms which are hell for many animals which also worries me. So I guess it is better that most stay living in the cities rather than overrunning the country side, what else can we do? I do not know but that is the scary thought during collapse of the cities overrunning the countryside and out on the roads wandering aimlessly, that keeps coming to mind.

              We have a rather large garden this year, but no chickens yet although I have a coupe ready to put up, the thing is that we do like to camp a little and get away and you know the animals really need daily attention, so eventually we will get some chickens and maybe a goat but may have to give up some camping trips!


          • Mel,
            Sorry I was typing my last post and didn’t see your most recent one. So you don’t want to work in the soil. that’s ok too. Can you fix things in your workshop? That would be a skill others will need. Can you find someone who wants to grow food but has no land? Offer them the opportunity to work your land for a share of the food.

            We don’t all have to love our feet on and our hands in the soil. Me, I was born this way, according to my mother. I have loved being in the dirt forever. The first thing I want to do when I see good soil is dip my hands in it and take a big whiff. Nothing better than the earthy smell of good soil! So I guess you could say that we really are at opposite ends of the dirt loving spectrum. That’s ok as long as someone else is willing to trade food for whatever skills you have.

            • Don Stewart says:

              With your permission, I’ll tag onto this.

              Mel, look around your community and see who could use some food. Do you have a local church or other institution which regularly feed the hungry? I assume you have some money. Build some raised beds and let some local people come and grow food for the local church. My community garden provides hundreds of pounds of food to those institutions which feed the hungry every year.

              Another alternative. Find a young couple who want to farm but can’t afford the land. (All the money printing around the world has horribly inflated agricultural land prices.) Let them build a simple home on the land and farm it and share the food with you. They are able to make a living and you get food security in the case of a collapse.

              The local government won’t permit the young couple to build a simple dwelling because of the local housing codes which demand that a McMansion be constructed? You are a political veteran. Get active. Make the local politicos lives so miserable that they stop persecuting people.

              That should keep you busy for a year or two….Don Stewart

            • Mel Tisdale says:

              Thanks for all your suggestions, Don. I have yet to watch the Greening of the Desserts video and will reply to that when I have done so.

              In the meantime there is one overriding fact that closes a lot of doors: I am a pensioner and thanks to three marriages, two divorces and one death, I don’t have a lot of spare cash with which follow through on many of your suggestions. Don’t feel sorry for me because there has to be an upside. I am convinced that when we add up all the plusses and minuses of all of our situations, be it personal, or more general, the bottom line shows one big round zero. (Put a pedestrian crossing near a busy road junction and the cars will be going slower, but the drivers will have a lot of distractions, or make a car suspension with minimal unsprung weight and the ride will be excellent, but the suspension members will have minimal strength, or be very expensive, to name the two considerations that started me on the road to that philosophy. It makes making decisions a doddle!)

              Oh by the way, I am English, I just don’t happen to live there, for reasons that even I don’t fully understand!

        • xabier says:


          Now, if you’re not watching TV, or playing with an i-phone, why are your two hectares weed infested? Either become a good custodian of the land, or give it over to those who know what to do with it.

          And since when was self-reliance and sufficiency a form of selfishness? It seems to me it is the start of being a useful human being. To hold land and not cultivate it is perhaps the height of self-indulgence…..

          What did the old anarchists say? ‘Those who won’t work don’t deserve to be fed?’

          • Mel Tisdale says:

            Xabier, do you seriously think that I am happy with the state of my land? I have had it sprayed with weed killer, had it ploughed (several times) to put the dead weeds into the sandy soil and finally I have had a crop planted, which hardly grew due to the state of the land and an extended period of zero rainfall just when it needed it. As for your suggestion that I give it over to those who might make better use of it, none of the local farmers are interested in it, even with a rent-free arrangement, which I thought might put some organic material into soil so that I can eventually grow things on it with some success. The land is in Eastern Europe and is not classed as agricultural land (obviously for good reason). Though it does have building permission and permission to grow trees, which are not cheap.

            Regarding your second paragraph, promoting a self-sufficient life-style is a selfish act if there is not enough land for everyone to do so. It is also a selfish act if those doing so are not going to do the work for the society in which they are members when their land demands their attention, which has to take priority, surely. Certainly, if my experience is anything to go by, things can go pear-shaped very quickly with crops. Further, it is a selfish act when that lifestyle lead