Reaching Limits to Growth: What Should our Response Be?

Oil limits seem to be pushing us toward a permanent downturn, including a crash in credit availability, loss of jobs, and even possible government collapse. In this process, we are likely to lose access to both fossil fuels and grid electricity. Supply chains will likely need to be very short, because of the lack of credit. This will lead to a need for the use of local materials.

The time-period is not entirely clear. Some countries, such as Greece and Syria, will be seeing these effects quite soon. Other countries may not see the full effects for perhaps ten or twenty years. What should our response be?

It seems to me that there are many different answers, depending on who we are and what our goals are. The various options are not mutually exclusive.

Option 1. Make the most of the time we have available.

If there are things that are important to you, do them now. If you have been meaning to reconnect ties with family members or old friends, now is the time to do it. If there are things you would like to accomplish that require today’s transportation and services, do them now. If you want to support local charities, now would be a good time to do it.

Appreciate what you have now. We have been privileged to live in a society where transportation is readily available and where most of us can live in homes that are comfortably heated and cooled. At the same time, we can still enjoy many of the benefits of nature—clear skies and plants and animals around us. Life expectancies in the past were generally 35 years or less. Most of us have already lived longer than we could have expected to live in the past.

Develop stronger relationships with family and community.  This is likely to be a difficult transition. It is likely to be helpful to have as many allies as possible in transition. It may be helpful to move closer to other family members. Another approach is to form or join community groups, such as a church group or a group interested in common goals. The ties a person can form are likely to be helpful regardless of what path lies ahead.

Option 2. Prepare at least a little for the future

Learn to bounce back from downturns.  When I was an editor at The Oil Drum, I was editor for a letter from a man who grew up in Kenya and returned there practically every year. He told that the people in Kenya were very happy, even though they had little material goods and mortality was high.  One thing he mentioned was that if things went wrong—the death of a child for example—people were able to mourn for a day, and then move on. They also rejoiced in things we take for granted, such as being able to obtain enough food for the current day.

Do what you can to improve your health. In the United States, we have been used to a combination of practices that lead to overweight: (1) much too large food portions, (2) much processed food including much sugar and (3) lack of exercise. If we can change our eating and exercise practices, it is likely that we can improve our health. If healthcare goes downhill, fixing our personal health somewhat protects us.

Learn what you can about first aid. Injuries are likely to be more of an issue, as we work outside more.

We will need some specialists as well. As long as we eat grains, we will need dentists. As long as babies are born, we will need helpers of some type–doctors or midwives.

If circumstances permit, plant a garden and fruit or nut trees. Eventually, all food production will need to be local. Getting from our current industrialized agricultural model to a model with local food production with little (if any) fossil fuel inputs is likely to be a difficult transition. One approach is to learn what local plants, animals, and insects are edible. Another is to attempt to grow your own. Doing the latter will generally require considerable learning about what plants grow in your area, approaches to building and maintaining soil fertility, methods of preventing erosion, and a variety of related topics.

Find alternative water supplies. We currently are dependent on a water supply chain that can be broken in a variety of ways—drought, loss of electricity, storm damage, or pollution problems. If the long-term water supply seems questionable, it may be helpful to move to another location, sooner rather than later. Alternatively, we can figure out how to bridge a gap in water supplies, such as through access to a creek or lake. For the very short-term, a water barrel of stored water might be helpful.

Figure out alternative cooking arrangements. We humans are dependent on cooking for purifying water, for allowing us to eat a wider variety of food, and for allowing us to obtain greater nutrition from the food we eat, without chewing literally half of the day. We now depend primarily on electricity or natural gas for cooking. Determine what alternative cooking arrangements can be made in your area, in the event current cooking arrangements become unavailable. An example might be an outdoor fireplace with locally gathered sticks for fuel, perhaps supplemented by a solar cooker with reflective sides.

Store up a little food to bridge a temporary supply interruption. We have troubles today with wind storms and snow storms. There are any number of other types of interruptions that could happen if businesses encounter credit problems that lead to supply chain interruptions. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Option 3. Figure out what options might work for a few years for taking care of yourself and your family 

We have a lot of goods made with fossil fuels that probably will work for a while, but likely won’t be available for the long term. Examples include solar PV, batteries, power saws, electric pumps, electric fences, bicycles, light bulbs, and many other devices that we take for granted today. Of course, as soon as any part breaks and can’t be replaced, we are likely to be “up a creek, without a paddle.”

I expect that quite a few of the permaculture solutions and organic gardening solutions are temporary solutions. They work for now, but whether they will work for the long term is less clear. We are not going to be able to make and transport organic sprays for fruit for very long and irrigation systems will need to be very simple to be resilient. Plastic wears out and even metal tools will be hard to replace.

Purchasing land for agriculture can perhaps be a partial solution for some individuals, with sufficient skills and tools. Ideally, a person will want to be part of a larger group of people using a larger piece of land, rather than a smaller group, using a smaller piece of land, because of the problem that occurs if one worker gets sick or injured. It may be helpful to have multiple non-contiguous pieces of land, to help even out impacts of bad weather and pests. Ideally, the land should be large enough so that part of the land can remain fallow, or be used for feeding animals, and can be rotated with crop-producing land.

Security is likely be a problem, especially if a single home is distant from other homes. Ideally, a family will be part of a larger group in order to provide security.

Other issues include inability to pay taxes and the government taking over property. Because of the many issues involved, any solution is, at best, temporary. Unfortunately, that may be the best we can do. As parts of the system fail, a local group may be able to support fewer people. Then the group will need to deal with how to handle this situation–everyone starve, or kick out a few members from the group, or attack another group, with the hope of obtaining control of their resources.

Option 4. Work on trying to solve the long-term problem.

There are many studies of how pre-industrial societies operated without fossil fuels and without electricity. For example, Jared Diamond gives his view of how some very early societies functioned in The World Until Yesterday. The Merchant of Prato by Iris Origo documents the life of one particular 14th century merchant, based on old letters and other documents.

Through studies of how past societies behaved, it might be possible for today’s people to develop a civilization that could be operated using only renewable resources of the types used in pre-industrial times, such as wood, water wheels, and sail boats. Such groups would probably not be able to use much metal or concrete because of the problem with deforestation when wood is used for energy-intensive operations. (Today’s so-called “renewables,” such as hydro-electric, wind turbines and solar PV require fossil fuels for manufacture and upkeep, so likely will not be available for very long.)  Heating of homes will need to be very limited as well, to prevent deforestation.

As a practical matter, the groups best equipped to make such a change are ones that have recently been hunter-gatherers and still have some memory of how they operated in the past. Perhaps some former hunter-gatherers could give instruction to others in sort of a reverse Peace Corps operation.

We do know some approaches that have been used in the past. Dogs have been used to help with herding animals, for hunting, and for warmth. Animals of various types have been used for transportation and for plowing. The downside is that animals require the use of a lot of land to produce the food needed for them to eat.

Traditional societies have used the giving of gifts and the requirement of reciprocal gift giving to increase the strength of relationships and as a substitute for our money-based financial system. With such an approach, a person gains status not by what he has, but by what he gives away.

Storytelling has been a way of passing on knowledge and entertainment for generations. Songs, games, and simple musical instruments are also part of many traditions. These are approaches that can be used in the future as well.

Option 5. Take steps toward getting population in line with likely long-term energy availability.

The world is now overfilled with people and with the many animals that people raise for food or as pets. Without fossil fuels and network electricity, we probably will not be able to feed more than a fraction of the current population of humans and domesticated animals.

Some steps we might take:

Keep family sizes small. Encourage one-child families. When a family pet dies, don’t replace it (or replace it with a smaller animal).

Eat much less meat. This could be started even now.

Option 6. Rearrange personal finances.

Paper investments are, in general, not going to be worth much, regardless of how we rearrange them, if resource availability drops greatly. Ultimately, paper investments allow us to buy goods available in the marketplace. But if there isn’t much to buy in the marketplace, they are likely to be much less helpful than we assume. Precious metals have the same difficulty–they can’t buy what is not available.

Purchasing land is theoretically better, but even land can be taken away from us by taxes or by appropriation. There is also a possibility that we may need to move, if conditions change, regardless of what property ownership conditions seem to be.

We need to learn to take each day as it comes. If we find that our bank accounts aren’t there, or that only a small fraction of the money can be withdrawn, or that the money is in the bank doesn’t buy much of anything, we need somehow to figure out a way around the situation. Very likely everyone else will be in the same boat. This is a major reason for working on substitute access to food and water supplies.

Option 7. Put more emphasis on relationships. 

Studies show that relationships are what bring happiness—not the accumulation of goods. Starting to work now on developing additional strong relationships would seem to be a worthwhile goal. In traditional societies, extended family relationships were very important.

Religions can teach us how we treat our neighbors and thus about relationships. A version of the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have then do unto you) is found in several major religions. Many readers of this blog have given up on religions as hopelessly out of date, instead choosing such “wisdom” as, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” In fact, this latter wisdom is clearly nonsense. We can expect our fossil-fuel based “toys” to lose their usefulness before our very eyes in the not too distant future. Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen are not gods, even if we are told that they are all-powerful. 

Another aspect of keeping good relationships is finding ways to mend broken relationships. One such approach is forgiveness. Another is through reconciliation procedures aimed at returning broken relationships to wholeness. Such procedures are common in small societies, according to Diamond (2012).

Option 8. Find ways to deal with the stresses of a likely downturn ahead.

As much as we would like to take one day at a time, oftentimes it is easy to worry, even though this does no good.

Even though we think we know that outcome of our current difficulties, we really do not. The universe has many physical laws. Ultimately, the source of all of these physical laws is not clear–is there a Supreme Being behind them? The story of natural selection is in many ways a miracle. The story of human existence represents more miracles—learning to control fire; learning to control our environment through agriculture; learning to modify our environment further through the use of fossil fuels. In my own personal life, I see a pattern of circumstances working together in ways I could never have expected. 

We are not the first to go through hard times. Because of my background, I find myself comforted by many Biblical passages. I am sure other religions have other passages that are also helpful.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for though art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. .  . Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. . . (Psalm 23: 4, 6)

. . . in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . . (Romans 8:28)

For me personally, more things have worked together for good than I would ever have dreamed possible. I will not rule out the possibility of this happening again in the future, regardless of what the external circumstances may look like.

Option 9. For those who are concerned about Climate Change

In my view, the changes we are encountering will bring a quick end to the use of fossil fuels. Thus, the concern that future fossil fuel use will cause rapid climate change is over-blown. If individuals would like to personally reduce their own fossil fuel use, I would suggest the following:

  • Stop eating meat now, especially that raised in our current industrial system.
  • Get rid of pets that are not providing support functions, such as hunting for food.
  • Spend less of your wages. With more of the money left in the bank or in paper investments, this money will lose value and thus will reduce spending on fossil fuel-based goods and services. (While theoretically this money could be lent out and reinvested, lack of credit availability will put an end to this practice.)
  • Use a bicycle for transport instead of a car, when possible. Or walk.
  • Purchase a more fuel efficient car, if you need to replace a current vehicle.
  • Turn down the heat in your home or apartment. Don’t use air conditioning.

I would suggest quitting your job as well, but if you quit your job, the job is likely to go to someone else, resulting in the same fossil fuel use for someone else.  Even stopping a business you own will not necessarily work, if another business will expand and take its place. If the business that ramps up is in a part of the world that uses coal as its primary fuel, stopping your local business may lead to an increase in world carbon dioxide emissions.

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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503 Responses to Reaching Limits to Growth: What Should our Response Be?

  1. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    A common conclusion from discussions on this website is that everything is going to be horrible. I participated in a Webinar this evening that I believe everyone should pay attention to. It is a discussion between Ruth Buczynski, a psychologist in Connecticut and Kelly McGonigle, a PhD researcher at Stanford. The general subject was stressful situations and how an individual perceives them and reacts to them. Consider the following as bullet points written by an amateur, and most certainly not accurate in detail, but perhaps indicative of broad themes.

    Our brain changes itself much like a muscle. If we want to strengthen a muscle, we must strain it beyond its comfort zone. If we want our brain to handle stress better, we must stress it beyond its comfort zone.

    Stress makes us more social. We make more oxytocin, which is associated with loving and caring. The oxytocin effect is particularly strong in people who are not usually very responsive to oxytocin. So a person who is usually a loner, but who finds themselves in a stressful situation, and reaches out to others, shows the greatest increased response to oxytocin. This is in contrast to the assumption that the usual response is ‘fight or flight’. (It is also consistent with what Janine Benyus said at the Omega Institute seminar last fall.) Affiliation is a core response to stress.

    Cueing the affiliation response to stress makes you healthier. Oxytocin is cardio protective and anti-inflammatory. IF you choose the sociability response, rather than fight or flight. The affiliation response also changes our epigenetics, affecting the neuroplastic parts of the brain.

    Caring for others buffers us from stress. We can choose to train ourselves in compassion. Training in compassion, in Kelly’s lab, results in decreased worries, increased happiness, with no change in stress. (My comment: In short, the stress is real and recognized as such, but the emotional response changes.)

    A lab in Germany trains people off the street in about 6 hours.

    Increased activity in the reward networks in the brain. We no longer collapse in the face of suffering. The training fundamentally alters our tendency to avoid suffering or unpleasantness. The training can be seen as a chain of meditation techniques:
    1. Mindfulness meditation…what is happening right now?
    2. Metta meditation…good wishes for everyone
    3. Compassion…recognizing that bad things are happening and doing what we can
    (Sharon Salzburg led a compassion workshop at Duke Hospital a couple of years ago.)

    Kelly is currently involved in laboratory tests with patients with chronic pain and with war veterans with PTSD. Anecdotally, she is getting very good results.

    Pain is a complex mind/body experience. The mind interpretation is more important than the raw sensation.

    Suffering is particularly dependent on the Interior Cingulated Cortex. Patients in frmi machines can pretty quickly learn neurofeedback techniques to control pain. The machines, of course, are expensive. But it seems that ordinary meditation may have a very similar effect on the Interior Cingulated Cortex. So there are available methods for teaching your brain to regulate your brain.

    Finally, Kelly talked about willpower. Decades of studies have convinced most researchers that willpower is a finite resource. If we are using our willpower to resist sugary desserts, we have less to spend on exercising or resisting credit card debt. However, it turns out that the mindset controls the effect of the use of willpower. If we perceive that willpower is limited, it is limited and we don’t have enough to go around. If we perceive that will power is like a muscle, and the more we use it, the more powerful it becomes, then the more we have available.

    Final Advice: Embrace our brain’s bias for avoidance, and move away from avoidance strategies.

    My Coda: I hypothesize that people involved in Transition Towns and solar power and permaculture and ecovillages and such endeavors who are able to look clearly at the challenges, but remain focused on what they can do to ameliorate the situation, in association with others, will be far better off than those who delude themselves, or those who give up because everything is hopeless, or those who try to grab what they can for themselves while the grabbing is good.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I expect that some religious people may also do better, if they do not have their focus on “more stuff” and “looking out for number one”.

  2. Susan Norris says:

    Hi, Gail,

    Everything you mention in this post is what the “transition towns” movement is working on: relocalizing, reskilling, reconnecting with neighbors, etc. Have you heard of transition towns? It was started in the UK (and is apparently working very well there) but is having trouble getting folks interested here in the States (I know, I tried where I live).


  3. Pingback: Granice wzrostu: Jak mamy zareagować? | Exignorant's Blog

  4. Daddio7 says:

    I live in rural north Florida. There is a 40 acre potato field next to my house with the plants just emerging. The owner has a large barn and greenhouse two hundred yards from my house. The two nearest neighbors are Mormons. They all have young children, this old farmer (the farm used to be mine) will be a big help helping secure the area and work the greenhouse. We are all well armed.

    With the Balkan and Alaskan oil fields along with western coal we will have sufficient energy for our nation if it is distributed correctly. I’m hoping those two oceans will protect us from the rest of the world.

    Short term may be the worst. My wife worked at a Dollar discount store. One day the EBT system for the state was down all day. By the afternoon there were almost food riots in the parking lot. Imagine if the credit card machines were down for a week, or month! The government would have to declare martial law to protect food shipments. I have a month of staple food items stored and am starting my summer garden. I’m hoping order can be restored in amount of time. Many of my acquaintances are millionaire farmers. Their co-op meetings are held two miles from my house. Their grandfathers and great grandpas settled this area 100 years ago. They’re sure to make a plan.

    • Paul says:

      I hate to throw cold water on the plan but I don’t think the threat comes from outside the US rather the problem is with the 300M+ many of whom own copious numbers of guns and ammo.

      When the SHTF most people in the US will be starving — because most food in the US is produced using pesticides and fertilizers made from oil and gas. When they stop flowing — and as we can see from this article — that day is not far off — the massive industrial farms will cease to produce any food because the soil will be dead without these inputs.

      Once the killer zombies have looted Walmart (within hours) they will then set their sites on all but the most remote places that are producing food organically.

      Given the choice, the US is perhaps the last place I would want to be when the SHTF — imagine this with guns:

      • Yes, gun ownership is a problem. Makes it harder for someone to think he can set up a place in the country, with no interference. But violence has been an issue for a long time, with our without guns.

      • Daddio7 says:

        Our supply system is akin to a series of conveyer belts. A shock to our credit system could stop them but the materials will still be there. There is enough food and fertilizer for a couple of years if it protected, that is what the guns are for. Until the militias get handle on things the zombie hoard will pour out of the cities looking for food. Bad times for sure but oil and coal will not disappear over night. I hope our government has plans for long term shortages and the collapse of our privileged lifestyle but I’m prepared for the worst.

        • sheilach2 says:

          They have “plans” alright but their not for our benefit but for them to maintain control.

          Prison camps, deadly drones, military weapons used on civilians. The people who control the governments are ruthless & greedy & will do what ever it takes to control our lives & when that fails, they will kill us without regret as we are mere worthless eaters or cannon fodder and they are working to replace the cannon fodder with robots & killer drones.

          Don’t for one moment believe that the government is here to help us, they know there is no longer the resources to keep capitalism “working”, look at how the 5% now have 90% of the “wealth”, we are expendable, they will protect those they believe are useful to their ambitions.

          Real wealth won’t be in “money” but in fertile, watered LAND & organic non GMO seeds.

          Only when their oil runs out & their war machines stand idle can we have a chance against them, until then, act like a harmless “sheeple”. Baaaaa.

          • Paul says:


            Everyone knows about the military-industrial complex, which, in his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned had the potential to “endanger our liberties or democratic process” but have you heard of the “Deep State?” Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member with the powerful House and Senate Budget Committees, joins Bill to talk about what he calls the Deep State, a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state, which is “out of control” and “unconstrained.”


  5. robdelate: I don’t think we know what forms that religion will take in the future. My guess is that it will be a lot like permaculture. Some kind of system of thought and action that makes people feel more secure about themselves and the future. Gods can be more or less secular, they don’t have to be ridiculously perfect like the god of Christian theology. It could be Mother Nature, Gaiia, or maybe the spirit of Bill Mollison. We got here by group selection, then cultural selection. Religion happens to be one of the strongest drivers of group and cultural selection. It’s why we’re here. Secularism has only been around since the beginnings of Capitalism and the age of Fossil Fuels. We can afford to be secular now, but once civilization collapses, most of us will be so scared that we will run right into the arms of religion.

    • Paul says:

      Sun-god worship makes a lot of sense to me — the sun brings warmth, food, security from the night — whereas the worship of pop gods has brought nothing but destruction to the world.

    • robdelaet says:

      Hi Charles, could well be that future generations that survived the collapse will be zealously religious of some sort. It just won’t work now for the ones who are not religious.

  6. edpell says:

    Current “New Scientist” has an article on burning underground coal to produce methane. There is 15,000 gigtons of coal that can be used in this manner. There are several Australian companies doing this at several locations around the planet. It borrows technology from frack gas drilling.

  7. Hotel California says:

    Very insightful blog and opinions & comments, even if we don’t all agree. Better than putting your head in the sand and thinking that oil will last forever. My immediate plans are to finish restoring my 1968 GTO and drive it as much as possible over the next few years. My wife and I are trying to figure out where we should move to so that our children and grandchildren will have a decent chance at nice lives. Our research is pointing us to East TX, GA, FL, Nor CAL or Southern OR. I still believe that solar energy will be the dominant energy source for houses after 2040. Yes, you need solar panels and battery for electricity or rubber hoses to heat water on your roof and store it for cooking & showers. I believe these will be plentiful thru oil extraction and recycling efforts thru 2099 or beyond. At some point refining what little oil is left to gasoline will be impractical and we’ll just turn remaining oil into plastics and rubber. And just think of how much fun it will be to ride the train, pedal that bicycle, go to church on Sunday and swap canned fruits & veggies with your friends and family again.

    • Interguru says:

      This reminds me of a probably apocryphal story of an european gentleman in the 30’s who saw the disaster of World War II coming, sold his house and business, and moved his family to the most isolated place on Earth he could find, an island called Guadalcanal.

      IMHO the only for-sure thing we can do is have a good social network.

  8. Interguru says:

    If you want something else to worry about: In 1859 a massive solar storm, called the Carrington Event , hit the Earth. It induced high currents across telegraph lines, disrupting communications and actually set some telegraph receivers on fire. Should such a storm hit today it might wipe out our electric grid for months or years. DHS has a report on this. Today this would result in not only no oil but much worse.

  9. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    I would like to tie a few thoughts together to perhaps shed some light on the choices individual families, and small groups of families, can make and how the consequences of those choices might play out in terms of a contracting money economy.

    I’ll start with a conversation between Geoff Lawton and Paul Wheaton, discussing numerous topics…from the trials and tribulations of running a blog to details about permaculture and whether the label ‘permaculture’ has become degraded in the United States. If you have lots of time to listen, you can find the whole thing here: 1 2

    If you trust me to make a reasonable excerpt, you are excused from listening to everything. Geoff says that when he is asked about all the various systems for biological farming (Joel Salatin, rotational grazing, organic, biodynamic, Fukuoka, Ruth Stout and Emilia Hazelip, etc.) he says ‘Yes, they are all good. But more is required. One has to develop an overall design which ties together water, food, energy, social life, and so forth. When a permaculture designer takes on such a total system design, s/he exposes themselves to second guessing by lots of narrow experts. But it is the total system that exhibits strengths or weaknesses…not narrowly specialized solutions. So there really is no alternative to thinking in permaculture terms. What you choose to call it is a different issue.’

    The second resource I will call on is Chris Martenson’s current interview with Dan Ariely about how human psychology related to abstract money virtually guarantees recurrent bubbles. I believe it is behind a paywall, and you have to be a member of to access it. So, again, if you trust me…’It is unfortunate that humans are irrational and easily sold things which either make their problems worse or don’t really satisfy their needs, and that corporations are very smart at selling non-solutions to the public….Bankers mostly aren’t really bad people, they are just working in an environment which rewards bad behavior. And we are doing nothing at all to change that environment.’

    The third resource is the current issue of Yes! magazine, which I do not believe is available on the Internet. The theme of the issue is Education, and how all the hyper-testing is a big mistake. I particularly call your attention to the ‘outdoor education’ article which lauds the results of educating children mostly outdoors. The article describes kindergartens in the US and in Germany where the children spend 90 percent of their time outside, in all kinds of weather. A moderately popular bumper sticker here is ‘No Child Left Indoors’. This method for educating children is just about the exact opposite of educating children to do well on multiple choice computer based tests.

    Now I want to tie these resources together and try to suggest an answer to the question ‘how should we educate out children?’ I will renounce any claim to being an expert. I did raise three children who spent a lot of time in the Missouri woods and rivers…and none of them have been in jail (yet). Most everyone thought I was giving them way too much freedom…clambering up rocks that they might fall off of, canoeing down rivers they might drown in, and bushwhacking through the forests which might contain copperheads, etc.

    If a person is trying to design a life for themselves and their children (the Geoff Lawton challenge), and if one thinks that the resources available to public education will shrink even as the stupidity of much of that education increases, then designing the homestead and the home economy to provide a rich educational experience is essential. One would be well advised to remember Ariely’s observations about the fundamental weaknesses in corporate dependent systems for everything, including education. And if one thinks that, in an Age of Limits, the world the children will have to navigate is going to involve more living in the physical, chemical, and biological world than it will involve occupying cubicles and moving stuff around on screens, then having children spend a lot of time outdoors and being physically and mentally involved in things like harvesting water and growing food and providing shelter makes eminent sense.

    Take, for example, the stories in Yes! about how kindergartners cope just fine with cold, wet, raw days in Massachusetts. Now connect that dot to the notion of building a very small dwelling which is mostly about ‘shelter and rainwater collection’, not a place to go to where the termperature is always 72 and it never rains. And think about how a very small dwelling needs less of everything. Also think about the numerous advantages of getting the neighborhood kids together to engage in projects which actually make a difference. In other words, try to fulfill Geoff Lawton’s suggestion about tying lots of things together into a total system.

    I won’t pretend that the preceding describes how one might go about learning Quantum Mechanics. But it just may be that Quantum Mechanics was a child of the Fossil Fuel Era, while learning how to live abundantly in a much lower energy future is of increasing importance. And it may be that very smart and resilient and energetic children are a parent’s best insurance in a doubtful world.

    Don Stewart

  10. Christian says:

    As all those participating at G20, and starting by the Argentinean ones who had fired at least one economist who suggested changing the course, Mr. Hockey is just a liar. This kind of people will be very lucky if they don’t pass under the guillotine one of these days.

    Btw, Gail you said your last forecast on energy was the result of data actualization to Limits algorithm. You highlighted what the Italian physicist Ugo Bardi calls The Seneca Cliff, which means the falling being sharper than has been the way up. Both of you use Limits formulae and hold this approach is better than symmetric Hubbert’s model. But there are two dissonances. One is that you see the Cliff appear in the energy production, while he sees it in industrial and food production (however, energy production do really is an industrial one). The other is that you say the cliff is due to lack of investment capital and he says it is due to what in Limits is called “persistent pollution”, even if he does not dislikes to include bureaucracy under this label.
    Bardi’s cliff, here:

    • I expect that pollution plays a role as well. Ugo doesn’t understand the financial implications and is very concerned about climate change.

      • Ann says:

        A lot of commentators are evaluating a new essay from the book, “The Party is Over: How The Republicans Went Crazy, The Democrats Became Useless, And The Middle Class Got Shafted” by Mike Lofgren. His essay about what he calls the Deep State can be found here:

        Charles Hugh Smith has a post about this essay. His post can be found here:

        Juan Cole also comments on the essay:

        I expect Nicole Foss will weigh in at some point, as well, if for no other reason than to counter Charles Hugh Smith on inflation/deflation and multiple claims to underlying wealth.

        I am very interested to read your comments on these thoughtful discussions.

        • Christian says:

          I don’t get all the details, but what is called Deep State is what Argentinean economist Walter Graziano studied in a couple of books. To come back to our main theme here, it’s interesting to note Graziano saw very clearly TPTB (US and UK banks, universities, politicians, MSM and some industries, and CFR structuring it all) are directly standing on oil power, and he wondered what would happen if this was to fall (he wrote in early 2000s and was aware of ASPO’s work). His books helped me to understand why UN never counted with an energy agency: UN was mainly a creation of TPTB with specific purposes, and monitoring world energy flows and policies was not at all one of them. The very core of the economy is to be left out of public discussion and relegated to IEA and OPEC, IEA being directly controlled by oil majors and thus by the “powers in the shadow” who own and, especially, control them. According to Graziano’s approach, we can infer Deep State will be severely hit in case oil majors go bankrupt, and that it will completely disappear if too big to fail banks do so.
          Pretty soon it will be us or them.

  11. Hartley Schultz says:

    Hello once again Gail,
    What do you think of the Federal Treasurer, Mr Joe Hockey’s pronouncements at the G20 summit?
    According to him new policies should increase global GDP more than $2 trillion and create “tens of millions of new jobs”. G20 countries will boost new private investment, particularly in infrastructure, increase employment and workforce participation, particularly from women. He also states that “We are absolutely committed to increase trade and spur greater competition around the world and within our own economies. It all sounds lovely doesn’t it?
    In the face of massive federal budget cuts and raising of the pension age, I also note that in Australia, we are now facing a crisis in youth unemployment Prosperity just around the corner isn’t off to a good start here.
    While Mr Hockey also stated that ‘the global economy was yet to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth” he wants us to become more like China in order to achieve employment growth How well do you think this will work?
    Well will the G20 fix all our problems in one go, with a golden age of prosperity just around the corner?
    Kind regards H.

    • I certainly don’t think the plan will work.

      I notice that the article says:
      Mr Hockey said reaching the goal would require increasing investment but that it could create “tens of millions of new jobs”

      Increasing investment is precisely the problem. It needs physical resources that we can’t get out, without prices being a whole lot higher than they are now. Prices can’t go higher without wages going higher, and wages don’t rise, when energy prices are high. Oil companies are faced with inadequate cash flow for new investment. They cannot keep on borrowing more and more–it simply doesn’t work.

    • edpell says:

      Mr Hockey is a politician. Politicians always say “all is well” and “tomorrow will be even better”, thanks to me. They lie.

      • Interguru says:

        ‘ Politicians always say “all is well” and “tomorrow will be even better”, thanks to me. They lie’
        If they tell the truth, we don’t elect them. We get what we deserve.

        • xabier says:



          In the 18th century in Britain, when the franchise was very restricted, candidates literally said: ‘Vote for me, and I’ll pay well for it! It wasn’t hinted at but stated openly on the hustings.’

          The system was that corrupt – but was it really so bad? The electors got on with their lives and businesses, saw politics for the farce it is and just hoped to benefit a bit from bribes – no empty promises regarding the future, only hard cash was acceptable.

          Today, the politicians get payed off by the corporate interest groups behind the scenes, and the electors get empty promises of rainbows and unicorns just around the corner (which suits the mental level of many of course). Now that is corruption!

  12. sheilach2 says:

    There won’t be any more space shuttles because they are too expensive for what they do & 2, we are spending too much $ on endless resource wars to spend on unnecessary programs, like space travel, social programs or infrastructure.
    I have noticed that more oil majors are reporting declines in “production”. How much longer will they be able to find investors to fund their expensive & poor productivity that is fracking?

    As Bush said, “this baby is going down” & the elites are grabbing all the wealth they can from the economy, or what’s left of it before TSHTF as they know it will & soon.

    Next on their list – triage. Who will be on THAT LIST?
    The old, the infirm & “useless eaters” like me.

  13. timl2k11 says:

    Here might be a good conversation starter about “collapse”. Why don’t we have a successor to the Space Shuttle program? With new, more modern technology, why is there no superior replacement for NASA’s space shuttle program?

    • InAlaska says:

      I firmly believe that the “high water” mark of our civilization was the Apollo moon landing in 1969. The Greatest Generation had won the last “good” war against evil and we were on our way to wining the Cold War. The future looked bright and promising. After 1969, we had Watergate, the US went off the gold standard, defeat in Vietnam, the First Oil Crisis. The 1980s were a retrenchment. But Democracy began to be corrupted by corporate power. It has been downhill for our civilization and our society ever since that last great human achievement in space. I’m sorry to say it, but we are 40 years past our expiration date.

      • in 1970 the USA became a net oil importer, that was the tipping point. (or high water mark if you will) Few are willing to acknowledge that, but everything changed at that point. Up to 1969 the excess in the economy that oil provided gave the impetus for such endeavours as the apollo project.
        The moon landings brought no long term commercial benefit the planet earth, it was in effect a job creation scheme for PhD’s at NASA.
        Any trip where you return with just photographs and souvenirs is called a vacation. Had there been anything worthwhile to be had on the moon, commercial enterprise would have been there decades ago.
        This is why there will be no meaningful space exploration from now on, we are running out of the necessary (energy) means to support it, and as we are didcovering right now, the necessary energy to support everything else

    • Tim, despite all the ‘new technology’, space exploration vehicles still use the same means to get off the ground as the wright brothers, ie: exploding chemicals.
      Only the rate at which fuel is burned has changed, and the machines in which it is burned. We have not been able to alter the laws of physics or gravity. You cannot create wealth by burning fuel, you create only an illusion of wealth.

      • timl2k11 says:

        Sorry folks, I wasn’t clear. I meant that this might be a good conversation starter with people you know. I understand why the NASA Space Shuttle program has ended and that there won’t be anything replacing it. The signs of collapse are everywhere if one is willing to connect the dots.

    • edpell says:

      SpaceX better and cheaper. NASA a boat load of unfunded pension liabilities and political pork.

  14. edpell says:

    Some thing change and some persist. I live about 50 miles from West Point, the U.S. Army college. I am quite sure that in 20 years West Point will still be there and still be functioning. On the other hand IBM used to employe 35,000 people locally. Now they are down to about 5,000 and they have said they are selling half of that off and there are rumors the other half will be gone by 2015.

    • xabier says:


      That’s quite an eloquent contrast: the expensive and tax-funded organization of the state endures, while the real local economy declines. Just like Rome, which drove the peasantry into the ground to fund the armies.

  15. Survival Acres says:

    We absolutely do not have 10 or 20 years left. In that time frame, the majority of civilization will have utterly collapsed. It’s anybody’s real guess on what will remain, but if civilization ‘continues’ to exist at all, it won’t be anything like it is today.

    This is a very interesting science piece from David Wasdell:

    Everyone should read this. My own readings on these topics (over two decades) indicate that he is correct.

    Soon, temperatures will be far too hot to support any life on the planet. All the other ‘projections’ about growth, future, technology, dreams and ambitions of humankind are now made moot and are in reality, a distraction from the escalating disaster now unfolding on us all.

    What we do with the time now left to us as a species and as individuals is all that matters.

  16. Daniel Hood says:

    Fossil Fuels & Industrial Revolution

    **Since 1800 we experienced sustained growth for 200 years across:
    Energy production
    Food production
    Economic activity
    Population growth (1billion 1800 to 7.2billion 2014) 214 years

    **In 2006 energy production levelled off:
    Developing world continued to grow
    Developed world came to a standstill

    **2015-2020 Sustained declines will commence across:
    Energy production (Conventional declines outpace unconventional increases in production)
    Food production
    Economic activity
    Population decline (7.2billion+2015-2020 down to 1-3billion 2100) 86years

    Just live everyday as if tomorrow it’s your last. Appreciate the fact this post WW2 period may prove to be the greatest our species will ever have experienced. I’m focussing on deconsumerism, agriculture, health, fitness, friends, family.

    Finally I leave you with words of wisdom.

    “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

    Richard Dawkins

    The end.

    • MJ says:

      Good post. 50% of the world’s population is under age 30.Tht still leaves over 3 1/2 Billion. To get to 1 to 2 Billion people that can support a “solar life”, who do you think will be “cut” first?

      • Daniel Hood says:

        Simple enough to answer the weakest of our species both physically/mentally. Low IQs are equally screwed and that includes the naive or feeble minded. Phase 3 will be about zero sum.

        Phase 1 was “growth” 200 years (we still had wars when things were great)
        Phase 2 was the “plateau” 10-15 years ***we’re approaching the end of phase2***
        Phase 3 will be the “decline” 100 years (the zero sum survival game)

        In phase 2, we’re already seeing the break down of law & order globally and we’ve not even commenced phase 3 yet which will be known as the greatest powerdown in the history of our species.

        Priorities in phase 3 will be about ultra survival mode. Some interesting strategies/tactics will be deployed both at an individual, regional, national, international level.

        Phase 3 will be a zero sum game fighting for:


        If you know the enemy and yourself you need not fear a hundred battles, if you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat, if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, your time in phase 3 will not be much fun.

        Politicians/elite will lie and make many outrageous attempts to convince the world we’re still in phase 1. Let’s see how long they can pull that off for. Have you seen the kicked out of Kiev Ukrainian dictator’s palace recently? Gold plated toilet seats etc. When people finally realise we’re in Phase 3 and the world is in decline, those same elites with gold plated toilet seats will end up being stuffed head first in them.

        It’s incredible to think we’re living through this period. I’m 35, no kids, living in a nation used to all the crazyness.

        Time to gear up my friend on the battlefield.

        • xabier says:

          Such poverty of imagination and lack of good taste: give someone gold, and they use it to decorate a toilet seat!

          Symbolic of our senseless extraction and squandering of resources….

        • MJ says:

          Well, looking at the “numbers” and the time span that will bring them down to a reasonable level, we are indeed looking at craziness.

          • robdelaet says:

            I find intelligence overrated as a factor for survival. Sturdy, simple rural people who are largely outside the modern monetary economy will probably adapt better to collapse and have less inhibitions to defend themselves against others at all cost than highly educated, urban city dwellers. Every time I have educated, traveled Dutch friends over, I am surprised at their naivety with regards to the toughness of life outside their well protected environment. They would be shot before they would be able to shoot. Having these sturdy people around as part of a larger outfit (including some intelligent, experienced planners) enhances the survivability of everyone in that group.

          • garand555 says:

            @robdelaet: IMO, we conflate being educated with being intelligent. Intelligence will be an asset, as will being “sturdy.” Somebody who is sturdy with a high innate intelligence but poor education may very well be better off a PhD who has lived a life sheltered by the industrial age. But what about somebody who is educated, intelligent and tough?

            Luck will also play a role. Even the toughest SOB on the planet is not immune to a 30 caliber bullet to the back of the head.

            • robdelaet says:

              Agree mostly with you to the point where it is very difficult to be highly educated if you don’t have the hardware to match, but I have seen very intelligent uneducated people, that’s for sure.

          • garand555 says:

            I think you also need to consider what “highly educated” means. I doubt you need to be hyper-intelligent to get an MBA. That’s not to say that people with MBAs cannot be very, very smart, but there is a difference between an MBA and a PhD in mathematics. I bring this up because a lot of our current thinking with education has more to do with credentials and less to do with the knowledge and critical thinking that should come along with education. People want that piece of paper that says Diploma on it so that they can get a job.

    • Alfred Russel Wallace says:

      Yes, all those unborn people (that infinite number) must be truly cursing their bad luck. One of the stupidest things Mr Dawkins ever said, IMO.

  17. Ellen Anderson says:

    Hi Donn – I think the Amish are a wonderful community and a great resource for those of us who are trying to get back to using draft animal power. But they are still quite reliant upon the industrial world that produces the metal for their carts and farm tools – and the paint, and the biothane for the harnesses. They are doing a pretty good business supplying all of the farmers who are getting back into using animals but they are not delivering all of those products in a wagon train. My forecart came in a truck so huge it couldn’t get into my driveway!

    I find that the most productive use for my horse is for pulling logs out of the woods and also for making a lot of great manure. I don’t know whether oxen could do that but your mules can, right? Still most homesteaders and very small farmers are more like gardeners and they are probably able to do a lot by hand if they use the right tools. I still worry about taking care of my horse when I don’t personally have acres of hayfields. So I feel that I could probably feed myself, family, goats and chickens with hand tools but that I would be hard pressed right now to make enough hay – even first cut – properly to feed the horse. In fact, not one of the horse owners around me makes his own hay. And none of the haymakers owns horses or farms with them around here. So yes, it is theoretically possible but the infrastructure is not in place. I feel that my horse is the most vulnerable.

    I don’t think that “we” can feed billions of people. The question should be whether billions of people can feed themselves. (They can’t really do that now can they?) I am so conditioned to think that all of my solutions have got to be upwardly scalable that I forget that the real problem is how to scale down. We are so worried about whether our proposed solutions would work for everyone that we forget that without appropriate infrastructure in place they won’t work for anyone. If fossil fuels disappear tomorrow, after all of my years of planning and downsizing, I’ll bet I have forgotten something absolutely critical. Makes me crazy!

    • garand555 says:

      “I don’t think that “we” can feed billions of people. The question should be whether billions of people can feed themselves.”

      I suspect that there is some system under which most of the world’s people could feed themselves. However, even if I knew what that system was and even if I knew how to disseminate that information to every man, woman and child, I also suspect that it would fall on quite a few deaf ears. I don’t think the question is if billions can feed themselves. I think the question is *will* billions feed themselves.

      ” If fossil fuels disappear tomorrow, after all of my years of planning and downsizing, I’ll bet I have forgotten something absolutely critical. Makes me crazy!”

      You’ll never think of everything. Focus on *water* and food first, then shelter, clothing and security. After that, do not forget hygiene. You can make soap with lipids, water and wood ash, and staying clean will be very, very important should you not have access to modern medical care.

      In the event of a societal collapse, it will be a shock to everybody, including those who knew what was coming and even had a good idea of what to expect. Tend to the necessities and learn to be adaptable.

    • InAlaska says:

      You seem to have a good thing going there, Ellen. Take it one step at a time and don’t let it overwhelm you. You can only do what you can do, as they say. When TSHTF, I think you and your neighbors will figure it out.

    • xabier says:


      A great deal of condensed wisdom in your post. I don’t think you’l be overlooking much of importance. Good luck!

    • Ellen–you bring up a lot of good points.

    • The Amish live in a bubble of protection provided by the industrialised world around them

  18. jeremy890 says:

    New York Times article today Feb 22, front page :

    “On the morning after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in 2008, most Federal Reserve officials still believed that the American economy would keep on growing despite the metastasizing financial crisis”.
    I myself vividly remember the radio coverage on NPR during those days and no Government official or agency reported alarm about the crisis unfolding. I remember hearing afterwards George Bush Jr. asking Paulson, “How did this happen?”
    As Ms. Tverberg pointed out we are still in a crisis

  19. Christian says:

    Well, we have had revolutions with rolling supply chains too…

    Venezuela is not going good, and specifically the US is not helping to that

    • garand555 says:

      Just picture what it will look like in the US when supply chains here start to break. Rocks and molotovs being thrown with the occasional trebuchet being rolled? No, we’ll have bearcats and MRAPs with fire suppression systems up against a very heavily armed citizenry. My prediction is that once it gets to that point, the police will fold very quickly.

      • InAlaska says:

        Yes, they will have loved ones at home to protect, as well. They will stand for a day and then melt into background.

  20. Christian says:

    Very good the elevator talk! Only suitable for small buildings, indeed. If there are no less than 50K people reading Gail’s posts, and given her point of view impact on some other writers, and that there are other blogs and a couple of media at work too, I think some several hundred thousands people are quite aware of the situation, even if they do absolutely nothing about it. Also a couple of millions are guessing what is coming on.

    On the other side, abolish money… Abundance has left the party some years ago

    One another, Gail: States will not fragment and thus become unable to maintain supply chains, it would likely to be the reverse case.

    • Yes the supply chain will break first. Look at Venuzela, there were shortage of toilet paper, electricy and food. Right after that you saw social revolution. The supply chain lead to the social revolution. Argentina is a good example too.

  21. Interguru says:

    Reaching Limits to Growth — Elevator Talk

    When trying to promote an idea, you should develop an “Elevator Talk” — that is to be able to communicate your points in the short span of an elevator ride.

    Looking at the tons of ink ( actually hoards of electrons ) being spilt on this discussion, I have come up with an elevator speech.


    The problem is not peak oil, but peak affordable oil.
    We are already there, the big oil companies have cut back exploration because the cannot make money even at $100/barrel.
    High oil prices choke off growth in our economy
    With little or no growth, we cannot pay our debts.
    As in 2008, unpayable debt will crack our financial system
    As not in 2008, the central banks have shot most of their “arrows” and have few left in their quiver.

    [ at this point, stop the conversation — as it leads to places no one want to go ]
    Epilogue: Nature always bats last

    This posting is meant to start a discussion. Edits and comments are welcome.

    • 666isMONEY says:

      The solution is to abolish money . . . many smart people believed in eliminating money. With abundance (modern machinery) money (and barter) is unnecessary.

      Guy McPherson’s blog (about arctic Methane causing global extinction) is named, “Nature Bats Last.”

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      Interguru, I think you’re elevator talk is very accurate. Not much to add except just finished reading an Ebook; ‘Converging Catastrohe’s’ which is very good in parts, particularly in the summation. He says something I thought was very apt, “We are living the Indian summer part of the oil age.”

      As exploration costs exceed stockholders stomach for investing billions in a zero sum game major oil Co’s back off. With taps wide open draining existing fields, and non-conventional not offering a solution due to being expensive. With developed countries opting for desperate QE and ZIRP measures to keep BAU going at the expense of huge debt building up as a way to buy time in hopes of cheap energy returning, we sip coffee the beans of which came from thousands of miles away. We channel surf on giant flat screen TV’s. Do searches on the internet that takes seconds to gather a multitude of information from around the world. Make a phone call to Australia from Key Biscayne. Drive a 4,000 pound vehicle at 70 mph. Dine on lobster from Maine. Sip wine from France. Watch a movie that cost 100 million to produce. But soon the oil age will end…Keep a bottle of cognac, a bar of expensive chocolate tucked away, hug and kiss the person/s you love and revel in the fact you lived during the oil age. What a brief time to live like kings and queens, but not fully comprehend and appreciate it until post collapse, because we always accept the reality of the moment as if it exists in perpetuity.

      • InAlaska says:

        Well said, Stilgar. We all got to live like princes and princess for a time. It was a good party while it lasted. Now the piper will be paid.

    • InAlaska says:

      I think I’ll take the stairs from now on….

    • Your little summary sounds pretty close to correct.

  22. Christian says:

    There are four ways we can behave

    First of all, humans are habit shaped animals and the answer of the vast majority of those who more or less understand the situation is to keep living with little changes. This will no last so long indeed.

    Second there is another, may be more smart approach. It would be to follow the doom cliché of selling assets, leaving work and having all pleasures. Good restaurants, traveling, spending money and time until the party is really over. I wonder how many people could be doing this; it seems they are very few (I am not working right now, indeed), and they are probably not reading this blog and so will no comment on this.

    Taking a truly sustainable attitude requires a huge change in lifestyle and is difficult to people living a short termed economic reality. We are talking a lot about this way.

    Finally, there is political action, be it political narrow sense or involving some kind of public awareness work. Gail, me and some others are in this. Is this to be useful large scale? We don’t know. At least, here we can share feelings and information, meet interesting people and not being so alone.

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  24. sheilach2 says:

    I think using what little energy we still have to make metal helmets, swords, chain mail etc would be useless.
    If one has to fight, gorilla fighting like the Vietnamese did against the American aggressors would be more likely.
    A fighter would need to be quiet, not clunking about in shiny, hot, noisy steel armor and besides melting steel would use up too much wood.
    There are many ways to fight against a rogue government. For example, growing castor bean plants and distilling ricin out of the seeds, Amanita phalloides would taste great in the food of a enemy, there are many poisonous plants out there for use in wartime if necessary & many ways of making weapons that aren’t noisy like blowguns + poison.

    The largest problem is waking people up to the upcoming unaffordability of oil & problems of transporting food from where it’s grown to where it’s needed & preserving it without electricity.

    If your familiar with the Masai of Africa, they live off their cattle & follow them from one grazing area to another, same for the Saami of Norway but they use reindeer & they even ride them.

    We could learn much from so called “primitive” peoples. How long could any of us survive in the arctic without their knowledge & tools?

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      It was meant to be humorous, but that is one of the limiting factors of the internet.

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        Ok, I went back and realize I wrote not sarcastic, but intended that to be somewhat tongue and cheek. At the same time though you have to figure bands of people will combine forces to take from other groups because it will be easier than making things themselves. How they gear up to do that, i.e. what armaments they use is anyone’s guess but as time passes they probably will get less complex.

    • xabier says:

      The common people in Spain used until recently very long crude knives, and had a thick sash wound many times around the waist to protect the guts. That’s all the arms and armour they needed. Notches were cut in the blades to make the wounds worse, and they were also sometimes poisoned.

      The Irish peasants used to beat the hell out of one another with big walking sticks, and the same for the Basque peasants who had walking sticks with hidden blades -this is now the symbol of office of the Basque President!

      Very good armour proof against cuts can be made from boiled leather

      All simple stuff.

    • survival in arctic conditions on a long term or even lifetime basis can only be achieved by appropriating the energy embodied in other animals.
      There is no other way. Food crops cannot be grown, so literally everything must come from other living species.
      Eskimos and similar peoples managed this well enough of course, but only at the expense of numbers. Vast areas can only support very small communities. Eskimos never built cities. This why the industrial complexes planted in arctic regions will be among the first to collapse.

      • I wouldn’t make big bets on the long-term survival of Murmansk, Russia. It needs too much energy and food, shipped from too far. There are big projects hoped for, but no money to do them.

      • InAlaska says:

        As a fella raising a young family in the Arctic, I can tell you that life is (and will be) hard. I’ve lived in both eskimo and indian communities. They’ve by and large forgotten most of their traditional knowledge and are pretty much enslaved to oil like the rest of us. There are a few native folks who practice the old ways. However, we have a low density human population. There’s some land you can farm. There is plenty of wood, lots of moose and caribou, and a killer salmon run in the millions. If you know what your doing, life will be okay for a few of us (I think).

  25. Quitollis says:

    Dear Gale, your thoughts on religion were interesting. However I am not convinced that we face a simple choice between “The Golden Rule” (who invented that phrase and when?) of universal and indiscriminate love and the pursuit of consumerist “toys”.

    Our basic drive is to survive and then we can talk about things like culture and human quality and accomplishment. It is not all about “love” or “toys”. Maybe people do think that is the choice these days. Perhaps few get beyond the economic stages of life to the stage of “personal development”, learning, culture and wisdom.

    “Love and toys” may sum up too much these days. If so then we are a retarded population. Collapse then becomes explicable on a human level.

    Transcendental emotions “we are all one” are interesting and no doubt have some value but I am concerned that simple emotionalism may become indistinguishable from naivety and thus counter-productive.

    The laws of Nature and breeding do not go away because we profess a transcendental emotion. Indeed there is a concern that emotionalism is an attempt to somehow escape reality. “Natural laws should just go away because we feel so adamant in our emotions.”

    The hyper-mystical people tend to be parasitical castes like the Buddhist monks and RC priests. Are they keeping society in a metaphysical hypnosis so that they can leach off the masses? Is that their instinctive survival strategy?

    There are old arguments about whether religion hinders the development of society but the question remains of how progressive their doctrines really are. Are some religions decadent, the creation of exhausted castes and civilizations as FN argues? Is the “Golden Rule” deeply subversive of human future?

    However I accept that collapse is a specific situation and that it is difficult to recommend much theological or philosophical in that situation.

    One concern is that religions tend to hang around for a long time once they have become established. Witness Christianity and Islam, they hang around for millennia. Thus what we recommend in the collapse may effect future generations for a long, long time.

    I find Lutheranism interesting. FN had a L background and he retains some of its dogma: denial of free will, determinism, predestination, election of the few, maybe even concupiscence or “lower” nature as our drive. For FN it becomes the eternal recurrence. He argues that there are only a finite number of possible conditions that may prevail within a universe that is infinite in time; once conditions repeat, the entire determined cycle repeats ad infinitum. (Some modern science also contemplates a cyclical view of cosmic history, big bang, expansion, contraction.) Thus we have lived this moment an infinite number of times and we will do so again for all eternity. We must affirm life as it really is because we will have to relive our life over and over. (In that sense we are eternal. The idea is not to gain eternal life but to live a good life, whatever that means, because we will live it over and over.) We may collapse and all die but I will see you all again, over and over. Arguably Lutheranism represents a partial return to classical and prehistoric Indo-European perspectives.

    Anyway, I do not expect to say anything particularly helpful at this juncture.

    Thanks for your essays, I really enjoy them.

    • Quitollis says:

      As an afterthought, it might be better to leave religion to the people who survive the collapse. If we are the very generation that suffers collapse then we may give “mystical” vent to emotions and instincts that are desperate and decadent. We may leave future generations with an ethical heritage that will hinder them more than it helps. It may be better to let the future people with vigour and hope sort out their own ethical ideas.

    • You are welcome.

      The question of religions is a nuanced one, I agree. There are many flavors of religions (even within broad categories). Religions that are around change a bit, at least in their emphasis, over the years. One woman I met a while back told me that as she got involved with permaculture, she felt a need for a religion that was more connected to the wonders of plant growth and thanks for harvests. When I visited India, one guide I had there talked about how important thanks for harvest was. In people’s daily lives, they see a need to solve their problems. The aspects of religion that help in this respect will be emphasized. So I expect that religions, even if they go under the same names, will change somewhat as circumstances change. New religions may spring up.

    • justeunperdant says:

      Sometime I think life is just disorder and chaos. If you walk in the forest, there is no identical tree, no identical flower. People cannot accept that life is just disorder, chaos and that we don’t control anything. People will do anything to avoid chaos and submit to anyone that promises them a solution against disorder.

      I completely agree with you regarding religion. I think religion is regressive not progressive. I enjoy reading your thought on religion.

      Good day

    • Quitollis, those parasitic religious monks helped build the medieval european economy and kept civilization alive by copying books. They were independent of kings and landlords. The religion gave people a sense of over-riding purpose, plus handed down the organizational skills needed to run a monastery. Religion is absolutely essential to our survival, it is far from an evolutionary mistake. As humans we can only survive in groups, and those groups probably have a maximum and minimum size depending on available surplus energy and reproductive ability. Religion works better than anything else for building group cohesion, and maintaining a collective purpose. We have been seduced by our use of fossil fuels into thinking that individualism is the norm. It is not, it is an aberration.

      • robdelaet says:

        I understand the organizing force of religion at one stage of our development, but once the question whether God exists or not has become irrelevant and you have become secular, there is no pill or technique to make you religious (you cannot unknow). I embraced rational thinking and science even thought the pandora’s box of knowledge stemming from science combined with the application of the energy found in fossil fuels is now shaping our probable demise. The only thing I could do is to believe that our Planet is a higher entity than I am and therefore I need to submit to its laws and that the existence of humanity is or a higher importance than my existence, so trying to defend our common existence becomes a goal in live which ranks higher than my own.

    • Peter says:

      Your comment reminds me of “Might is Right”, by Ragnar Redbeard, published in 1890. Have you read it? It’s highly offensive in today’s world, but worth reading if you can stomach the author’s views. Social darwinism on steroids, with the questioning of “Golden Rules” and all that.

      Some quotes from the book:

      ———————– BEGIN QUOTE 1 ———————–
      The living forces of evil are to be found in the living ideals of to-day.

      The Commandments and laws and moral codes that we are called upon to reverence and obey are themselves the insidious enginery of decadence. It is moral principles that manufacture beggars. It is golden rules that glorify meekness. It is statute laws that make spaniels of men.

      A man may keep every one of the Ten Commandments and yet remain a fool all the days of his life. He may obey every written law of the land, and yet be a caitiff and a slave. He may “love Jesus,” delight in the golden rule and yet continue to the hour of his death, a failure and dependent. Truly the way to hell is by fulfilling the commandments of God. If the all-conquering race to which we belong, is not to irretrievably dwindle into multitudinous nothingness, (like the inferior herds it has outdistanced or enslaved) then it is essential that the Semitic spider webs (so astutely woven for ages into the brains of our chiefs) be remorselessly torn out by the very roots, even though the tearing out process be both painful and bloody.

      If we would retain and defend our inherited manhood, we must not permit ourselves to be forever rocked to repose, with the sweet lullabies of eastern idealisms. Too long we have been hypnotized by the occult charm of Hebrew Utopianism. If we continue to obey the insidious spell that has been laid upon us, we will wake up some dread morning with the gates of hell – “of hell upon earth” yawning wide open, to close again upon us forever.

      The idea of hell is in some respects a truthful conception, suggestive of actual fact. If we terrestrialize the location, there is nothing inharmonious about it. Many a race, many a tribe, and many a mighty empire has gone down into a grimly realistic sheol. Is it not right and just, that the vile, the base and the degenerate (that is to say the slave nations of the earth) should be punished pitilessly for their creeping cowardice? Is it not right that they should be, as it were, fried and toasted – should swim in pools of boiling blood, or dance sweltering satanic glees, with blistered feet and straining eye-balls on red-hot Saharas of gravel and sand?

      In actual operation Nature is cruel and merciless to men, as to all other beings. Let a tribe of human animals live a rational life, Nature will smile upon them and their posterity; but let them attempt to organize an unnatural mode of existence an equality elysium, and they will be punished even to the point of extermination.

      All ethics, politics and philosophies are pure assumptions, built upon assumptions. They rest on no sure basis. They are but shadowy castles-in-the-air erected by day-dreamers, or by rogues, upon nursery fables. It is time they were firmly planted upon an enduring foundation. This can never be accomplished until the racial mind has first been thoroughly cleansed and drastically disinfected of its depraved, alien, and demoralizing concepts of right and wrong. In no human brain can sufficient space be found, for the relentless logic of hard fact, until all pre-existent delusions have been finally annihilated. Half measures are of no avail, we must go down to the very roots and tear them out, even to the last fiber. We must be, like nature, hard, cruel, relentless.

      Too long the dead hand has been permitted to sterilize living thought – too long, right and wrong, good and evil, have been inverted by false prophets. In the days that are at hand, neither creed nor code must be accepted upon authority, human, superhuman or ‘divine.’ (Morality and conventionalism are for subordinates.) Religions and constitutions and all arbitrary principles, every mortal theorem, must be deliberately put to the question. No moral dogma must be taken for granted – no standard of measurement deified. There is nothing inherently sacred about moral codes. Like the wooden idols of long ago, they are all the work of human hands, and what man has made, man can destroy.

      He that is slow to believe anything and everything is of great understanding, for belief in one false principle, is the beginning of all unwisdom. The chief duty of every new age is to up-raise new men to determine its liberties, to lead it towards material success – to rend (as it were) the rusty padlocks and chains of dead custom that always prevent healthy expansion. Theories and ideals and constitutions, that may have meant life and hope, and freedom, for our ancestors, may now mean destruction, slavery and dishonor to us. As environments change no human ideal standeth sure.
      ———————– END QUOTE 1 ———————–

      ———————– BEGIN QUOTE 2 ———————–
      Is the Golden Rule a rational rule? – Is it not rather a menial rule – a coward rule – a best-policy rule? Why is it ‘right’ for one man to do unto others as he would have others do to him and, what is right? If ‘others’ are unable to injure him or ‘do good’ to him, why should he consider them at all? Why should he take any more notice of them than of so many worms? If they are endeavoring to injure him, and able to do it, why should he refrain from returning the compliment? Should he not combat them, does not that give them carte-blanche to injure and destroy him? May it not be ‘doing good’ to others, to war against them, to annihilate them? May it not also be ‘good’ for them to war against others? (Again, what is ‘good’?)

      Is it reasonable to ask preying animals, to do unto others as they would be done by? – If they acted accordingly would they, could they survive? If some only accepted the Golden Rule as their guiding moral maxim, would they not become a prey to those who refused to abide thereby?

      Upon what reasonable and abiding sanction does this ‘Rule’ rest? – Has it ever been in actual operation among men? – Can it ever be successfully practiced on earth – or anywhere else? – Did Jesus Christ practice it himself upon all occasions? – Did His apostles, his ‘sons of thunder’ practice it? – Did Peter the boaster do so, when he ‘denied Him’ for fear of arrest at the camp-fire? – Did Judas the financier, when he sold him for net cash? Also, how many of his modern lip-servants actually practice it in their daily business intercourse with each other? How Many?

      These questions require no formal answering. They answer themselves in the asking. And here it must be remembered that the best test of a witness, is cross-examination. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do to you.’ No baser precept ever fell from the lips of a feeble Jew.

      It is from alleged moralisms of this sort, and fabulous ‘principles’ that our mob orators, our communards, revivalists, anarchists, red-republicans, democrats, and other mob-worshippers in general derive the infernal inspiration that they are perpetually hissing forth. Even the subversive pyrotechnic watchwords of their mephisto-millennium, are to be found in the ‘holy gospels.’ Is it not written, ‘and God sendeth angels to destroy the people?’ – Behold! these men are the ‘angels’ that He sends: – politicians and reformers!
      ———————– END QUOTE 2 ———————–

      ———————– BEGIN QUOTE 3 ———————–
      “Must we then speak of this subject also; and shall we write concerning things that are not to be told, and shall we publish things not to be divulged, and secrets not to be spoken aloud?”
      – Julian the Emperor

      “The law immutable, indestructible, eternal; not like those of to-day and yesterday, but made ere time began.”
      – Sophocles
      ———————– END QUOTE 3 ———————–

  26. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Christian
    Here is an example of an activity which uses fuel (frequently fossil fuel) to accomplish something which has a very high payback.

    Grant Schultz bought a farm in the midst of corn and beans country in Iowa and is farming it with a permaculture philosophy and techniques. One of his big cash crops is chestnut trees.

    At the 48:30 minute mark, up to 54 minutes, he talks about the importance of water to his trees and how keyline plowing makes sure that rainfall is optimally distributed to his trees. He goes through a few calculations in his head and develops the fact that 20 dollars worth of diesel now results in trees which are 10,000 dollars per acre more productive per year, for hundreds of years.

    This is an enormous return. If he could not get fossil fuel diesel, then he would be well advised to use biodiesel. In either event, this is a very big payback for not very much work and expense now.

    I don’t think it is very helpful to try to categorize keyline as either modern technology or iron age technology or stone age technology. It was invented about 60 years ago by P.A. Yeomans in Australia. Would it be worthwile to do keyline with chestnut trees even if the diesel cost 100 dollars instead of 20 dollars? Absolutely. The threat isn’t the cost of the diesel, the threat is that the governments will collapse society trying to save unproductive ventures such as banks have become, or marginally productive ventures such as driving around just because we want to.

    The discussion at the Fed Open Market meeting in 2008 which is prominent in the media today shows that, even through they recognized the issue, they nevertheless went down the path of saving the banks and those who owned the banks.

    Don Stewart

    • timl2k11 says:

      Don, what you have proven over and over that you clearly and simply do not get is the magnitude of the worldwide human population. It is far too late for the solutions you propose.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear timl2k11

        When I look at the behavior of most people and especially the behavior of governments, I tend to be pessimistic. But when I look at the best behavior and the best science in terms of what is possible, I tend to be optimistic. To elaborate just a little on the optimistic potential.

        The interview I referenced is an example of using fossil fuels (or biodiesel) to increase the productivity of Mother Nature in ways that have eluded pure evolution and physics and biology. That is, humans can use design science to nudge the biological system and double the productivity of photosynthesis. The doubling is made possible by manipulating where water goes under the influence of gravity and thus making sure that rainfall is optimally distributed. The manipulation uses fossil fuels and earth moving equipment…but would have been done with hand tools thousands of years ago. The potential is very large multipliers in output from small, but intelligently applied, fossil fuels.

        The second example is the new field of Epigenetics. We now know that we are not what our genes dictate. Genes are like computer hardware. But epigenetic effects are the software. And epigenetic effects, like software, can be changed. I recommend this panel discussion from last summer in New York City:

        I call your attention particularly to the discussion starting at about 1:00 and lasting for about 5 minutes. ‘We now know that mothers change their offspring by changing their brain and that the offspring can shape generations to come’. One of the panelists is consistently conservative in terms of raising expectations about change, the other two are more optimistic. All three panelists, however, agree that we are witnessing a revolution in our understanding of fields as diverse as intelligence, flexibility, health, reactions to stress, etc. And the potential to nudge those factors, just as farmers and gardeners have learned to nudge water, is present.

        If you want some good news, listen for Randy Jirtle’s discussion of alcohol at 1:07. A little poison is good for you…radiation, alcohol, and other things. And too much clean living (too many antioxidants in your diet) may stop you from getting all the benefits you might otherwise get from moderate stressors. So…be proud of your vices.

        Don Stewart

        • garand555 says:

          I have always found that to be a fascinating topic. It is also true that annual plants can become more adapted to your garden during the second generation if you save seeds. Different things simply get switched on or off and this has the effect of adapting the plant to your garden. Those changes then get passed onto the offspring.

        • Christian says:

          Dear Don

          I am glad you always bring us to the many details that may do any transition farming really work. We are all listening to you and at a smaller scale I use keyline plowing too. Also, to make a wise use of which is left in the barrel is the very key of a transition.

          Even if its infrastructure products will not, diesel (and biodiesel) will completely disappear within some decades, half a century at most. So, in order to maintain a deep horizon perspective (starting by my son’s plausible lifespan, which exceeds solar panels and diesel’s) I prefer to hint to what I will define as an Iron Age, in which iron (and other metals) will be almost the sole finite resource people will be able to transform (melting broken and old stuff). To me, this defines the core of the Age, and under such a definition it can even stand for some centuries; and to take such an “eternal” approach is useful because it is the exact reverse of what our society is. If we fail to do it (and we obviously exclude Schultz plowing from the failure) we are just trying to do something, but in some decades it will not work anymore. Transition is a fossil fuelled process, and final “steady” state is the goal.

          As you say, governments are doing everything but good, but it is easy to see why: 2008 events appeared from nowhere and they just kicked the ball to not stop the game. The sad true is individual solutions are not likely to work very much, and small communities of less a hundred people have some enduring prospective. This is very evident if my son has to get a girlfriend, or a boyfriend in case. And, as Gail points out, things as nuclear collapse have the potential of destroying everything we could do (I suppose this is true).

          So our first task right now is to tell policy makers our story and be sure they get the message: “financial troubles are resource related and terminal”, “system must change completely toward this new direction”, “nuke matters”. Even if they don’t act right now, it is very important they count with a new perspective in their background so they can react differently under the circumstance of a new crash, which we not expect to be far. May be we have a year or two to do this work. I make clear comments to news in the papers here, and nobody can rebate. Also Bloomberg is taking a good approach these days. There is an evolution of a veiled presentation of our predicament in MSM, and discussion in blogs as this one is constantly improving. Realize at some point Catholic Church is likely to condemn BAU continuation. They could be allies, have to make room for a church in new towns. To a lot of educated people, and not only to them, the big picture will end to be unequivocal.

        • xabier says:

          ‘Be proud of your vices’.

          Thank you Don, you are now my preferred life-style guru. I can feel good about myself once more.

      • Sometimes there can be a place for a local solution, for a few people, even if it doesn’t solve the world problem.

    • xabier says:


      As Rome shows us, governments will indeed collapse society trying to save unproductive entities such as …themselves.

    • We have gotten ourselves very focused on high paybacks. That is the point of EROEI. EROEI only makes sense if we can keep our current system operating as it is currently. The real issue going forward is short supply chains. It has very little to do with EROEI. That is why I have not been emphasizing big paybacks.

      Projects such as the ones you outline above might be beneficial while our current system still operates. The question is how to finance them. Governments won’t be in a position to do it, so it pretty much needs to be private individuals. I would worry about planting forests of chestnuts (or any single type of tree) simply because it gives such a good chance for diseases and animal predators to grow.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Gail
        There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you have a single nut tree in a forest (perhaps pollinated from a considerable distance), then the squirrels are going to get most of the nuts. One way to minimize the squirrel problem is large plantings coupled with squirrel control. Does this mean that the aggregation of the nut trees you are growing will be more susceptible to some disease? Yes. Will the disease necessarily appear and be devastating? No. Agriculture is never static.

        However, what you see with this example is a diversified farm run by a good farmer who wants to, at a minimum, feed his family ‘without external inputs’. You can’t load the dice any more in your favor than that.

        While he is waiting to see if collapse happens, he can get a positive cash flow from Day 1. That is unusual. Positive cash flow requires that he focus on high and quick payback technologies. A recycled plow modified by the local blacksmith plus a diesel tractor and 20 dollars of diesel along with an acre of chestnut trees is the sort of investment that can yield quickly positive cash flow. I imagine he practices agroforestry while the trees are still small.

        My advice…stop focusing on collapse. It may or may not happen. Focus instead on the long term goal (‘no outside inputs’ and ‘feeding the family’) and select very practical technologies to keep yourself solvent in today’s world.

        Don Stewart

      • Christian says:

        Gail you are right about monoculture. But why to think governments will not at all be able to undertake some transition, given finances disappearing does not change the physical stock? Supply chains are to be maintained when useful and possible, and electronics end of supplying does not really matters, for instance. Computers stock is huge if compared with transitional needs.

        For fun, I’ve come to draft a new international currency, be it worldwide or continental. Three main features:

        Unique issuing: its usefulness will decay along with international trade and FF, so no further issuing is needed.

        Demographic basis: the amount of currency each country receives is per capita weighted.

        Public interest: capitalism going through the window, the currency is not intended to circulate among the private sector.

        All this would strong States position and so increase overall resiliency.

        • garand555 says:

          It’s not just mono culture that we are doing wrong, it is also the fact that most of our mono culture is not genetically diverse within a given population. All corn stalks in a given field are going to be genetically very similar. Same with soy beans. Same with most crops. Hybrid vigor may make crops resistant to most things, but the genetic similarity within a population, given how modern commercial hybrids are produced, means that if one individual is susceptible to a new bug or disease, it is highly likely that all are. I advocate massive genetic diversity within food crops, in part, because of this, but that is not consistent with having everything mature on the same day for mechanical harvesting, nor is it consistent with having the crust of a Hot Pocket taste exactly the same every time.

        • I wonder whether the currently you suggest would work. Why would anyone be willing to accept it, instead of what they have currently? The US, Europe, and Japan would get a small fraction of what they have now. Places like Somalia and Yemen would get a lot more than they have now.

          There are at least three issues:
          1. All of the promises outstanding–values of stocks, bonds, etc. Do they all pretty much disappear, into this very much smaller amount?
          2. Trading within the country
          3. Trading among countries

          Money mostly acts as an intermediary in distributing goods. If the goods aren’t there, it can’t work. If Somalia has a lot of money, buy little goods to redistribute, or to sell overseas, does it really make sense? If Somalia buys a lot of goods with its money the first year from some other country, but has nothing to sell in return, isn’t most of its money permanently gone?

          Debt is what makes our current system work. I presume your new system wouldn’t have debt. I think this would be an issue as well.

          • Christian says:

            I imagine such a currency to replace US dollar as international medium of exchange in case it was to disappear or to be severely damaged, and it makes no much sense to adopt it right now. It is rather intended to fill an expectable vacuum and avoid the awkward use of barter. Bonds and the like are seemingly to go the same path as actual currency and just become inked paper. Of course, debt has become a pure lie right now and has no place in the future, was such a kind of currency to be implemented or not.
            Poor countries are now heavily indebted and will just likely to be abandoned to meet their destiny when the actual paradigm will be over, and this kind of currency may allow them to buy a couple of extra years of life but nothing else. In this sense, such a currency is to work much better if all participants are in some way equals regarding finite resources or are exporters of some useful industrialized stuff.
            What other way if main currencies crack down?
            Domestic trade has to use another currency, of course.

      • garand555 says:

        EROEI, the size of the paybacks and the length of supply chains that can be supported are all dependent on each other. One thing that EROEI does not tell you is the portability of the fuel, i.e. the convenience of its use for certain things, like transport. You can design a car to run off of wood, but it is not going to be nearly as convenient as oil. But once you are talking about one specific source of energy, in this case, oil, you might as well consider EROEI and the cost of extraction to be one in the same, even with the price distortions created by our current monetary system. Kill high EROEI and you kill low costs. Kill low costs, and you increase the amount of economic inputs going into extraction. Take the amount of economic inputs going into extraction and you remove those inputs from other areas. Remove those inputs from other areas, and you wind up with shortages in those other areas. Eventually those shortages start putting a strain on anything that requires transport, as it starts to raise costs, while the economic inputs are already going towards extraction.

        Even in our distorted system, the costs of extraction are still driven by the inverse of EROEI. If it takes more energy to extract a barrel of oil, it likely requires more debt in our current system. It is because of this that EROEI is terribly important, but many don’t think about its importance in the right way. It isn’t the physics limit that we need to worry about, i.e. EROEI = 1:1 means you are just running on a treadmill, it is the economic limits of our current system that we need to worry about. At what point does EROEI mean that we are diverting enough economic inputs to extraction to limit or stop the growth of our nice little ponzi monetary system?

        Gail, I place much more importance on EROEI than you do, simply because costs are going to be correlated, in the long run, to 1/EROEI.

        • Yes, it can be explained that way, I agree. And I have done that kind of comparison.

          One problem comes when people try to compare the EROEI of one fuel against the EROEI of another fuel, because of differences in fuel quality. This become an issue on operations where liquid fuel are made from other fuels. EROEI gives a misleading impression in this regard. If we have lots of coal and little oil, or lots of natural gas and little oil, it may make financial sense to do coal to liquids or natural gas to liquids conversions. In Canada, oil sands extraction is close to this type of operation. Growing corn for ethanol is close to a natural gas to liquid or coal to liquid operation.

          • garand555 says:

            Where I really question EROEI is in how it is measured/calculated. You bring up corn to ethanol as an example. I’ve seen calculations that state that the EROEI is above 1. I do not believe that, and strongly suspect that they are not counting all energy inputs. Also, saying “We think EROEI is 40, but it could be as low as 30” is very different from saying “We think it is 1.3, but it could be as low as 0.7.” At best, I think corn to ethanol is a case of the latter. (I really think that it is simply a back door subsidy for farmers.) I suspect that you will run into similar problems when you start looking at things like turning coal into a liquid fuel, and that is ignoring the pollution that would come from such operations, and pollution leads to its own set of resource constraints. Supply chains have become too complex to really give an accurate picture of EROEI, yet EROEI is still there.

            Regarding the corn to ethanol, I think it would be entertaining to make some of the farmers run the entire system off of ethanol as their energy input. Generate all electricity using ethanol, run their tractors on ethanol, run the mining equipment for the materials that they need and run the factories off of ethanol. No fossil, nuclear, wind, etc… fuels allowed. All corn ethanol, with the only solar input being photosynthesis. I’d wager money that the system would come to a grinding halt as it quickly runs out of energy.

      • InAlaska says:

        Planting chestnuts successfully is predicated on the idea that we will have the type of climate that will be forgiving of such endeavors. All evidence points to the contrary. Drought–flood cycles and hot summers followed by frigid winters. Lots of wind. That is the irony of our situation. Just as we, as a society, will be needing to move to a simpler agricultural life, the climate wont be consistent or stable enough to support it.

  27. Joe says:

    Life expectancy of 35 years is a very broad average, that may be only if you average all classes of society including the ruling class, well-to-dos etc.

    If I am not mistaken, the average lifespan of the general laborer in Great Britain in the mid 19th century Britain was 21 year.

    Please refer to
    The book is one of the best-known works of Friedrich Engels.
    You may find it very instructive and highly relevant.

    • jeremy890 says:

      What we see here is a new horizon that will not duplicate anything in the past.

    • Also, the 35 years I showed was more or less the top life expectancy over a long period. Most periods were a lot lower than 35.

      The Gutenberg link is interesting. It talks about the fact that most families (averaging about 5 people) in slums were crowded into a single room in the London area (plus lots of other things).

  28. jeremy890 says:

    As far as one “Age” is concerned. I looked up in Wilkepedia about life spans and it did depend on what period one lived during. Say “Classical Ancient Rome”, average age 20-30 years. If one lived past say 10 years old, you probably made it to around 50 years old.
    We are entering in a “new period’ and I can attest that since I am turning 56 in a few days I can verify that in no way am I capable of competing with myself at the age on say 30-40 years old.
    It is wishful thinking that we 50 plus generation, think we will survive in any measure a contraction.
    Maybe a few with leadership charisma and a skill set.

    • xabier says:

      Become an elderly shaman with a knowledge of basic medicine and hypnosis: it will be a cruel and irrational world…..

      • jeremy890 says:

        Exactly, there is a book titled “Chances Are”, that examines the aspect of Luck and Fortune in our lives and how to respond to it, that will be a factor too. Good Luck.
        Too many guns and bullets out there.

        • xabier says:


          I agree. It is clear from the European Dark Ages that charismatic individuals, not just the killers, led societies. Heroic men and women.

          Although I do like Pippin the Short, who jumped into a bear pit, killed the beast single-handed and then said to everyone: ‘Who said I won’t make a good king?’

          • such as the borgias

          • xabier says:


            Actually Cesare Borgia is an encouraging example: he was so treacherous that no-one trusted anything he said – so his ruthlessness was self-defeating. And he died (just a few miles away from where my family live) because he lost his temper and rode out after his enemies with no support. Too ruthless and dishonourable + too dumb = short life expectancy. His grave was even put in a spot where everyone could trample on it for centuries. Who says there is no justice?

            That’s a nice example of a cruel aristocrat doing himself in, you should like that.

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