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.

503 thoughts on “Reaching Limits to Growth: What Should our Response Be?

  1. Very good suggestions Gail, and I agree on your emphasis on family and relationships. If we look at the Amish, who basically work without fossil fuels, they rely a lot on family getting and making what they need and then the rest of the community when they are doing larger projects like barn-raising, etc.

    Also, relationships and connections are important for mental and physical health. We need to think a lot more about preventative health if the medical system is not there or is greatly diminished.

    If less money and resources are available then volunteerism will become more important. Now is the time to volunteer and help organize civic and volunteer associations. This will go a long way to keep the level of social trust and inspiration to do good for others.

    I would also add to these suggestions the importance of maintaining citizen participation in all levels of government, from the local to the federal. In my opinion, government will become more important in the future, not less, because of the potential for disruption, revolution, destruction or appropriation of property, protection from invasion, and the prevention of civil wars and the growth of private armies. Without fair representation, people are at the mercy of rogue governments or militias, and public goods are squandered on the few and witheld from the majority. Governments, and district boundaries can be re-organized, but they need the participation of citizens for it to be fair, equitable, and workable. The more inequality and the less representative political systems are, the more resources are squandered on security for the elite, and prisons or concentration camps for the masses. The more people perceive the system as unfair, the lower the level of overall trust, which functions as a kind of lubricant that keeps the wheels of commerce, etc. working.

    Furthermore, citizens need to be well informed about science, health, nutrition, farming, and the political system. Widespread ignorance and false beliefs can lead to disasters just as sure as other physical or financial causes.

  2. In 1943, farm labor was in short supply in East Texas because of the needs of the military/ industrial complex. My father, a poor tenant farmer had acquired a small amount of capital and needed farm laborers. He found and relocated a group of six families of Appalachian decent. They were illiterate, could not operate cars or tractors, and the young men did not meet the requirements of the military draft. One of the men, head of a family of four, was about fifty years old and had never owned a pair of shoes. They worked well in the fields for $0.25/hour (the prevailing wage at that time in that local). They married, had children, sang, danced, drank home-brew, and seemed to enjoy life to the fullest. While my family fared a bit better, we too were happy living in what today would be seen as primitive conditions.

    I tell this story to illustrate that people can labor under harsh conditions and live in, what are today, considered primitive conditions with out despairing.

    However, we now have in the US a significant population that are not prepared to cope with a reduced lifestyle. Prior to 1945, the law of ‘survival of the fittest ‘ was still operative. For example, my mother died of pneumonia in 1941 because penicillin was not widely available. Since 1945, advances in medicine and unheard prosperity for all have allowed the weak to survive. Take away the current accommodations and they can not survive. My wife has cancer and requires an expensive rare drug to survive. Take away the drug and she dies very quickly. The numerous grossly obese people riding shopping scooters at Wal-Mart will not survive the transition. People who have no skills and an entitlement mentality will not survive. The person who continues to inhabit a thirtieth floor apartment in a major city will have a low probability of survival. I could continue with this line of thought but you get my point. Bottom line is that there is no hope for many.

    As I stated in a previous post, I recommend the following; 1) Develop close relationships with family, Church (or other organization such as Grange), and community, 2) Develop essential* skills, 3) Acquire essential tools, and 4) Invest in well-watered arable land.

    All of these actions take time. We do not have much time left in which to prepare. Bite the bullet and take definitive action today. Place your available capital in a piece of land, live in a shipping container if necessary, and focus on preparing to cope with the coming collapse.

    * I define essential as any thing that puts food on the table and a roof over the table.

    • Thanks for your insights. I think most of us would find it hard to believe that a 50 year old in the US would never have owned a pair of shoes, but times change.

    • while that working group of illiterate farmers might seem idyllic, they were in fact within a protected ‘bubble’ in one sense, ie working for wages within a stable environment.
      energy depletion will destabilise our environment, and we will not be able to exist as happy peasants

      • I work with illiterate peasants, who were born just a few hundred meters from where they are working. They are completely happy, very strong, hard working and get up every day at 5 a.m. If you ask them to take them to the city they decline, hate the idea. A lot of their ´knowledge´ is nonsense but they do very well with little. They would miss little if the world collapsed, except some simple clothes and a stiff drink for weekends (but that can be made easily),

        • I agree with you–but this only works in isolation. It cannot be magnified into an existence for everyone,—or maybe such small groups will be the only survivors
          The people you speak of know little else, city dwellers expect city living to go on ad infinitum

          • Yes, I am saying that these sturdy people might hold out longest and could be the backbone of new local rural communities that manage a new way of life. Mind you there are probably as much as two billion of these simple farmers still around worldwide.

        • I hope that they truly would miss little if the world collapsed. I know China and India are both using fertilizer made using fossil fuels (primarily coal). Even what we thing as less developed parts of the world are getting more integrated with the rest.

          • I gave them a motorbike two years ago, but before that they were using horses. Clothes, dry rice varieties, salt and guns (I have never touched one) are the main things that would be needed to live and of course sufficient (and not crop destroying) rain.

    • TG

      It’s the difference between material poverty – which does not preclude happiness, – and destitution.

      The most miserable people I have encountered recently have been very rich, and worried about not making ‘enough’.

      It always cheers me up to observe their folly.

      Good advice, thank you.

  3. Our response should be growing food in the desert. As Australia’s prestigious The Conversation said yesterday:

    “Isn’t it remarkable that we recognise the fact that the world faces huge problems in terms of water, energy and food security – and yet we tend to tackle these as separate problems, as if they have no interconnections.

    So here’s a radical idea. What if the world’s food, water and energy problems were tackled together, in a way that lowered costs and made the whole greater than the sum of the parts?

    A project is taking shape in Australia that promises to take just such an approach. It’s very small in scale at the moment, and is limited to just fresh vegetables – but it does demonstrate great potential because of the links it builds between water, energy and food.”

  4. Dear Gail and All
    Here are a few thoughts about preparing for Limits to Growth. I have said most of this before, so I will be as brief as possible.

    My experience is as a backyard gardener and as a worker on a 5 acre organic farm. I last worked on a large acreage farm as a teenager…60 years ago. I do have an interest in both biological farming and the potential for collapse as well as climate change.

    If you live in a crowded city with zero access to land and no possibility of access to land anywhere in your neighborhood, then I don’t have much advice. If you farm hundreds of acres of beans and corn in Iowa, I have nothing much to suggest. So what I have to say boils down to people who have access to their own yard, or a neighborhood garden, or a small farm, or a group of suburban homeowners who want to co-operate to grow food..

    If you are strictly a hobbyist, and are growing food for the fun of it, or for more food security, then making your efforts pay off in terms of money isn’t crucial. If you are a small farmer, then making your efforts pay off with money IS crucial. Since this point has been consistently misunderstood in the past, I will belabor it a little. Let’s suppose you want to work as a package delivery person. So you go down to the Brown Truck Store and apply for a job. But it turns out that you are convinced that we face an imminent collapse and simply haven’t bothered to learn how to drive. Can you predict the outcome? But let’s extend the case study a little bit and suppose that you are a delivery driver who lives in an apartment and hasn’t got a clue how to provide food and water for his family. If collapse comes, then what are your prospects? In short, if you are trying to farm or garden and make money, you must straddle the ditch. You have to make money today, and that almost certainly requires the use of machinery and fossil fuels. But you also need to be thinking about making your farm resilient if the machines begin to break and cannot be fixed and fossil fuels become unavailable. Tossing brickbats at small farmers who use tractors and pick up trucks may make you feel superior, but it is sound without substance.

    You will very frequently run into trade-offs between time and money. If money is no object and you want instant results, you can most certainly go out and buy fertile farmland. If your budget is miserly, then you are going to need to improve the land you have or buy some relatively poor land and improve it. Here is a video of Darren Doherty in Australia talking about a field where he intends to plant trees. He has been preparing the field for 10 years, and doing it very cheaply. He has built very fertile soil for his trees. It will take the trees perhaps a decade to become very productive. However, they will begin to accumulate monetary value very quickly, since investors will recognize the quality of the work. If this is your plan, get started tomorrow…there will never be a better time.

    It’s important to decide whether you want to strive for calorie self-sufficiency or whether you want to assume that you will be able to purchase calorie dense non-perishables (such as grains), and you want to grow the higher priced and perishable veggies and fruits. If you want to be calorie self-sufficient, you probably need perhaps 3 acres for a family. A tiny garden can provide you with valuable veggies and some fruits.

    So what I will assume is that you are going to be somewhere between a small gardener and a very large gardener. In any case, selling your products for a monetary profit isn’t your first consideration. Nevertheless, you want to become as nearly self-sufficient as possible. You do not want to go to the garden shop every year and buy fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides. First, you would be spending scarce money. Second, in a collapse, the garden stores may disappear. You do not want to be dependent on irrigation from deep wells distributed by drip lines, for the same reasons. You don’t want to be dependent on a plow or powered tiller for the same reasons.

    If you have plenty of cash today, there is no reason not to use an irrigation well and drip lines. Collapse might happen next week or next decade…you don’t know for sure. But in the meantime, you want to be building the drought and flood resisilience of your garden. You want to learn how to fix nitrogen from the air into your soil, and you want to learn how to use the soil food web to recycle phosphorus religiously. You want to learn how bio-diversity serves as your best bet in terms of pests. You want to learn how geese can help you control noxious weeds. You want to learn how to accumulate carbon in the soil and foster an amazing amount of biological life in the soil. You need to practice various forms of water conservation so that rain that falls on your land stays on your land.

    Doing all the things that I mentioned in that last paragraph doesn’t have a single technique associated with it. It depends on where you are and what you are trying to do and which gardening philosophy you find most appealing. To give you some sense of the range of opportunities, I suggest:

    Geoff Lawton’s series of videos
    Pay particular attention to the backyard garden and small farm examples. You will have to give them your email address.

    Eric Tonesmeier on carbon farming

    Eric also wrote a very good book on homesteading a very small urban lot in an old Massachusetts mill town. As he says in the preceding video, it is about ‘leaves and fruits’…the most expensive stuff you can buy in a grocery store, not many calories, but essential to health.

    Jill Clapperton, the soil scientist, gives you the facts about biological farming

    While Jill is talking to farmers with lots of acreage, you will find that the same principles are applicable in a small garden. The tools she is talking about would be essential to survive in a collapse.

    Patricia Foreman talking about chickens and how they fit in an urban garden

    Please note that, at the current time, backyard chickens are not a way to make money. However, in a collapse scenario, chickens may fit very nicely into your garden. Other animals such as rabbits or earthworm composters also deserve consideration. Think recycling.

    Toby Hemenway has a new course on Food Forest Design & Care for Cities and Suburbs. This one costs money. Toby wrote Gaia’s Garden about a decade ago. I assume this new material covers some of the stuff he has learned over the decade.

    If you get through all this stuff, you will be on your way, understanding the lay of the land. You could spend the rest of your life defining and refining your gardening practice.

    Don Stewart

  5. Gail.
    Thanks for a good article. However could you please explain why you said, “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.”

    I live in Australia and use permaculture principals, that require as large a variety of species as possible to ensure a reasonable harvest of some regardless of weather. As much food as possible is produced by long lived trees. Vegetable production is within gardens that have raised concrete edges to allow drainage and prevent most weed problems. They are fertilized with sheep manure and compost. Pests are managed by organic methods. Hand tools suffice in this set up and we have a supply of these that should last a couple of generations. The sheep keep the grass short surrounding our house to reduce bushfires problems as well as providing our meat and wool. Chickens provide eggs and reduce insect numbers. With this set up our family should have a couple of generations to transition to what may eventuate.

    • Prepping, stock piling, hoarding are terms that I frequently see used by those who share my view of the future. As I read their comments and advice, I some times see what I consider to be a fallacy in their thinking. That fallacy is striving to maintain the current lifestyle (off electric grid systems, electric vehicles, huge quantities of supplies such as food medicine, etc). I have no problem with any of these things but eventually inverters fail, stored supplies are exhausted, and electric cars will eventually wear out.

      It seems to me that the mind set should be planning for the period after stored supplies run out and modern equipment fails. For example, extensive hands on experience in saving seed and budding/grafting fruit trees. It only takes one night for a deer to girdle that five year old fruit tree and the local nursery no longer exist. Draft animal breeding and care for use after the tractor and hay baler can no longer be repaired or you can no longer purchase hay baling twine/wire. We can learn and should be learning now from the Amish farmers . People who live in areas where there is adequate rainfall should now be planning on a water supply after the stored water is gone. In a previous post I mentioned brick lined underground cisterns for storing water. Eventually, you may have to fire your own bricks and use wooden gutters but access to water on the back porch is far superior to the creek half a mile down the hill. These are just a couple of examples of an endless list that every serious prepper should be considering.

      This is another dimension where cooperative relationships pay off. A small community can develop a wide range of essential skills for long term production. My family’s skills are augmented by a neighbor that raises sheep and a group of women who spin and weave. Others make soap and cheese. Today they purchase supplies but all of the supplies needed can be produced in the community.

      In my opinion, all planning should begin with the question ‘What can we do with local resources?’. The availability of outside resources will be ‘icing on the cake’.

      • “In my opinion, all planning should begin with the question ‘What can we do with local resources?’.”

        I think that is the essence of what most preppers are missing. I know that in most (i.e. not nuclear war) TEOTWAWKI situations, there is enough wild game behind my house to sustain my entire neighborhood for a couple of seasons without fully depleting the supplies. I know that I’m not going to be able to just go down to the nursery and get a packet of Cosmic Purple carrot seeds. I *might* be able to go down to the nursery that grows its own seed plants and specializes in localized cultivars. I know that the soil must be tended with whatever I can get locally. I also know that if we are to use the wood in the bosque behind my house, we’ll have to agree to very strict rules about how much can get used, replanting trees and returning the ash to the soil among other things. The funny thing is, if we were smart about it, the Bosque would wind up in better shape than it is now, under the care of the state.

        Here’s another thing to think about if you live in a populated area or near one:

        If SHTF, and people are dying off and you manage to survive, who will be occupying their houses? Not only would there be potentially useful tools and other things in those houses, the houses themselves contain a lot of useful building materials. Gail talks about diminishing returns with mining raw materials. I would argue that in the event of a die off, that becomes much less of an issue, because there are already a lot of refined materials above ground, and with fewer people, that means a lot to go around. While a massive die off is not something to look forward to in any way, shape or form, the survivors would do well to be opportunists.

        • I agree with your sentiment here. We will certainly have a very large “scrap economy” with many hundreds of year’s worth of metal, wood, glass, tools, furniture, etc. etc. that will come in very handy. As awful as it sounds, if there is a massive die off, there may also be millions of human remains laying around that can be returned to the soil.

        • You are right–we have a lot of mined material already available. Dmitry Orlov talks about people making businesses of taking apart old buildings for their useful parts and reselling them.

          There are two things I see as serious problems. One is that if a person wants pure raw materials, so one can make a particular alloy that you need for a high tech device, then a person is pretty much up a creek without a paddle. In fact, I have a hard time seeing how a person makes things like electrical transformers for the grid, computers, Internet servers, and many other things we depend on.

          The other issue is that if we want to melt metal to make something different from its current form, we still have to heat it very hot. That likely takes charcoal. So we may mostly have things that can be used in their current form, or bent a little.

          If fossil fuels are not available, the prospect of taking apart a factory, and shipping it elsewhere to be reassembled really won’t work. I think that is another use Dmitry mentioned for goods that were no longer needed.

      • Aloha T.G.,

        Although I’m one of the “preppers” you refer to, I wholeheartedly agree with most of your comments. However I do think that even though all of the ‘legacy’ equipment I now use to provide typical middle class luxuries (electricity, indoor plumbing, etc.) will not be maintainable in a few decades, its availability will ease the burden of transition somewhat. I have lived without electricity very happily, but if I can easily keep it available, why not? A washing machine is great for saving time that could better be spent in the fields. And my solar powered electric log splitter is great for my 65 year old back, though I could still use a maul if I had to.

        I have a planning horizon of 50 years, long enough that my adult children would be very old by then. I really do think it will not be too hard to keep the power on in my house for that long, even if the whole industrial economy vaporizes tomorrow. I’m also confident that the HDPE piping I use to move pond water around by gravity will also last that long. After that, who knows? If it’s back to hunting, gathering and living in caves, I’m sure that will be fine for the folks alive then. I just don’t see any reason to go there until it’s necessary.

    • I haven’t seen your operation. What little I have seen of operations here indicates that people are making use of fossil fuel based techniques–everything from electric fences to keep animals in or out to watering done with electric pumps and plastic hoses. Trucks or tractors may be used to move dirt and transport soil amendments. Maybe you have figured out ways around such things. My observation is based on a small sample of what I have seen people actually do. Maybe your situation is different. Organic is not equal to “sustainable without fossil fuels” in my view.

      • Gail,

        “Organic is not equal to “sustainable without fossil fuels” in my view.”

        Our plans are predicated on no fossil fuels or electricity after the next five years. All our preparations have alternatives if not being used now at least ready to be used when required. Our organics do not use any fossil fuels now. At present we have no draft animals but have given serious thought to doing this in the near future.

        • Then you are doing quite a bit more than most. It is possible to get along with a much smaller plot of land, if a person assumes that pests won’t get more of the food in the future, and if a person assumes that lack of refrigeration won’t matter in the future (and may other fossil fuel-based assumptions).

      • Dear Gail

        May I suggest that you are making the same error as the would-be package driver who refuses to get a driver’s license. While you are convinced that, unless we continue to do everything the way we do today, it’s back to the Stone Age…that just isn’t necessarily so. It might turn out that way, but then again it might not. And it is a certainty that someone using Stone Age tools as their ‘competitive advantage’ today isn’t going to leave much in the gene pool of economic activity.

        Consider John Thackara’s essay on battery boost bikes:

        ‘In China, ‘battery-bikes’ are outselling cars by four-to-one. Pedelec sales are soaring in Europe, too. Is this the start of system-wide phase-shift in transportation?’

        ‘Enormous amounts of energy are wasted shipping objects from place to place. An example from The Netherlands: Of the 1,900 vans and trucks that enter the city of Breda (pop: 320,000) each day, less than ten percent of the cargo being delivered really needs to be delivered in a van or truck; 40 percent of van-based deliveries involve just one package. An EU-funded project called CycleLogistics calculates that 50 percent of all parcels delivered in EU cities could be delivered by cargo bike.’

        I will take Thackara’s word for it that the battery boosted bikes are enormously more efficient in fuel use than are delivery vans. If you look at Steven Kopits talk, you see evidence that ‘unprotected sectors’ of the economy DO adjust to the price of oil. For example, young people and cars. Remove the government sponsorship of the car and truck industry and it may very well collapse and reassemble itself into a much smaller car and truck business along with a large battery assisted bicycle industry. The sum total, in terms of GDP, will be perhaps half what exists today. But now think about the consequences of that action. The low-productivity uses of oil (such as driving a big truck up and down residential streets delivering small packages) are eliminated. What remains are high productivity uses of oil, such as driving ships across oceans. That means that the price of oil can increase, and the high value users will be willing to pay for it because the productivity of the oil is so high. Fresh Alaska salmon airfreighted to your door will likely be a thing of the past.

        The same might be said of solar PV. The lightweight electric fences used in rotational grazing get a lot of value out of the fencing, which is done at a fraction of the cost of either grid electricity or heavy metal non-electrified fencing. It may be that the PV business goes through some turmoil, possibly brought on by the new invention of a photosyntheisys- like electric generation and storage system at the University of North Carolina. But if the UNC system makes big solar farms and expensive grid electricity obsolete, then specific, portable uses such as electric fencing for rotational grazing will probably be survivors. A one megawatt UNC-like system can operate a rice cooker. And generations of Asians and college dorm students have demonstrated that one can cook an awful lot of stuff with a rice cooker. Fancy kitchens go the way of the Alaska salmon.

        Both these examples are illustrative of the ‘creative destruction’ which is characteristic of unfettered capitalism. It has been the unwillingness of governments to permit the creative destruction which is keeping a semblance of the 20th century operating in a very different oil world.

        In short, if you insist that ‘only Stone Age Solutions need apply’, I think you are being unnecessarily gloomy. You might be right. But you may very well be wrong.

        The strategy that makes sense in terms of both gardening and small farming is to use the tools you have available today to build the capital you might need in a much more constrained future. Things such as water management, planting trees, passive solar, and just learning how to nudge an ecological system in ways that are human-friendly. all take energy. There is no evidence that we don’t have enough energy to do it…there is evidence that most may choose not to do it.

        Don Stewart

        • We have the conflict between “use less” and “use very much shorter supply lines”.

          I would agree that there is some period of time where using less is likely to be a reasonable strategy. Part of the reason I object to the emphasis on this strategy is because it clearly is a temporary strategy, and may be a very temporary strategy if credit starts becoming unavailable and supply lines break down. In the past, there has been an overwhelming belief that the “just use less” strategy will work, more or less indefinitely. I find it very hard to believe that the “just use less” strategy will work for very long, because, for one thing, government is so dependent on the surpluses of the rest of the economy. The government piece of the system–the roads, the safety permitted by having a good police force, the ability of the government to provide subsidies to the many poor–is likely to fail early on. It will be a fairly different system if the roads are not maintained and there are a lot of hungry poor people, even if the bicycle system would in theory work for small packages.

          This is all related to David Korowicz’s essays on how loss of one part of a system lead to losses on other parts of the system. It will no doubt take a few years for failures in one part of the system to work there way fully through the system. My point is that we need to be aware that these approaches that cannot be maintained with local materials are temporary approaches. If we are not planning for this, we will discover ourselves in a very unhappy situation, with way too many people for a given area without fossil fuels.

          • Dear Gail
            You emphasize the importance of keeping the government working. Charles Hugh Smith has recently written some articles where he states that for many government programs, we would be better off if the government simply disappeared. For example, he thinks that a cash system of health care would reduce costs tremendously. Similarly, he developed a statistic that the government’s cost of ‘helping’ poor people is several multiples of the money it would take to simply give them enough to lift them out of poverty. Whether you accept his numbers or not, it is pretty clear that bloat like Obamacare and the money printing simply cannot survive in a world of limits. Therefore, it seems to me that our urgent task is not to keep the government working, but to bring into being a very much smaller and more focused government. I will agree that, looking around the world at the collapsing governments, they are not a pretty sight. Still, I would argue that if we continue thinking that we must support unsupportable programs, then we will end up like Ukraine.

            Similarly, the Brown Truck model of retail and the Mall model of retail are both unsustainable as Limits tighten. Therefore, any current measure which provides at least a temporary respite, such as the bicycle delivery schemes, needs to be considered. Both the ‘photosynthesis like’ low density electricity production invention at UNC and the bicycle scheme threaten to segment the market in ways that are unfriendly to the current dominant businesses. The photosynthesis system might split off most of the residential market, leaving factories as the primary customers for centralized electricity generation. The bicycle scheme might split off the light weight packages from the heavy packages. Market segmentation is one of the foundations of capitalism, and generally disrupts the existing structure. For example, Amazon disrupted the world of chain bookstores, just as the chains previously disrupted the world of the independent bookstores.

            One of our problems is that we are seldom able to let market segmentation work in the government sector. If we do open something to competition (such as the drug plan in Medicare), it is so tightly bound by restrictions that the differences end up being superficial because fundamental segmentation is impossible. In effect, we just create more cost because a bunch of identical competitors are busily trying to convince the public that they are, in fact, different…when they are not different.

            I believe it is a true statement that if oil had never sold for less than 250 dollars a barrel, we would nevertheless have today a thriving business in oil. It wouldn’t be as large, but very high value applications would have been identified and businesses would have formed to service those high value applications. If we accept that notion, then it is clear that we must let segmentation operate now in order to sort the low value applications which cannot justify the use of expensive oil from the high value applications which will be willing to pay 250 dollars per barrel. At 250 dollars a barrel,quite a bit of non-traditional oil might be produced. But in order to avoid a complete collapse, we must let the segmentation work. Which is generally going to involve a business model which still uses some oil, but very much more efficiently than it is being used by the businesses which currently serve the particular market. Therefore, we should welcome more efficient businesses as evidence that the necessary segmentation is working. The alternative is the collapse you keep talking about.

            Don Stewart

            • Market segmentation is a way to try to improve efficiency. Improving efficiency is a way of making a barrel of oil go farther, and thus be worth more.

              Can running in the direction of improved efficiency really save us? I would argue no, collapse is really too baked into the cake. One way of seeing it is in this graphic. Loss of efficiency in energy drilling, metals drilling, water extraction and many other areas is just too great, to get the economy back to where it was previously.

              Now subsidy to economy is disappearing

              The increase in extraction costs is too great for efficiency gains to keep up, no more how hard we try.

              Collapse comes in several different ways:

              Collapse comes in three ways

              The change is not enough to prevent collapse in the ways collapse occurs. Loss of government is a huge problem, because it implies a loss of order. There is no one enforcing rules. It is not even clear that previous laws have any meaning. Efficiency savings don’t compensate for the lack of security and the lack of anyone to keep up roads, bridges, etc.

            • Dear Gail
              I wish I could draw graph lines here, but I don’t have the tecnical savvy to do it. A phase change happens when the existing paradigm is undercut by new alternatives.

              For example, suppose that oil production costs are at 100 dollars a barrel, and increasing at 10 dollars per year. But let’s also assume that the average of 100 is composed of different paradigms: existing field conventional oil at 20 to 50 dollars, new conventional at 80 dollars, tar sands at 120 dollars, and new fracking at 125 dollars. Let’s also suppose that both tar sands and fracking have quite a lot of potential production, if the price can just rise to 150 dollars and stay there for some decades. (This would, I think, be consistent with your resource triangle).

              At the present time, oil is the quintessential commodity. But the actual usage of oil is highly segmented and serves markets with widely varying intrinsic values. For example, most people would think that the oil used to produce pharmaceuticals is intrinsically more valuable than oil used to fuel drag races. In the US, 60 years ago teenagers used a lot of oil to drive up and down mainstreet, small town USA, to impress and attract the opposite sex. That market segment seems to have died out, so I guess the marginal value of doing it no longer exceeds the higher cost of doing it.

              Now let’s suppose that the teenagers figured out much more efficient ways to get together than driving aimlessly around in automobiles. These more efficient methods may use only one tenth as much oil, but still yield the same product which is that teenagers get together with each other. So the old practice was only acceptable with 20 dollar oil, but the new practice, which is almost certain to involve some oil, somewhere, may well be acceptable with 150 dollar oil. Or maybe even 300 dollar oil…since hormones powerfully incent teenagers to find the opposite sex.

              What we have in this example is an illustration of how market segmentation can work to eliminate the low value uses for oil, while preserving high value uses through technological innovation. The technological innovation need not necessarily be in the direction of ‘high tech’. The innovation might involve social media, but it may also involve activities such as crop mobs or community gardens or grange dances. Crop mobs, community gardens, and grange dances (as we would do them today) do have an oil component, but it is pretty small compared to driving aimlessly around in a two ton car. The innovations also don’t produce much GDP, and so provide little opportunity for government taxation. Which powerfully incents enlightened governments to drastrically curtail their activities. (Most governments are not enlightened, and will need to collapse.)

              What about the industry that produces the oil? And here we just have to accept the ‘creative destruction’ that the economist Schumpeter identified early in the 20th century. Exxon-Mobil may not survive, and its stock and bondholders may lose the money they think they have, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that oil won’t be produced from the tar sands. One of my points is that we had better try to make the bankruptcy process work as efficiently as possible so that paper assets, rather than real assets, are destroyed. We are, of course, doing the opposite.

              In conclusion, I think that your assumption that all of the all MUST disappear very rapidly is wrong. I agree that if governments continue to act as I perceive they are acting today, they can make the oil disappear. But I think that criticizing or dismissing technological innovations (whether high tech or low tech) which reduce oil usage while still achieving the fundamental goals is a mistake.

              Don Stewart

            • The problem I am talking about is that the financial system “breaks.” It can’t be replaced by the same kind of financial system, because the current system depends on growth (or at least not decline). We currently can’t run our current economy on $100 barrel oil without huge amounts of QE, which can’t last. We need to fix that problem, before we can even imagine that we could run a future economy on $150 barrel oil.

              The question is whether the kind of changes you are talking about are big enough and soon enough to fix our financial problems. I would argue that they are not. It doesn’t hurt to try making them, but ultimately the problem is likely to be difficulty in keeping the financial systems and governments going. Governments are likely to prove too hard to downsize to reflect the new economic reality.

          • Don,

            I agree that our governments are making things worse, not better. Unless you can afford attorneys, it is difficult to really get into the farming business due to all of the regulations, so instead of small local farms, we get all of our food from Mexico, China, the Midwest, etc… Take away subsidies and excessive regulations, and I suspect that small local farms would be a lot more competitive in a world where oil costs are rising. We desperately need to reorganize our economy to prepare for the future, but we are not allowed to, and a lot of this has to do with crony capitalism.

            The point about using less vs shorter supply lines is getting right to the heart of the matter. If we produced the bulk of our necessities locally, we would use a lot less oil, and the pressures of rising prices would be much less pronounced. It would likely also help fix the chronic unemployment problem that gets swept under the rug. I don’t think you could deal with areas like NYC where you have to feed and clothe 8 million people, but part of the problem is that we’re simply overpopulated. The other part is we are regulated to the point where it is difficult to start restructuring our economy to deal with expensive oil. The system is just too rigid, and it will break once the strain gets too great.

            That’s not to say that there is no use for government, but right now, it is doing harm. What is even worse is that so many are dependent on government that, even though this dependence may be bad, they will be in a world of hurt should the government collapse.

            Shifting gears here, but I would watch food prices closely, given the severe drought in California and the polar vortexes having an effect on the number of cattle in the US. How much higher do food prices need to go for Americans to start reacting poorly, as they did in the MENA region? We are already terribly divided and angry. What would a 50% or 100% increase in food prices do, especially if sudden? I think that we may be in for a very interesting summer.

            Also, look at gasoline consumption in the US. It has gone from around 60 million gallons per day back in 2007 to 23 million gallons per day. Cars are more efficient, but people are also driving around a lot less than they were. The economic recovery is a sham, and people must be made to realize that the good old days are never coming back.

            • Buying local and reducing food transport miles is not as simple as it sounds. From a 2006 article from the Economist

              And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

              This is in Britain where cars are smaller and distances driven are shorter.

              RIght now we, as individuals, can do a lot by carefully planning our shopping trips. Still there are limits. Again from the article.

              Food is central to the debates on the environment, development, trade and globalisation—but the potential for food choices to change the world should not be overestimated. The idea of saving the world by shopping is appealing; but tackling climate change, boosting development and reforming the global trade system will require difficult political choices. “We have to vote with our votes as well as our food dollars,” says Mr Pollan. Conventional political activity may not be as enjoyable as shopping, but it is far more likely to make a difference.

            • Dear Interguru
              If you had been reading this for the past couple of years, you would doubtless be sick of my promotion of gardening. But the cost of driving to the store for a head of lettuce is a very good example of why you should be growing the lettuce in your backyard or in the neighborhood community garden or even in a planter on your balcony. Lettuce has 50 or 100 calories per pound, which is practically nothing. It will cost you a hundred or a thousand times that in calories to drive to the store to buy the head of lettuce.

              One of the reasons for eating the lettuce is because your body needs the antioxidants that are in green leaves. And the fresher the leaves are, the more antioxidants they contain. A green leaf begins to deteriorate the moment it is cut off the plant. In studies, giving people who have been exposed to radiation the antioxidants in green leaves offsets the bad effects of the radiation (moderate doses).

              On the other hand, consider a staple such as wheat. Suppose you buy a 50 pound bag of wheat. It will last you for months. So the expenditure to drive to the store is much less in terms of per calorie cost. And dried staples such as grains do not deteriorate very much even if they are stored for a couple of years.

              In short, the solution is to garden for the low calorie, high nutrient foods such as vegetables and fruits, and to buy the staples from farmers in the vicinity. ‘Food miles’, as an abstract measurement, doesn’t necessarily mean very much.

              (If you live in a densely populated neighborhood in a big city, you probably have a store on the corner, which you can walk to.)

              Don Stewart

            • I love gardening. I did it as a kid, and I did it whenever possible as an adult. I stopped when shade encroached on my property and age and health encroached on my strength. All my shopping is within 3 miles of my house. I sometimes bicycle, but again I usually drive because of decreasing strength. Still it’s a short drive. I seldom have to buy gas.

              Gardening is great and should b encouraged, but like many other good things, it is not a magic bullet. I remember my mother’s Victory Garden during WWII. In bulk they had a large effect, but I doubt they made a large difference the outcome of the War.

            • Dear Interguru
              The Victory Gardens may have made more of a difference than you might, at first, think. A current hot topic in research is Epigenetics. Think of our DNA as a library of blueprints for making specific components which can be assembled into a human. Where do the instructions for using some specific set of the blueprints come from? In what order? Exactly when in the development from fertilized egg to adult human? Etc. The answer is that the instructions comes from the ‘environment’. To a toxicologist, the ‘environment’ is the toxins the person experiences. To a psychologist, the ‘environment’ is the chemicals released as a result of brain behavior, such as stress hormones or the hormones which bathe us when we fall in love. To a dietitian, the ‘environment’ is the food we eat. To a personal trainer, it’s about physical activity. Etc. In short, it’s all the things we experience, including our time spent in mother’s womb.

              During the winter of 1944-45 the Dutch were severely stressed for food. Studies which have followed up on people who were in the womb during that hard time have found all sorts of medical maladies in later life.

              Britain during the war was spared the worst of food shortages in some measure because of the Victory Gardens. And so those people who are now around 70 have been spared some measure of suffering from a variety of chronic diseases.

              Don Stewart
              PS Now, of course, we are engaged in a massive experiment to see how a fetus fed it’s mothers junk food diet will turn out.

            • Grand,

              I agree with pretty much everything you say. Gasoline consumption is down. A big piece of this seems to be young people not having jobs, and thus not being able to afford a care.

          • A lot of the food in the grocery store these days in my super markets says “PRODUCT OF CHINA” on the packaging. No amount of food miles that I am going to add even comes close to that. On top of that, local food production does not necessitate doing away with central distribution centers. We have a local co-op that has a central location for people to shop at with food from various local farmers and ranchers. The food at the grocery stores here is often produced, processed, packaged and shipped from over 1,000 miles away.

            Yes, going back to local production would take a lot of work, but we are not going to have a choice, and food miles will come down out of necessity.

        • I think we must see more clearly which kind of technology must be targeted, neither electricity nor stone. Iron Age is easy to maintain for some centuries if we leave mining for recycling and distribute its product now. It is easy to maintain some 17th century tech society using one iron kilogram per capita each year, not wasting it producing things such as weapons. Roads and infrastructure will gradually erode, but that’s exactly the point with entropy; the State must look forward.

          • We could perhaps target a lower level of technology, if people would agree to it so that everyone had the same level in mind. But it would be hard to see this happening voluntarily.

            I haven’t looked at what one iron kilogram per capita per year would mean in terms of forest use. It clearly wouldn’t be a whole lot of iron. A lot of it might need to be used in government projects–say bridges. Or industrial projects, such as printing presses and factories to make paper. Or axes for cutting down trees. At the same time, the biggest need would be in metal tools used in agriculture–wood does very poorly when it comes to dealing with heavy turf. There certainly wouldn’t be I-Phones or Television sets.

  6. Well, Gail….I have found your last two essays quite pessimistic, to put it bluntly. I only hope it is wrong as to the severity of our step down. I understand that your belief in a fast collapse is based on our dodgy economic state(s), worldwide, but how it plays out will only be understood in hindsight. To accept such a rapid collapse scenario assumes that people will idly stand by and watch it happen. I don’t believe that the Janet Yellens of the world can do much, but I do believe that individuals are capable of enduring much, and that it is possible to build a life out of problems, and around problems….one step at a time.

    I have thought of you often the last few weeks; every time the Atlanta weather has been mentioned in the news. I have also read that Atlanta is one of the most car dependent cities on the planet. It seems unbelieveably vulnerable and I wonder if your physical location has coloured your conclusions? I am sure that it has. I do agree that there could be some very very rapid disintegration of our complex and interdependent systems, and I fully expect many cities will experience violent and ugly protests with little prodding. Right now people are discouraged and resigned to ‘getting by’, but further rises in food prices or additional lurches in unemployment could very well incite similar riots and protests of the late 60s, imho.

    My concern is that approaching these changes from such a negative state will encourage many folks to disregard your fine work and thoughtful analysis. Your statement, (“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.”), was a breath of fresh air in your essay and I believe it is the most important idea broached. People need to understand that there is much they can and should do to be prepared for a downshift in our lifestyle and opportunities. To assume/accept that one will be a casualty in so many ways will discourage people from taking those first steps to survive and/or prosper.

    My wife and I took many steps, (almost ten years ago now), to simplify our lives and build in resiliency and survivability. Without going into our personal details it has been extremely rewarding and exciting. I think the most important attainment(s) was understanding the difference between needs and wants, getting rid of debt, and learning to live well on less income. It has provided us time to live deliberately. If I could recommend one important step for your readers it would be to get rid of all debt and live within your means. Everything else will eventually fall into place from that mindset. For example, if you cannot ‘get by’ in an expensive city on what you earn, then take steps to move and build a new life. With desire and motivation the ways and means unfold. Be courageous and move forward, God knows others are looking for examples and leadership.


    • “Right now people are discouraged and resigned to ‘getting by’, but further rises in food prices or additional lurches in unemployment could very well incite similar riots and protests of the late 60s, imho. ”

      If you are talking about riots over food prices, the protests are going to be worse, especially with how our police act. When rumbling bellies meet brute force, the potential for full-throated violence is very high, and the louder the bellies are rumbling, the higher the potential. High food prices were a big part of the Arab Spring.

    • I don’t think it’s a case of people idly standing by. The forces set in motion can no more be stopped than the tide coming in can.

    • Re: debt — I wonder if those who do not have the financial means to prepare themselves for the imminent crash should be piling on debt?

      Does it make sense to finance a small farm and all the gear required to operate it?

      I may be wrong but I wonder what will happen to debt when the SHTF – if billions die and the rest are living in a state of near starvation — is anyone going to bother to try to enforce any contracts? Will anyone even be able to find the contracts when the world is in total chaos?

      My inclination is to say to hell with it – leverage the system that we have on the basis that you will not be paying anything back down the road

      • If people are starving to death, I imagine it would be tough to find somebody to enforce an eviction. However, I would urge you to not do what you’re talking about unless you have a really good idea of when SHTF. If you time it wrong, you lose.

      • I am hesitant to say, “Go pay off debt,” for precisely the reason you outline. I really don’t know how the current situation will play out. Homeowners with mortgages can’t all be thrown out of their homes, because they can’t pay off the loans. At the same time, there is a lot of historical precedent for new governments coming in and redistributing land holdings in different ways.

        If the situation changes, we may very well have to move. In that case, all of the preparations we did in one area may be for naught. But at the same time, we will likely need to be part of a group to survive. Do we reform family clans, and those family clans move together? A cab driver I talked to a while back claimed that in the past in Asia, family clans often moved together in times of adversity.

        • Perhaps in the first phase of a downturn it is not good to have debt. We saw what happens….banks do enforce, start foreclosing and evict. In essence it is maybe better not to have debt in a deflationary and deleveraging environment because the probability to be able to serve the loan is getting lower, no job, no money. Only if chaos and anarchy develop out of such a downturn also enforcement will cease, I’d thin this will take a little while. Our system is so large, there is a lot of inertia built in.

  7. Gail,
    Thanks for this, as always. A sage overview. A quibble with the somewhat cavalier treatment of runaway climate disruption. I concede that one of a number of plausible scenarios–a cascading energy / credit supply collapse–is likely to curtail fossil fuel use more sharply than we are likely to to achieve voluntarily. But voluntary and forced fossil-fuel curtailments are not mutually exclusive outcomes, and in any number of other scenarios we might see synergies between climate- and energy-conscious choices. This just seems to lend itself to another set of false binaries. Your thinking on renewables seems inflected with a similar forced-choice paradigm–if renewables aren’t THE solution, they have little value.

    • There are two kinds of renewables:

      (1) Renewables that are made with renewable materials, like wooden wind mills and water wheels.
      (2) So called renewables, that are made with fossil fuels. To me, they are more like batteries that degrade over time. The only “renewable” part about them is that a renewable energy source must be used to activate the temporary battery. These are high priced. In some cases, an individual homeowner may want a panel or two to run devices. Batteries and inverters both tend to be short-lived, so the panels are best used to run things that can run on direct current–cell phones or computers, for example.

      Solar PV can be temporarily useful, off the grid. Wind turbines that can be made and repaired with local materials are likely useful. Other wind turbines should not be called “renewable” in my view.

      • Aloha Gail,

        I agree that solar and wind are not going to replace fossil fuels, but as someone who has used solar PV for several decades, I think you misunderstand the lifespan of PV related equipment, unless by “temporarily”, you mean several decades.

        I am still using a few round-cell PV modules manufactured by ARCO in the late 70s. Factory warranties for most modules are around 25 years. I expect that the useful life of a PV module approaches 50 years.

        Inverters don’t last nearly as long, but the first inverter (Trace) I used here at my present off-grid residence was placed in service in 1988 and taken out of service (still functional) in 2004. It was replaced by a couple of Outback inverters that have worked continuously ever since. I conservatively estimate that the useful life of a household inverter is about 15 years. With a couple of spares on the shelf as replacements, inverter AC power would be available to a homeowner for about 50 years.

        The only battery technology that has a 50 year life is nickel-iron. It may be that the new Aquion battery will last that long, but it is too early to tell. Nickel-iron batteries are expensive, but are probably the way to go for long-lived storage. I am presently using large lead-acid cells. When they end their useful life in the near future (about 10 years in all), I will switch to either nickel-iron or perhaps the Aquion battery if their potential is proven by then. In any case, it is possible to craft-manufacture a lead-acid battery in a small workshop, so they may be around longer than expected.

        I know that solar PV equipment is very expensive and not available to most people, but if one has the money to invest it can provide nearly a lifetime of dependable electricity. I am 65 years old and even though I hope to live for as long as possible, I expect that someone will still be using my present system long after I’m gone.

        • Solar with backups is a solution that may work for a wealthy small percentage of the population, provided big changes don’t intervene that make moving necessary, and provided that the owner plans well enough in advance. But it doesn’t work as an overall solution to society’s problems, long term, or even short-term.

          • Agreed.

            But question you asked is “What should our response be?”. Since there are apparently no really effective collective responses, you concentrate on individual ones.

            My family’s response has been to live in an agrarian tropical community and prepare to provide all our food and water from on-site or within walking distance. Our energy now comes from solar, wood, propane and gasoline. When collapse removes the propane and gasoline from the list, we will be left with solar and wood (the last gasoline I ever use will be in the chainsaw; after that it’s the ‘misery whip’ now hanging in the shop). Our neighbors in the surrounding community are in a similar situation and are our best defense against whatever civil disorder there may be. Our individual defenses are as adequate as we want to make them.

            I think our response has been about the best we can do. Rather than being a burden, our preparations are what we would be doing anyway just for the fun of it. For those who can do something similar, I highly recommend it. Don’t wait; now is the time to “get outta Dodge”, get out in the countryside and get planting.

        • I just bought some Goal Zero solar gear — they informed me that if the batteries are used every day they will last maximum 3 years.

          If used sporadically they will last maximum 15 years.

          Also they tell me a laptop cannot be effectively charged with drip feed from the panels – it must be charged via the battery.

          I see the solar as more of a toy that will let me run an LED light or two — or access some files on my computer for a period — but certainly not something I would count on for very long

  8. The world has enough oil to keep automobile personal transportation going strong in the USA until 2030. After that, gas prices will skyrocket and most of us will slowly go back to riding bikes & horses, riding the train for long journeys, and you will see some decent solar powered vehicles for short trips (50 miles or less). The best way to prepare is to move to a state that has a mild winter but also gets a good amount of rain. Keeping your house warm in the winter will soon (after 2025) become quite expensive.
    As far as climate change, I really get a laugh at the unintelligent comments. Our “carbon footprint” is miniscule compared to volcanoes, etc. If our fossil fuel usage is doing anything, it is preventing us from going into the next ice age, which in fact we are 100-200 years overdue for. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH ON HISTORICAL CLIMATE CHANGES. We are following the same cyclical weather patterns of ice age > slow warming> long warm period> back to ice age that have existed for 8+ Million years. Alaska had their longest frost season last year and our country is undergoing record cold and snow storms right now. The Ice man cometh.
    We should really be focused on banning the chemical pollutants that are poisoning our fish and plants and stop with the silly “climate change” nonsense. Every time we mention “climate change”, Al Gore makes another dollar.

    • Please do your own “research on historical climate change,” as I have just lived through Alaska’s warmest summer on record, the very same year that we had the longest frost season. Climate chaos is here whether its warming, cooling or both simultaneously. It is human caused and severe. Please stop denying this. The vast bulk of scientific consensus has come in on this topic. This type of misinformation is an obstacle to informed debate.

      • Politics has entered into this. Unless you know some of the people who actually do the research, or at least avidly read the scientific journals and understand the math and the science, it is going to be tough to wade through the political BS.

        That being said, CO2 does absorb certain spectrums of the IR band and re-emit them. In random directions. If you understand black body radiation, you will understand why this means that rising CO2 levels will trap more and more energy in the atmosphere and oceans. I am skeptical that we can really predict the consequences of retaining more of the energy that makes it to the surface of the planet at this point. The earth is just too complex. I am not skeptical that this will have lasting effects on the planet, because calories get things done.

    • hate to point this out (again) but for 7.9 of those 8 million years there were no human beings. Climate changes were long slow and didn’t matter much, species evolved to deal with them.
      For that last 100000 years there were no settled inhabitants over 90% of that time period. Again, cold and warm periods didnt matter, Earth’s inhabitants were just too sparse.
      Only in the last few centuries have people grown in numbers to create vast cities that exist through artificial means, In cold areas they need constant heat, in hot areas constant cooling.. Faced with rapid climate change, they will become unsustainable.
      It’s not climate change per se that’s the problem, it’s the speed at which it is happening.
      A million years ago we didn’t have an infrastructure

      • From personal experience when very poor I know that lack of energy for room-heating can be very adequately compensated for by thermal clothing (which is indeed how people lived in colder climates before fossil fuels provided central heating -‘Put another jumper on!’ ), A nice drink helps too…..

        But that a modern sealed glass building is simply impossible to live in when the air-conditioning goes off and it is a hot day (a nightmarish experience of this once in London).

        Goodbye, brave new cities of the Gulf states!

    • Hotel I wish you were right about energy etc…but I don’t think you are…your predictions and postulations seem like back of envelope calculating. So we don’t have to worry about anything for 10 years?

      • This is tru and if only we could know which states will be the most forgiving in which to live. Bill McKibben has argued that climate geography is changing so fast now that a state with mild winters and plenty of rain one year can be a drought stricken, flooded or snowbound state the next year. The earth that we evolved on is not the same one we are now living in. This is the fundamental problem with our converging catastrophes. As Chris Martenson has pointed out, changes in the Three E’s: Energy, Economy and Environment our now inextricably linked together. These three variables are interrelated in ways that we cannot yet fathom. With a devastated economy and less energy availability, just when we will need a predictable and forgiving earthly habitat for farming the most, we won’t have it.

        • I would argue that our belief in constant climate has been too strong in the past. If we look back, climate hasn’t been very constant. As long as we were hunter-gatherers it didn’t matter too much. When people started “owning” land and making large investments, it suddenly did make a difference. I am doubtful that there is anything we could do to get to a “level climate”.

          • Dear Gail
            We know that, in terms of calories, at least Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico are heavily dependent on imports…

            ‘Puerto Rico imports 85 percent of the food its residents consume’

            A Carribean Island doesn’t sound like a very good place to be in a crisis.

            Don Stewart

  9. Insightful as usual, except for the deeply ingrained (pun) obesity dogma. Repeat after me, Gail: it’s a storage, not a flow problem 🙂
    It’s the plants that cause it by denying us access to the energy in the seeds via biochemical defences. It really is that simple. You get so many things right, why is this one so hard to grasp?
    No huge portions and lack of exercise here:
    And the last time I heard about Egyptians (or all of MENA for that matter) gorging on saturated fat, as the flow dogma goes, was…ummm…never?

    Anyway, it does not matter much at this point, considering the enormity of the imminent catastrophe, but at least in the final hour we should be able to articulate what has caused all this catastrophe, starting 10,000 years ago: Seeds as food.

    Good luck to us all.

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