So, er, what's your plan?

From the comments a couple of posts back:

J says:

Laying aside the nominative squabbling about what kind of government we are slinking towards, I guess I have one burning question for every one of the people reading this blog - what are any of you doing (personally and/or profesionally) to prepare for the next decade? Does anybody here actually have a personal plan or is everybody waiting on government for the solution?

Big Gav responds:

I have a personal plan of the "head for the hills" variety - which is partly based on identifying "what sort of place is likely to slide down the peak in the most comfortable way", "what skills do I need to gain to become a valuable member of that community" and "how do I insert myself into such a place (which is partly a money and timing problem)".

This comment thread really got me to thinking.

So, why not open up another commenting thread just to ask you this question:

What's your plan (let's say in the next year) with regard to the oil situation? Do you have one? Are you formulating one? Are you thinking government will take care of the situation? How are you changing your life?

(Also, don't be a threadkiller and take up 25 inches of column space...this is meant to be a conversational thread. Thank you!)

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Right now I'm investing in oil stocks. But long term I refuse to go isolationist and go to some farming community with my guns to keep out the unprepared. I would much rather try to drag my community up to something that can work.

My wife and I are investing in residential rental real estate close in to Austin. We are frugal and even though our retirement accounts are satisfactory (at age 54) we are looking at real estate as safer in the face of accelerating inflation and rising interest rates. I've lived through the 70's Oil Crisis and recall the calculations on keeping an old gas-guzzler versus buying a new economy (e.g. hybrid) car. So we keep our current cars for another 4-5 years until parts are hard to find. We live close to the center of Austin so our commutes and local errand drives are short.

Consider buying some of the larger Canadian energy royalty trusts (particularly those with reserves in the Tar Sands), such as Canadian Oil Sands (tse: cos.un), which pay healthy and growing dividends. I would avoid many of the major equity oil stocks because it's difficult to really know how big the reserves are. Some majors (Shell, for example) have dramatically downsized their reserves, and there may be more of this to come.

As for life style, my view is that the Amish and the Mennonites (here in Canada) will become the model for community life as we slide down the right side of the peak oil curve. They use relatively low quantities of fossil fuels while generating much of their own food supplies, and enjoy a peaceful and healthy life style. A recent physical fitness study of the Mennonite community in St. Jacobs, Ontario found that the average male takes between 15,000 and 20,000 steps a day, while women do about 7,000. That's a lot of walking. Much of that energy is used in construction, farm work, and chores. We can learn a lot from these successful groups. It's just a matter of time before some enterprising author pens a best selling tome on the economical life styles of the American Amish.

Finally, I'm going to buy a good bicycle for running errands. The Chinese are throwing their bikes away for SUV's, and we are throwing away our SUV's for bikes. What's wrong with this picture?

I'm growing my hair and beard out, eating a lot of carrots, and practicing being stealthy at night. I'm also trying to build up a calorie stockpile just above my belt by eating ice cream every night.

I plan on stealing pies from the Amish and the Mennonites in rural parts of the north america. If they catch me I will act all wacked out and speak in tounges.


As a back up plan I am getting an education in petroleum geology and geochemistry. I figure I might be able to get a job in China teaching graduate students how to prospect for high maturity condensates in basins where conventional petroleum resources have been depleted. I would get an apartment somewhere close to work so I could use a bicycle or mass transit.

Might have already been mentioned: Life After the Oil Crash's Prepare links; among them being this one on why "head for the hills" might not be such a great idea. Living in the hills, I can see the author has a point.

Warning to other commenters:
Beware of adding links to your comment. If you add "too many", HaloScan tells you so and (for me at least) refuses to let you go back and edit your attempted comment, so if you wrote it in their bleeping window it's gone forever.

Preview works fine, of course.

Live in a fertile area, likely to have thriving local agriculture. That would not include Las Vegas.

Avoid areas near (american) nuclear reactors. If the power goes out they rely on diesels for their safety systems.

Consider stocking up on tradeable goods now, tools, etc. But don't brag about it.

Living alone or in a small community puts you at risk from brigands.

Upon learning of my pink-slipped retirement from teaching in San Jose about a year before actually receiving it, we looked at good geographicly sustainable regions on the Oregon coast, bought a piece of property in Yachats and designed an energy efficient house for it, reorganized our investment portfolio (investing in CanRoys as a hedge against higher energy prices), sold the house in San Jose and moved. As I mentioned elsewhere, we bought a 2004 Prius (gas here is 2.55, which translates to a cost of just under five cents a mile).

Currently, I'm in the process of trying to make my locale even more sustainable, while educating my new neighbors as to why the undertaking. This is a very large, multifaceted undertaking that started with becoming established within the already existing community networks. Tremendous opportunities exist within our geographic area from both resource and political standpoints. There's already a good start in establishing a biodiesel production and distribution network throughout the Willamette Valley, and foresters and farmers are very interested in growing/producing biofuels. But the number one area to pursue is the development of ocean power.

Additionally we face a challenge--when the great economic dislocations start and SoCal, Las Vegas, and Phoenix start to become depopulated, many of those refugees will come here for the same reasons I did. We must be prepared to welcome and assimilate those able to survive their exodus.

The real question for me is time. How much time do we have before we start falling down that cliff on the right side of the bell curve? A year? Two years? Five years? A Decade? I think most people reading this blog would say we definitely have less than 10 years. Okay, what about five? Personally, I'm gonna say less than five. Kunstler believes that things will get so bad so quickly that Bush will be impeached before finishing his term. Big Gav and I both agree (in an email exchange) that Kunstler is dreaming about Bush not remaining a figurehead, but a question still remains. Will things be that bad in two or three years time? If there is that little time left, that means we are poised on the edge of the cliff. Further, if we are willing to accept that we are indeed on a cliff why the hell are we keeping to any semblance of a normal life? Two, three, or even five years is not a lot of time to prepare, especially so if you live in Los Angeles like me. My essential point is are all of us in varying degrees of denial? Folks who read blogs like this are not in complete denial of the problem like most of the world, but because we are not all radically altering our lives are we failing to practice what we preach? Are we waiting for some 11th hour save from science even if we are not willing to admit it to ourselves? Are we in all various stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance)? To be honest, I don't even really know what stage I'm in, but I better figure it out quick and start moving because time is running out.

As a journalist, I went to writing about new media technologies to write about energy and oil (although I am still doing both things...)

As a citizen, created a website for the Spanish speaking world, (online since october 2003), we translate the ASPO bulletin, offer news and we maintain a very active forum.

Also, we recently created AEREN (in English, the Association for the Study of Energy Resources), a legal shell for the activities of Crisis Energética and a non profit organisation.

Finally, we are living in the countryside since December 2004. My wife commutes by train (we are just 50km from Barcelona), and I telework.

Ah, I also have a weird weblog.

My family and I have recently moved house, and are now within walking/biking distance of work and the centre of town.

Other than that, we try to support the local farmers market, and intend to start a vegetable garden at home.

We dream of our own little permaculture eden away from the city, but like most, its out of our reach. The best we can do, is to support our local industries, and be active in our community.

I might just clarify my "head for the hills" comment, lest anyone get the impression I'm feverishly packing my bags and running for the most remote corner of the country.

What you view as "the hills" depends on your point of reference. I live in a city of around 5 million people which has let its public transport system run down and has constructed a vaste swathe of closely packed McMansions that stretch a long way out from the centre, all of which are largely dependent on road based transport (James Kunstler's vision of hell I guess - although its not as bad as places like Los Angeles or Las Vegas). So, to me, "the hills" means towns of less than 100,000 people with plenty of farmland within a reasonable distance, rather than a shack out in a forest or some remote village.

In the meantime I'm just doing some of the obvious things like living close to work (and catching the train to get there), living less wastefully, flying less, getting involved setting up a sustainability centre with the local council etc

Personal plans need to cover a range of possible future outcomes - personally I'd like to stay in my current city and have it adapt to a much more sustainable lifestyle - but I'm dubious that this will happen gracefully, so I'm keeping the possiblity of some type of more sudden adjustment in mind and trying to have a way of dealing with it ready.

I have no idea yet. I suppose it's because I haven't figured out what the world's response will be to neverending economic contraction due to start soon. IMO, we waited too long to do anything and our economy is too dependent on cheap energy.

One thing you can count on, is that if government and private industry haven't bothered to make investments when the economy is good, they will not do anything when the economy is in a recession. As Bruce the Canuck remarked a dozen threads ago, the thrust of the people with money will be to maintain their income at all costs. The people with SUVs and McMansions are not going to go quietly; they'll be in favor of shutting down the cities if it buys them a few more years.

I think upstate NY would be perfect to weather any oil crisis. Good dairy and vegetable agriculture nearby (even wine!). Good community spirit and civic institutions. Western Mass or Vermont would also be good. The only concern would be winter, but there is plenty of wood around up there and good sources of fresh water. I'm thinking of buying some property in that area and stockpiling key supplies. Don't know what I would do for work, but I guess I could set-up a virtual office and work from home. Or join a commune.

I plan on selling my rental property within the next two years to cash in on people looking to move into the city to be closer to work as energy costs rise. I have been searching for 5-10 acres with good land and available water within 80 miles of the city to start a small self-sufficient farm. I intend to build a super insulated house complete with solar energy and wind power. I believe I have the skills to survive -- I am a master gardener, a union cabinetmaker/carpenter, an avid outdoorsman, and bicyclist (I also have a law degree but I think with the breakdown of society within the next ten years this training will be useless).

I guess I noticed in several of these posts that real estate and investments still play a big part in a lot of peoples planning. With the inevitable collaps of the economy, probable collapse of big government, and possible collapse of polite society...well, what will real estate be worth after all the hyper-inflated prices come down and the adjustable rate mortgages default due to 1970's level interest rates? What will stocks be worth when the market as a whole goes to base levels? And with our killer national deficits and debts, it is easy to imagine the dollar becoming much worse than the peso....

Tim is spot-on about gov and corp interests being no help. But the reason will be that they will be financially unable to do so. There will be no 'surplus' anywhere. I imagine gov being the source of a huge number of pink slips, not just corp.

I would urge others to have what survivalists call a "bugout plan", where you are packed and ready to head for the hills in the event of total societal chaos (riots, martial law, etc.). This means having already purchased some land somewhere away from major cities, and maintaining a cache of tools and supplies to restart.

Otherwise, only the Romans have been here before. So we should take it a day at a time, and try to maintain as best we can, but ready to beat feet with our families if it gets nasty.

Not much, really. I live in a small town , work to reduce my debt (being in my mid 30's means I am on the uphill side of building net worth) and try to raise two kids. My current plans involve staying in our smaller current house rather than moving to a larger (and costlier) one. We already live within walking distance of work, school, and food (although I plan to expand a few more garden plots).

Quite honestly, if the worst case scenario happens, I'll just have to muddle through like the rest of us less prepared types. I'm counting on some basic human decency to enable us to respond like the United States during Great Depression rather than like Weimar, but I know that's far from a certainty.

It's very hard to plan when the scenarios are so fuzzy and their advocates so emotional (and that includes willfully optomistic, clueless denial). The fog of millenist thinking is mighty thick in this problem space.

Even given a clear vision of the most likely scenario it's even harder to sort thru the posited solutions for what can supply a solution. As you start to try you certainly find a lot of bogus claim making going on. This is only going to get worse - for example we have yet to see the recycle the atomic bombs solution step forward.

I've been wondering if old urban models will have a competitive advantage when the cheap transportation that enabled the new urban models isn't cheap anymore.

I love the pie stealing plan though.

I would think the Mayan and Roman urban models would do nicely, with updates, Mr. Hyde. And I do like the pie thievery as well...

At this point it sounds to me like we might have a few bumpy years on the energy front, but not a disaster movie.

I think global warming is a bigger problem, that people won't get it until it is too late, and that it might make a disaster movie ... many years from now.

My mother-in-law said of the Great Depression: No big deal, it just meant everyone else just had to live the way she always had (she grew up on farms in Indiana; just passed away at 99).

I am not sure the rural countryside is so bad. There's community there, too!

I am mostly afraid of "every man for himself" including especially competing with our own children (using up resources they'll need). So to me the most important thing is to build community and get your community warned. And informed. John Michael Greer's paper tells me this - we'll have to decide right away what assets (buildings, roads) to abandon, or we'll waste tons of resources in a futile effort to keep it all going. Like having a 12-bedroom house you can't afford to heat or even paint. Or like overextending in a game of Monopoly. We'll have to intentionally and carefully downsize, or we'll ruin ourselves, imho. (Calculating in terms of energy cost, not $ cost.)

So what's the deal, do real doom and gloomers not believe in coal?

Other people tell me that Germany powered themselves on diesel from coal during WW II. If that's true(?), then it would seem the worst-case is an energy pinch until we get that production going.

Although the "economist" argument (that the market will save us all) seems clearly false over the medium to long term, I think it will pan out suprising well in the shorter term. As prices spike up and spot shortages develop, there will be a lot of opportunity for behavior change and technological fixes to reduce consumption and increase production.

This isn't going to make any difference fifty years down the road, but over the next five to ten years, I think we'll see these factors (together with the reduced consumption that will result from oil price shock-induced economic contractions) temporarily pull the quantity of oil demanded below the production curve.

Whenever that happens we'll see a sharp drop in price. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see oil back under $30 a barrel a couple of times in the next ten years.

During this period, I'm looking to get a small house within walking distance of downtown, with a yard big enough for a nice garden and a chicken coop. Except for not owning the house yet, I'm basically where I want to be--living frugally in a small apartment with one small, fuel-efficient car and several bicycles.

St Jacobs Ontario? How about my home town of Erbsville? close by!

Looked at Windmills back in 86 cost 30k to install, today, its 7800 for the same system. Pv solar hybrid because the canadain winters. It does work and I will be purchasing one for our new (off grid)ICF home in the next couple of years.

Was the first to buy compact fluour lights back in 1989 @ 31.00 for a philips 7 watt, still is going today, but I do have LED under the cabnet and over top the kitchen cabnet lights. You can buy them for Exit emergency signs and plug them in to a socket. They are costly thought- 42 bucks each. However I was talking to a friend who is an electrical engineer and he said for home used we will have to buy the whole light fixture because of the light spectrum required for our reading/lifestyle.
Electric vehicle will be in the planning stages for sure, long trips will be by train. Investment wise- its playing the greed of oil cos.

odograph -- as Kunstler has mentioned, the Germans did that with a little help from their massive pool of slave labor.

I would really like to see a careful economic analysis of what the stages of effects would be of $100, $150 per barrel oil. how do increased fuel costs affect transportation in a detailed way. How much less efficient does a megafarm become as farm eq, pesticides, and fertilizer become more expensive. How is international trade affected as fuel becomes more expensive. Etc, etc, etc.

Beyond that, I have shifted some investment into oil stocks.

odograph -

If the world goes to burning coal, desperately trying to maintain some semblance of our current energy 'normality', then I'm with you. It means global warming and then ice sheets...

Slave labor? If they didn't have Caterpillar tractors, or if their heavy equipment kept getting bombed, I could see that.

As a chemist, I have a hard time seeing "slave labor" playing into the actual chemical process of coal to diesel conversion.

J - it is hard to know which trends to extend, and it is hard to guess where society might switch gears.

I like to listen to E&E TV, and they had a bit on global warming just today:

The disturbing thing there was the mention of polls showing global warming at the bottom of "the public's" priorities, and increasing skepticism from the public that dangers are real.

That's a recipe for buring oil (and then coal) until some ice sheet does melt ... and by then it will be quite a bit harder to make adjustments.

I have no plans to change anything in the next year, as I live close to work, own an economical car, and am framing my investments around what I see happening with oil.

I don't actually think we'll have a problem in the next year, though we might have a slowdown or the beginnings of a recession.

I'm of the opinion that 'head for the hills' is not good advice for the average person. If things get really bad, I think we'll look like India, hugely congested central cities, 3 generations living in one living room, 3 generations of neighbors in the den and kitchen.

But I think a scenerio like that is a long way off.

I have to believe that debt reduction and increased self sufficiency are musts for the 30 something generation.

Also, I am planning on continuing to glean as much information from my Grandmother, who lived through the depression. The 'old-school' methods of canning, cooking and saving could be invaluable, especially with a modest garden. I think you can still buy Mason jars cheap at garage sales...

As an aside, I live in upstate NY, and would have to agree that I believe that it would be an ideal place to weather-out any economic slide. There is plenty of natural resources, strong communities, and yes, wine!

A few bottles of cabernet and a newly purchased wood burning stove would make even a Syracuse winter bearable. (can you even buy stock in woodburning stove factories??? heh heh)

All I have to say about everybody "switching their investments around" is this: What happens if the market goes to, oh say 7500 and stays? What if the Chinese begin selling our debt and the dollar nosedives? The entire market is waay too high to support the numbers the government itself issues, once you back out their "corrections".

The stock market is a gamble, hence the word "risk" on every prospectus. Relying on this as any type of a "savings" is a huge error in judgement. IMHO, of course...

and odo - the fact that global warming is low on the list is a testament to the gov ability to disinform the populace. Make no misteak, they are experts at spin and obfuscation.

We are looking at oil, climate, stock and plague (population) crises staring us in the face. Oil just happens to have hit first...

any students have recommendations for other students??? I have 2 years left of undergrad and currently am living off of student loans and the occasional help from home. I can't even begin to decide what my next step should be, especially since i'm hoping to continue into grad school.

Excellent thread! You can all come live in my little town; the rednecks can go somewhere else.

But seriously, the keys will be three:
Get rural in your setting so you can grow some or all of your food,
Get local in your support community, so you and your neighbors can cover all the bases,
Get general in your skill set, so you can make practical things work.

One thing unmentioned yet in this thread is that there will be some intense food rationing and government controls put in place when things get panicky, so don't wait too long to get to where you plan to be.

The government will want to commandeer a lot of farming land to keep its military fed. A lot of Iowa corn will go for ethanol to drive Abrams tanks.

Grad students in some fields like nuclear physics and chemistry and agriculture will do fine. Grad students in international marketing may find themselves weeding the onion fields for lack of global business needs.

You might want to consider that electronics, physics, thermodynamics and anything else related to solar/wind/wave/geothermal power systems will all be in demand. Real organic farming will be on the rise as petroleum is hoarded by the government and becomes scarce for use as pesticide or fertilizer. If you got a green thumb, you should be able to earn your keep.

In the trades, anyone capable of building energy efficient homes will be in demand - especially making disparate systems come together to lower energy consumption. If you can hookup solar panels, put in a solar water heater, plumb and grout a geothermal heat exchanger, hookup micro-hydro...all of these will be in demand.

I'm with antifa - marketing, MBA's, managers...the people service businesses employ will be gone as businesses collapse with the slowing economy. I would hate to be in insurance or anything remotely seen as "paper pushing".

If I were to return to college, I would major in electro-mechanical engineering and take electives focusing on the generation of electricity from the ocean.


I think that you would be surpized at the amount of petroleum products that go even organic food production. Diesel oil, liguid propane, not to mention, motor oil, hydraulic oil.... Some, but not all of these have non petroleum alternatives (biodiesel, for example), but I think that, as our government's persuit of free markets runs into the world's resistence to the US' and EU's farm subsities, the sustainability of these practices will be under stress before oil price pressures.

Well, I do have a few small gardens here at the J homestead. And I did work on a farm for a couple of years, so yea - I know how much petrol is actually used. In particular, weed control is the biggest issue for big farms, hence the wonderful crop of GM grains that can tolerate Agent Orange...

I think you could be right - I would love to see the farm conglomerates actually try and make it without subsidies, especially as oil prices rise. I don't think it will be a doable deal.

But if the GM grains and other plants somehow transfer to a weed population - well, it would be like Jurrassic Plant Park. Maybe that would make them opt for GM plants that are not designed stupidly. And making them resistant to weed killer is really a stupid thing to engineer when there are so many other ways to go.

I live in a small town (6,000) in the rural southwest. my wife and I got together with family and bought 80 acres of scrub and floodplain (who would want floodplain? you can't build on it, but it makes for a wonderful garden!) We're just finishing a paper adobe house ($5,000). You take a 4' stock tank, mount a 10 hp motor to run a spinning lawn mower blade in the base, and presto! you have a blender that can pulp paper. Then you shovel in some sifted dirt (preferably with a lot of clay), dump it out onto some shadecloth strung across a few pallets to drain for a day, and you have paper adobe. Strong, free, with both insulation and thermal mass. people make it into blocks and pave them up; but we prefer to lay courses, like a huge coiled ceramic pot. then you stick in doors and windows and you're done. (we're experimenting with out electricity. if you leave out the utilities, your costs plummet. and you save money on utilities.)

Now that it's mostly done, it feels great to be inside. We fitted double pane french doors (that were being discarded) on the south side, and the solar gain is enough to warm it with some assist from a wood stove. (it get's down to 15 degrees, but warms up during the day).
The big thing is to become part of your community. I've lived here 15 years, my wife 25, our families have followed us here, we know most people, one way or another. most people haven't heard of peak oil, and even those who have, and believe it, aren't going to do anything about it until events puncture the bubble that surrounds us all. It just happens that I always wanted to homestead, and this gives me an excuse. But we're right on the edge of town, and we figure we'll be a resource for all our neighbors, when food gets expensive and they belatedly decide to grow their own gardens. we figure the best survival technique is survival as a community. No other alternatives are viable, or particularly desireable.

So far I have moved to within walking distance of work and shopping, downsized cars, sold motorcycle (was for fun only, commuting was cheaper in a carpool) an am bicycle shopping for the first time in years. My wife will retire within 10 years and eliminate that commuting expense. As Jim Burke said, the answer is working with your community, not heading out into the wilderness. Most of the people who live remotely in the West have very high traveling expenses.

Jim Burke -

How does this paper/mud concoction handle high humidity as a building material?