Peak Oil and America's Declining "Social Capital"

I have been thinking a lot about the communities that are going to result from peak oil's havoc. With the economic fabric already growing increasingly tattered and the class structure increasingly bifurcated, it seems logical that many people are going to be at a loss due to recession and a decline in the standard of living that is the result of what's coming.

Will the citizenry not attempt to return to some kind of social structure from the past? If so, what will that social structure look like? 1960? 1920? Does it depend on the pace of the economic and cultural decline? or will be it some sort of futuristic isolated techological society that is governed by big brother?

Sure, no doubt there will emerge small self-sufficient communities that are socially-based, such as those promulgated by Community Solution and the like. However, much of our society is currently well outside of those sorts of cultural and mental bounds; much of our current society has (d?)evolved into a selfish culture of instant gratification and social isolation.

If you buy Hubbert's curve, and you believe we are at the plateau, five years from now, oil production will equal that of 2000, ten 1995, etc., all the while demand grows.

Therefore, it is an important thought experiment to think about what our society will look like in three, five, even ten years...will we be enduring the consequences of an overshoot? will we attempt to revert to our social structures of yesteryear? or are we too far past those to ever return? Those suffering in the Great Depression at least had social structures to rely on...what will we have to rely on?

The answer may be "ourselves" unless we wake up and understand the need to return to a social fabric.

Let's diagnose where we are. One of the most influential books in my discipline over the past ten years has been Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

I'll not review the book, as there are many astute reviews out there already.

My main objective here is to think about how peak oil will affect what Putnam calls an already declining amount of "social capital," which is the notion that social networks add value to a society. A country's social capital is therefore "the collective value of all "social networks" [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other ["norms of reciprocity"]."

Putnam's main premise is that American social capital has been in decline for decades, and it has resulted in a society that is less worthwhile and less cohesive.

That's a very erudite way of saying we crazy-assed Americans have fewer meaningful neighborhoods than in the past. We are more likely to lock our doors than thirty years ago. We don't have as many friends over for dinner. We don't belong to nearly as many bowling leagues or social clubs. The social fabric is tattered in Putnam's eyes.

Yes, Putnam's work quickly becomes normative, but perhaps appropriately so. He rails against commuting, he rails against suburbia, he rails against many things. But, Putnam comes to the conclusion that, in a lot of ways, our culture has changed for the worse.

The dystopic visions of peak oil that get discussed on this site lead to the downfall of commuting, suburbia, and many of the other things Putnam believes erodes social capital. So, with those influences absent and people's lives changing because of recession, how will our quantity and quality of social capital change?

People's lives are going to change, but how so? Will we get to know our neighbors again? Will we build the social fabric of our neighborhoods again? Or can we get them back?

Does anyone else find it ironic that we need a decline in our society to have an opportunity to build back our social capital?

(This is post one of two or three on this topic...)

(edited to add: please go over and read Kurt Cobb's piece on the "Politics of Survival," a topic related to this post.)

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I think that a possible consequence of Peak Oil is the inability of the United States to hold together as a functional polity - it may come to resemble something more like the Holy Roman Empire of ages past: symbolically powerful, but nearly meaningless in terms of day to day life.

Starting from this assumption, my working assumption is that the luckier parts of the country will devolve into semi-autonomous or independent small towns or city-states (which may be plagued by civil war, guerilla warfare, banditry, civil unrest, or other effects of general lawlessness). I think the unlucky parts of the country will revert to feudalism in some variation, possibly including outright slavery in some areas.

This of course is all pure speculation, and I can't venture to say what areas will do what, except to say that I am guardedly optimistic that my area (the Pacific Northwest) may have enough resources and civility to maintain some measure of orderliness.

Yes, PG, "it seems logical that people are going to be at a loss due to recession and a decline in the standard of living".

You can talk all you like about the coming transformation, and I welcome it in some perverse way, but there will also be a lot of suffering and also, loathsome to hear, death from privation and disease. And you said

"Does anyone else find it ironic that we need a decline in our society to have an opportunity to build back our social capital?"

Yes, sure it's ironic but I wonder if our social capital will ever attain its current level ever again. I doubt it. Our past prosperity (especially in the 50's, 60's when I was growing up -- born in 1953) seems an anomaly now... taking the long view, sandwiched between the 30's, World War II and the 80's, 90's, now.... As America becomes a third-world country, I often wonder about what happened. Best,

And also, when I post here at the Oil Drum, I am comforted by the fact that I am talking to the best people, the ones most likely to know what the hell is going on and I'm happy to talk about that... instead of usual wall of denial as I said in my comment about the psychological situation in a comment on an earlier post "Sadly, It Truly Isn't Just a River in Egypt".

I'm worried about what jobs will be available, what food will be available and how to survive and you talking about peaking oil and how many f**king parties we'll be having !!!

An interesting thing to watch will be the fundamentalist "mega-churches," which are fast growing in exurban regions and believe they are in a "spiritual war" with the cities. They are in strong alliance with the current administration, which is making moves to administer social programs through such churches.

A lot of this fundamentalist movement is centered near military bases ( the Air Force Academy is a prime example in Colorado Springs), and if things turn difficult, I wonder how these two institutions will deal with hard times and stress.

They hate the cities, they hate liberals, they really hate homosexuals. In fact, they seem to believe they are at war with modernity itself. Will they remain tolerant if society collapses, or will they become a very dangerous and angry group looking for scapegoats?

I'm not sure I want to find out ...

My first observation is that social capital can't be measured in dollars because much of what it provides can't be valorized, and secondly that it ocillates. An important adjunct to "Bowling Alone" is William Greider's "Who Will Tell The People?" which discusses the rise of new grassroots organizations outside of the Duopoly and whose numbers are rising since Seattle in 1999.

My assessment is once Peak Oil becomes politicized social capital will grow as a result, and we are very near that point. There will still be tragedy as our predicament is spawning anomie at a greater rate than usual. I would add to my above observations that it's possible to have a declining population whose social capital is increasing.

Why? Falling back on collective action is a longstanding human/primate behavior--strength in numbers. This could actually become very energetic as suburbanites convert their lawns, driveways, sidewalks, and roofs to garderns while working to lower total energy use and construct ways to produce energy. I would also expect a large shift in population from the cities to farms and a refugee problem of massive proportions; but I would still expect collective action to attempt to remedy the situations peacefully. In comparison with what needed to be done in the 1930s when NONE of the fundamental government and social infrastructure to cope with such a problem existed as it does now, I think we have a good chance at transition PROVIDED the federal government doesn't muck it up by starting another war pursuing "Last One Standing."

Nice article at Culture Change A scenario for a sustainable future from a petroleum-industry analyst. Jan addresses som of these issues, and says -

The social fabric has been unraveling for several decades, and the lack of solidarity or social cohesion is one of the reasons there must be a collapse in the U.S. -- after all, do you see community-spirit on the rise and an actual transition underway to a sustainable and ecologocial society? As this series of essays has explored, people are driven apart by materialism and trying to separate themselves from nature.

Unplanning has a good article "The Importance of Transportation" in regard to peak oil

Our social fabric has been eroded by many factors.

These two; the loss of the "family homestead" replaced by suburban living, the mobile nature of our jobs (we are routinely forced to move to new locations), both of which can probably be traced back to globalization sucking jobs out of the US. This has also forced longer working hours, both parents working, minimal vacations (they are actually frowned upon in many corporate cultures), and thus the time to socialize has disappeared. Even if we had the time, all we want to do at the end of a 10 hour day and 2 hour commute is slump in a chair and NOT socialize...

Overcrowding has eliminated any buffer zones for urban and suburban residents. Fences DO make good neighbors, but humans in current urban situations are reminescent of poultry in commercial chicken houses. We eat each other, climb on each other to get to food, transmit diseases in a flash, and we have no true privacy.

I think power down will have to happen as cheap energy declines, and this is an opportunity for the human race to simply SLOW DOWN. Human race/rat race....what the hell are we all engaged in a race for? MONEY! Why? Because it is what we must have to survive in the current culture. The more we have, the cushier our survival. But we have neglected to take into account the social price associated with this race.

Societal values are severley warped and skewed, and the only cultural model that comes to mind is Rome. We are like Romans moving at warp speed to our own demise, fiddling with earning more and more money and accruing more and more things.

Don't sweat the mega-churches. The only time Jesus went into a temple was to throw out the tax collectors. The mega-churches will implode of their own hypocrisy - God can sort them out quite nicely. Witness Catholicism and its problems.

The unconscious mind senses things in such a way that it can produce enormous anxiety with no readily apparent cause. We are seeing this all over the modern world, and the manifold crows coming home to roost (peak oil, overshoot, climate change, social dysfunction, false economy) might not be acknowledged or even understood, but the unconsciousness mind senses them nonetheless. Anxiety is rising daily all over the world - it is not doing so in a vacuum.

I haven't seen a tombstone yet that said, "Here Lies John Q. Public - He Sure Had a Lot of Stuff". We are focused on the wrong things, and chasing them has damaged our ecology, economy and society. The coming changes are an opportunity to change to something better. Let's be ready for opportunities as they present themselves.

Go forth and engage thy neighbor...

The culture of the industrial revolution before Peak Oil is just a blip in time over a much longer history of mankind. It means nothing.

Life actually sucked before the industrial revolution. Industry and science has made our lives better.

There's no reason who declining oil will change America that much. People will just drive smaller cars and live in smaller houses (which may use electric instead of gas or oil heat).

Halfsigma -

Did you even read what we are talking about?

Nobody is impugning technology or science here.

But if you think oil disappearing from our lives will be some sort of non-event, then I guess you don't really know how much of daily life is derived from oil...and how "not ready for prime time" all the alternatives are, INCLUDING NUCLEAR.....

My biggest fear in the very short run (aside from hoping Firefox and
Haloscan don't conspire to lose this post) is that the neocon cult will
try to "fix" their plummeting poll numbers in the U.S. by starting a war
of words against Iran. That could all too easily turn into a shooting
war, which would had a steaming helping of chaos to an already psychotic
energy situation. (Now that we see how Bush and his people rigged the
Iraq war run-up and what an utter crapfest they've made of that
situation, I wouldn't put anything past them, even something as stupid
as starting another war when the U.S. doesn't have nearly the resources
to pull it off.)

In the slightly longer term, I'm most concerned about the lost jobs due
to a major economic downturn. Yes, there will be both winners and
losers once we see high energy prices (and we're not even close yet),
but the economic dislocation could be severe and very painful, at least
in the short run.

Beyond the next 5 years or so, I don't think any of us can make
reasonable predictions. Being an economist, I know first hand how
wildly off-base even the most carefully considered and quantified
prediction can be once it encounters reality. There are ALWAYS
surprises, both good and bad, and many interactions between events, some
unforeseen, that cause positive and negative feedback loops, as well as
the cancellation of expected effects.

As one "small" example, there have been a string of breakthroughs in
ethanol and biodiesel production, none of which are in production yet,
although they will be soon. (Genetically engineered E. coli that eats
almost any plant matter and emits ethanol, etc.) What happens if one of
the many people and corporations looking for it actually finds the holy
grail of biofuels, an insanely cheap and efficient way to turn biomass
into tank-ready fuel? That would radically alter our entire future.
I'm not predicting it will happen, let alone soon, but a lot of
corporations and universities are working very hard on this problem, and
I wouldn't bet on their failure any more than I would bet on their success.

My point is not that I think we should all sit back and be happy little
optimists with vacant smiles on our faces as we wait for the people in
the white lab coats to invent some magic technology to save us. But I
also don't think we gain anything from making linear extrapolations
based on current technologies and trends.

We need to spread the word, and do everything we can to get our
governments (particularly in the U.S.) to enact smart, effective energy
policy, as well as help individuals make the best decisions for
themselves and all of us. We can do that without making long-term
predictions which are more likely than not, no matter where you fall on
the optimist/pessimist scale, to prove useless or even counterproductive.

There is no social fabric because that has taken a back seat to getting the money. See, we need money to live (the way things currently are), so we incessently chase the money. Devote huge swaths of our waking time to get it, even moving to other cities to follow the money. The only thing we trust now is the money, not one another for the most part.

So what we need is a means of living whereby we must trust and rely on one another. Interdependance they call it. Instead of relying on the state to back the money, we need new money that is backed by our own actions. So I'm working on this problem. Triple entry bookkeeping, etc. Shared transaction repositories for identity verification. That kind of thing. Dont worry, the increasing price of oil and the fallout of it will help what I propose along. It will enable people who dont really know each other well to co-operate and, say, start up micro-biofuel-breweries, that kind of thing. All kinds of ventures, whatever is interesting and seen as a need by those who want to participate. We all work together in one way or another, renewable energy actually gets cheaper, everybody wins, governments and corporations become obsolete.

I wrote the above before reading the existing the comments to this post. After reading them, I feel that karlof1 and spooky and myself are dancing around the same memes and thoughtforms.

First ---I have no solution to the problem I pose here.
Maybe some smart people out there do.

It becomes clearer each year that the American capitalist system is unsustainable. No, I'm not a commie. Communism too is/was unsustainable.

Our species needs a new kind of system that does not lead to a globalized race for the bottom.

Right now, all the nations of the Earth are racing against each other to see who can suck out the most oil, natural gas, fresh water, fish, etc., from Mother Earth the fastest, this being a sign of that nation having the best "economy" on the planet as well as the obvious blessings of God. Something is wrong. This is a tragedy of the global commons and it is leading us to our collective doom. No one seems to know how to put the brakes on this self-destructive behavior. Instead it is accelerating. It is all based on the notion that "greed is good". How do we spread the word that such greed is suicidal in the long run?

France to Host World's First Nuclear Fusion Plant

One of the headlines in the NYT at noon today. Here's a link to the article:

If (when?) fusion arrives, salvation will be at hand for energy requirements.
The problem with practical fusion, it appears, is that it's about 50 years away, according to experts, and most of us here at TOD will be dead and buried.

The article noted that the U.S. recommended that the fusion plant be built in France. Wonder if U.S. authorities know something that we don't?

As numerous commentators have said, "fusion is the energy of the future - and always will be."

Also worth noting is that fusion was figured to be 20-30 years in the future in the 1980s. Now its 50 years in the future?

Finally, fusion, like fission and most renewables, is set up to make electricity, not liquid fuels and fertilizer.

In light of the discussions on TOD, I am completely unimpressed by fusion's "potential".

Stepback--You're spreading that word now, as am I, by publishing it so it can be read by others. Although I think most of us posting here have already internalized that message, there will be those who haven't and will ponder it. Perhaps it might be more effective to rent a billboard and plaster it with the message "Greed Destroys" or "Mammon's Pursuit Destroys" or some similar soundbyte, but I understand your frustration because we're like so many Davids fighting the Goliath our culture of greed has become.

Pinchy--I would say we have a system that relys very heavilly on interdependence already, which spawned the complexity that the fossil fuel bust threatens. What I think you, I, us seek is higher degrees of neighborlycommunitarianness, like that sparked by the Neighborhood Watch Programs, which serves as a fine template for communal governance and action.

Hypothetically, Peak Oil should be an apolitical issue as should climate change, and the straightforward response to both is to powerdown. Unfortunately, our Culture of Greed has politicized both, which inhibits our ability to clearly see the problems and solution, and then act upon them.

Globally, I would say that the political solution to the fossil fuel bust is through solutions to climate change because of the latter's already politicized status globally. (This makes it easy to see why Bush and his supporters are dead set against doing anything about climate change because its solution ultimately sinks the neocon/neoliberal/imperial globalization project.) Of course, we here in the metropole being the biggest polluters/consumers can have the greatest impact. This is already happening through the efforts of cities and states to "ratify" the Kyoto Treaty and implement initial commonsense energy conservation to reduce emissions; efforts gaing traction and publicity enough to cause recent movement in the Senate. What I've yet to see is actively overt linkage between global fossil fuel depletion and climate change from these efforts. This can easily be changed. Left unsaid is the point that our Culture of Greed is at the root of the problems.

interesting karlof...see, I have been thinking about it differently...I think peak energy talk is going to drive the sheeple part of the equation, while climate change has already affected elite opinion. People can see the impact of peak energy more readily (every time they drive by their gas station) than they can climate change...whereas there's seemingly always going to be 50% of folks always saying "climate change is a cycle not caused by human hands" yadda yadda. Those 50% of folks are going to bemuch less likely to say "$4/gal is not because of peak oil."

the causes are inherently linked though, no doubt.

one thing that's come to mind since I wrote this post is how different our "diverse" culture is now than it was in 1929/30. People were much more "on the same page" back then, but now, life is more individualistic. It does make me wonder, ceteris paribus, if we were more on the same page as we were back then, would getting past peak energy/climate change be easier or harder than it's going to be now?

I think the single biggest thing we are hurting for is time - expectations from corporate managers are too high, resilting in burnout. The economy runs in bubble after bubble, resulting in massive layoffs and career changes and job hopping, all of which eat time. Commuting eats time, and increased travel demands eat time.

Time is money - but we always seem to be paid a lot less than what our corporate masters bill for our services. That "time" is simply taken away from us as profit, and we never get it back.

The pace we live in is simply too fast. The French are right to hang on to their "lack of work ethic". We need a "play ethic" here in the US, and a smarter way to work than commuting and climbing corporate ladders where the rungs are designed to be kicked out from under us at will by management.

THEN we might be able to rebuild a semblance of polite society in America.

Actually, getting oneself and others to step back out of the cognition cage that surrounds us all is quite difficult.

We live in an atmosphere of air and therefore do not see it.
Similarly we live in an economic atmosphere of short-sighted economic self-interest. We breathe it everyday. We take it as a given part of the world order. No other possibility comes into view.

This discussion, about something being wrong, is one I have had with others in different circles. Yet I could not put my finger precisely on it and still cannot. There is no clever sound bite that explains why Adam Smith's invisible greedy hand is spiralling us ever closer to the edge of the abyss.

As many in this Oil Drum circle now understand, Peak Oil is just one of many symptoms for the growing problem. I fear we are also past peak on human intelligence and open dialog. The corporate mind benders control our thoughts and herd us into accepting mass consumerism as the only way to inhale the economic air around us.

PG--Ever read John Dos Passos' trilogy "USA"? I did as part of my study to get a firmer understanding of pre-depression and then depression America. What I learrned from that study is even then society was effected far more by centrifical forces than recognized--we weren't "on the same page" as much as historians have made it seem. Further, despite literacy being lower then, people were far better informed through their socialization networks than today, which put them more "on the same page" than today. But it should be remembered that much of this latter samepagedness only came about as a result of the crash and depression; it was those happenings that caused the sensational Nye and Pechora committee hearings that brought forth some of the (eventually watered down) New Deal regulatory acts and agencies. FDR was accused of "betrying his class" in advancing the New Deal. I would argue that he saved his classes' ass; that he helped to stem a rapidly rising tide of Leveller/Digger-type radicalism. So, I would conclude that in the years you provide--1929/30--any solutions would be as hard to come by as now. But once you advance the timeline to 1934/35, I would say it became very easy. The primary reason is obvious--we aren't in full crisis-mode yet--which brings me to why our outlooks differ.

Although I have already agreed that the signs of Peak Oil are reinforced more on a daily basis by gas prices, many documentaries and a well publicized and highly viewed movie have made climate change visible, and it too is noticed when the weather acts "funny." Further, the Kyoto debate and Bush's going against public opinion opposition has actually served to increase its media exposure, something Peak Oil has just barely started to achieve. Just look at the lead up to the G-8 and all the publicity (in the British and European press) showered upon Blair's climate change agenda. So I naturally see the issue of fossil fuel depletion as being easily linked with climate change.

I would say there are clear lessons to be learned by looking very closely at the years 1928-1935, both here and abroad. Plainly many on the planet are quite dependent on trade acerage as a large part of their carrying capacity, which will decrease as fossil fuels and the fossil acerage they supply deplete. The importance of this dependency is something that is known today in ways that it was ignored during the depression. (Although credit must be given to Keynes who did see it and warned about it in his "Economic Consequences of the Peace.") Otherwise, the eras will be different because the solution for us is to powerdown, while the depression's short-term solution was to powerup, which is why we now need to powerdown.

Stepback - See the organization Redefiing Progress, and see their report at ... I heard of this group through the Atlantic Monthly years ago; my summary of their point is that a stay-at-home mom raising sane and healthy kids and managing her marriage successfully is a SLACKER when it comes to raising GDP - compare that family to a two-income pair raising latchkey kids who are given expensive electronic toys and end up costing lots of psychiatric bills and health care bills; throw in a bitterly contested divorce ($$ to lawyers) and now they support two homes, and if you're able to stand it throw in a good long bout of cancer and you have a heroic contribution to the GDP possibly in 7 figures. This culture is crazy. Another source is the book "For the Common Good" by authors Daly and Cobb (tough reading for me, because it seems addressed to fellow economists; someone should write a version for the general public) but its general idea is the failure of classic economics to represent the real world. These would maybe give you a whole lot of ideas around your concern.

I believe that the issue of declining "Social Capital" is not a new one in our society. This decline of social capital is a generationally cyclical phenomenon in Anglo-American history and not a linear one. I have no doubt, a belief encouraged by my interactions with new parents, that we are entering an era of protective, child-centered parenting and community involvement that will seem worlds apart from the thesis of Putnam's "Bowling Alone". My ideas along these lines are heavily influenced by Strauss & Howe's "The Fourth Turning" and are summarized here:

It's true that this historically cyclical phenomenon is crossing paths with a much longer term change of course in the availability of fossil energy. This will inevitably lead to much difficult change and much suffering but I am optimistic that for those who embrace local community and family and for those who are already on the path toward 'voluntary simplicity' the world of 20 years from now may actually be much more enjoyable than the crazy world we live in today. This will not be true for those who resist the inevitable changes ahead, but my readings in Generational Dynamics lead me to believe that the larger society is nearly ready for the required changes.

I don't 'buy' the Hubbert's curve and if I am right then most all your planning will be too late and too short. The reason time will run out and catch 99% of the people unprepared mentally and materially is what has been called the Superstraw effect. Do you look at Hubbert's curve and think that at 'Peak' there is still half the oil still in the ground ? We are way past that half way mark, thanks to the ability of the oil industry to find it and suck it out.....the Superstraw result !

The ADR, deplection sloop of 3/5 % will be 12/15 % until society cannot support the very complex 'just fill it up with 87 octane,Joe' system. Oil production will go past the 1995 figure faster than people's last meal and hungry people don't cooperate very well, especially joe sixpack.

I was in Vietnam 1967-68, and a peace corps volunteer 1970-72.
I have been following the PO discussion on the net for 5 five years, every day. I got that feeling that this society was an accident waiting to happen in 1978. I was in a 6 week,mainframe computer class with two instructors, two americans and six russian PHDs. Yeah, we were selling our newest and fastest computers to our 'friends' the russians in 1978.
I went back home, sold the house, quit the career job and went the the deep woods. Lot of things did not go smoothly but here we are 10 miles from a very small town, 40 miles from a 100k city with 95 acres, animals, orchard, woods, ponds, excellant health and the place is paid for. I work about 3 months of the year with our local tax prep. business. I know more about our neighbors, because they tell me, than their preacher.

I should feel very comfortable with PO coming but I am not at all happy with the way I see this state/people handle the depletion curve. Between the goverment lies, industy 'experts' lies and general joe sixpack values, there will be very little community preparation . If the future of this country rest on 95 % grasshoppers and 5 % ants, how would you tell the story ?

My advice is do your on thing, don't waste time or expose your preps to anyone and when the word gets out about oil future production (the paper assets will be just paper,good for starting fires, etc.), you help the people you want to help, they might cooperate instead of just nodding their heads as they do now.

Keep on posting, everyone.

Someone should correct me if I'm wrong, but...George, you can "buy" Hubbert's Peak and still be very worried about the amount of oil left after we reach the peak. Heading Out, especially, has posted many times about how the second half of the oil supply is going to be a lot harder to suck out than the first half (go back into our archives). Hubbert was talking about the literal amount of oil in the ground--he wasn't concerned with whether it was sweet crude or the stuff in between the tiny pores of the sandstone rocks. Once we get all the sweet crude, there still might be 40% of all of the world's oil reserves left, but that doesn't mean we can use it.

Addendum...Well, OK, we could use at least some of that remaining 40%, but it won't be easy to extract and it won't be cheap. And the remainder will be entirely unattainable.

Well, the way society reshapes itself will largely be dependent on what the backside of the curve looks like, I think. If it isn't too steep, we can expect to see two car families parking their second car and the resurgence of car pooling, ride sharing and public transportation. As the economy tips over into recession, you will probably see more than one generation of families living under the same roof. Kind of a return to a 40s style society. If the curve is really steep, OTOH, I expect outright panic will take hold and rational decision making will go bye-bye. No telling what might happen then.

I think the emotional side of the equation is very important. All of those fear-based choices are going to make up the aggregate of human behavior. So I want to look at the depression years, as Karlof suggested, to see what people did.

And then there is the issue of corporate behavior. Their power is unprecidented.

I wonder what the percentage of the population is that is actively working to reconnect our social fabric. And I think there is a general yearning to go back to connected living. I met my neighbors a few days after 9/11 when that email went around inviting people to go outside with candles at 7:00. Much to my astonishment, when I went out side the street was full of others doing the same. The question is will peak consequences trigger this kind of behavior or the competitive behavior. Or what will the mix be.

I wrote the following to a Selectman in a small NH town where my wife grew up. I believe COMMUNITIES as well as INDIVIDUALS need to get involved asap. And we can help our communities get started.

"...So here’s my idea of what towns should think about:
1. Everyone will need to have a basic sense of security, else they’ll act desperately. This motivates much of the following.
2. We’ll all need to cooperate, and probably re-learn a moral code about how we cooperate and help one another. I suspect a good Unitarian minister would be a godsend, able to lead discussions on moral issues separately from and independently of the political and interpersonal arguments and conflicts that will naturally arise. Church suppers can combat isolation and help people keep tabs on others’ needs.
3. We must act in a way that is permanently sustainable. A Town Forest; Town laws preventing excessive (or permitting careful) forest cutting – and environmental stewardship in general – will be important.
4. A way to enable the poor to survive – this would be land for a garden (or access to town garden(s)), freezer space, woodlot share, etcÂ…
5. Education / mutual exchange of knowledge e.g. gardening, canning, freezing, woodlot management, efficiency in house construction (or upgrading [and behaviors] for energy efficiency) and so on.
6. Public transportation, even if it’s only a volunteer coordination line for people to get rides as they need them.
7. Maybe ways to bring revenue into the town – getting some sort of business going, even agricultural (note that everyone, even Bostonians, will be getting their produce, meat, milk, etc. much more locally than before) – no more tomatoes flown from Holland or fish filets flown to Shaw’s from Singapore.
8. Possibly towns should get started early, warn citizens of an “uncertain” future and discuss what moral and political principles should be followed “in case the worst possibilities actually comes to pass”. The purpose would be to have some principles decided in advance, while the need is still abstract, while people are not yet afraid, while they can still be rational and somewhat generous.

I love reading this site, and these comments.

Anything I have to say starts to sound like bad science fiction when I type it out, so maybe later I'll be able to compose something.

One observation, in thinking about "what if" scenarios when resources become more scarce -- I think geographic location will become a factor.

(again, this is where all my thoughts sound like bad fiction)

Example: in Texas, it is commonly accepted that you must drive long distances to get anywhere. Many people buy land 70 - 100 miles away from the city where they work, just so they can have open space around them. Our "sprawl" here is as bad as anywhere, and if you glance around at the gas station, easily 3/4 of the vehicles are trucks or SUV's. And many of these trucks have a use (I live near farm and ranch country) aside from just driving people around. These folks are gonna be in for a world of hurt when prices truly start to rise (not just $2 a gallon) and/or if any type of rationing is put in place, even temporarily.

The idea of "rebuilding neighborhoods" is hard to conceive in parts of the state where there are four homes per square mile, if that.

Ben -

Just make sure you have your own well, spring, creek, river or other water source and be HAPPY you only have 4 homes per square mile!!! Get some horses - they are a source of pride in Texas anyway! Then you can visit town and your neighbors without using the truck. If you live in this kind of place, then you are in what is likely to be the best place for anything bad coming round the bend.

I mean, that's what my father did way back in the 1940's in north Louisiana. They didn't even have plumbing until he was back from the Korean war!! It's all been done before, and recently too.

Ben -

I have to say that the whole Peak Oil scenario sounds like bad science fiction, and God knows I have put enough stuff on this site and in my own blog which sounds like worse science fiction.

Unfortunately, I think the basic principles are valid, and I have yet to be convinced that the Peak Oil folks are wrong in any major way. It may very well be that our future is going to be truly dystopic.

Thanks for the kind words, y'all.

Right now I am not quite in that situation, but in my smallish town I live only a mile from work, so walking and cycling work pretty well, also there is shopping nearby, etc.

But I also know that it won't be nearly as pleasant if something truly radical happens to our fuel situation; for example our electricity is all priced on natural gas, Texas actually exports it's coal to Colorado or someplace so they can generate their electricity (Natural gas heats my home and cooks my food, too).

Also a huge part of our tax base depends on folks driving their cars and trucks so if anything happens to that the entire city infrastructure must be reconfigured (if that makes sense - we spend an awful lot of money on road maintenance and building new ones, perhaps that money could be redirected to schools instead)

But open land isn't that far away (10 miles?), and I'm always keeping my eyes open for a little place out in the country. With a well, or stream and some shade trees, preferably.