My Last Campfire Post

I checked my user profile for this site and discovered that as of today I have been a member for 7 years and 37 weeks. Wow! So much has happened to me and my family over those years and a lot of it was shared on The Oil Drum. For reasons I’ll explain, I haven’t been around much lately. My most recent article was over three years ago.

My first writings for The Oil Drum were over six years ago as guest posts through Nate Hagens, and then as a staff contributor for the “Campfire” section of the site. I am not an energy expert so my role wasn’t about modeling depletion or providing context to the energy news of the week. What I did was consider the broader relationships between energy, resources and society, and explore the implications of more expensive and less energy to our consumer-oriented economy and culture. The most complete and succinct example of this role is probably my “Beware the Hungry Ghosts” piece, which includes this passage:

Several religious traditions describe what are termed “hungry ghosts.” These sad beings have insatiable appetites, with tiny mouths and huge stomachs. Modern society creates hungry ghosts among the living. We “have” more than ever, but are constantly bombarded with messages that it is never enough. The poor go to dollar stores, the middle class spend hours at Bed Bath and Beyond, the rich buy ever larger yachts, and city planners are always looking for more land and water in which to expand their urban sphere. Wants have become indistinguishable from needs. I anxiously walk among our nation of hungry ghosts, asking myself what these addicts will do when they can't get their fix?

What many of us found at The Oil Drum was a place to share our anxieties with those who share our anxieties. I am not being dismissive of this at all! Many here have points of view that place us outside of conventional wisdom, and this can be socially difficult. Where else can we go to have conversations that may be impolite, misunderstood and dismissed by the hungry ghosts we live among?

A fine example of thinking profoundly differently is in Kurt Cobb’s essay “Upside Down Economics” in which he gives a visual representation of U.S. GDP from the perspective of an Ecological Economist:

Figure 1

Many of my articles framed topics from an Ecological Economics perspective, where the economy is a subsidiary of the planet and functions by extracting resources and depositing wastes. Essential resources like energy, mineral ores, food and fiber can only be easily ignored when they are inexpensive to buy and reliably available. Many of us are alarmed because we see existential threats to the bottom of a top heavy pyramid and would like those situated higher up to pay attention and look below.

At the bottom of Cobb’s chart you see the economic sector “Agriculture & Forestry.” That is where I currently work, and where much of my writing here was about. I didn’t just explore the food growing sector, but also the so-called Food System, that includes transportation, processing and warehousing, retailing and end-use. Classic statistics discussed, and that devoted readers of The Oil Drum can probably rattle off at any cocktail party, include:

The U.S. Food System consumes several fossil fuel calories for each food calorie eaten.

The typical grocery store has about three days supply of goods on its shelves.

Each U.S. farmer (plus machines with fuel) feeds 100 people.

Figure 2. Graphic used in the post “Ecological Economics and the Food System

Two additional posts, “Save it for the Combine” and “Energy Descent and Agricultural Population” perhaps best capture the sense of the transformative change fossil fuels made in agricultural production and labor inputs, and offer some perspectives on adaptation to lower fossil fuel availability.

Figure 3. The percent agriculture population is plotted in relation to per capita energy use.  Nations with abundant use of exosomatic energy tend to have less of their population involved in agricultural production, presumably either because they can afford to import much of their food or employ labor saving devices in food production.  For example, only about 1% of the US labor force is involved in farming.  Data comes from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).  Original article containing figure is here.

The Campfire series was not only about exploring heterodox ideas, it was also meant to be a place where practical advice was shared. Many of us wanted to go beyond the talking stage and “do something” about the information and analyses presented on the site. This brings me to why I haven’t been writing here lately.

I went to the 2008 ASPO meetings in Sacramento not only to learn, but to network and hopefully meet someone who could help me with something. I wanted to farm at a significant scale to practice and demonstrate a form of agriculture that needs much fewer external inputs and is thus adaptive to our times. I met my eventual business partner (and TOD member) Craig Wichner in Sacramento. We were able to introduce our company, Farmland LP, at ASPO 2009 in Denver, where I gave two talks that eventually became posts (here and here). Over the past four years Craig and I have taken a heterodox idea and turned it into something substantial: Farmland LP currently owns and manages 6300 acres of cropland in California and Oregon.

So, I’ve been pretty busy. I am still writing on my company website but most of my posts are news related to the business. On occasion I do develop articles that look at the big picture and do in-depth analyses, such as “ The Many Benefits of Multi-Year Crop Rotations” and “Google Earth, Rotational Grazing and Mineralization, Part 1 and Part 2” but I won’t have time for more of that sort of writing until we are done with planting this fall.

This brings me to the end of my last Campfire post. In customary fashion I will pose some questions and ask readers to share their experience, wisdom, frustrations, and final thoughts for The Oil Drum.

Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path? (I never thought I’d be a farmer when I grew up.)

What barriers to making the changes you wanted did you encounter? Did they stop you from going on or did you overcome them somehow? (My wife gave me the foundation I needed to do this work. She had the income-earning job and the patience to allow me time to explore. Thank you Kristin!)

"Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path? (I never thought I’d be a farmer when I grew up.)"


I never expected to become a novelist and I never expected (I only have an MA and not a PhD)to do original work in Shakespeare criticism. But, thanks to TOD, that is what happened. I started investigating imagery of fossil fuels in literature and found something interesting: "Gregory, on my word, we'll not carry coals"--the first line of "Romeo and Juliet". No one had ever thought about it before; it was considered trifling.

Little did I know what I had stumbled across.
But I did manage to unravel the mystery.
Although it took many months.

"My father named me Autolycus; who
being, as I am, littered under Mercury, was likewise
a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles."

"Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path? (I never thought I’d be a farmer when I grew up.)"

9/11 had a big impact. Two of my high school classmates lost two of their kids in the collapse of the towers. Good kids. I knew the mother of one of the kids before we entered Kindergarten.

I began searching for a way of being a little more proactive than just paying my taxes to the military-industrial complex. Hydrogen-fuel cells were the big thing but when you looked past the facade, there was no way for this to work without very major technological breakthroughs and pipe dream efficiencies. The ethanol powered vehicles were never to be also since converting all our grains to alcohol would only power about 12% of our fleet. The battery powered vehicle looked like a possibility when I read of the tZero going over 300 miles on a charge using laptop batteries and this was only 5 to 10% of the battery maximum theoretical potential. This looked promising and doable. The tZero became the prototype for the Tesla line of vehicles.

This search also led to reading references made to TOD, Greer, Foss, "Club of Rome", Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, Hubbard, Deffeyes, Simons, Kunstler, etc. This site has been one heck of an education with many schools of thought from Heading Out to Ghung to Gale the Actuary, to Leanan, and the TOD staff and many the many others. I've been a TOD member of over 7 very appreciative years. The TOD articles and the information have been life altering. I now have solar hot water and a PV array on our roof. The wife is growing a garden and we live within walking and/or bicycling distance of most things that touch our lives.

I am 66 years old this year and I do not want "to go gently into that good night" but that good night is far closer than it has ever been. I am taking anticipatory steps so who ever comes after us, like our kids, will have something that is more in step with a viable future than the past. My wife is growing food in containers and I'm working and learning from energy saving and battery powered projects.

I had a dream one night in which a kid and his uncle were watching First Flight at Kitty Hawk and the kid tugs on his uncle's trousers and asks: "Uncle Boeing, what do you mean "inflight meals"? Orville didn't have time to unwrap a sandwich." I see the future as anticipating problems (e.g., inflight meals to melting steel) and trying to find solutions. I received the Salk vaccine in time while some of my childhood friends were not so fortunate.

I think John Michael Greer might put me in the Religion of Technology camp but I think it is more than just that. Necessity is the Mother of Invention and there are a number of inventions that have made our lives enjoyable (e.g., air conditioning in the Deep South, Salk vaccine, rabies shots, etc.).

Invention can take time and I can remember my 4th grade teacher showing me some of the first crystalline silicon solar cells in 1954 - direct from Bell Labs. Here we are 59 years later and the most affordable cells are still using the same basic technology. The NREL has a graph showing some technologies with 45% conversion rate$.

"...and the meek shall inherit the earth." is another phrase that ran through my mind. I've come to realize that living below our means means that we have a surplus and can invest that surplus. If you are a farmer with a surplus, it may mean being able to buy more land. It is also a position of strength in that you have reserves that can be drawn upon. With my solar installation above, living below what I consume ala Tom Murphy of Do The Math, and with the contributions of my likewise neighbors, we may be able to generate enough excess to melt iron ore into steel. Excess energy storage will be a key as well as the cooperation of those neighbors producing 30kwh vs using only 2 to 3 kwh per household. Will this come to pass? As the Zen Master said: "We'll see...".

TOD has opened my eyes and I want to thank you all. From my perspective, you have made a profound difference.

It's impossible not to change anything after digging into all this information. We've only just started. Changed my bank account, changed/changing our consumption habits, moving into a more supportive community soon. The biggest barrier is exactly what you describe: being dismissed by the hungry ghosts. The Zürich variety is particularly insatiable. I sorely miss the subject in the mainstream media.

Peak or not peak the price is well above $100 a barrel and have been this range for a long time without any kind of interruptions in oil supply. There have been an increase in oil production but nothing compared to the increase in price and I heard nothing about any new really large old kind of oil field coming online.

Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path?

However I did learn a great deal about oil wells, funky-mud, hydro-static pressure, water-flooding, oil-field economics, trains, Oldavi Gorge (LOL), Screaming, Moaning, Bedwetting and received a clue as to the large number of people who sincerely desire a simpler lifestyle and hope that DOOM will force them into their subsistence farms. To them I hope they can find happiness with BAU and remind them that they can retreat to the doomdacha at anytime, and it might make them happier just to do it now. Also I leaned that genuine nuts are still with us..... anyone remember Matthew? He understood exactly what many doomers dream of... genocide....... and was banned for being too out front. To that sort, I hope you evade the long-white coats.

Good bye and good luck to you all.

I don't agree with some of the more doomerish attitudes, but to accuse them of 'wanting genocide' is equally disjointed an attempt at explaining of what people are about.

It's not hard to guess at the sort of people you are choosing to call 'genuine nuts', but I wonder what you think of the clean-shaven and responsible citizens who have obediently helped build disastrous systems and policies that have overfished our seas, have poured unaccounted toxins across our waters and into our air, spent our treasure on misguided wars instead of reinforcing the parts of our culture that could really come to our aid were the energy cliff to be steeper than maybe you currently expect?

Are they maybe just 'Artificial Nuts'?

Be sweet.. quit moaning, eh?

As someone who anticipates problems for several countries I absolutely hate it. An honest appraisal of the situation at hand doesn't automatically lend itself to supporting the consequences of overshoot. It seems that the centre (USA) may crumble whilst the edges may be cut off from the world system. I may be lucky in that I live in a country which has better fundamentals than a lot of countries, but looking from the sidelines I cannot help but empathise with those who live in the vacuum between fundamental reality and the fiction which we tell ourselves to better sleep at night.

Yes - I went from suburbia to a rural setting, moving from buying food to raising fruits, veggies and meat small scale (enough for me; enough to learn how). I dropped back even further from the "hungry ghost" economy, as I discovered how persuasive it can be when it's continually hammering at me. I gained many new perspectives on Life and its purpose from being able to work silently in my garden, and do handwork in the evening, without the noxious presence of the media. Barriers were my own strength and age (late 50's) and finances that dipped greatly once I'd made my choice. Still don't regret it. A pervasive anxiety that was only semi-conscious was relieved as I started to believe I could provide the basics for myself (I have now done roofing, carpentry, brewing, woodchopping, etc.). What my suburban friends don't understand is that their anxious lifestyle is due in part because they know they are living on someone else's sufferance - they know they couldn't survive if "civilization" fell apart even for a month. They (like the commenter above) turn to mockery as a way to silence their fears. Now I give back by teaching food preserving, and writing about social issues (in my poetry and fiction) - but I've stopped arguing with those who don't want to hear. They are consumer-addicts and have to hit bottom first.
I'm eager to go back and read all the old Campfire posts - I hadn't gotten to all of them (as you know, working out in the world can take a lot of time!)

They (like the commenter above) turn to mockery as a way to silence their fears.

Some say that humor is the result of an interrupted physical defense mechanism, a neural cancellation caused by a higher understanding of the situation. Maybe mockery is the result of an interrupted moral defense mechanism?

That might explain why the "This is ridiculous!" is so frequently heard at gas stations during price spikes.

'Mockery' might just be the cross-breeding of humor and revenge.. but I think Heinlein's description of humor within Stranger in a Strange Land helps it all fit into an understandable model for me..

"I grok people. I am people ... so now I can say it in people talk. I've found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much . . . because it's the only thing that'll make it stop hurting."

Jill looked puzzled. "Maybe I'm the one who isn't people. I don't understand."

.... "That poor little monk."

"Which one, dear? I thought that big one was just mean ... and the one I flipped the peanut to turned out to be just as mean. There certainly wasn't anything funny."

"Jill, Jill my darling! Too much Martian has rubbed off on YOU. Of course it wasn't funny- it was tragic. That's why I had to laugh. I looked at a cageful of monkeys and suddenly I saw all the mean and cruel and utterly unexplainable things I've seen and heard and read about in the time I've been with my own people and suddenly it hurt so much I found myself laughing."

Great passage by Heinlein, I think of it often! This is why the greatest comedians, like Pryor, often have tortured backgrounds that give them insight into the darkness of the human condition.

Just out of curiosity I checked my user profile as well - 8 years and 2 months. I have not contributed much because there are those who know much more than I do but I have learned a great deal by checking the site daily. It will be missed.

Why yes my life changed, I literally bought the farm – ten acres in South Central Illinois. I’ve been and avid gardener since I was a child. I have no idea who I got this from, I just was. I was the guy who you got fresh veggies, or cuttings, or seedlings (always planted too much), or advice on gardening. At my Chicago residence the front and back yards were gardens (no lawns), along with the rooftop and during the winter, the basement with the help of lights. I decided through my investigations on peak oil and sustainability to go the “full monty” to get a small farm to really put my green thumb to the test. Selling my two flat at the top of the bubble allowed me the opportunity. One difficulty I had was my employment was still in Chicago which necessitated travel and expense if I moved a considerable distance. Moreover, since I was no longer available for short notice jobs, my location really cut into my income. It was a price I was willing to make as I really wanted to do this, and early retirement from the Carpenters Union was available within a few years. One aspect I had not analyzed thoroughly was doing this alone. I’m a bachelor, and doing everything wears you out. There are not enough hours in a day to get everything done, especially if something breaks and you have to run to town. After seven years of owning my acreage can’t believe all the mistakes I have made even with my gardening experience. Stay away from exotic crops – they probably will not thrive unless grown in perfect environments, and with much coddling. I wasted more than a few dollars on plants that looked good in the catalogs but never thrived. Sites that looked good for some crops, such as the vineyard I planted, were a total waste of time; others, I had put in on a whim, such as my pear trees, produced abundantly. Irrigation is something I’ve learned to value, especially with drought conditions. I have about six acres of good pasture (I have been eliminating weeds and brush for the last six years)I plan to put to use for livestock when I retire at the end of this year. I’m leaning towards getting a couple of steers and a few sheep, but I’m still researching. I’m reading much about rotational grazing. I don’t want to screw this up too badly.

This is not something everyone could do, and I would not advise it unless you really want it and have the necessary skill set. A farmer must be a carpenter, electrician, mechanic, etc., to have any kind of a chance at surviving. My pole barn has a complete shop of woodworking tools, welder, and an almost complete set of mechanics tools acquired over a lifetime.

8 years, two weeks here. TOD is the only page in which I still use internet explorer. I use the internet at the local Subway (internet is much too expensive in the back of the woods) and save the pages for later reading as web archive in IE to preserve the formatting.

Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path?"

Somewhat. While I was already on a similar path (though have never considered it at the scale you have), in some ways I was making things up as I went along. First of all, I no longer feel crazy and alone for having the ideas I've had for a couple of decades since TOD has validated them and provided so much support: Intuition became knowledge; I've been able to flesh my beliefs out with data.

TOD also created a bit of a pause in my process, time to reevaluate some of the things I was planning, adjust some priorities, and reconsider future inputs. I'm more convinced that the systems I adopt will need to operate with little or no fossil fuel derived inputs. Any mechanical assistants will need to be simpler and locally sustainable, and have viable manual alternatives. I've learned to think in terms of creating no dead ends.

An example would be our water systems for irrigation and livestock; currently solar assisted, but capable of using only gravity flow from the source with a little tweaking. I'm also incorporating absorption zones (sponges) to decrease runoff and to help maintain the water table. All streams have a larger buffer which required moving fences, sometimes several meters (still ongoing). The loss of a bit of pasture will hopefully be offset by having a more robust water system, more wildlife habitat, and zones for native plants that may be useful. I've stopped almost all unnecessary mowing.

The greenhouse(s) I've been planning will be far more passively designed, and of more durable materials (glass vs plastics, etc). I see this as a win/win, since if fossil fuel derived inputs are available going forward, they will be increasingly expensive and competition for such will be high. If they aren't available, I'll have an advantage, especially important for small scale farming. Paying some things forward now, while costs and availability are more realistic, seems prudent.

I've redesigned my fencing plan for better crop and livestock rotation, trying to eliminate 'exclusion zones' where only one or the other is viable. I'm more permaculture oriented.

I'm also continuing to work on things like our ginseng patch which is expanding nicely this year. We have a section of forest that is perfectly suited to the kind of wild ginseng that the Chinese will pay top dollar for, and new regulations have only driven the prices higher. I think there will be a market for these very low input, high value natives for the foreseeable future. Also promoting the growth of other native medicinals and herbs. These things were always here, so restoration and encouragement seems like a good strategy. My updated fencing plan takes this into account. It's easy to see where cattle had access to the forest in the past.

Now if I can only get my kids more involved. Some are becoming more peak everything aware, and the knowledge and data acquired via TOD lends weight to my arguments. Besides, I need the help, and they and their children will certainly be dealing with peaks more than my generation. At least they can say that their baby boomer parents saw these things coming and tried to respond in a more reasonable and responsible manner. I've archived, locally, many of these response strategies, and many of the 'whys', including articles from TOD, hopefully to at least provide a source of understanding in a world that will become less understandable with time.

I’ve been thinking the same thing as far as greenhouses – using glass instead of plastic. I see many plastic greenhouses that are degraded from UV exposure and have to be replaced periodically. I’m going to talk to a few carpenters who do window replacements to see if I can get the old windows. As far as framing, I’m thinking of milling up some black locust as it is very rot resistant. I’ve machined window frames years ago at a cabinet shop I worked at. Not too hard. I’ll probably use silicone as glazing.

If you can wait long enough for it to mature, you can do very well indeed with ginseng.

But I wouldn't ever mention growing some ever again in any sort of public forum.

Thieves are always with us, and the new ones coming along these days know a lot about the internet and finding people.

Probably good advice, Mac, though I've mentioned it before. So,, I'll give them some help: My main patch is well concealed but within view of my living room, easily within shotgun range, and I'm considered a damn fine shooter.

Actually, it's known locally that this north-facing ridge has been a hot spot for sang, which is why it was mostly depleted in the past. I started restoration about 9-10 years ago, along with some 'diversion' plots farther out. Most of the diggers have been doing the same thing for years, and those who aren't diggers generally don't know what they're looking at; it's very much a stealth plant.
Also, there's still an honor code around here; don't mess with another man's plot, don't look for another man's still, and if you get caught, you better leave the county. No quicker way to get ostracized (or shot).

I see my neighbor’s son’s car parked out by his house, never around except this time of the year, and I know where he’s at – stealing ginseng from the surrounding woods. He doesn’t dare go into my woods; he knows I will retaliate in ways much worse than putting a bullet in his butt. I don’t have any ginseng, goldenseal, or ramps in my woods, wink, wink, nod, nod, say no more, say no more.

Why would people steal Ginseng? Sorry I'm just not understanding here...

Because wild ginseng from the Appalachians sells for $500 and up, dried. Growers have seen unable to reproduce its qualities in shade houses, etc. In the wild, it takes 7-8 years for the root to reach maturity and achieve the form that the Chinese will pay top dollar for.

Funny you should mention it, because the latest MountainX had this as the front page:

Botanical bandits: Rampant poaching threatens ginseng’s survival

Last year, Buncombe County led the state in ginseng production, with 1,268 pounds of dried roots, the Department of Agriculture reports. Haywood County came in second, with 1,074 pounds. Almost all of the 8,994 pounds harvested statewide came from WNC and eventually made its way to China. The state agency has no way to determine exactly how much of that was illegally harvested, but at $800 a pound, that translates into more than $7.1 million going into the pockets of those rummaging the hillsides.

Thanks for the link Sub, and apologies to Jason; I didn't mean to start a thread on ginseng. It is, though, a good example of how humans will continue to over-exploit even tiny niches of their environment.

No worries. Discuss ginseng as you wish...and thanks for bring it back to the big picture.

Actually the theft issue really was bringing the big doomer picture into perspective. Unless things more or less bump along BAU there is no friggin way individual or even small group effort will survive the devolution into warlord controlled turf.

That doesn't mean I discount what you, Ghung and Bruce are doing. Great way to spend time here for some. But I know people pretty well and unless central authority stays viable there will always be those who can muster a 'loyal' cadre of ruthless subordinates. They will find it far more profitable to capitalize on fear while making their living off tribute and protection fees rather than by actually producing anything themselves (except of course the 'security perimeter' they can defend).

Best hopes for BAU bumping along more or less undisturbed so folks like you can reap the fruits of your efforts both physically and spiritually.

Ah, the Mad Max/Fist of the North Star future. Degraded environment and warlordism.

While warlords are a real issue, I think they tend to exist mostly in environments where there are external factors as well preventing the stabilization of a government. Afghanistan has several countries meddling in it, before 9/11 the Taliban effectively controlled the vast majority of the country. Somalia, similarly, has the African Union involved. We may not LIKE radical Islamic fundamentalists, but they would probably control Afghanistan and South Somalia today in the absence of external meddling (North Somalia is divided between to quasi-states, Puntland and Somaliland, both much more stable than the south).

It's very possible for an area to undergo a long period of small statelets, warlord controlled areas, etc., but it doesn't last forever either. And warlords or "princes" or whatever must eventually come into some balance with the people they rule, or their rule is very short. Lots of death is a given (just as when Rome fell and populations declined), but it's not the end of the story. Not only that, but it IS possible for people to form collective defense - the Swiss managed a confederacy quite a long time ago.

It's likely to be very uncomfortable over the next 100 years. Even so, it seems to me devolution into small states is more likely in the near future than outright collapse and warlordism.

Looking into FarmLand LP extensively I would say you are definitely working more in the TOP of Cobb's chart, Finance, Realestate, Leasing.

FarmLand LP is a hedge fund taking money from the 1% agressively buying up farms as a hedge on the future.

This is skewing the exesting dynamics of small and Family farmers and the financing they are able to use to be productive. Also skewing the land lease rates historically available to local area farmers.

It would seem that your path of Peak oil awareness has simply led you to having a rather extreme cyincal outlook on humanity.

People are welcome to see what we do at It shows what we have done for the past 4.5 years converting conventional farmland to organic, sustainable farmland. This post ( and this one ( offer a good overview of who we are, how we do what we do, and what the impacts are. We are very open and give lots of tours, allowing farmers and non-farmers to meet each other and see the land and the livestock and the crops and the remaining “wild” areas that we protect and enhance. We love what we do, all the people we work with, and that we are creating a model for more resilient agriculture for the future for large and small farmers.

For perspective…There are 800 million acres of farmland in the U.S. We own 6,300 acres, or 0.00078%, on which we ensure a high standard of care for the soil and other natural resources, while helping like-minded farmers, young and old, build and expand their businesses. Meanwhile, _30%_ of U.S. cropland is used to grow corn, serving the agro-industrial complex. And government subsidies (all our tax dollars) are enabling those farmers to buy more land for that unsustainable system. We are working to change that paradigm. People are welcome to work with us, or do their own thing. There is a lot to do.

Farmland LP has been recognized as being one of the top socially responsible organizations on the planet (, and the only one focusing on farmland. Your (Eeyore’s) previous comments on TOD can be googled for anyone curious about who has a cynical view. Rather than just inaccurately and anonymously criticizing, perhaps you would explain what you are doing to make a difference now and for the future?

I got involved with renewable energy, conservation and home building in the first energy crisis, mid 70's, then watched the interest, and the market disappear in the late 80's. Who would of thought that the earth, and our economy had the capacity to adjust and rebound for another round of gung-ho expansion. My question is whether a similar economic rebound will occur again over the next one or two decades as society ignores all danger signals. Certainly, most people in the US want a return to economic expansion. My guess is that the next crash will be even more destructive because we aren't adjusting.
Irregardless of the near term economic and energy cycle, we have learned a lot as an informal community, building on the experiences of the earlier energy crisis. So the depth of understanding, and the cadre of committed world citizens is building out of these two periods, and will be there when TSHIF. TOD was a big part of re-invigorating my work, and broadening my perspective and giving me new tools.
For me the energy design of buildings has become a lifelong passion and a way of life. I've long felt that, when movement on the bigger scale stalls, it is time to refocus on personal and local efforts. I contribute my energies to political affairs, help with numerous community building projects, work professionally in the energy field, and increasingly focus my personal and family life on making as little impact as possible.
In response to Jason's first chart, above, I have really struggled with the nature of an economy where so much activity is non-essential, and where essential goods, services and resources are stretched so thin. Eventually,as the world adapts, too many people will have to live off of meager resources and local economies. Growing some of your own food, conserving household energy and minimizing transportation only go part of the way towards a vibrant, sustainable and local way of live for the whole community.

I too will miss this site. For the wouldbe farmers, I have heard that rye straw is best for stuffing horse collars, and a working lathe can be made using the branch of a tree as a spring

By All.

I have been thinking about the first figure in Jason's post, that shows finance as the largest part of the economy. Is this what the end of an empire looks like?

1. So in the early stage of growth a country has natural resources and builds up a manufacturing base.

2. That manufacturing base allows a hard currency. Another country can spend that $ and get manufactured goods with high energy content in return.

3. The strong currency allows the building of a larger financial system. They make loans over seas to put more natural resources into production. The trade always favors the product builder, over the natural resource seller. The product builder gets wealthier.

4. Local resources deplete, the manufacturing base stops growing, and faces contraction.

5. The economy grows, but only on interest charged on the loans. Those loans keep pulling in more natural resources. If the country controls the reserve currency, it can inflate (tax) all current $ holders. Thus a much larger finance industry, coasting on the good will of a hard currency.

So the first peak might be iron, coal, or oil, but is the last peak is financial? The last good will used up pulling in resources that are locally depleted?

History shows that empires and currencies fail all the time and I don't expect the United States to be immune.

The petrodollar standard (dollars out, oil in, Treasury debt out, dollars back in) has already failed. Because of this the central bank has no choice but to monetize Treasury debt, to purchase it outright with newly minted digital dollars, otherwise the federal government would be instantly insolvent. There are now only two ways out...either Treasury debt is reneged or the dollar hyperinflates. Either way American empire is finished. There are no other choices, everything else is fluff. There are no other revenue sources; the tax system is already optimized, citizens are broke, and the banks and corporations have all the cash behind a firewall. The federal government can't go after the banks and corporations because the banks own the government! It would be like a brother killing his brother to avoid paying a debt.

These concepts are so simple to grasp, it takes no special training of any kind. And yet in our modern world with all of our technology, somehow this is a secret or something, indecipherable and too complex for understanding. It's not!

I have been a member of TOD for 7 years, 47 weeks. I had heard about this site through a story on Minnesota Public Radio while at work in a managed care behavioral health organization. I am a master's level psychologist, now practicing as a psychotherapist, and am definitely on the discretionary side of the economy, near the top of that pyramid. I have been very influenced by the discussion at TOD to make changes, but not the changes some have noted. I have no solar panels. I drive an economical non-hybrid Corolla, but have not left my profession and have no intention of doing so. I will practice psychology until I can no longer do so, either because of age, a constricted economy, or transportation difficulties. Over this time, I have developed an understanding of human nature and evolution which makes me optimistic and pessimistic simultaneously for different reasons. Most of the changes I have made have been internal, but as I read this article, I realized that they have external effects. I have become more interested in meditation, self-regulation, and ways to become a more effective human being personally. As a result, I have become more efficient with the way I use and prepare food, reducing waste. I have become more focused on what I value and eliminated many unvalued activities.

I am unlikely to survive because I developed more autonomy through skills such as mechanical repair or engineering. As much as I value those things, I am really not that kind of guy. In short, I have become more motivated to become the best me that I can, letting the chips fall where they may. I placed all my eggs in the basket of becoming someone who can help others deal with their distress, cultivating compassion and understanding. I have had great success in overcoming my own depression, recently developing a meditation practice which is having profound effects on my understanding of what I need to do and my ability to follow through. As a species, I believe we are doomed, but I am very unsure about the time frame. We have too many converging ecological crises for me to imagine a way that humanity will innovate itself out of them. However, we may have a few or many generations to go before our demise. However, I am a very happy man. Suffering is universal and has been part of our lot since day one. My role is to help alleviate suffering the best way I can for as many as I can. This I will do to the end of my days. In part, it has been the discussion on TOD which has sharpened my focus.

Mindfulness, perspective and presence are great traits to have. I think you are right that these supposed intangibles are actually fundamental.

It looks like the progression you outline here seems valid. The "products" or "output" becomes ever more ephemeral, complex, abstract and "thin-airish" (and almost magical in their power to compel and fascinate). Financial products may not even exist except as data in a computer. Yet PhDs are charged with their care and management. Meanwhile, coal and wood, actually "real and solid" stuff is foisted off onto the lowest educated or people who are otherwise not interested in the "city" project.

It seems like the "Emperor's New Clothes" all over again. The emperor, a vain and silly man, lost interest in governing (paying attention to solid and consequential things) and started to be more and more interested in his attire. More and more luxurious and whimsical outfits only led to ennui until 2 tricksters arrived to clear the air. They explained that the clothes they made were so fine and beautiful only smart people could see them. The great leader, wearing one of their custom designs, appeared next in the nude in a parade. His abstract fantasies had led to complete absurdity, tne loss of all practical touch with reality.

And then a little child spoke up "But why is the Emperor naked?"

The ending is happy, anyway, if that's any consolation (it is to me). The Emperor was reformed and became a wise leader.

Because of TOD I only practice medicine part time, and I will likely get out in a few years.

Physicians are for the most part intelligent, compassionate, and hard working. But they are also delusional, they believe in keeping people alive forever (it's debatable whether or not this is a worthwhile endeavor), and they believe they will succeed (this is categorically false, every last human being will die of something or the other).

I'm just tired of the delusion. Don't hate me for it! An investment banker might quit and take the money and run if he saw what was going on. A soldier might desert or surrender if he had enough and his side was losing. It's no different.

I'm just tired of the delusion. Don't hate me for it! An investment banker might quit and take the money and run if he saw what was going on. A soldier might desert or surrender if he had enough and his side was losing. It's no different.

I sure understand! Be at peace. However there is a huge need for your knowledge and skills, here's to hoping you find better ways to use them.

I'm down in Brazil at the moment and have a friend who is head of Surgery at the Federal University of Paraiba in Joao Pessoa. I had the opportunity to meet 20 doctors that work with him and gave an ESL seminar to them on how to prepare for, navigate and benefit from international medical conferences. Many of these physicians work pro bono in their communities helping the poor. I'm also being treated by a dentist right now who does free dental work and surgery for the disenfranchised.

I know from personal experience that there is a need for medical services and doctors in the US, especially amongst the population of the uninsured...

energyblues, I'm a physician too and do not plan on getting out, though I work part-time like you (due to a young kid - but don't want to go back to full-time, ever). There will always be a need for doctors who don't overtreat and who can discuss end-of-life decisions openly. Second FMagyar's comment! Rural areas are also often under-serviced. The life of a country doctor is tough, but then again, so is farming.

I am a retired radiologist. Some of my family practice and specialist acquaintances are having difficulty meeting overhead in view of the insurance and medicare constraints. One has opted for a concierge practice. There is a real problem with the increasing complexity of modern high tech medicine and the compelling need for super specialization. I found it impossible to keep up with the constantly expanding imaging technologies. In the past there have been interesting TOD discussions regarding the impact of peak oil and other peaks on the practice of medicine. Oil obviously but another example - a shortage of helium for magnetic resonance imaging.
--- I recently saw an article from the British Health Service complaining about the availability and expense of medical supplies.

Are you sure the problems are from the profession? Could it be that you've changed in your outlook, so the perspective you have is coloured in a negative way? It takes a while to deal with a perspective altering event. Perhaps you need to sit on the other side of the desk for a moment and consider that maybe you're the one who has received a life altering diagnosis.

I've personally changed my entire perspective on how the world works. The difficulty with the information given from TOD is that it raises a lot of good questions, but without good answers. The challenge moving forward is in dealing with the understanding of resource constraints whilst also having to decide on a future in that world. Most of the TOD members are over the age of 50 it seems, so my perspective as someone in his mid 20's is likely entirely different. Whilst most of your decisions have been made, I have to make my own within the constraints of resource limitations in setting out a general path for my life.

I first started reading TOD when I was 39. I suppose it must have been just at the start of TOD though I didn't get an account until later. I was totally constrained by my circumstances: I was (and still am) married and I was half housewife, half PT academic. But the information I got here sort of started to....what is the word? ferment or gel or bubble my brain. It was like breathing in clean air: something that made sense and that refreshed.

So my advice is don't force any changes, just wait for the new outlook to interact with your own mind, your ideas, personality, strengths and talents. It's amazing what can happen. I had to embrace a new way of investigating that was basically iconoclastic and "out there". But the results have been good and I will attend an academic conference to present my ideas next year.

It seems funny to me how the information on TOD can change your outlook. Somewhere on the other side of despair is the nucleus for change and growth. My interpretation is that if you can absorb the new outlook without it destroying you then on the other side could be the realisation of personal potential. Once you understand some of the way the world works then you can be empowered by the knowledge of how the rules may be bent, or broken, kind of like 'The Matrix'. I guess I have grown in many ways from the perspective offered by the limited foresight on the world, but even as this place closes down I cannot see myself stopping simply because TOD isn't around anymore. Perhaps it is a good thing even that TOD is closing down because it forces the members here to stop ruminating, and to perhaps create some outlets in the real world.

At the moment I seem to be just taking as many opportunities as possible, and doing as well as I can at them. It seems that being 'different' does has its' perks when you have an entirely different perspective compared to other people. I wonder sometimes what the end game might be, but I am happy at this point early in my academic learning career to 'go with the flow'

Hi Pi,

I enjoyed the preview of you novel "Juliet is the Sun" at Amazon. I would buy it if I had a Kindle. I also saw on your profile that you were at Chicago. I studied physics there in the late 80's. Nate Hagens was there too. I hope to you continue to make comments on a successor site.

You can download Kindle for computer from Amazon - it's free. :]

And of course, you can also download it as an AP on IPads and IPhones, and I assume on other devices.

I somehow ended up a farmer also.
The UC system in the 60s prepared me to be a academic.

Medicaid Covered Births, 2008 Through 2010, in the Context of the Implementation of Health Reform
(For link, search for title)

We collected 2008–2010 data on Medicaid births from individual state contacts during the winter of 2012–2013, systematically documenting sources and challenges.

In 2010, Medicaid financed 48% of all births, an increase of 19%* in the proportion of all births covered by Medicaid in 2008. Percentages varied among states. Numerous data challenges were found.

Conclusions/Implications for Research and Policy
Consistent adoption of the 2003 birth certificate in all states would allow the National Center for Health Statistics Natality Detail dataset to serve as a nationally representative source of data for the financing of births in the United States. As states expand coverage to low-income women, women of childbearing age will be able to obtain coverage before and between pregnancies, allowing for access to services that could improve their overall and reproductive health, as well as birth outcomes. Improved birth outcomes could translate into substantial cost savings, because the costs associated with preterm births are estimated to be 10 times greater than those for full-term births.

*Based on the study, the percentage of US births paid by Medicaid rose from 40% in 2008 to 48% in 2012, a 9%/year rate of increase.

I posted a link in the last Drumbeat that, in the US, 2012 had the lowest fertility rate since records have been kept, at 63 births per one thousand women. Putting that statistic beside yours may paint a picture about who is choosing to not have children; those who can more afford to, financially. While one would need to take a harder look at the data, it may be that the highest US birth rate is among those who are also on other types of assistance, and that ratio is increasing.

Our State legislature recently passed a bill requiring those receiving 'welfare' checks to undergo mandatory drug testing. The republican Governor vetoed the bill, and the majority republican legislature overrode the veto. The legislature also passed fairly broad education reform which mainly cut state monies to school systems, leaving local systems to make up the difference or enact cuts. Much of these cuts were for basic materials, teaching assistants and staffing for counseling, etc. I know a few parents who've opted to take vouchers and put their kids into the few (mostly Christian) private schools in the area, though this option seems problematic for those at or below the poverty line. Daycare assistance for economically challenged preschoolers has also been declining. This, in a State that had a budget surplus last year, mainly to pay for new tax cuts; tax cuts that are little help for those who don't pay much in the way of taxes.

Trends seem clear, if not glaringly obvious: It seems that a sort of 'trickle-down-economics divisions' process is underway. "Not enough lifeboats", "Not enough chairs", "Being pushed out the back of the bus"; all come to mind as economic growth grinds to a halt. As I've often repeated, solutions, such as they are, will become more/mostly local, IMO.

Jason, so glad to hear you’re using your botany skills towards figuring out best practices for growing sustainable organic food. Julie Guthman’s book “Agrarian Dreams. The Paradox of Organic Farming in California” made me realize what a sham most organic farms were, but I know you’re aware of what’s at stake and shooting for real, sustainable farms, and hope you’ll be able to help others out with this from what you’ve learned.

I too wanted to follow your path in farming. I fondly remember seeing you in Willits when I took John Jeavons biointensive workshop about ten years ago, and saw what great things you did for Willits (community, school gardens, etc). I’m surprised Jeavons ideas aren’t as widespread as permaculture given their proven efficacy. I imagine you’ve incorporated some of his ideas as well as other farmers.

I don’t have a farm yet because I’m married to a techno-optimist, but I still have plans for an organic rare/heirloom fruit farm at a smaller scale than I’d originally hoped for. Meanwhile I came up with a way to make whole grain, nut, corn, or legume flatbreads/crackers from dozens of kinds of flour. As the electric grid sputters more often and refrigeration becomes less reliable, foods that keep a long time will grow in importance (Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers).

When I’m working out at the gym, I always wish I were doing actual work – need help picking corn in Brentwood? Then I could get paid to work out…

You may someday be in the position of hiring people, Heinberg’s vision of 50 million farms will happen eventually, and probably not as family farms, or willingly, sigh.

I am not the least worried about how you’ll treat farmworkers, but I wish Richard Street’s “Beasts of the Field. A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913” was more widely known. California has a ghastly history of exploiting people and never had many small farms -- it’s been a large farm state from the beginning. In this book, the few farms that treated people well were far more profitable and better in every way for both the owner and farm workers. To grow a variety of crops, you need trained, skilled workers, not random vagrants or exploited farmworkers kicked out when harvest season is over. Especially not in the future when travel is less possible. Perhaps between the CSA’s and what you and other organic farmers are doing, a more hopeful model of how to integrate quite a few more people into agriculture further down Hubbert’s curve can become widespread, and give people true, not false hopes, of how a life can still be well-lived in a postcarbon world.

Alice Friedemann

a few agricultural book reviews

And a few books to read if this topic interests you

Industrial Agriculture

Peter Golob Crop Post-Harvest Handbook Volume 1: Principles and Practice
Eric Schlosser Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
Michael Maren The Road to Hell The ravaging effects of foreign aid and international charity
Steven Stoll The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California
Richard Street Beasts of the Field. A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913.
Richard Walker The Conquest of Bread. 150 years of Agribusiness in California.
Julie Guthman Agrarian dreams. The paradox of organic farming in California
Kimbrell (editor) Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture
Jim Hightower Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times: A report of the Agribusiness Accountability Project on the Failure of America's Land Grant College Complex
Carolyn Johnsen Raising a Stink: The Struggle over Factory Hog Farms in Nebraska

The Future of Farming

John Jeavons How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine
Jim Bender Future Harvest: Pesticide-Free Farming
B. C. Mollison Permaculture: A Designers' Manual

The Joys and Hardships of Family Farms

Mildred Kalish Little Heathens. Hard times & high spirits on an Iowa Farm during the great depression.
Barbara Greenwood A Pioneer Sampler : The daily life of a pioneer family in 1840 (illustrated, good for tweens)
M. R. Montgomery A Cow's Life The Surprising History of Cattle
David Masumoto Epitaph for a Peach, Four Seasons on my Family Farm
Gene Logsdon The Contrary Farmer

Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path? (I never thought I’d be a farmer when I grew up.)

Not really. I grew up on a farm, but early on realized that my father wasn't making any money at it. He eventually realized the same, and moved into a nearby town where he started a farm supply dealership - which was somewhat more lucrative but not really great. My brother and my sister and I went into the oil industry, where the dollars really were really big, particularly if you were willing to work in some godforsaken place where nobody wanted to go, and do things that nobody else understood. Every time we went back home, our mother would quiz us on how much money we were making, and when we told her, she would say in horror, "NOBODY is worth that much money!" Our father would just philosophize about how he must have been born in the wrong generation.

Later on, when he was in his 90's and fading, he got all teary eyed and bemoaned how he would have liked to have given us more stuff when we where growing up, but he didn't have the money. I had to tell him, "Dad - you gave us everything we needed - the right genes and a work ethic. Everything else we could do for ourselves." I remember one of his friends saying to him, "How can you afford to have three kids in university at the same time?" He looked completely blank, and said, "Well, it's cheaper than having them at home." He had only a grade 8 education, so it was all a mystery to him. We handled the financing ourselves because we understood it better.

What barriers to making the changes you wanted did you encounter? Did they stop you from going on or did you overcome them somehow?

The only barriers I encountered were people who didn't understand what I was doing, or what they were doing. However, they weren't insurmountable. Once upper management realizes that you know what you are doing, but your boss doesn't, he gets fired and you get his job. It's a Darwinian approach to job advancement, but that's what the capitalist system is all about. So, I did a lot of development in oilfield automation, oil sands in-situ production, and oil and gas production management software. I retired after it got to be old hat and everybody knew what it was. Fracking? That was old technology even before I started working, and by the time I retired it was getting to be downright ancient history like Greek and Roman architecture. It's only new for NYT reporters.

On the public service front, I always thought I should help out, so I got on city committees and helped get light rail transit up and running (the largest system in North America) and bicycle paths going (the largest system in North America.) It was really exciting to be doing things like that. In my own neighborhood, I managed to rename a lot of the streets. It was completely accidental, but the city was shifting the EWNS grid system a bit which meant the old street numbers didn't work any more, I suggested a bunch of new names for the streets, and darned if the city didn't accept most of them - I was flabbergasted. Of course, when the neighbors realized that instead of living on "First Street East" they would be living on "Parkhill Street", or "Erlton Street" it was a total no-brainer for them, particularly since their neighborhoods were called "Parkhill" and "Erlton" and their particular streets were only two blocks long due to intervening cliffs. It suddenly all started making sense.

Each U.S. farmer (plus machines with fuel) feeds 100 people

That's the issue with farms. Farms have become very, very efficient over the past century or so and the average farmer can feed hundreds of people. That's the factor that is driving the decline in farm population - people need to find something else to do because there is little need for farmers any more. Information technology worked for me, but other people must follow their own path, most likely not involving farming.

One of my nephews put 1 square mile (640 acres) of land into peas - just part of his several thousand acre operation. This is in Canada, which you will note on the chart is at the high end of the energy vs population scale. The thing is that Canada has vast amounts of farm land, vast amounts of energy of all kinds, and not a lot of people so the farmers tend to go for bigger operations and fewer workers than almost everywhere else. So, where was my nephew selling his peas? He was selling them in India on the free market. It would probably take about 640 farmers on 1 acre farms in India to produce as many peas, and while Indians don't earn very much, they don't work for free, and they'd probably eat all the peas themselves. Hence my nephew working alone with his computer controlled, GPS guided machines can do it cheaper in Canada. The Indians are better off making cheap cotton shirts or something and selling them to the West.

Now of course, many people would object, but they don't understand basic economics, so I get my last kick at the can, TOD shuts down, and its over. If they object, they can complain to their wife, relatives, and friends, all of whom stopped listening to them years ago for obvious reasons.

best be careful about that hip when you kick ?-)

Just a last little note of thanks for your offerings here. I look forward to seeing your name around as we all push on to the next steps!

Bob Fiske
Portland, ME

WSJ: Country Commuters: Londoners Move Back to the Land

Harried Londoners are increasingly buying so-called hobby farms where they can grow food, raise exotic animals and perhaps earn a second income off the land.

Getting awfully quiet around here. Hope to see you all around some other fire, somewhere, sometime...

Just watched a couple of TED talks by Hans Rosling on pop/religion and 'development'. Fascinating presentation of data. His effort is to make global stats available via Can't recall where I heard of him first, was probably somewhere on TOD, as that is was my primary (almost sole) source of news/info/links. Hope to see y'all around some other fire, somewhere, sometime...

Last one out, turn off the lights... >;-)